Caroline Ingalls: “My home is where you are. And you and the children are my family.”
Charles Ingalls: “Caroline Ingalls, I love you.”
We may have fallen in love with her for her starring role as Caroline Ingalls, but Karen Grassle had a thriving career beyond that. Explore more about the amazing woman who captured our hearts as Ma and how she got her start. And find out what happened to her after “Little House on the Prairie.”
Karen Grassle’s Early Years
Karen Grassle was born in Berkeley, California on February 25, 1942. It was during her college days at the University of California, Berkeley where she became involved in theatre productions and was hooked. She applied for a Fulbright Grant to study theatre arts at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and started her time there in 1965. Karen says, “That was one of the most exciting learning experiences of my life: the school was superb, and we could go to the theater in London and see the finest actors and productions in the English language.”
After returning to the States, she debuted on Broadway in a show called The Gingham Dog and her performance earned her a nomination for Best Newcomer. Though theatre continued to be her first love, she began to find work on television with some commercial appearances in the early 1970s.
Little House on the Prairie Years
When Karen had the opportunity to read for the part of Caroline Ingalls, known as Ma on “Little House on the Prairie,” she recalls that Michael Landon was very involved in the process. She described him getting right on the floor with her to read the audition scenes. In an interview in “The Little House on the Prairie” DVD Collection set, she says that Michael leapt to his feet and declared, “Send her to wardrobe!”
Becoming part of the television show was a learning process, and she recalls the time fondly. Melissa Gilbert recounts in Prairie Tale: A Memoir how she would watch Karen do warm-up exercises and study her acting process. Karen’s professional attitude towards the role made an impact on those around her.
Karen was in over 180 episodes of “Little House on the Prairie” as it ran from 1974-1983. In many episodes, her character supports Laura’s adventures, and Ma is the glue that holds the family together. However, sometimes her character has shining moments. In one interview, she talks about her favorite episode: “‘A Matter of Faith’ was written for me so that I could show off a greater range. I think Mike was hoping that I could be nominated for and win an Emmy…. It has been gratifying that so many people remember it and love it so much.”
After the Prairie
After “Little House on the Prairie” ended, Karen Grassle returned to the theatre work that she loved and guest-starred in TV shows and movies. One of her proudest accomplishments was co-writing the screenplay of and acting in the 1978 TV movie “Battered” as it allowed her to explore a difficult subject matter and express her creativity.
Showcasing her versatility, Karen appeared in episodes of “The Love Boat” and “Murder, She Wrote, playing very different roles from Ma in “Little House on the Prairie.”
Karen also appeared in several feature films, including “Wyatt Earp” in 1994 and “My Greatest Teacher” in 2012. In this clip, her character has a scene with Wyatt Earp played by Kevin Costner.
Today, Karen lives in the San Francisco Bay area and remains involved in local theatre. Her son Zach lives nearby, and she stays in touch with other “Little House on the Prairie” cast members to this day, especially her friend and neighbor Charlotte Stewart.
In the fall of 2021, Karen authored a candid memoir, Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss, and Love from Little House’s Ma. The book is raw, emotional, and tender, celebrating and honoring womanhood in all its complexity. During the writing of the book, Karen was asked, “What was the greatest challenge—and greatest reward—of working on Little House on the Prairie?”
She replied, “The greatest challenge was that my acting partner, Michael, was also my director, and my boss as producer. The actor-to-actor relationship could never be equal. The greatest reward is coming to me now. The number of people who feel that the portrayal of Ma changed them and their lives for the better continues to astonish me every day, all these years later.”
For so many fans, Karen Grassle created the ultimate mother as Caroline Ingalls and her portrayal of ‘Ma’ has inspired us for more than forty years.
Recommendations from the Website Editors
A number of the cast members from “Little House on the Prairie” have written about their experiences. Below are links to our website articles about them, as well as to their books, which make entertaining reading and inspired gifts for fans of the television series.
