One More Visit to the Little House: The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder

by | Mar 4, 2016

I’d like to write to the folks in Wisconsin” [Ma said to Pa] “If you mail a letter now, they can write this winter, and then we can hear from them next spring.

Little House on the Prairie

One More Visit to the Little House

These words, read to my third grade classroom, made a lasting impression on me. I thought to myself: “The pioneers had to wait that long for a letter?” Like millions of other American kids, I was introduced to the Ingalls and Wilder families in school. Like many other baby boomers and those who followed, this acquaintance has endured.

Hearing the Little House books read in elementary school transformed me into an avid reader, fascinated with all things historical. I became a history teacher, a researcher, and writer, all because of the introduction to many great books read aloud by my teachers.

During my college years, my summer job was working at the Laura Ingalls Wilder homes in De Smet, South Dakota. I was a tour guide, and assisted with restoration and preservation of the original Ingalls house. I also dug into dusty old newspaper files at The De Smet News and read through reams of documents and letters. There were many uncovered sources to consult regarding the Ingalls-Wilder families. Among the best were interviews with the elder generation who actually knew members of the Ingalls family.

Ma and Pa's House in De Smet South Dakota

The Ingalls family house in De Smet, South Dakota

My job-connected historical digging led to writing books for HarperCollins Publishers. I produced Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography, The Little House Guidebook, A Little House Sampler, Laura Ingalls Wilder Country, and other titles. HarperCollins continued suggesting book projects, until I thought we had covered all bases.  But one book still needed to be published: The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, a 432 page volume, to be published on March 8, 2016.

The Selected Letters of LIW - Amazon

Occasionally, after speaking about Wilder at a conference or library, people approached me saying, “Here’s the letter I received from Laura. My class wrote to her. It’s yours now; keep it.”  What generosity! I carefully filed away those handwritten letters, written between the 1930s and 1950s.

The bulk of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s correspondence and papers are kept at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa.  Thousands of original papers are organized for scholarly research.  While writing my books, I spent many days at the Hoover, reading, taking notes, and absorbing this vast resource.

My own files eventually bulged and there were Wilder letters for many of the years spanning 1894-1956.  I used them as historical resources, quoted from them, and finally the concept emerged that collecting letters written by Laura Ingalls Wilder for publication would be welcomed by readers.

Author William Anderson’s office while working on The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Author William Anderson’s office while working on The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I realized that many of Laura’s letters have little importance individually, except being valuable curios of a well-known writer.  They do not show us a distinctive literary style.  Rather, they are the voice of a practical, kindly, well-meaning person, perhaps much like our own ancestors were, comfortable to know and like.  But collectively, her letters complete the character we met in her books.  This is significant.  We Wilder aficionados know the narrative of her fictional life backwards and forwards, as we know the chronology of her adult life. We can go on forever debating the complicated dynamics of her family relationships.  Laura’s letters help us unravel some of this skein.

What we hunger for is Laura’s own voice:  What would it be like to talk to her?  I think these letters bring us as close as we can get to an answer.  That’s why this project seemed potentially valuable to readers.

Unless a monumental discovery of Laura’s unpublished writing is unearthed, I believe this volume of her letters may be the last fresh book-length compilation of her words.  Scholars have read some of the correspondence already, but the general reading public will hopefully enjoy another visit with a favorite author. The letter compilation begins with the concerns of a farm woman; the book traces her journey as a writer, shows her as a savvy business woman, and a beloved icon.

Highlights in the book?  There are many, including Laura’s loving letters to Almanzo and Rose.  The latter became her literary advisor and helpmeet while publishing the Little House books.  Letters written between 1936-1939 indicate the intense working partnership mother and daughter shared during  the making of the books.  Then there are letters back home to South Dakota to family and friends, especially those to Aubrey Sherwood, publisher of The De Smet News.  I necessarily selected only a sampling of the thousands of responses Laura wrote to her fans.  It is obvious, as Publisher’s Weekly notes in its recent review, that Laura was “a writer who kept her head amid growing fame, remaining sweet, down-to-earth and immensely likable…”

Laura and Almanzo at THE DE SMET NEWS in 1939. Laura's correspondence with editor Aubrey Sherwood is included in the book. Courtesy of Bill Anderson.

