Review: ‘Writings to Young Women From Laura Ingalls Wilder’

We can work our dreams out into realities if we try, but we must be willing to make the effort.

–Laura Ingalls Wilder, February 1918

Laura Ingalls WilderIf I could sit down to lunch or tea with any of my favorite authors, alive or dead, Laura Ingalls Wilder would be one of the first on the list. I grew up reading the Little House series, planned Little House road trips, and owned the Little House cookbook at one point. I was Laura for Halloween one year, and when I was in Girl Scouts, we earned a Little House badge. Before my Harry Potter obsession, there was my Little House obsession. And to be honest, it’s never really gone away — just faded for periods of time.

When I was interning in Mitchell, South Dakota, I made two separate trips up to the Ingalls homestead in De Smet. Both trips were wonderful and brought me back to when I was reading the books in grade school. On the second trip, my friend bought me a bonnet, which is in a box somewhere at my parent’s house. I made a corn cob doll, which has yet to be set out in my new apartment. And, of course, I bought one of the many books in the gift shop: “Writings to Young Women from Laura Ingalls Wilder: On Wisdom and Virtues.”

The first volume is a collection of columns that Laura wrote for The Missouri Ruralist when she was living in the Ozarks. She began writing them in the late 1890s when she was in her forties and when her daughter Rose was working as a reporter in California. Stephen W. Hines, a Laura fanboy himself, put together this volume as well as two other volumes: “On Life as a Pioneer Woman” and “As Told by Her Family, Friends and Neighbors.” I neglected to buy the other two volumes when I was in De Smet, but you better believe I’ll find my way back there (or order them on Amazon).

As Hines writes in his foreward, Laura wrote of timeless things that anyone can relate to. As I read column after column, I found it difficult to believe that what she was writing in the early 1900s and that it was applying to 2015. She writes about making good choices in life, whether we are overworked and what to do if we sometimes hurt the feelings of our friends. When I was barely through part one of the collection, I found myself scrambling to find a pen so I could underline passages to find them for later.

One of my favorite columns in the book was called “If We Only Understood,” written in December 1917. Laura writes about Mrs. Brown, whom community members were judging for not washing the dishes during the day and leaving the dishes for her daughter to wash when she came home from school. They learned later that Mrs. Brown was writing for the papers to earn money to buy her daughter a new winter outfit. Laura ties it to a verse she had read: “We would love each other better, if we only understood.”

We should be willing to allow others the freedom we demand for ourselves. Everyone has the right to self-expression. —December 1917

Many of her columns are written like that — a personal experience rounded out with advice, either for her readers or for herself. One of the columns goes back to when she quarreled with Mary at Thanksgiving, when Pa had gone out to shoot a wild goose for their meal. They argued over whether to dress the goose with sage, which Laura did not want. Pa came back without a goose, and she remembers telling Mary that she wished she would’ve let her have the sage. Laura featured the quarrel in chapter 26 of “By the Shores of Silver Lake,” and in her column, says that this “little happening” helped “me to be properly thankful even though at times the season of my blessings has not been just such as I would have chosen.”

I’ll leave you with more of Laura’s wisdom:

We are all busy, but what are we living for anyway, and why is the world so beautiful if not for us? … The true way to live is to enjoy every moment as it passes, and surely it is in the everyday things around us that the beauty of life lies.


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