- Article: About Melissa Sue Anderson
- Memoir: The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House
- Article: About Alison Arngrim
- Memoir: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated
- Article: Melissa Francis: Lessons from the Prairie
- Memoir: Lessons from the Prairie: The Surprising Secrets to Happiness, Success, and (Sometimes Just) Survival I Learned on America’s Favorite Show
- Memoir: Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter: A Memoir
- Article: About Melissa Gilbert
- Memoir: Prairie Tale: A Memoir
- Cookbook: My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours
- Article: About Karen Grassle
- Memoir: Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss, and Love from Little House’s Ma
Wendi Lou Lee
- Article: About Ketty Lester
- Memoir: Ketty Lester: From the Cotton Fields To Grammy Nominated “Love Letters” to Little House on the Prairie
- Article: Miss Beadle and Me
- Memoir: Little House in the Hollywood Hills: A Bad Girl’s Guide to Becoming Miss Beadle, Mary X, and Me
For information about Laura Ingalls Wilder whose novels inspired the TV series, please visit our Recommended Reading lists for children and young adults and adults. You may also be interested in a documentary film about Laura Ingalls Wilder.
We invite you to subscribe to the free Little House on the Prairie newsletter for all the exclusive interviews and events.
References and Resources
Cora Doddato says
I love this show so much! It is so inspiaring and wonderful!!! I wish I could meet all the cast members and send them all my love! i’m only on season 6 and i cant wait to find out what happens next! Your amazing😉😃👍♥️
Cathy E Lemonds says
this show was truly a wonderful family show! There was so much talent in all the actors and actresses! I dont believe there could have been anyone who could have played the part of ma Ingalls any better than Karen! Her kindly voice and mannorism portraying ma Ingalls was as if she was not acting at all but was really that person!
Marjorie Fuentes says
I’m sitting here watching the series right now! My family teases me because I’ve watched every episode dozens of times. I’m so thankful that it’s still on so often😊 thank you for the many happy tears I’ve experienced. ❤️👏🏽🌹
Claudia Kaufman says
I just turned 66 and still love the show! I watch it daily and record many of my more favorite episodes if there is a chance I might miss them. The struggles the Ingalls family went through are pretty eye-opening. The winters, the droughts, the wolves, hunting for food and so much more just to hopefully be able to have enough to eat and stay alive. I love all the actors on the show-including Caroline. She was a perfect choice for Charles’ wife!
I still watch the reruns of Little House. My mom and I watch them weeknights and when they are on the weekends. That is one show you can never tire of! Such a good family show. Good values to. Wish a lot of shows were like that today.
Charele Raport says
I watch it every day on UP tv and am now watching the Pa-ther’s Day marathon. I LOVE Charles Ingalls. He was the epitome of a wonderful husband, father, friend and neighbor. Such a hard worker!! I love how faith is such a big part of the show. The Bible, church, praying….so wonderful to see this on tv. Miss this type of show on prime time now. Thank God for reruns.
And let’s not forget to mention how handsome Michael Landon was. Wow. All the characters are great but I want to push Mrs. Oleson in the lake almost every single day!!! She is such an evil character. This show is helping me through this quarantine. We are so blessed today, with so many modern conveniences. Really makes you grateful. Thanks UPtv for airing this show!
Myra M Kucera says
I also watch Little House daily on UPTV for all the reasons you’ve mentioned, and more. The Pa-ther’s Day Marathon was wonderful, too.
Miguel Angel says
Yo me encuentro embelezado con Karen y Estonia seguro que Es la mujer que muchos hombres quisieramos Tener combo esposa.
Comfieso que siento afecto may especial por esa mujer.
Saludos para Ella desde La Paz Bolivia.
I am enraptured with Karen and Estonia for sure She is the woman that many men would like to have a wife combo.
I confess that I have a special affection for that woman.
Greetings to her from La Paz Bolivia.
I so love this show. I still watch it daily on the up and halmark drama.
Watching it as we speak. Love this series!!!!
