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.
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.
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).
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.
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.