Laura and Almanzo at THE DE SMET NEWS in 1939. Laura’s correspondence with editor Aubrey Sherwood is included in the book. Courtesy of William Anderson.

If there is a message in this book for modern readers, it is this: We leave our traces behind us for succeeding generations. In a texting and email era, words are thrown away, sometimes as soon as they are written.  The author-editor back-and-forth process of publishing The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder is an example. Let’s dust off our pens, write a letter, stamp it, and mail it.  In a country whose population has almost tripled since Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Little House on the Prairie, books and authors proliferate.  Why not write your favorite author?  You may well find a response in your own mailbox!

William Anderson was introduced to the Wilder books in elementary school, as were millions of other American children. Later, his groundbreaking research on the Little House people and places resulted in a number of books published by HarperCollins, including Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography, Laura Ingalls Wilder Country, The Little House Guidebook, A Little House Sampler, and others. Anderson is a frequent speaker at conferences, libraries, schools and historical events. His home is in Michigan.

39 Comments

  1. Beverly J

    I grew up and still live in Ava, Mo, a town about 12 miles south if Mansfield. As a child, I had several relatives living in Mansfield that we visited weekly. Laura Ingalls Wilder was living at this time and was very visible in the town as she did her shopping and sold eggs. My dad and uncle actually installed her telephone. However, i dont remember ever meeting her. In about 1959, my elementary school in Ava hosted its first book fair and her books were featured. In addition, her daughter, Rose, was the guest speaker which I well remember. I was about 8 or 9 at the time and she autographed every book of her mother’s. It was the first time I actually realized who Laura was and that we had a celebrity in our midst! Over the years, our school takes yearly trips to Laura’ s home and her books are still read by teachers to their class each year. Still have a yearly celebration in Mansfield and present a play with local folks cast as characters.

    Reply
  2. Brenda Sampson

    Ok well , i dont know the answer to this but where i grew up. ( i am rooted ) liived in the house which my father built from ground up and right there he also bulit his mothers my grandmother house as well. So yea we never had those books in school and i am the last child of five . I also never heard from oldet silbings about such books . and as i remember was never watchec the weekly tv. Show either . It was not only later as a late teenager i started watching the show ,.. Then reruns. My grandmother that lived in the house next to our house was my fathers mother. Hiwever, she passed before i was born about 8 years befor i was born . So i never knew her . Ok so heres the thing … Her name was Ada M. Forbes – Norman. My grandmother is the daughter of Laura Douce Ingals -Forbes and she is Charles Ingals sister in real life. As i said in beginning … I dont know the answer why school never had the books and all our life we as our fathers childern never knew that the Ingals were our relatives ever. So four years ago i found out . i couldnt find Ada Forbes- Norman. Any information any where about her . So yea. Four years ago i googled her name and puff… There it was a website with laura wilders books and such and it continued wih whon was whom and such. I dont have a lot of answers about then or now. I have found so much information on yhat. Side of my family. And still not done . I would in courage everyone to search and build your family tree cause as i knew was a missinv link seems like there was something missing with in all my life and now i feel like that empyiness has been filled.

    Reply
  3. Bonny Byrd

    I am forty-seven years old and still love the rerun’s and adored the book’s as a child.

    Reply
  4. Barbara Rohrs

    Little house on the Prairie was also my favorite program, and laura was my idol.
    Feels like family.?