Cynthia Berry says
I turned 62 yesterday and I so enjoy seeing “Little House On The Prairie “ on cable all these years later. Karen Grassle was an extraordinary actress and her role as “Ma” (Carolyn Ingalls) was so wonderful. I love Michael Landon and all the cast. The show was full of love, lessons and decency that is missing so much in our world today, and watching the reruns gives me that much-needed dose of goodness I miss so much today…
SiMone Washington says
Both my family and I watch “Little House on the Prairie” faithfully. My favorite characters are, Caroline (Karen Grassle) and Nells (Richard Bull ). Although it was a different era, things was similar in its own right. Certainly, there were love, hate, deceit, corruption etc., but one thing good that came out of it all was that love always conquered hate, good always arose to the top, bad always finished last, there was all ways a moral to the story. I miss the characters, I miss the show.
Lori Bianchini says
To this day I continue to watch Little Houston the Prairie! I grew up with this show and it is the best series ever made!!! Thank you to all the wonderful casts members! Takes you away of all the troubles that are in the world now!!!! Lori Bianchini
Deborah Planet says
I loved Karen Grassle as Carolyn on Little House on the Prairie.
I was an abused child of an alcoholic mother and her role and acting served as a role model for me.
I named my son Landon!
Same with me. I imagined that I had parents like them. Now my husband is just like Charles and I’m like Caroline!
Alli Masse says
I love Little House, and of course have watched it over and over though the years. I am now 64, years young. I was wondering what Michael Landon was really like? I went on (like so many others) to watch him in Highway to Heaven and I was told he wrote that. I wondered if he was anything like his character (kind, faithful, loving, etc.) in real life. I also wondered about the man who played Mr. Edwards, Victor French. They just seemed so natural together, that I wondered if they were related or best friends outside of work…and if they were as genuine as they seemed in character? Just curious…I miss the “old days,” not just due to this virus but because there is no longer a sense of “real” family, or care. The world is cold and although it talks a good game, it really doesn’t put itself out there for anyone. This virus might just be a God-send!
Paula H says
Happy Birthday Karen.
Wishing you well in everything you do.
I grew up watching you be the ultimate Ma and grand role model. I am Melissa Gilbert’s age, so I totally related.
Wishing you many, many, many more birthdays! 💜
Pamela C. says
I am a Snowbird wintering in Arizona, and watching an episode of Little House. I wish to convey how much I admired Karen Grassle as wife and mother in the series. She is a class act. Kind, caring, and beautiful. I remember the Laura Ingall Wilder books as a little girl, and had to visualize what “Ma” looked like. I do believe Karen Grassle looked like the real Caroline Ingall.
Karen Miller says
Beautifully said. I wish a lot sometimes that I could have lived in those times.
minnypearl o lindsay says
Little house on the prairie were the tv 📺 show that I’d hurry home to watch after work, because it were and still are one of the very best Family tv show I’ll hope always stay
On air in our southern community, Charles and Karen or tv name Carolne we’re two loveing tv couples) much loved TV show ever.♥️
Miss the show. Total Class and thought with the whole family in mind.
Rita S Magee says
Who was karen married to outside the show of little house?
Arleen Welker says
Watching LHOTP as i write this…i love it..wanted to ask Karen …was Michael Landon really that,sweet?..i always had a crush on him in my younger yrs…
Watch it everyday! It just makes me feel better. You actually can learn how to treat others. The pilot episode is my favorite! I watch it every Christmas.
Natasha S. says
I am so grateful for a Little House on the Prairie. I bought the movie series because I love what it stands for, and so that I can have a visual example (from the characters in the Ingalls family) of things to copy so that I can be a better mother to my children. Also, so that my girls, can see what life should be like if people loved each other, and led moral lives.
Whenever I get sad, and feel unloved by too many people around me, it’s nice to know that I can escape into the series of shows.
