While other school children across America were reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books, I was emptying the Eastlawn Elementary library shelves of those “orange biographies” about people like Clara Barton, Dolly Madison and Wyatt Earp. I had never heard of Laura Ingalls Wilder until I was 30 and my bookstore customer wanted to feature The Little House on the Prairie books in her advertisement.
I didn’t read Wilder then either. Not until I invented this 52 American Writers series did I actually read Laura Ingalls Wilder. I chose to read, however, her articles written for Missouri Ruralist. Long before she was famous for writing children’s books, Laura Ingalls Wilder (Mrs. A.J. Wilder) was a household name. She was a farm journalist – truly a voice from the prairie providing advice and guidance to women living in rural areas.
Originally published from 1911 to 1924, her articles are reprinted in Stephen Hines’ book Laura
Ingalls Wilder: Farm Journalist. Though in one piece she disavows giving advice, many of the pieces provide advice on topics ranging from self-education to use of modern inventions to make life less burdensome.
There are touches of poetry, memoir, anecdotes, inspiration. Even included are a few travel logs sent from her only daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who went on to become a famous journalist, travel writer, O. Henry Award winner, and the editor for her mother’s stories. For me, these articles give a personal perspective into the lives of women on both the prairie and farm. Her wisdom holds true today with lines like “ The problems of today and tomorrow must be met in much the same ways as those of yesterday” and “The key to a good life hasn’t changed much in a century.”
Her farm journalist articles include some recipes with an international flair like Mexican Tamale Loaf and tips for making plum jelly, but there’s no prairie stew or gumbo. So when determining a gumbo for Laura Ingalls Wilder, I’ll take a line from By the Shores of Silver Lake, when Laura tastes Oyster Soup for the first time and relishes in its “savory, fragrant sea-tasting hot milk with golden dollops of melted cream and specks of black pepper on its top, and the little dark canned oysters on the bottom.” And to those oysters, add some prairie rabbit and cook up a pot of Emeril Lagasse’s Rabbit and Oyster Gumbo.