May 4, 2012

Profile and Interview of Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1949

The following is an article printed in the Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO. April 10, 1949. Pages 4D and 7D. Retrieved from


[April 19, 1949] - 

The Famous Author of the "Laura and Mary" Children's
Books, Mrs. Laura Wilder of Mansfield, Mo., is Shown
In Her Farm Home in Front of a Scroll Given Her By Seattle
School Children. A Similar Scroll, Presented By
California Readers, Is on the Bookcase.

World Acclaim Has Come to Laura Ingalls Wilder of Mansfield, Mo., Whose Writings Cover Pioneer Life in the Middle West.

BY CHESTER A. BRADLEY. (A Member of The Star's Staff.)

MANSFIELD, MO., April 9. -- Stories of Middle Western American pioneer life which were written here on a school tablet with a pencil are being read around the world and by millions of Americans. Their author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, 82, is known and loved by countless school children. Their parents also like her "Laura and Mary" stories.

By all standards Mrs. Wilder is a famous American author. Nevertheless, she is unaffected and as unassuming as in her earlier days here when she helped "pull a crosscut saw" on Ozark timber.

This month the city of Detroit is paying high tribute to Mrs. Wilder. It is naming one of its new branch libraries for her. Other such libraries there bear some of the most famous names in American history. 

Mrs. Wilder is the author of eight books that tell a story of everyday life in early Western America, extending from Wisconsin to the Dakotas and including ventures into the Indian territory of Kansas. Seven of the volumes are "Laura and Mary" stories, these characters being representative of Mrs. Wilder and a sister named Mary. The other book in the series is the story of a year in the boyhood life of her husband, Almanzo Wilder, who is 92 and a native of New York. 

Most of the Materials for the 50-Year-Old Wilder Home
Came From Their Farm ... The Large, Old-Fashioned
Chimney Opens into a Large Living Room Fireplace,
Reminiscent of the Pioneer Period of Which Mrs. Wilder
Has Written So Often.
Live In Distinctive Home.

This Ozark town of a little more than1,000 population is 250 miles southwest of Kansas City. The Wilders live a half mile east of it. Their unpretentious, 2-story, white frame house sits on a hill overlooking U.S. highway No. 60. It has a vine-covered stone chimney, tall and wide. Inside the home it is connected with a large fireplace in the living room--a room at once distinctive to a visitor because of its beamed ceiling and liberal use of woodwork, all white oak cut on the farm and shaped into lumber by the Wilders years ago. Except for the siding, most all materials used in building the home came right off the farm.

The living room also has several wall cases and shelves for the many books of the family library and there are framed scrolls and other pieces of art, written or painted in tribute to Mrs.Wilder's stories.

Mr. and Mrs. Wilder have lived in this home on the land they call Rocky Ridge farm since they moved here in a covered wagon from De Smet, S.D. in 1894. A drought lasting nearly three years had ruined most everything and everybody in the Dakotas, so the Wilders set out for the Ozarks, then known as "the land of the big red apple," seeking a new start in life.

They lived here in town for awhile, then acquired forty acres nearby, including a tree lien on the place. That proviso of the deal required that they carry out the terms of the former owner--to plant apple trees. The Wilders did, some ten acres at first, and their orchards were tended well enough that production reached proportions of carload shipments to Memphis, Tenn. and other markets. Mrs. Wilder recalls that spraying was virtually unknown and unneeded in those days.

By the hardest work in their earlier years here--Mrs. Wilder remembering well having helped to pull a saw on timber--they expanded their farm to more than 200 acres, had many chickens and dairy cattle and kept farm work going until recent years.

"We worked hard, but it was interesting and didn't hurt us any," Mrs. Wilder says.

She Raised Chickens.

Their farm was made one of the most successful hereabouts. Mrs. Wilder raised the chickens and her husband handled the cows. Once they had a contest, she says, as to whether cows or chickens brought the biggest returns.

"We had to work against each other trying to prove our point," she adds with a brightening of the eyes, adding quickly that the contest "ended in a draw."

The Wilders take pride in their long years of work and in the success they made on their Ozark farmland. Mrs. Wilder is much less willing to talk of her success as a writer or of any claim to fame. She disdains having any display made over her writing, although it has attained a place that brings fan mail from Japan, Sweden, and other countries as well as points all around America.

Her first writings were for newspapers and magazines, usually on poultry, or farming and rural subjects. It was not until 1932 that her first book was published and this event was more or less unexpected as far as she was concerned.

"Pa" Ingalls, her father, was a pioneer hunter, trapper and Indian fighter. He guarded property of the Chicago-Northwestern railroad in the days it was being built, had many adventures in the Middle West and became one of the founders of De Smet, S.D. 

