Most of us have heard the saying, “May you live in interesting times”. Well, the truth is, most every one who has ever lived, no matter how long or short a time, has indeed lived through interesting times. When I was teaching I always tried to make my students aware of how life is chock-full of interesting events not only in their own backyards, but further out into their neighborhoods, their nation, as well as in the big, wide, wonderful world they could hardly even imagine. We hear of some of those events, and many of them go unnoticed.
As I taught history, in the lower elementary grades we call it social studies, I tried always to impress on the students that what we were learning about did not happen in a vacuum. I wanted them to understand how events in one part of the world had impacts on other parts of the world as well. When the printing press was invented in Germany, not only Germans benefited. Rather, the invention of the printing press helped create a whole new world citizenry, one that was better informed, one that was better able to inform.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House” books was born in 1867 in the “big woods” of Pepin, Wisconsin. She died in 1957 at the age of 90 in Mansfield, Missouri, the town where she had created a home with her husband, Almonzo. Her life was long, and full of so many experiences, some that had dramatic and lasting affect on her life, and some that barely registered at her home in the big woods, or on the prairie, or in the Ozarks of the Missouri.
I recently wrote two posts on Laura for this blog, and as I was looking through the books I have about Wilder, her books, and her life, I came across one, The World of Little House, by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson, that spoke to the idea of…so, what else was happening while the little house books were happening. The authors present a timeline of events during the life of Laura, and it is indeed amazing to take a look at the events that happened in her one lifetime.
I have tried to put together a collection of some of those events and happenings, and have added some of the pictures I have taken to commemorate them as I have lived my own life, experiencing my own world, its past, and its present as we look into the amazing events yet to come.
When Laura was growing up, her family traveled by wagon…
But Laura was alive when Henry Ford introduced the first American automobile, the Model T, and by the end of her life she would have seen the “car” change in so many ways…
There are many inventions that debuted during Laura’s life, inventions that we cannot even think of living without…
The first telephone appeared in 1876, first phonograph in 1877. Doctors were better able to diagnose injuries with the invention of the X-ray in 1896, and Jonas Salk introduced the first vaccine to guard against polio in 1954. Don Juan, the first talkie movie debuted in 1925, and Jim Henson created the first Muppet, Kermit the Frog, in 1955. The first ice cream soda appeared in 1874, and one of my favorites, Coke (served in the original 7 oz. bottle), was first served in 1886. And Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first plane at Kitty Hawk in 1903, changing travel, already made more accessible by the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 and the automobile earlier, forever. Laura was alive in 1932 when Amelia Earhart made her famous solo flight across the Atlantic in 1934.
Laura also saw the first Montgomery Ward catalog house built in 1871, along with the first performance of the Barnum and Bailey Circus in that same year. The Burpee Co. sent out its first seed catalog in 1878, and we know from her writings that Laura loved looking through them each year as she planned her garden. The first American zoo opened in Philadelphia in 1874.
Laura saw the territory where her parents lived out their lives, South Dakota, gain statehood in 1889. She was living in South Dakota when, in 1884, oil was discovered in Independence, Kansas, not far from where she had spent some of her childhood. Indeed, twenty-three wells would eventually surround the area of the little house on the prairie.
The little house books present a picture of Native Americans that is not to be lauded. Most settlers were afraid of the Native Americans and events involving these natives did not encourage them to change their minds. This was a nation, a population, in the midst of peopling a continent, of bettering their own lives by, they believed, bettering the land. Their purposes, their industriousness, their land hunger did not bode well for the people who had been here for centuries before their arrival.
In 1868, the Osage signed a treaty selling their Kansas lands to settlers for $1.25 an acre. In 1870, Congress forced the Osage to abandon all their land in the territory. Laura was only a toddler when these events took place, but they would play a major role in the life of her family as they moved around the new American heartland.
One wonders what went through the Ingalls’s minds as they learned of the Battle of Little Bighorn and the fate there of General Custer and his Seventh Cavalry in 1876. Or what might Laura have thought when news of the Battle of Wounded Knee reached her in 1890.
Laura lived through the Administrations of seventeen presidents, from Andrew Johnson to Dwight Eisenhower. She lived through the era of Prohibition beginning in 1919, and she and Almonzo suffered from the effects of the Stock Market crash in 1929. She would have joined other women of the day in rejoicing at the passage of the 19th Amendment giving voting rights to women in 1920.
In 1885, when Laura was 18 years old, the Washington Monument was dedicated. Just a year later, she would have celebrated along with the rest of the country when the Statue of Liberty found its home in New York Harbor. She witnessed the building of the Empire State Building in 1931, at the time the tallest building in the world.
Laura lived through four wars, the Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War. She would have felt the same shock as all Americans when an American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese, bringing the United States into the Second World War, and she would have wept with all the world when the war ended with the American bombing of Hiroshima in Japan. She would have found hope, as did all the world, at the founding of the United Nations in 1945, dedicating itself to the promise of finding peaceful solutions to world problems and aggression.
And last, but not to be left out, some of the books that were published during Laura’s lifetime, many of which are my favorites. The years between 1867 and 1957 saw the publication of such great books as Little Women, the Wizard of Oz, Huckleberry Finn, Anne of Green Gables, Gone with the Wind, The Great Gatsby, Grapes of Wrath, Charlotte’s Web, The Death of a Salesman, and two that every child today knows and loves, The Cat in the Hat, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
What a full life was Laura’s. What an exciting time to be alive, as a nation moved out, matured, and took its place in the wider world. What lessons to be learned from a nation’s inevitable growing pains.
May we all live in interesting times!
Laura’s Gingerbread Cake
One of Laura’s favorite recipes was for Gingerbread Cake. Here it is as I found it at the Epicurious website. I made it just as it was written. Laura often liked to serve this really delicious gingerbread with chocolate frosting. Jim and I love gingerbread with whipped cream, so that is how we enjoyed Laura’s Gingerbread.
Laura's Gingerbread Cake
- 1 c. packed brown sugar
- 1/2 c. solid shortening
- 1 c. molasses
- 2 tsps. baking soda
- 1 c. boiling water
- 3 c. flour
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. allspice
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 tsp. cloves
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Blend sugar and shortening in a bowl. Mix in molasses.
- In second bowl, add baking soda to boiling water, and mix well.
- In third bowl, sift flour and spices together.
- Combine sugar-molasses mixture with flour mixture and baking soda-water liquid. Mix well.
- Pour into a greased 9×9 baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean wen inserted into center of gingerbread.
This is a lovely piece, bringing Ingalls Wilder into the real world. In many ways her ordinary life is so extraordinary it’s hard to see her as having any connection with our world. Someone I know slightly told me last week that her late husband ‘s family have in their possession letters that were written to his forbears here in England. He had ancestors who’d gone to America in pioneering mode, and wrote back to the old country about their lives. I find that so exciting.
Exciting indeed! I often wonder what my great grandchildren will think of my thoughts of the world around me, and my reality, as I lived my very ordinary life in an anything but ordinary time.