    Reply
  5. Dorothy Taggart

    I love the books and the shows. There was something about Little house on the prairie, that I wish my life had been like hers. A family like hers would have been my dream as a little girl. I think I’ve watched the episodes 100 times over. My favorite author Laura Ingalls. I can and will never find a better one. Her life comforted my abusive life, when I was a little girl, I’d would fake like I was in her world. I ended up writing a book, also. But, not nearly as great as hers. Love you Laura!

    Reply
  6. Nina

    I love the little house on the prairie series’s and books. I still watch the reruns

    Reply
  7. Miranda Salazar

    Little House on the Prairie is still one of my favorite tv shows ,Ican watch those episodes over and over again .Not too many shows I watch over again but this one I did.When my friends ask me trivia on the show never got a question wrong ,Thank you I grew up with everone

    Reply
  8. Fiona

    I love everything Laura, have just ordered this book and we watch Little House on the Prairie daily. Just love it,

    Reply
  9. Barbara Blair

    I love to watch little house on the praire always have and always will

    Reply
    • Barbara Blair

      And I like all the people who in the movie

      Reply
  10. Debra Harbour

    I loved the Little House books as a child and I have reread them many times as an adult. There is something about the books that makes me want to read them over and over. Thank you so much for the chance of winning this book.
    Deb

    Reply
  11. Amma Chancellor Crum

    I wrote to Laura when I was nine years old and still have her reply, which I had framed. I am now 78 years old and still enjoy reading the “Little House Books,” as did my mother. She wrote to Laura the same time I did, received a reply and they exchanged Christmas cards several times! I read everything I can find about her and look forward to the book of letters she wrote.

    Reply
    • Irene

      Really? By fan e-Mall?

      Reply
      • D E

        Irene, from your generation it is easy to understand your “really” comment. I am so sorry you didn’t get to experience any of the things Laura Ingalls experienced. I was fortunate to be able to know how it was, (at least in small portion) since my grandparents lived in somewhat similar conditions. I was a small boy then, but I remember. Anyhow, yes, people from that era actually, read their fan mail. It was a time very different from today’s careless attitudes. Sorry for your loss.

        Reply
    • Michelle Papp

      Wow that is awesome. Would love to see it someday….

      Reply
    • Kim Howell

      I’m home schooling my 8 yr old granddaughter and she is currently working on the series we also are watching the show together. This summer I took her on a field trip to see dean Butler at pine Crest history village, we live in Manitowoc WI .

      Reply
  12. katina price

    I grew up on little house on the praire. Just this year my husband and daughter bought me the whole lhop series dvds. I watched them everyday til I finished them and was sad I was done. My 16 yr old daughter enjoyed them with me along with my husband. I am wanting to get the books now. I use to have them but have know idea where they are packed up at.

    Reply
  13. Julie Boehlke

    I love Laura Ingalls Wilder and all of her stories and books!

    Reply
  14. Laurie Moulaison

    Hi,,I entered everything required,followed,tweeted,visited,opened accounts I didnt want,,,but so now that I did it all,,I did not get notification that I am in. Am I in the contest?

    Reply
    • Angela England

      You can see the total number of entries at the top of the Rafflecopter bar. It will say 5/11 (five out of eleven possible entries) or 10/11 (ten our of eleven possible entries). What have you. We appreciate your enthusiasm! We know most people don’t have all the social networks so we try to accommodate everyone as best we can. Some people, for example, don’t use Facebook at all, but love Instagram. Others don’t use Twitter but prefer to get everything via email. No one has to do everything – most of the entries are optional – but we try to allow as many people as possible the opportunity to enter. Good luck!

      Reply
  15. Sharon

    Every summer for many many years now I go to Laura and Almanzo’s homes, museum and their graves. I put flowers on their Graves each year I visit. This year I can’t wait to go to the new museum that just opened this year in Mansfield. So therefore I’m anxious for July to get here. I never miss little house on tv NO matter how many times and no matter how many years I have watched them. You cannot get enough of the life and love of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I have 3 rooms in my house done in Laura and Almanzo. As for years I have collected many items of her and her life. And I plan on continuing so. My Grandaughter loves coming over and she spends hours in those rooms learning and reading Laura’s book she wrote and the books about Laura. This year I’m taking her to mansfield to take her to Laura’s house and rock house and the new museum. It would be cool to win her letters just to ad to my collection. Laura Ingalls Wilder will always live on in my family.

