Facts About Laura Ingalls Wilder And The Real Life Little House On The Prairie

Laura Ingalls Wilder was a homesteader and author, famous for her Little House on the Prairie book series. Like Juana Maria, who inspired the book, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Wilder actually existed. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a real woman who wrote books inspired by events that took place in her life. For example, she really grew up on rural farms in multiple states; her sister Mary actually went blind; and her husband, Almanzo, was not a work of fiction. Pictures of the real Laura Ingalls Wilder and family exist, and there is a museum dedicated to the family in Mansfield, Missouri, where visitors can at least see part of the real little house on the prairie

The real Laura Ingalls Wilder was born on February 7, 1867, in Pepin County, Wisconsin, and she died at age 90 on February 10, 1957 in Mansfield, Missouri. Thanks to her books and the television show based on them, she will never be forgotten. 

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  • She Was A Distant Relative Of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
    Photo: National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Was A Distant Relative Of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

    Laura Ingalls Wilder was distantly related to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, best known for his New Deal that helped people during the Great Depression. Their genealogical link goes back to Wilder's great-grandfather, Samuel Ingalls, who married Margaret Delano, the daughter of Anne Ladd and Jonathan Delano.

    The union of Samuel and Margaret produced Laura's grandfather, Lansford Whiting Ingalls. The Delano family – and, thanks to that one marriage, the Ingalls family – can trace their heritage back to the Mayflower. Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge can both also trace their roots to the Delanos on the Mayflower. 

  • She Lived Through One Of The Most Brutal Winters The Dakota States Have Ever Seen
    Photo: NBC Television Network / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Lived Through One Of The Most Brutal Winters The Dakota States Have Ever Seen

    Everyone who lives in  – or has been to – South Dakota in the winter knows that the weather is generally unpleasant and very cold. Back in 1880, when Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family were living in De Smet, South Dakota, they had to deal with one of the worst winters on record. Multiple blizzards hit, one after the other, leaving them snowbound.

    This was a time before snow blowers, roads, and modern-day grocery stores, so they nearly starved to death. Ingalls recounted her experiences with this brutal winter in her book, appropriately named The Long Winter (1940). 

  • Her Sister Mary Went Blind – But Not From Scarlet Fever
    Photo: NBC Television / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Her Sister Mary Went Blind – But Not From Scarlet Fever

    Late in the Little House book series, Laura Ingalls Wilder mentions that her older sister, Mary went blind from contracting scarlet fever. While Mary did, indeed, go blind at a very young age, it was not from scarlet fever. The disease could cause temporary blindness but not the permanent kind that Mary dealt with. Modern-day researchers combed the Little House books, as well as Laura's autobiography, and they noted that Mary suffered from some facial paralysis, debilitating headaches, and spinal sickness.

    Their conclusion – viral meningoencephalitis caused her blindness. Laura likely changed it in the thinly veiled fictional version of their lives, possibly because it was easier for readers to understand scarlet fever. 

  • Her Writing Career Began With A Column For A Missouri Newspaper And Exposed Her Feminist Tendencies

    In 1911, Laura Ingalls Wilder started her writing career. Her first job was as a columnist for the Missouri Ruralist, a newspaper that is still in business today. The Ruralist was aimed at farmers, former homesteaders, and people who lived in rural areas. Laura's column provided advice on a number of topics, and – like the cool, proto-feminist she was – explained things like how women could be equal partners to their husbands and what they should do with their newly won right to vote.

    Parts of her columns provided the foundation for her Little House books, as well. She wrote for the paper until 1924. 

  • She Had Three Sisters And One Brother
    Photo: Unknown Photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Had Three Sisters And One Brother

    Laura Ingalls Wilder was the second of five children. Her older sister was named Mary (just like in the books), and her younger siblings were Carrie, Grace, and Charles. Sadly, Charles died when he was only nine months old. At the time, the Ingalls family was traveling to Iowa to set up a homestead there.

    There are no records that show what he died from, but the mid-1800s were a time before modern medical care and antibiotics, and the odds that a family would have all of their children survive to adulthood were slim, particularly if they were rural homesteaders, setting up farms far away from established cities. 

  • Her Parents Were Homesteaders Who Once Tried To Set Up On An Indian Reservation
    Photo: Unknown Photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Her Parents Were Homesteaders Who Once Tried To Set Up On An Indian Reservation

    Laura Ingalls Wilder's parents, Charles and Caroline, were homesteaders. Homesteaders took advantage of the Homestead Act put into place by the US government. If they moved to a certain part of the country (usually in the Midwest and West) and took claim to the land by setting up a farm on it, they could purchase that land at a very low price – or even receive it for free, simply for cultivating it. 

    The Ingalls family tried to take advantage of these new laws by claiming land of their own. They moved around from what is now Minnesota, to Wisconsin, and later Iowa and South Dakota, sometimes returning to the same state a few years later. At one point, they tried to homestead land that was a part of the Osage Indian reservation. Clearly, that didn't work. Every move was prompted by bad luck, such as very harsh winters, crop loss, or loss of land.

    The timeline in the Little House books describes the family's many moves, although Laura changed her age and switched a few of the states around.