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Was Laura Ingalls Wilder a feminist?

(251 Posts)
WeAreJackieWeaver Wed 17-Feb-21 21:13:26

Having read absolutely everything on my reading list this year, I’m re-reading the Little House on the Prairie books.
I loved these books as a child, now reading them as an adult I’m struck how fiercely Laura fought to be allowed outside her gender box. She’s fiesty, loves being physical, running and riding horses and hates the expectations placed on her by society just because she’s a girl. Girls should sit quietly and do womanly tasks like sewing.
Her sister Mary is the complete opposite and loves being feminine and embraces the expectations of her.
Both girls were highly intelligent and their education was encouraged by very progressive (for the time) parents.

During this never-ending winter lockdown the books have helped give me some perspective on the hardship of lives past but I’m loving reading about Laura’s gender non-conforming escapades.

Has anyone else read the books?

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zanahoria Wed 17-Feb-21 21:33:00

When she marries Almanzo, she insists that she will not say 'obey' during the marriage ceremony and the minister accepts this as he does not believe that any human should ever promise to obey anyone but God.

WeAreJackieWeaver Wed 17-Feb-21 21:48:39

Oh yes! I forgot about that. She lived an extraordinary life.

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zanahoria Wed 17-Feb-21 21:52:43

I seem to remember there is also mention of child marriage in one of the later books. Laura discusses a cousin who married at 13/14. I assume in a society where there were more men than women that child marriage was not uncommon but says Pa is adamant his girls would not marry so young. He wants Laura to stay in school and she becomes a teacher at 15. I think she was a bit reluctant but feels she has to as Ma had been a teacher, Mary had wanted to be a teacher and they need money to send her to blind school

miffmufferedmoof Wed 17-Feb-21 21:54:00

I'm reading the first one to my DC at the moment. It's providing lots of interesting talking points. Had to explain corsets to them earlier, and they were astounded that anyone would choose to wear one!

Daydreamsinglorioustechnicolor Wed 17-Feb-21 21:55:42

I read and re-read these so many times as a little girl. I loved Laura.
The books have got lost in one of many house moves, I must get a set for DD (and me) to read.

WeAreJackieWeaver Wed 17-Feb-21 22:02:39

I guess having 3 daughters could have been seen as a hindrance for Laura’s Pa: 3 sons would be able to work on the land unlike the girls. Other families would have more than happy to marry off their daughters young, less mouths to feed and all that. Laura really has her parents to thank for such a grounding and treating her as a worthy, equal person rather than another girl to marry off as soon as possible.

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Chaotica Wed 17-Feb-21 22:07:35

There were 4 daughters weren't there?

Interesting thinking of the books like this. I remember a bit where Laura wanted to help out on the farm but was told 'no' because Ma and the girls were Americans and that's not what American women do.

I want to read the warts and all version (which was apparently more honest but not as exciting).

WeAreJackieWeaver Wed 17-Feb-21 22:10:44

I’m reading On the Banks of Plum Creek at the moment. Just 3 daughters so far but another one may arrive. I honestly can’t remember, it’s been so long since I read them.
Laura has just met the horrible Nellie Oleson at school grin

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Tooearlyforsquats Wed 17-Feb-21 22:12:57


you SHOULD!!!

One of the best history books I’ve ever read. Traces Laura’s life from her parents to her daughter, all about the writing and the publishing, also reflecting American history. I’ve read it three times, it won a national book award.

Tooearlyforsquats Wed 17-Feb-21 22:13:52

Reread all the books first, then Prairie Fires.

PurrBox Wed 17-Feb-21 22:17:44

The Long Winter reminds me so much of lockdown.

Chaotica Wed 17-Feb-21 22:17:54

@Tooearlyforsquats That looks really good. This thread has got me interested again.

WeAreJackieWeaver Wed 17-Feb-21 22:23:51


The Long Winter reminds me so much of lockdown.

It’s one of my favourite books. It’s so bleak. Everyone thinks I’m mad when I tell the what it’s about.

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WeAreJackieWeaver Wed 17-Feb-21 22:26:30


Reread all the books first, then Prairie Fires.

I didn’t know about this book. Thank you.

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EmpressWitchDoesntBurn Wed 17-Feb-21 22:28:10

Grace was the youngest daughter.

And the TV version wasn’t even close.

MrsWooster Wed 17-Feb-21 22:28:34

I’ve just reread them all for the first time since I was a girl and yes, she was! It’s been fascinating reading them as an adult and a parent.

WouldBeGood Wed 17-Feb-21 22:29:11

Oh, I loved these! Recently found my childhood copies, so I shall reread

ItsDinah Wed 17-Feb-21 22:31:06

I recommend "Pioneer Girl". It is Wilder's own memoir of her childhood and early adult life with copious notes from researchers. Wilder wrote her memoir in her 60s following the death within the space of four years of her mother and Mary. She wanted to publish her memoir so that people would know what the the pioneer life was really like particularly for the WOMEN. It was grim.To that extent she might be called a feminist. The books are fictionalised children's stories based on her memoir.They omit the really bad things that happened including the birth and death of her younger brother,and the fact that her mother never stopped lamenting how different things would have been if only the son had survived.

ItsDinah Wed 17-Feb-21 22:37:50

Chaotica - in real life the girls did help out on the farm,they had to. At one point pre-teen Laura and Mary both worked as chamber maids and general assistants in an hotel. As adult Laura was a farmer labouring on the farm she owned with her husband, it is odd she went with the girls not doing farm work motif in the books. Was she illustrating the mores of the 1870s and 1880s when the books were set or of the 1930s when the children books were published?

DogsDinner Wed 17-Feb-21 22:45:11

I think she was a feminist as much as she could be, given the constraints of the time. Her daughter was an independent, successful woman.

I reread the first three books a few years ago when my daughter was reading them, and I was thrilled to be able to go online and see photographs of the family, and find out what happened to them. Sadly, Almanzo got ill, and they lived a very poverty stricken life until they were in their sixties, when the books were successful.

The books paint a rosy picture, but there is so much left out of them. Ma’s life must have been so hard, Pa’s choices put them in danger so many times.

piglet81 Wed 17-Feb-21 22:45:46

I love these books so much (even if the references to native Americans are rather uncomfortable now). Reread The Long Winter recently to remind myself that lockdown could be worse!

DogsDinner Wed 17-Feb-21 22:50:22

I do think it’s quite sad that Ma and Pa have no living descendants, despite having five children.

piglet81 Wed 17-Feb-21 22:50:39

The books paint a rosy picture, but there is so much left out of them. Ma’s life must have been so hard, Pa’s choices put them in danger so many times.

Yes, so true. There’s a bit I never picked up on as a child where Pa goes to the aid of a neighbour who’s fallen down a well or something, and Ma screams desperately at him not to go - she’s obviously terrified of what life would be like for a widow with a houseful of children and no way to provide for them.

I read a book of Laura’s letters from when she went to visit her daughter in San Francisco, which is also fascinating. Rose (her daughter) was heavily involved in writing/editing the Little House books, I think. I definitely need to read Prairie Fires, mentioned upthread .

Historytoo Wed 17-Feb-21 22:51:22

Just agreeing that Prairie Fires is worth reading. I'd read and reread the Little House stories and it was fascinating to read the facts behind them. I think Laura was incredibly strong, she had so much to cope with. Her life with Almanzo and the success of their farms was so much harder after his health was permanently affected after a serious illness when Rose was young.

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