    Reply
    • Angela England

      We are excited about the new additions to the Mansfield location as well! If you visit, please share photos with us on our Facebook page or tag us on Instagram @LHPrairie and hashtag #LittleHouseMoment. We would love to see your rooms and decorations as well. Sounds very beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story and for participating in the giveaway. Good luck!

      Reply
  16. Angi Magnanti

    Just entered! Thanks for the opportunity. When I was a little girl reading the LHOTP books, I was always disappointed that Laura and her family had never lived in Michigan. Even Wisconsin seemed far away as a 7-year old kid. Thanks for writing and thanks for being from this great Mitten we live in!

    Reply
  17. Barbara Gelatt

    I, too, was first introduced to Laura and her world while in grade school. This was one of the things that sparked my great interest in history – which I study still today – as well as old time crafts and way of doing things. I, in turn, read these books to my children and now to my grandchildren. I took two of my granddaughters, along with my daughter, to visit her home in Missouri.

    Reply
  18. Tyrone

    Never get tired of watching episodes of Little House !!! I could watch infinitely !!!!?

    Reply
  19. Cindy Bruneau

    I would love to read more of Laura’s letters and correspondences. They bring me back to the days I wish I could experience through more than just dreams.

    Reply
  20. vera wilson

    Have been enjoying the shows and books for years. Would love to win. Thanks for the chance.

    Reply
  21. Sherry

    My children and I are reading “little clearing in the woods” we have 3 chapters left. It’s been so exciting reading all of these books. I only wish I knew of all these books when I was in grade school. I remember finishing the Laura Ingalls books and wanting more. I am so excited to read these books to my children. We sit down in the living room everyday as we enjoy finding out what’s going to happen next. Glad we will have more to read!

    Reply
  22. Catherine Littlewood

    What a beautiful book.
    I live in the UK but hope very much one day to visit the Luttle House locations. It is my dream.

    Reply
  23. Jen Heemskerk

    Would love to win this!! Thank you for hosting this!

    Reply
  24. Carol

    I so love that show and the books I often watch it when I have the Grandkids over it show them how the real world should be.I love to read the books as well so glad all I got the DVD love them love you’s all.
    Carol

    Reply
  25. Patricia

    I have entered this contest 🙂 I am in <3 with Little House on The Prairie and it would be such a wonderful book I'm sure!

    Reply
  26. Lynnette Neff

    I love Little House on the Prairie! I named my daughter after Laura Ingalls Wilder.

    Reply
  27. Katrina Schilling

    I grew up watching and learning about the Little House on the Prairie enjoyed it from the first time I’ve seen it or read the books. Then I took that wonderful opportunity and shared it with my children growing up they have enjoyed the history behind the little house on the prairie. Thank you

    Reply
  28. Terri

    Love the books loved the movies love the show even after all these years I still watch

    Reply
  29. Shannon Loya

    I can’t wait to read the book!!!!

    Reply
  30. rosaline sorber

    I do have the biography of Laura Ingalls wilder. I have read it a number of times. I do enjoy it to the limit everytime I pick it up.

    Reply
  31. Hannah Reynolds

    Hi, I’ve tried entering the drawing, but I don’t have a twitter or instagram account. Am I ineligible to enter?

    Reply
    • Angela England

      Hannah – thank you for participating! You are absolutely able to enter even without a Twitter or Instagram account. The only required method of entry is the newsletter sign up. Everything else after that is optional. We try to include a mix of options because some people don’t use Facebook while others don’t use Pinterest or what have you. Just pick and choose the social channels you are already using and connect with us there and you’ll be good to go! 🙂

      Reply

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