“Mother” was indeed a magic word to Laura Ingalls Wilder for, though Pa Ingalls occupies front-and-center attention in the Little House books, Ma is right there too, as the one who trained her daughters in domestic matters and educated them. It is a wonder that she lived to a ripe old age of 84, outliving Pa by twenty years. As his partner, she knew heavy labor as his first helper in building their little house on the prairie, defended the home when a prairie fire threatened it and dealt with the Osage Indians, when rather unaccountably Pa was not there to intervene.
Most of all, though, Ma was the real moral center of the family. In the following article written for the Missouri Ruralist in 1921, Laura honors her mother’s loving guidance and caring spirit: “Lessons learned at mother’s knee last thru life.” In what is probably an original poem, Laura hears her mother’s voice in a song like an angel blessing her as she goes to bed.
The excerpt below comes from the book Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist, which was published by the University of Missouri Press and is available online and at little house homes and museums.
“Mother, A Magic Word”
The older we grow, the more precious become the recollections of childhood’s days, especially our memories of mother. Her love and care halo her memory with a brighter radiance, for we have discovered that nowhere else in the world is such loving self-sacrifice to be found; her counsels and instructions appeal to us with greater force than when we received them, because our knowledge of the world and our experience of life have proved their worth.
The pity of it is that it is by our own experience we have had to gain this knowledge of their value, then when we have learned it in the hard school of life, we know that mother’s words were true. So, from generation to generation, we each must be burned by fire before we will admit the truth that it will burn.
We would be saved some sorry blunders and many a heart-ache if we might begin our knowledge where our parents leave off instead of experiencing for ourselves, but life is not that way.
Still, mother’s advice does help, and often a word of warning spoken years before will recur to us at just the right moment to save us a misstep. And lessons learned at mother’s knee last thru life.
But dearer even than mother’s teachings are little, personal memories of her, different in each case but essentially the same—mother’s face, mother’s touch, mother’s voice:
Childhood’s far days were full of joy,
So merry and bright and gay,
On sunny wings of happiness,
Swiftly they flew away.
But oh! By far the sweetest hour,
Of all the whole day long,
Was the slumber hour at twilight
And my mother’s voice in song—
“Hush my babe, lie still and slumber,
Holy angels guard thy bed,
Heavenly blessings without number
Gently resting on thy head.”
Tho our days are filled with gladness,
Joys of life like sunshine fall,
Still life’s slumber hour at twilight
May be sweetest of them all.
And when to realms of boundless peace,
I am waiting to depart
Then my Mother’s song at twilight
Will make music in my heart.
“Hush, my babe, lie still and slumber,
Holy angels guard thy bed.”—
And I’ll fall asleep so sweetly,
Mother’s blessings on my head.
Caroline Lake Quiner Ingalls was very much alive in 1921, and one wonders what she must have thought of this piece. She had been a widow for nearly two decades, and she and Mary occupied the house Pa had built in town when it finally became evident to him that the farm was never going to be self-supporting. The home in the city was his attempt to leave his family as secure as he possibly could after a life of startling adventure.
I believe Laura honored her mother with such glowing recollections because she wanted her mother to feel her life had been worthwhile too. In reality, as Mrs. Wilder makes clear in her books, Ma never had wanted to be a pioneer. She was the “settling type” that was finally glad to stop moving west. It is hard to believe that there were not family tensions along these lines. I think that Laura is here saying that real security for the Ingalls family came through Ma. Ma represented the eternal, the things that cannot be taken away, and the life lessons that are more important than any amount of money. Laura loved her Pa’s adventuresome spirit, but she understood her mother also.
Founder of Seer Green Press—from which he produces his own material—Stephen Hines has published nineteen books. Nine of these books relate to Laura Ingalls Wilder and have been published with such Houses as Bantam Doubleday Dell, The University of Missouri Press, and Thomas Nelson Publishers. Hines and his wife live in Nolensville, Tennessee, where they raised their daughters, now grown.