Time after time she had heard him tell of his experiences and her own part in the family activities are worth reading, as proven by book sales today.

"These were family stories and I believed they should be preserved," Mrs. Wilder said, "so I wrote some of them down and sent them to my daughter Rose, so she could keep them. I also suggested she might want to use some of them in her writings." 

Rose Wilder Lane, her daughter, who lives in Danbury, Conn., already was nationally known as a reporter and author.

“Rose wrote back, some time later,” Mrs. Wilder continued, “that an editor had said the stories could be published if I would put some meat on the bones; so after that I started doing just that.”

“I wrote between washing dishes and getting dinner, or just any time I could,” she added. “But sometimes I got stumped on a phrase or a chapter. Maybe the way to do it would not come to me until after I had gone to bed and then I would think of something in the middle of th enight.”

Thus the many duties of an active farm wife took on new chores, but highly worthwhile ones.

She used an ordinary pencil and school tablet. Her manuscripts were sent to New York for typing, and all business connected with the work of publication was and is handled by her agent. He is George T. Bye, former Kansas Citian, who handles the writing of Mrs. Franklin D. (Eleanor) Roosevelt, and other celebrities.

Favorite Among Children.

Harper & Brothers of New York published the first book by Mrs. Wilder and all the others in the series. Chicago school children in 1947 selected Mrs. Wilder as their favorite author. She was honored in a special radio broadcast there. A plaque in the home here contains signatures of many Chicago children who took part in the events. Similar plaques have come from the Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California; also one from Seattle, representing children and librarians of the Pacific Northwest.

Her books are very popular with Kansas City Public Library patrons. “Pa’s Fiddle,” well known in the books now is in the state museum at Pierre, S.D., but is played every year in a special annual concert there.

Mrs. Wilder was born at Pepin, Wis., on February 7, 1867, and a portrait of her father is drawn in "Little House in the Big Woods." Other titles in the series, all true stories, she says, are "Little House on the Prairie" (the family in the Indian Territory of Kansas); "Farmer Boy (Mr. Wilder's boyhood), "On the Banks of Plum Creek" (Early Minnesota); "By the Shores of Silver Lake" (Dakota territory); "The Long Winter" (one even worse than the recent one in Missouri); "Little Town on the Prairie" (in Dakota), and "These Happy Golden Years" (Laura, who was a school teacher at sixteen, meets Almanzo. Sleigh rides and buggy rides figure in the romance. Following marriage in South Dakota in 1885 they go to make their home in a little house on the claim they acquired.)

With fame and extra cash from book royalties in recent years, most persons would say the golden years are certainly continuing, but writing success has its drawbacks these days, Mrs. Wilder finds.

Hit By Income Tax.

She doesn't talk in figures of the money she has received for her books, but she says:

The more I wrote the bigger my income tax got, so I stopped. Why should I go on at my age? Why, we don't need it here anyway."

The latter statement was in regard to her complete satisfaction with the simple, comfortable life in the home she has known for more than half a century. The Wilders sold their farm with the provision they could occupy the home until “I just finished planting the potatoes,” said Mr. Wilder as he entered the home to greet visitors. Despite “not being strong” and his 92 years he is most alert to the current scene. Both the Wilders, however, complain of not being able to get help, "either inside or outside the house."

Detroit is planning appropriate ceremonies for the dedication of the library named for Mrs. Wilder. Officials there are eager for Mrs. Wilder to take part, but she says "definitely" she will not. It would be too much of a trip for Mr. Wilder, she adds; also, while she feels well, and certainly looks it, she says, "I'm too nervous" for anything like that. 

Her last public appearance as an author was in Detroit six years ago when she took part in book week events there.

Ralph A. Ulveling, library director of Detroit, said recently that "we believe her books will live and will be read with interest a hundred years from now just as they are today. If our prediction is correct we will naturally take particular pride in having been the institution that led the way in bringing her permanent recognition among the American men and women of letters."

Others honored similarly by Detroit libraries include such famous Americans as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas A. Edison, Ulveling noted. Seldom has the city so honored any living person.

"In choosing the name of Mrs. Wilder," Ulveling said, "we did so because we felt that she was a Midwestern writer who in her series of books has presented an invaluable social history of this great central portion of the country. While some historians, and they have an important place present the great sweep of history, bringing out the political and the military influences, Mrs. Wilder has directed attention to the commonplace things, the way of life of people. Thus she has preserved a portion of our history which is the part that is most likely to be lost in the course of time. She has done this beautifully, ably and understandingly, and like so few writers she has done it in a way which is interesting both to children and to adults.

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