It gets me back to basics so that I can keep loving those people and keep treating myself better. It also helps me keep it up with all of the hard work I have to do and fears to face. I just know that the show has helped so many people and blessed so many lives. I’ve always wished that I could be alot like Caroline Ingalls and have a lot of the attributes of Charles Ingalls. God bless you for creating this website and to all of you who are reading this. I hope you are having a blessed day!!
Sylvia Laskowski says
I love Little House on the Prairie! I watch it daily on COZI. And yes the episodes make me cry 😭 and laugh! I love ALL the characters 😁 it’s hard to find heart-warming shows like little house. If you don’t have a compassionate heart watch little House on the Prairie and you will grow one I guarantee.
i loved the show still watching today at the age of 52 they just don;t make em that way anymore
I’ve seen all the episodes love them so much I still watch little house on the prairie good actors Michael Landon I miss this all the actor’s laura mary carry grace albert may god bless you all and rip Michael landon
Kera Vinson says
For an only child, Laura Ingalls’ books were a sweet get away when I wasn’t playing outside on the farm. Today, I am 44 years old and when I read articles about the LHOTP characters, or catch and old episode of the show, I am swiftly taken back to a time in my life where innocence was bliss…….To be young again. Thank you LHOTP for the sweet memories you’ve imprinted on my brain…..of a time when people were wholesomely moral and good…….you could trust others with your life.
James patrick says
Oh op is so good I love the characters it’s so true to life and I don’t get bored of it TV these days is so violent and nothing good about them I love watching it over and over again it’s so close to life it is not material at all and has spiritual values to each episode and more there is so much violence on TV they call it a good show well its bad may God bless Michael land on for a good job done also the cast plus highway to heaven another show with spiritual values to victor french played a good part to they went well together I’d say we don’t get shows like them anymore such a shame I’m 60 yr old and I loved those shows they were inspirational and kept me watching them thank you all that gave us the shows god bless you all a good job done yours James Patrick xxxxxxxx
mike hiatt says
A decent program where good people actually win
John Wehr says
Even though times have changed so much not only since the time Little House took place but also the time it was filmed and showed on television. The basics of a good life and love still apply today. We must all take responsibility to make sure we live these basics each day and do our best to pass them on. All the actors. writers, and many others that were behind the scenes created a one of a kind masterpiece. Everyone should read the book as well. It set the stage for an incredible piece of work brought to life on film. I’m watching an episode now where Mrs Ingalls is holding Rose.
Little House On The Prairie very good story…….I like everything, nature, the circumstances, the players … from childhood to the present … never feel bored to watch it …
Pamela Griffin says
I love LHOTP. I want it to never end. There are no shows with heart, great acting, always a different story, oulks you in, and you do not want the show to end. Nothing today like LHOTP. Love all the characters. So sad Michael died. What a great actor. Hope you all get together, and have reminded friends. Please come back, Pamela
victor rones says
the little house on the praire is very good and real.
Watched EVERY episode of LHOTP as a child and STILL to this day as a 50 year old woman. I was “Laura” as a child and “Ma Caroline ” as a mother. To this very day I have yet to find any other actress play such a touching, memorable role as a loving yet firm mother, a patient yet stoic friend and neighbor, and an in total love with her husband wife and I don’t think I ever will. Ms. Grassle has made an impact on my life and I just wanted her to know. Thank you, Ma. Love love.
The cast truly were like extended family members. I cried watching the episodes then and continue to be touched and moved to this day. So many great lessons to learn from each episode- Michael was a master at this. I cant pick a favorite episode but the one where Ma and Pa had to have tough love to Mary when she was stubborn and depressed when she first became blind, really stood out because Mary thought they were sending her off to the blind school. Long live LHOTP – the world is better with it:)
Dianne Jackson says
I so love LHOTP and I watch the old shows every day on the INSP channel. I could watch any show I’d like but choose to watch LHOTP because it brings back so many childhood memories. My friends tease me because I watch it but I don’t care. They just don’t make shows like this anymore. A big thank you to Karen Grassle and the rest of the cast for bringing joy into my home as well as many other homes.
