An Interview with Pamela Smith Hill

Pamela Smith Hill was recently interviewed by Alaina Mabaso of Alaina Mabaso’s Blog. From Laura’s dog Jack to the Pioneer Girl Project, Hill and Mabaso discussed, among other things, Wilder’s career and work.

Click here to read the full interview on Mabaso’s blog, titled Pa sold Jack with the ponies, and other Laura Ingalls revelations: an interview with Wilder biographer* Pamela Smith Hill.

 *Pamela Smith Hill wrote Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, published by the South Dakota Historical Society Press in 2007. For more information or to purchase this book visit www.sdshspress.com.

A Matter of Timing

In 2012, the South Dakota State Historical Society Press announced that it would publish Laura Ingalls Wilder’s previously unpublished autobiography, Pioneer Girl, in the summer of 2013.

Since that time, the Press has worked hard to keep its interested followers up to date with each step in the process. We knew that work on this book would be involved and deep, but we were unaware exactly how involved and how deep we, and principal editor/annotator Pamela Smith Hill, would find ourselves as the project progressed.

Time and again during the researching, writing, and editing of this book, we have found ourselves making new discoveries about Wilder and her early work. We have constantly been surprised at where we ended up when research led us in unexpected directions. Each twist and turn has been exciting, but unfortunately, it has also been time consuming.

So, it is with great regret that the Press is forced to announce a delay in the publication of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Edition. At this time, we are working hard to expedite the process. However, we believe that all of our books deserve the highest possible level of research, writing, and production. With this in mind, we will strive for the earliest possible release date but will not shortchange the standards by which we have made our reputation.

The South Dakota State Historical Society Press thanks all those who have shown interest in Pioneer Girl. We will continue to update our progress on this website, pioneergirlproject.org, and we will be announcing a revised publication date as soon as we can.

Nancy Tystad Koupal

Mary’s Illness

USA Today contacted the South Dakota State Historical Society last week to discuss an article that was soon to appear in Pediatrics about Mary Ingalls’s blindness (read USA Today’s coverage here). An assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan speculates that the illness that caused Mary Ingalls’s blindness was probably viral meningoencephalitis—a big term that was not likely to find its way into Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books or her autobiography.

Mary Ingalls in 1889

Mary Ingalls in 1889
(photo: Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, De Smet, S.Dak.)

In Pioneer Girl, Wilder described the circumstances in this way: “Mary was taken suddenly sick with a pain in her head and grew worse quickly.” A few days later, one side of her face was “drawn out of shape,” and “Ma said Mary had had a stroke.” Two doctors in Walnut Grove attributed Mary’s failing eyesight to the stroke that had damaged the nerves in her eyes, which “were dying.” Wilder concluded: “They had a long name for her sickness and said it was the results of the measels [sic] from which she had never wholly recovered.”

In her fictional retelling of this episode in her sister’s life, which appears in the opening pages of By the Shores of Silver Lake, Laura Ingalls Wilder ascribed the condition to a bout of scarlet fever, one of the most deadly childhood illnesses of the nineteenth century. Pamela Smith Hill, Wilder biographer, suggests, “Wilder probably chose scarlet fever for the fictional version because it was such a deadly disease and because after arguing with Rose about whether to include Mary’s blindness in the Little House books at all, it was a swift, clear, and believable alternative.” For the age group she was writing for, scarlet fever was understandable; viral meningoencephalitis is a term best understood by medical researchers and doctors.

Nancy Tystad Koupal