Love little house on the prairie. And love what you wrote/how you described her. She was a strong, adventurous, kind, loving, beautiful mother, wife and partner. She showed strength, grace, and courage and the books were always to me the perfect child’s book. It saddens me that now just because of a few cultural things people were trying to cancel her and such classic and important books. Was there a few things we might that could be questionable? Possibly. But I think people often forget cultural context. It’s like gone in the wind. People are complaining about it yet have to realize what time it was made ie when slavery did exist. Do I agree with slavery? No. But one can’t erase history as much and if anything it should show how far we’ve come. But back to Laura- it really is a classic and I just hope the world doesn’t entirely cancel her and all that brought to peoples lives and history…
Little House On The Prairie was read to me every night by my dad. It will always be my favorite book of all times. All my life i have in joyed reading and acting out the books. Laura will always be apart of me. I can’t wait to read it to my kids one day.
Very astute comments. I am 71 years of age and have a Vo- Ag Edu, Degree. My Great Grandfather, George Bradley proved up on a claim outside of Conde SD, about 80 miles NW of DeSmet in the late 1880’s. I do not know if the Bradley Druggist in DeSmet is related but is a possibility.My Mother had 12 brothers and sisters and large families were the rule back in the times of SD settlements. Families were very close and ones whole world revolved around same.Most were of very high moral fabric as can be attested by Ma Ingalls, who was also a woman who had a close relationship with the Lord God Almighty. She was a very special person who no doubt held together the whole fabric of the Ingalls family.All of the Ingalls have shown a great love and respect for each other, as have been reflected in Laura’s writings.We are all so very fortunate to have the “Little House” book series to learn of the early settlement of the prairie and the ” heart of those who risked everything to make a go of it in those early pioneer days.
Very interesting reading about your family history in South Dakota from the 1800s. Yes Ma Ingalls was a great woman, wife, and mother of her times; as were many like her.
I wish I could have happy memories of the Little House television series. To take nothing from those that did, I was raised on the books, read to me by a mother who could breathe life into the printed work with a passion many never experience. A high bar was set in my esteem of Laura’s stories.
At first the TV programs were quite accurate, but Hollywood did not understand that Laura’s work didn’t need embellishments and changed her in America’s (& the world’s) perception forever. People were believing the changes were the real story. It broke my heart.
I’d love to see a series that respects Laura’s real life. A miniseries would be ideal. We have seen what happens when LHOTP becomes a fantasy. A new series shouldn’t stop with the Little House books. Laura’s adulthood deserves revelation to this nation. Of course it will contain few characters of diverse races, which is a drawback for diversified viewership, but there are many other stories of Americans which can and MUST come to light & fill the void.
But let’s give Laura a new, grownup series. No sugar coating. Laura’s history has warts, by 21st century standards. Racial farces, the Bender story, infant mortality, and women’s lack of basic rights, are teaching moments! Today’s girls should be empowered when they realize they needn’t wear corsets, accept lower pay, or squelch fears for their lives to keep a job!
Children should learn that even good people do hurtful things without realizing, such as when Pa blackened his face for a minstrel show. Teach them though this cannot be erased from history, it doesn’t make Pa a bad man. Just, sadly, a man of the times. I’d like to believe that somehow, if Pa knew how such things hurt Black Americans, he never would have done it. I’d like to believe . . . but we’ll never know. We should all know how wrong it is now!
Different times, different outlooks & mores. Ma feared Native Americans, and fear fed her hatred. Her experiences & knowledge of them differed greatly from Pa’s. He didn’t seem as angry at the Native Americans about losing his land in Kansas as he was of the government that set up the boundaries! He respected the warning from the elderly man before the Hard Winter and understood why the land was precious to the first Americans!
And for Laura and Almanzo there is the time in Florida, the return to DeSmet, and the precious $100 bill for a new start in the Ozarks! Those Missouri years were where the Wilders spent the rest of their lives. It was instrumental in shaping the character of Rose, who made her mother’s fame possible. So much happened there! The Wilders did travel, but Mansfield, Missouri, was the dream fulfilled! They built themselves anew, becoming respected and admired. The world knows so little about those critical times!
Oh, Laura deserves better! Tell her story again! Tell the world the complete, REAL story!
