Past and Future Projects

In 2010, the South Dakota Historical Society Press set up the Pioneer Girl Project as a research and publishing program to create a comprehensive edition of Wilder’s autobiography, as well as to create books dedicated to exploring Wilder’s life and works. We had just earned the privilege of publishing Wilder’s memoir from the Little House Heritage Trust, and we were determined to do a thorough and professional job of it. We modeled the project loosely on the Mark Twain Project at the Bancroft Library/University of California Press, which was then publishing Twain’s multi-volume autobiography. Since 2010, we have had a dedicated team working in period newspapers, census and land records, archival collections in five or more states, and other primary and secondary materials to research the life and times of the original pioneer girl and her manuscripts. In 2012, we began this website as a way to share our research with those who were interested in Wilder’s life and legacy.

PG cover 72dpi 220pxThe first phase of our project came to fruition in 2014, with the publication of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, edited by Pamela Smith Hill. And, as you all know, that book found both a national and international audience and went on to become another bestselling volume by author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Moreover, its financial success gave the Pioneer Girl Project team the resources to plan three additional books. The second is Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder, published in May 2017.

The idea for the additional books began as the research for and editing of Wilder’s 9781941813089original handwritten autobiography was drawing to a close in 2014.  The project team could see that many questions remained unanswered about Wilder as a person and about Wilder as a writer—and especially about the relationship between Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. Because we had been studying the text of the handwritten Pioneer Girl so meticulously and comparing it to the typed and edited versions, it became clear that there was indeed something special about that mother/daughter, writer/editor relationship. This complex relationship reveals itself more fully as we examine Lane’s edits to her mother’s writing and then evaluate the evolution in Wilder’s response. Clues about this process abound in both the nonfiction and fiction texts, drafts, discarded pages, and other materials held at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and elsewhere.

In the upcoming books, we plan to address nonfiction and fiction processes separately. Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts will concentrate on Wilder’s and Lane’s interaction in the creation of the nonfiction autobiography. The book will contain the text of the three surviving typescript versions of Wilder’s autobiography in a side-by-side format. This presentation will facilitate intertextual comparison among the Brandt, Brandt Revised, and Bye manuscripts. The book will also contain annotations that highlight differences among the manuscripts and provide an analysis of Wilder’s and Lane’s working relationship as revealed in those manuscripts and elsewhere. The annotations will not repeat material published in the first volume, offering instead new information about Wilder’s life and its historical context where relevant. The Revised Texts will focus on the editorial work that Rose Wilder Lane performed on these adult, nonfiction manuscripts and the revisions or additions that Wilder herself made to them.

By contrast, the fourth book will analyze Wilder’s transition from nonfiction to fiction writer. In Pioneer Girl: The Path into Fiction, we will take a closer look at Lane’s role as her mother’s editor and agent in the field of children’s literature and at Wilder’s initial attempts at writing fiction. While the overarching purpose of both books will be to study the relationship between Wilder and Lane, the fourth book will examine the fiction writing/editorial process itself, a process in which both women took active roles. Other books have discussed this process, but The Path into Fiction will be the first to explore it completely within the context of the most critical piece of evidence—the draft manuscripts themselves.

We are excited about these forthcoming books, and we think that the study of the texts themselves will tell us much about the creative and editorial processes as well as about Wilder and Lane as working writers.

Nancy Tystad Koupal

“HOWDY” Mrs. A. J. Wilder

As we continue to study Laura Ingalls Wilder, one of my favorite parts is the artifacts. In Pioneer Girl Perspectives, many of the authors looked at the early career of the now famous American author, reminding me that Wilder’s literary start was in chickens, which delighted me to no end, as I myself am a fan of the feathered fowl, and it got me interested in her early works. My favorite artifact from this period of Wilder’s life is a button from her time at the Missouri Ruralist that says, “‘HOWDY’ Mrs. A. J. Wilder, Farm Home Editor, Missouri Ruralist.” I can imagine Wilder struggling not to poke herself or tear her dress with its straight pin. But perhaps she had a better grasp of using pins than I do.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum

It can sometimes feel sacrilegious to dive deeply into our favorite authors’ lives, especially when their lives are the basis of the tales they created, but when I stumble across an artifact like a button or a photograph, I just have to know more. These artifacts supplement our research and give life to our publications, bringing literary heroines closer to us as human beings. It reminds me that though the real Laura’s life may have been darker than her fictional counterpart, her character grows with these remnants from the past. I, for one, am looking forward to finding more artifacts as we go forward, as well as continuing to revisit these known trinkets from the past.

Jennifer McIntyre

Pioneer Girl Perspectives is Shipping Out!

Earlier this year, the Pioneer Girl Project announced that Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder would be coming out on May 18, 2017; well, that day is here! Orders for Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Nancy Tystad Koupal, can now be placed with your local bookseller or the South Dakota Historical Society Press online at sdhspress.com or by calling (605) 773-6009—click here for additional ordering information.

