The National Park Service, for the second time in recent months, has announced its consideration of a Missouri building as a National Historic Landmark. The sprawling white frame farmhouse near Mansfield, home to Laura Ingalls Wilder for 63 years, may soon be the recipient of the nation's highest honor for historic properties.
Presently bungaloid in style, the residence began as a two-room house constructed by Laura and Almanzo Wilder in 1895 using lumber and fieldstone from the surrounding farm. A series of additions were completed by 1912 and give the house its current irregular shape.
The modest Wright County homestead is nationally significant as the residence of one of America's most famous authors of children's literature. In this house, beginning at the age of 65, Wilder wrote the Little House series of children's books which tell of her life on the frontier as her family homesteaded in Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, and South Dakota. The books illustrate the struggles and hardships as well as the joys of pioneer life encountered by Laura between the ages of five and 18.
The Little House series is largely autobiographical; Laura's parents and her three sisters all played major roles in her books, as did frontier life in the Midwest. Like many pioneer families, the Ingalls were highly interdependent and almost entirely self-sufficient as a family unit. They built their own homes, grew and preserved their own food, and sewed their own clothes.
As most of the characters in Wilder's books are female, the Little House series provides important insight into the role of pioneer women. As they moved westward into the American frontier, both men and women were forced to alter their lifestyles and their attitudes about woman's role in the family and in society. For example, despite the Ingalls family's marginal existence on the prairie, Ma initially tried to restrict her daughters' unladylike activities, like helping to stack hay, and promote female propriety. She eventually realized, however, that her pioneer daughters would have to acquire more traditionally male skills if the family was to survive on the frontier.
The Little House books have won numerous awards for excellence; they have been translated into 26 languages; and copies sold now total over 20 million. Today, 25 years after Wilder's death, her books still retain their international popularity.
The Laura Ingalls Wilder House is located on Highway A, one mile east of Mansfield. It is open to the public from April 1-Nov. 15, seven days a week. Hours vary. Call (417) 924-3626 for information or to arrange group tours. There is a small admission charge.