There are some books you might be interested in which explore a more realistic view of Laura’s life written not for children – The first is Pioneer Girl which is an annotated biography of her original manuscript https://littlehouseontheprairie.com/pioneer-girl-the-annotated-autobiography/ and this new release about Caroline Ingalls and her life https://littlehouseontheprairie.com/prairie-fires-by-caroline-fraser-giveaway/. These two great books might be the perfect place to start for the type of information you’re looking for.
I just read your comments on Laura Ingalls Wilder. At last someone speaks out about the essence of Laura’s life that so much was left out in the tv series and other movies about her family. I too have wished for a tv series that would tell the whole story ( or at least a good part of it; without changing it). They tried but ended up changing a lot or leaving a lot out and adding extra scenes that were made up. I would love to watch one of the Wisconsin Big Woods , and the Plum Creek adventures left out; including living in the dugout. The Burr Oak experience. The times of living back in Walnut Grove. The adventures of moving to Dakota Territory and the railroad and founding De Smet . Then all that happened there for the next several years. But it wasn’t only the many adventures that were left out in tv; but the way Laura describes them all as well as the many lessons she learned while growing up. Her books have a wealth of beauty and inspiration that the audience was robbed of. Speaking of the beauty, the tv programs never came close to describing how she did of the prairies or nature itself. So I am glad to see someone who desires to see on screen what she put in her books.
That was so beautifully, thoughtfully, and clearly written Shaunn. I too would love to see a dramatization (a play, a mini-series) that accurately portrays the events set forth in the books and/or the fuller, truer story of Laura’s life.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
I grew up with Little house and was often thought of as Laura due to wearing braids when young. I was a complete tomboy and I also had Auburn hair. Little house came at a perfect time and although many I have k own couldn’t stand it growing up I cherished it because my parents had me very late when in their 40’s and my grandmother was from the 1800’s so her having an attachable table meat grinder and a wood burning cook stove, treadle sewing machine was a life I loved and spent every moment I could with her. She made doll clothes from news papers for my Nrs. Beasley doll.
I truly loved the shows. I think we lack so many morals from the 70’s that we no not have today of respect and family. I truly miss those days.
I enjoy watching little house on the Prairie . Even today . I Hace seen every episode there is I have several favorites one of them was when Ma stayed behind Weill pa and the kids went somewhere who stayed behind to make pies and she got a really bad leg infection and was supposed to go with the Reverend but could not respond to his knock when he come to pick up pies and she got a really bad infection in her leg
I remember the day my whole world changed; the day I learned to read!!
My real love for reading began the day I started reading the series of “Little House On The Prarie “.
I loved watching the re-runs of Little House on the Prairie and have enjoy reading these excerpts from Laura Ingalls Wilder’ books.
Sadly Hallmark channel is no longer showing the TV series, which I used to watch. I am hoping they will bring it back again in the not too distant future.
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The “Little House” series has been a favorite of mine since it first aired in the 70’s. My older sister Lee Ane and myself would drop whatever we were doing to sit and watch that days episode. when it ended we’d look at each other and break out in laughter when we’d see that we’d both been crying, tears still coming down our cheeks Iv’e often wondered what life would’ve been like to live in that day and time-but if God ever decides to send me back to find out, I hope it’s someplace like Laura wrote about- A “little House on the Prairie!”
Thank you for this wonderful insight into Ma Ingalls! xoxo
I love the little house on the prairie they are my favorite show I watch over and over again is about family and friends they help everyone and care for everyone and love
I grew up watching and reading about the Ingalls family, love them and will be reading to my grandchildren.
Thank you, Stephen Hines, for adding this essay of the real Laura and “Ma”Ingalls to the discourse here. I use your book almost daily as a reference to Wilder’s perspectives and as inspiration for living today.
I remember sitting many times at dinner time watching The Little House on the Prairie, and forgetting all about my dinner. This was a daily occurrence.
This is my favorite show that I watch everyday. I really want to see everyone that is in the show.
ME ENCANTA PODER LEER LA HISTORIA DE ESTA HERMOSA FAMILIA,TAN SENCILLA Y EMPRENDEDORA HERMOSA DE VERDAD.
enjoyed reading this article about ”Mother” what an honor to have the pleasure to read such History that has been saved for generations to come….thank you
Love these exciting new writings.
Love this Era and Little House on the Prairie