Prairie Girl

In our recent work on the revised texts of Wilder’s Pioneer Girl, we have had some pleasant discoveries that make the job enjoyable. For example, in trying to determine why the Brandt manuscript is missing page 2, we discovered that the Lane Papers at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library also contain a six-page Pioneer Girl fragment, page 2 of which fits seamlessly into that hole in Brandt. Sweet!

Careful perusal of the fragment shows that its pages 3 through 6 are exact duplicates of the same pages of the Brandt manuscript. And, in fact, Hoover archivist Nancy DeHamer pointed out that pages 3 through 6 of Brandt were actually carbon copies, while this fragment contained the originals. Because page 2 fit so exactly into the hole in Brandt, we reasoned that these six fragmentary pages are actually the first edited rendition of Wilder’s Pioneer Girl; only the title page is different.

prairiegirlAnd what a difference it is! The name of this fragment is “Prairie Girl.” Lane has written “Pioneer Girl” above it and added Wilder’s name in longhand, a change that was duly made on the title page of the Brandt manuscript. She also made two small corrections in the text, changing Wilder’s passive voice, “sister Mary and I were put to bed,” into active voice, “she [Ma] put my sister Mary and me to bed.” Such is what a good copyeditor does. More intriguing was the title change.

Had Wilder originally called her manuscript “Prairie Girl” and had Lane changed it? Or had Wilder left it unnamed and objected to Lane’s assignment of “Prairie Girl”? Or had one or the other of them decided that “Prairie Girl” was not appropriate for the Wisconsin portion of the manuscript and substituted “Pioneer Girl,” which covered all geographical frontiers. My guess is the latter. Wilder truly loved the prairie, its flowers and wildlife, and, I think, considered herself a prairie girl even after moving to the Missouri Ozarks. Later, as you recall, she planned to call her last book in the Little House series “Prairie Girl,” giving that title to her preliminary outline. When that outline generated two books rather than one, “Prairie Girl” as a title again fell through the cracks in favor of Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years. So, I lean toward the idea that Wilder originally titled her memoir “Prairie Girl” and changed it to the more generic “Pioneer Girl,” but we will never know for sure.

Nancy Tystad Koupal

4 thoughts on “Prairie Girl

  1. Just a quick “thank you” for all the work on this project. I loved this little anecdote this morning! Keep up the good work!


    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Pingback: Prairie Girl | My Eclectic Writings

  3. Knowing and researching Lane daily, I totally agree with Lane suggesting to rename Wilder’s original title, Prairie Girl. This isn’t new news. William Anderson titled his juvenile biography this title, after Wilder’s first original manuscript, Prairie Girl, started in early 1924, after Ma died, and from the many letters she began writing to Aunt Martha Carpenter regarding her early history. Lane and Wilder had been discussing a biography of her “Prairie Girl” days, but as you know, the series would grow to cover more of her life than just her childhood/girlhood, so Lane renamed Wilder’s Prairie Girl to Pioneer Girl. And then, still, that was never published, until you did. Thank God! There is still more to uncover.

  4. Agree! I had always wondered about Wilder’s prairie/pioneer girl titles and often think of myself as a “prairie girl” having grown up and lived on the Texas and Colorado plains. Being able to see the distant horizon for miles is ingrained in our DNA!

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