Those were the real times of good trust love togetherness
Lydia Juarez says
I recently became aware of the series Little House On The Prairie and am trying to get the entire series since I have been recording all episodes then realizing I was recording them out of order. I LOVE the stories and find myself saying “Now they don’t make movies like that anymore.” I often cry during and after the endings. The actor’s portray the characters so well that it makes it so real.
ANAHITE AROUTUNIAN says
I have always loved little house when I was a child. Now I play extra money to get the channel and watch with my children cause there is no other tv shows like little house. I love Karen, she is amazing and I try to learn from her. wish this show would go on forever.
Agree. Best show ever.
Lis ward says
I have always love little house on the prairie. Since I was a child, As of today I’m still watching it, I will watch it before I watch anything else, In the morning I love me some Karen Grassle and Micheal Lander ,they inspire me so much it touches my soul and give me that love and caring, towards other’s, They are some amazing people and I try to learn from there spiritual 🙏 heart that they send out. When Micheal lander pass away it really broke my heart , 💕 I was hurt 😥 for a while But I made it through I wish It could have went on forever.
louis monaco says
im Louis A Monaco ,,,about the same age as Laura on Little House,,Im 55 now living in my little Cottage in Forest Ocala National Forest Florida,,,as me and my wife watch repeats of season 1,,,Those were the best days in 70s/80s and its sad tv isnt the same anymore..We need to bring the TV STANDARDS back,,,I also watch repeats of Highway to Heaven and miss Mighael Landon,Victor French…Bill Bixby and all the actors of that by gone day..
I wish I was in those days too.
Genesee Country Village & Museum hasn’t announced yet who is appearing for Laura Ingalls Wilder days this year, but there is a picture of a guest whom I think may be you. If it is you, thank you for coming to New York. I can just about wait to see you in person! If it’s not going to be you, that’s ok too. Thank you the same! LHOTP always reminds me of my daughter when she was small. We watched it together every chance we had!
Love lhotp, the life and times of an era that is gone unfortunately. I would have loved to have lived in those times.
I am truly blessed with an awesome wife that reminds me of Caroline, she is tough, a loving wife and a loving mother.
Wives don’t come any better than mine, she is my Caroline. Thank you for a time when there weren’t the drugs and violence
there is today.
love lhotp so much. famiilies were close. such simple times compared to today .
Ruben and Alicia r. Cano says
My wife and I who are both 74 years young truly enjoy watching lhotp. The characters that come out are outstanding especially ms Karen grades. We used to enjoy seeing Michael Landon in several of his movies before his passing.
Brenda Stutts says
I too love watching reruns of Little House. What an inspiring story line and always made feel better. Karen keep up the good work. You are so talented.
Gary miles says
What a wonderful series lhotp was, and still is today..! I watched as s kid growing up , and own all 9 seasons + the most vie collection. No other tv series had this quality feel and emotion ..! Wonderful job to all in front of the camera, and behind.. how can this series ever be topped, I am blessed to own it. Thank you to all involved…
EUGENIOS HATZIVASILIOU says
I just wanted to give great thanks to all these people that worked in these series,for the wonderfull life lessons that we took and the beautyfull memories of our beloved actors that became mempers of our family in our childhood years.Pls…i would like to ask if its is posible to put greek subtitles in the dvd’s with all cyrcles,so our children are going to see this perfect series
Vera Abbott says
The first time I ever heard about the Ingalls family was way back when I attended a country school…mid to late 40s. The one chosen for me was “The Long Winter”. I was an avid book worm, and when that book arrived I started reading it, and finished it in 2 days. It pretty much resembled my environment as it was winter time where I lived. I enjoyed that book very much, and I still watch LHOTP to this day. I read a few books telling about Ma’s early days, and other books leading up to that. It’s amazing what my local library has in stock!! Those days take me back to a time when life was so uncomplicated. Love you, Karen Grassle, for you portrayal of Ma. <3
Betty Slaughter says
With all the filth on TV these days it is so refreshing to watch Little House on the prairie. I have seen all episodes more than once. Happy Birthday Karen.
