Aha! Moments

“Aha!” I said to myself as I scrolled through the microfilm of the San Francisco Bulletin, “that’s when that happened!” Within the February and March 1915 issues of the paper, I had discovered the moment when Laura Ingalls Wilder first used her maiden and married names together to sign her work.

While writing for Missouri newspapers from 1911 to 1924, Wilder had signed her work as Mrs. A. J. Wilder, using her husband Almanzo James Wilder’s initials. In 1919, however, she contributed an article to McCall’s Magazine that she signed as Laura Ingalls Wilder. I always assumed that instance was the first time she used her full name on her work, but not so! Encouraged by her daughter, Wilder had contributed to the San Francisco Bulletin’s “Tuck’em In Corner” on February 10, 1915, under the byline Laura E. Wilder (the E. stands for Elizabeth). But as she watched her daughter—who had begun writing as Rose Wilder Lane—and other women writers sign their articles in the Bulletin with their maiden and married names, Wilder began to do the same. She became Laura Ingalls Wilder in print for the first time on March 17, 1915, with publication of her poem “The Fairies in the Sunshine.” Wilder then used this new byline for the articles that Lane brokered for her in McCall’s Magazine and Country Gentleman a few years later.1

Such “Aha!” moments are a gratifying part of research. Another one came as I viewed the opening pages of the original typescript of “Little House in the Woods,” which Harper & Brothers had used to copyedit and typeset Wilder’s first novel. “Little House in the Woods” was the name that Alfred A. Knopf editor Marion Fiery assigned to Wilder’s book when she wrote to accept it on September 17, 1931. Whether Wilder submitted the manuscript with that title or Fiery selected it from a list of titles the author suggested is unknown, but all correspondents—Fiery, Wilder, Lane, literary agent George Bye, and Harper & Brothers editor Virginia Kirkus—referred to the book as “Little House in the Woods” from September 17 until early February 1932.

The first page of “Little House in the Woods.” Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association

At that point, Margaret Lesser of the Junior Literary Guild’s membership magazine wrote to Wilder about her forthcoming book, calling it “Little House in the Big Woods.” In looking at the original typescript, I discovered that the addition of “Big” to the title had come from the title of the book’s first chapter, which Lane had typed as “Little House in the Big Woods.” When the copyeditor finished correcting the manuscript just prior to production, she affixed two extra pages to the typescript—a typed title page and a handwritten copyright page—before passing it on to the typesetter. On the title page, the editor repeated the title of the first chapter, listed Wilder as author, Helen Sewell as illustrator, and Harper & Brothers as publisher—and Little House in the Big Woods came to be as we know it today.2

Aha! That’s when that happened.

­          ―Nancy Tystad Koupal

  1. Elizabeth E. Wilder, “The Faery Dew Drop,” and Laura Ingalls Wilder, “The Fairies in the Sunshine,” San Francisco Bulletin, Feb. 15, Mar. 17, 1915; Laura Ingalls Wilder, “Whom Will You Marry?”, McCall’s Magazine 49 (June 1919): 8.
  2. Nancy Tystad Koupal, “At the End of the Path,” in Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Path into Fiction, ed. Koupal (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2023), pp. 173–74.

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