Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography

I took a week off from Laura Ingalls Wilder last week and painted the bathroom at our house. I also attended a conference on African Americans in the nineteenth century West. Trinity Christian College was a co-sponsor, and a colleague of mine in the History Department, David Brodnax, was a co-organizer of the conference and presented a paper. It was a great conference. But I’m back now.

This week I read Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography by William Anderson. Anderson is the foremost living authority on Laura Ingalls Wilder. He was reading, thinking about, and writing about the Little House books as a child during the 1950s and 1960s. He wrote his master’s thesis on Wilder and the books, and he wrote a series of pamphlets during the 1970s for the Ingalls and Wilder historical sites. He has written or edited a series of books and collections of Wilder’s works, most recently The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which just came out this year.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography was published in 1992. It was aimed at younger readers, and it has been a steady seller for HarperCollins ever since. At the time, Anderson was one of the few who had read Pioneer Girl, and he used both it and the Little House books to shape his narrative. He also had read deeply of Wilder’s papers in the collections of the historical sites, especially in De Smet, South Dakota and Mansfield, Missouri. Anderson’s narrative is lively and direct. He traces Wilder’s life clearly in 232 pages. One feature of this work is that he includes a number of poems that Laura wrote as a teenager, which show her growing ability to put words together in evocative ways.

From the point of view of my project to understand Wilder’s faith, this book does not necessarily add anything to what I had learned from Pioneer Girl or John Miller’s biography. Anderson describes Wilder’s childhood experiences with the Congregational Churches in Walnut Grove and De Smet, her religious experience as a teen in Walnut Grove, and her recitation of 104 Bible verses to win a prize. In his account of Wilder’s adult life, several times Anderson notes her consistent attendance at Sunday Services at the Methodist church in Mansfield.

I’m looking forward to reading Anderson’s edited book of letters, Lord-willing soon.


Author: johnfry2013

Chair, Department of History, Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, IL

One thought on “Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography”

  1. Mr. Anderson writes in a similar style as Wilder: descriptive, respectful and aware of audience. Matters of faith were subdued with Laura and I think Anderson follows her lead.

    I am studying the development of churche history in America and though the Congregationalists and Anglicans were early leaders in New England’s Great Awakening and Second Awakening, by the mid-1800s the more evangelical Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians were the most successful frontier missionaries particularly in the South. From my study, the Ingalls continued their ties with the Boston Congregationalists through the “Youth’s Companion” newsletters and their frontier missionaries. (Even the new little town on the prairie was named after Father De Smet, a Jesuit missionary to the northern American Indians.) Almanzo’s family had been active members of the Methodist Episcopal churches in both Malone, NY, and later in Spring Valley, MN. But, by the time Laura and Almanzo moved to southern Missouri in 1894, they were in the homeland of more evangelical denominations. Laura was attracted to the music in the Mansfield Methodist church and contributed in ladies groups. Neither joined churches as members.

    Thanks for your study and sharing on this topic!


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