The book’s contents include:pioneer-girl-perspectives_frontcover

  • “Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder,” an Introduction by editor Nancy Tystad Koupal
  • “Speech for the Detroit Book Fair, 1937,” by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • “The Strange Case of the Bloody Benders: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and Yellow Journalism,” by Caroline Fraser
  • “‘Raise a Loud Yell’: Rose Wilder Lane, Working Writer,” by Amy Mattson Lauters
  • Pioneer Girl: Its Roundabout Path into Print,” by William Anderson
  • “Little Myths on the Prairie,” by Michael Patrick Hearn
  • “Her Stories Take You with Her: The Lasting Appeal of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” an interview with Noel Silverman
  • “Laura Ingalls Wilder as a Midwestern Pioneer Girl,” by John E. Miller
  • “Women’s Place: Family, Home, and Farm,” by Paula M. Nelson
  • “Fairy Tale, Folklore, and the Little House in the Deep Dark Woods,” by Sallie Ketcham
  • “The Myth of Happy Childhood (and Other Myths about Frontiers, Families, and Growing Up),” by Elizabeth Jameson
  • “Frontier Families and the Little House Where Nobody Dies,” by Ann Romines

“The essays offer a rich diversity of subject matter. . . . All are even-handed in their treatment of Wilder’s life and writing, not glossing over views she held that clash with modern sensibilities. These informative essays will be of considerable interest to Wilder fans and scholars.”—Publishers Weekly

From all of us at the Pioneer Girl Project, thank you for following us on this publishing journey. Stay tuned for news of our next projects.

A Wilder Conference Wrap-up

“Outstanding!” “Loved it!” “Amazing!”

Forgive us. We at the Pioneer Girl Project need a moment to toot our own horn. For the past several months, we had been working to organize and host the 2017 South Dakota State Historical Society History Conference, April 28–29, an annual event for which the society’s various programs choose the theme in rotation. This year, we chose “Laura Ingalls Wilder: A 150-year Legacy” to celebrate Wilder’s one hundred fiftieth birthday (February 7). The event was a tremendous success! Those attending represented over twenty states, and all of the contributing authors to Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder made the trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to be featured speakers.

In a true meeting of minds, the speakers and an audience that asked superb questions probed important topics and demonstrated that there is still much to learn about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Panelists and conference-goers discussed Wilder’s relationship with truth and whether it morphed under the editorial leadership of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Caroline Fraser and Amy Mattson Lauters considered the career of Lane and in turn debated how her work and experience influenced her mother—the budding novelist—or vice versa. Sallie Ketcham took a different route, examining how the fairy tale tradition and Wilder’s own familiarity with these old tales informed the development of her works. Ann Romines, Elizabeth Jameson, and Paula Nelson pointed out several commonly held misconceptions about family life, childhood, and the female experience on the frontier and explored the historical realities of the woman who shaped our understanding of this time period. John E. Miller compared Wilder to other prominent midwesterners. William Anderson treated conference attendees to an examination of Pioneer Girl’s path into print, relating his own firsthand experiences with the people and circumstances that kept Pioneer Girl semi-underground until 2014. Michael Patrick Hearn presented his observations on the changing attitude towards Wilder’s novels.

Given that nearly seventy-five years have passed since the final Little House book was published during Wilder’s lifetime, what keeps audiences captivated by her writing? Noel Silverman, representative for the Little House Heritage Trust spoke to this question in his luncheon address, “Her Stories Take You with Her.” Sharing his experience in working with Wilder’s literary legacy for over forty-five years, Silverman observed that readers discover something about themselves in Wilder’s writings. Her lasting legacy, he asserts, tells us that we can all live an adventure, learn to be self-reliant, find comfort in our families, and much more.

“Laura Ingalls Wilder: A 150-year Legacy” was a great experience. The conference focused attention on a legacy that continues to shape our understanding of the American past. Thank you to all of the speakers, attendees, vendors, and coordinators who made it possible.

—Jennifer McIntyre

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All of the conference speakers participated in the final panel, which explored the question of Wilder’s lasting legacy.

 

The Story of the “Diggers”

I was dubious when Nancy Koupal invited me to contribute to Pioneer Girl Perspectives. What, I thought, could I possibly add? The comprehensive, incisive essays in Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography ably tell the origins of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s apprenticeship manuscript.

Then Nancy gave me a pep talk. She has done this for lo, these past thirty years, during writing projects and sundry historical-literary affairs. She challenged me to consider the “first diggers”—the fraternity of people who started the initial research on Wilder. One enthusiastic old regular in early Wilder studies cheerily told me, “I hope our spades never get rusty.”

As a fledgling researcher in the 1960s and 1970s, I was welcomed into that coterie of folk dedicated to Wilder. The “diggers” were scattered throughout the Wilder country in America’s heartland and farther afield—even reaching to Japan and Australia. Many of them actively toiled to preserve Little House sites. Aubrey Sherwood, editor of the De Smet News and a friend of the Ingalls daughters, was among the most influential, a true mentor to me and countless others.

