(Image credit: Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum)

Posted by Ellen

Laura Ingalls Wilder, who was said to be a tiny woman, less than five feet tall, tends her vegetable garden at Rocky Ridge farm in the southern Missouri Ozarks.

The photo is probably from the late 1920s or early 1930s, when Laura was in her sixties and working on her "Little House" series of books about her childhood in cabins and shanties and covered wagons on the midwestern frontier.

Her daughter Rose Wilder Lane–who referred to her as Mama Bess–conceived the literary project and worked for years behind the scenes to prepare Laura's stories for publication. Rose was a widely known writer at the time who kept her role in the "Little House" books a secret.

By the time mother and daughter were working on Laura's stories, they were not getting along well, and Rose was developing an obsession with extreme libertarian politics. They quarreled over what to put in and what to leave out and what to emphasize and how to describe things; it seems that Laura usually but by no means always had the last word.

In the middle of the work, which took more than ten years, Rose picked up and moved to Connecticut; they completed the collaboration by mail and long distance phone calls. They rarely saw each other again.

Rose's political extremism eventually ruined the writing she did in her own name; she became a ridiculous crank. Even a book she wrote for Woman's Day about needlework became an anti-communist screed. But while she was able to sneak some of her libertarian ideology into the Little House stories, Laura's no-nonsense approach apparently kept the focus on the adventures of Ma and Pa and the girls and Jack the brindle bulldog.

Rose's political writing celebrated the subsistence farmer as the only real American, free and self-reliant. She interpreted her mother's pioneering background as the classic American experience, even though the family's wanderings on the frontier had quickly forced them out of subsistence farming and eventually out of farming altogether. 

To Rose, the hardships of pioneering were ennobling challenges. To Laura, they had been hardships, suffering, tough times in life. To several generations now of American children, they were awesome adventures.