Carole Burt says
Watched most of the orIginal, episodes as a child and am truly enjoying all the re runs every week day! Hope they never take the re runs off!
Carole Burt says
Ann Richards says
I love Little House On The Prairie so much. It brings me back home with wonderful memories that I will ally’s treasure. It just seems like a time where everything was so perfect with family hardships and blues and appreciating what we worked hard for to own. It will always be my safe place when I feel that I need to go back there.
Cheryl A Groves says
I am watching LHOTP as I write this comment. I love it and I love you. I am 54 and still watching. It always felt like home and an era I would have loved to be part of. You and the family brought it to life for me. Things always come to an end and that’s life, but I wish it would have never ended!
dianne sabido says
Having Little House gave me more of insight to understanding what our Ancestors went through. In Carolyn Ingalls, she was in my mind my third grt grandmother Hannah Waite who was kidnapped by a band of Mohawk indians. Pregnant with a little girl, along with the village in Deerfield Massachusetts. They were quakers. It is a part of History I am proud of. So when I watch the attitudes, and the charity, and conflicts, and the religious attitudes it reminds me of them. I know that some of the charactors were not in the books that I had read, but it does not take away the human aspect of Pioneer life. Thank you again for the wonderful reminder of thankful heart of what I have and what my ancestors left. Carolyn as Laura said Home is the best word.
Chris Carder says
Your refined nature and honesty is alive today everytime I watch another episode. What a wonderful life you shared with us on Little House. Glad we are able to continue to watch the reruns.
Steven Cave says
As a 49 year old man who has watched every single episode of Little House on the Prairie about 30 times now and I still keep watching it I think Karen plays a Great ma Ingalls and is a great actress I am bedridden because of my disability and I find great comfort in watching the show unfortunately some of my discs are worn with constant watching I will always continue to watch and tell I have worn down every disc love you Karen and thanks for being such a great actress
Shirley Jones says
Thanks for the wonderful episodes of LHOTP. I am still watching this show after all these years. I record it everyfay and just love it. It’s so refreshing !!!! After all these years it is still my FAVORITE ??. Again. Thanks and God Bless you and Lily !
Melissa J. Barrett says
I always loved how Karen Grassle portrayed Ma Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie showing me what it meant to be a pioneer mother and loving wife to her husband. Growing up my own mother reminded me of Ma Ingalls from the way she always had home cooked meals and homemade bread and rolls and homemade desserts and cookies and cakes for my brothers and sisters and dad. The thing I most remember my mother telling me was know matter where life takes you the love and warmth of your family is always in your heart.
Karen couldn’t have been anything but the most perfect person to play Ma and Caroline did such a wonderful job in all episodes she was in what a perfect person for the part God bless you Karen I have all 9 seasons of LHOTP and watch them all to this day and love them just as much today as I did when that show came out when I was a kid and today my daughter loves to watch it with me a lot what a great thing to do to spend time with your daughter (she’s 11) and loves LHOTP just as much as I did and still do and always will God bless you Karen love you amen
Susanne Davidson says
Cannot find enough words to tell you how I love “Ma Ingalls” – Karen Grassle you are divine, spectacular and such a role model for us. Cannot get enough of “Little House” and we watch it over and over. Also just love and adore “Miss Beadle” and of course “Pa Ingalls”. What a tremendous father he was and husband to Caroline. We need more of these examples of what ‘parenthood’ really means. THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
LINDA Harake says
In Little House or Love Boat or any roles, it is her softly spoken tone of voice, that inspires me to think what my own voice sounds like. Her voice is pleasant to hear.
Morris Ellington says
I agree with you so much, her calm gentle soothing voice is so pleasing to hear.
I think she is such a wonderful person. I have great admiration for her.
Evan Hagan says
I always watched Karen (ma) as little boy but know that I’m older and watching some episodes she was a good actress really good she was the glue of that show.