I had a brief brush with the great Rose Wilder Lane. She answered my letters, vetted my first writing, and lectured me on research technique. She autographed books for me and was incredulous that I had unearthed many of her early writings. She claimed she’d forgotten writing some of them.

How does all this connect with Pioneer Girl? Through ongoing involvement with Wilder people and places, some best-forgotten early writing of mine, and continuing research, I was cognizant of Pioneer Girl’s existence. The manuscript had its own surreptitious life, long before its 2014 appearance. I was charged to prepare a version for publication during the 1980s. I witnessed others using Pioneer Girl, all within an aura of secrecy. It was a dishy slice of literary lore, indeed.

I’ve told the story from my perspective in the chapter “Pioneer Girl: Its Roundabout Path into Print.” Writing this history was one more Wilder adventure, locating forgotten files of mine, drawing on long-held memories, and constructing a previously untold tale.

Yes, Laura Ingalls Wilder is still most relevant during this, her sesquicentennial year.

William Anderson, contributor to Pioneer Girl Perspectives

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Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder edited by Nancy Tystad Koupal will be available to readers on 18 May 2017.

Perspectives of a Working Writer

Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder features the points of view of various writers working in the fields of history, literature, journalism, and children’s literature, but the single most important perspective is that of Wilder herself. She is the original pioneer girl who turned a memoir into seven bestselling novels; her thoughts about her achievement are crucial to any exploration of her literary works.

Wilder formally shared insights about her writing on two occasions in the mid-1930s. In 1936, she gave a speech to the Mountain Grove Sorosis Club entitled “My Work,” in which she talked about the importance of words and their meanings and about the problems of memory, among other things. She also told her audience about research she had done, such as checking the temperature at which grasshoppers lay the most eggs.1 In 1937, Wilder attended a book fair in Detroit, where she told her audience that as she wrote one book after another about her family she came to realize that she had lived on succeeding frontiers and that her books collectively told the story of that epic American adventure. She also shared her plans to carry that theme through future volumes, outlining the books she had yet to write. Between the two speeches, Wilder’s Detroit talk seemed the better fit for a book in which so many of the contributors referenced her life on the frontier. And while the document has been published before, the speech has never really been annotated or placed in the context that Pioneer Girl Perspectives provides.

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Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

We are fortunate to have Wilder’s Detroit speech to share with readers seventy years after she gave it. For that, we may have Rose Wilder Lane to thank. When Wilder wrote the speech, Lane was living in New York, where she had contact with Wilder’s editor, Ida Louise Raymond, who was also speaking at the book fair. From Raymond, Lane must have learned that the event had been a success, for she immediately began to insist that her mother send her a copy of her talk. When it finally arrived, Lane wrote back that the speech had arrived and “it is fine. No wonder you made a great hit.”2 The handwritten document has been preserved in the Lane Papers at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library. To read more about it, see the opening chapter of Pioneer Girl Perspectives.

—Nancy Tystad Koupal

  1. Wilder, “My Work,” in Wilder and Lane, A Little House Sampler, ed. William T. Anderson (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988), pp. 174–80.
  2. Lane to Wilder, [late Oct. 1937], Box 13, file 193, Laura Ingalls Wilder Series, Rose Wilder Lane Papers, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, Iowa.

 

Sioux Falls History Conference Features Laura Ingalls Wilder, “Pioneer Girl Perspectives”

Ten contributors to the Pioneer Girl Project’s new book on Laura Ingalls Wilder will be featured at the annual South Dakota State Historical Society History Conference to be held at the Holiday Inn Sioux Falls—City Centre, April 28-29, 2017. “Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder,” edited by Nancy Tystad Koupal, gives fresh insight into Wilder’s success as the author of the Little House series. The book and the conference, themed “Laura Ingalls Wilder: A 150-Year Legacy,” commemorate Wilder’s 150th birthday, which was February 7, 2017.

SDSHS 2017 History Conference, April 27-29, Laura Ingalls WilderThroughout the event, authors William Anderson, Caroline Fraser, Michael Patrick Hearn, Elizabeth Jameson, Sallie Ketcham, Amy Mattson Lauters, John Miller, Paula Nelson, and Ann Romines will discuss topics ranging from Wilder’s collaboration with her daughter Rose Wilder Lane to her influence on our image of the frontier and her lasting place in children’s literature. Noel Silverman of the Little House Heritage Trust, who has worked with Wilder’s writings for over forty-five years, will give a luncheon address, expanding on his interview with Koupal that appears in Pioneer Girl Perspectives. A Friday night reception will include renditions of Pa Ingalls’s fiddle music and other songs of the era played by the Sergeant Creek Stringband. Conference attendees will have the opportunity to purchase and pick up Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder prior to its public release date of May 18, 2017. On Thursday, a special fundraiser will provide the opportunity to have books signed by all of the book’s contributors.

Conference registration is limited and can be completed at history.sd.gov or by calling (605) 773-6000. Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder will be available to the public for $29.95 on May 18, 2017.