September 16, 2010

What "Little House on the Prairie" Leaves Out...

As a child, I absolutely adored the "Little House" books.  I fawned over the pages and the stories of Laura Ingalls and imagined her life growing up in the midwest in the late 1800's.  They were full of rich detail and you could put yourself into that little sod house or the cabin in the woods or the shanty out on the prairie with FULL detail. 

There is one thing that I think Mrs. Ingalls Wilder forgot, however - a small tidbit about life for women that perhaps she just couldn't bring herself to mention.

I almost didn't notice, until I finally finished a book on life in Iowa during the Great Depression called Little Heathens.  It is an autobiography, perhaps much in the same way that Wilder's was - but with a slightly more matter of fact sense about it.  Mrs. Armstrong Kalish recounted her days as a little girl and described everything from butchering chickens to taming racoons, from school days to first kisses.  It was charming but not sentimental.  I really enjoyed reading it... so thanks Glenn and Maggie for the gift! 

And in the last chapter of the book, as she told in some ways "the rest of the story,"  Kalish tells the story that Wilder forgot - what happens when little girls became young women. 

Perhaps it is the fact that decades separated these women and the cultural allowances just weren't the same when Wilder sat down to write out her stories.  But in the back of my mind, as I was becoming a young woman myself, I secretly wondered what exactly they did in those days.

Now, I know. Safety pins, old blanket scraps, and a bucket of water by the dresser... until she could save up her pennies to buy Kotex.

(I got curious after I typed this post as to whether I was wrong and Wilder did mention her "coming of age" somewhere in her journals or books.  I found this comment: "Laura Ingalls Wilder's 1890s diary of the move from Dakota Territory to Missouri hints only: 'I am not feeling very well and cannot go [river-bathing]'. Her daughter (technically also a Victorian, although quite forward-thinking as early 20th century standards went) deleted even that from the published version of the diary.")


  1. Thanks. I always find what is left out is fascinating. I love the veiled details we get in Bible stories like Rebekah using it as an excuse to stay on her camel to hide the household gods she has taken.

  2. I guess I was too young for that to be on my radar when I first read all the Little House books, but now I'm curious to go back and discover what other questions I have that are unanswered!