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Laura Ingalls Wilder's Writing Career

Some people think Laura Ingalls Wilder was an accidental writer or that her daughter wrote most of the Little House books. I don't. Instead, I think she was a skilled writer long before she was a published author.
Pioneer Girl manuscript. South Dakota Historical Society Press.
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Living in Mansfield, Missouri, Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing for the Missouri Ruralist in 1911. It was (and is) a newspaper for farmers. Her popular column gave advice on life and farming. Laura wrote for the Ruralist until 1924. Other publications also featured Laura’s writing, including a national magazine named McCalls.

If you're interested in reading Laura's early writing, I highly recommend Laura Ingalls Wilder: Writing from the Ozarks (edited by Stephen W. Hines). It's a collection of essays by Laura that originally appeared in the Missouri Ruralist between 1911 and 1924. You might also be interested in The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder (edited by William Anderson).

Around 1930, Laura was in her sixties. She wanted to tell her childhood story. Laura realized she had lived through a time in American history that few people had experienced or understood. 

Laura bought a few cheap notebooks (seen above) and pencils. She began to write. This time, she didn’t write a newspaper column. She wrote about her life. She focused on her family’s pioneer experience. She wrote until she filled six tablets with her story. She called her memoir Pioneer Girl.

Rose Wilder Lane, a professional writer and Laura and Almanzo's daughter, edited Laura’s writing and sent it to publishers. The Great Depression changed the economy. No publisher wanted that book. But one editor liked the idea of Laura’s story if it could be written as a children’s novel. (However, you can now purchase the highly annotated Pioneer Girl book. It also has lots of images in it.) 

Laura set to work. Laura included the real people and places of her childhood. But she (and Rose) fictionalized some parts of her writing. Some changes improved the story. Other times she left out parts that didn’t fit in with the book family’s characteristics of hard work and independence.

Laura and Rose worked together. Rose acted as an editor for Laura. She suggested revisions—and sometimes just made the changes for her mother. Rose submitted the manuscript to get published.

In 1932 Harper & Brothers (now called HarperCollins) published Little House in the Big Woods. Children loved it! It was an instant success.

Laura was already at work on her next book. Farmer Boy also focused on hard work and family life. It told the story of Almanzo Wilder’s childhood in New York state.

She was just getting started. During Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life, eight Little House books were published. Five of them were named as Newbery Honor Books which is a special award in children’s literature. A ninth book, called The First Four Years, was published after her death.

Today readers around the world celebrate Laura Ingalls Wilder and read her Little House books. Which is your favorite? 

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion is a guide for the Little House books, but it's also about the real Laura Ingalls Wilder. Consider preording it now.

 Happy Trails!
 ~ Annette Annette Whipple is a nonfiction children's author. Learn more about her books and presentations at