One of my favorite women in history is author Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I’m celebrating her life this month by reading Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography edited by Pamela Smith Hill.
Laura began her writing career mid-life as a journalist, publishing short nonfiction columns in magazines and newspapers, such as the Missouri Ruralist. Her topics were ordinary for the time: raising chickens, household management, and food preparation. I imagine her work could easily be compared to today’s lifestyle blogger who writes about her free-range chickens, household improvements, and recipes she found on Pinterest.
It wasn’t until Laura was 63 years old and newly situated in her stone home (which her daughter Rose had built for her parents’ easier living during retirement), that she began writing her memoir, Pioneer Girl. Laura most likely was inspired to log her stories after the recent deaths of both her parents and her sister Mary. She wanted to preserve the stories of her childhood that were set in a unique period of American history, which encapsulated the life of a frontiersman, pioneer, farmer and townie.
Although Pioneer Girl was written primarily to her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, notes in the margins allude to Laura’s desire to share her story in a future publication with a wider audience. She wrote about life at home — not awesome Pinterest houses or uber cool tiny houses, but rather average, ordinary, humble houses — with her family: Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, Grace and Freddie (a brother who died in childhood who wasn’t included in the Little House series).
Amazingly her stories about the daily routines of life — harvesting vegetables from the garden, hunting, butchering, school days, bullies, culture clashes, clothing, friendships, courtship and marriage — continue to captivate us. The tight-knit Ingalls family’s quest for a home inspires us as we read how they faced adversity with courage, love, and hope.
Laura’s ability to share her story with millions of readers began with a foundational opportunity: an education. Laura’s mother, Caroline Ingalls, who taught school prior to marrying Charles, ensured her daughters received an education even on the frontier. Later the Ingalls family worked and made sacrifices so that Mary Ingalls could attend and graduate from The Iowa College for the Blind. Later in life all the Ingalls women were able to contribute to the financial stability of their homes through employment made possible by their education.
On International Women’s Day this year, The Huffington Post published an article to both celebrate education for girls and draw attention to the staggering lack of opportunity for millions more. It’ll take just a minute to scroll through the 50 stunning photos of girls going to school around the world, so I encourage you to take a look. There’s also a link to a fact sheet about the impact of educating girls.
- Less likely to die in childbirth
- Fewer child deaths
- Improved nutrition
- Fewer child marriages
- Less likely to have children at an early age
- More likely to find employment
As mentioned earlier, the Ingalls’ story is one of hope in the face of adversity. I still recall reading The Long Winter during my summer vacation and feeling compelled to shiver while reading about the shortage of fuel and food. Didn’t we all feel desperate while reading about their family twisting slough grasses to burn in the stove and feel relief when Pa was able tap into Almanzo and Royal Wilder’s stash of wheat?
The fictional Ingalls family presented in the Little House books and the real-life Ingalls family found a reason for hope not only within themselves and their community, but also in God. Modern women and girls are no different; education and family are important, yet we need more. A hope in God helps us persevere through the most difficult trials and gives us the greatest joy that will last through eternity.
An article posted by Compassion International on International Women’s Day also captivated my attention with beautiful photos: Why Girls Are So Amazing. In spite of the worst types of cruelty (abandonment, trafficking, rape, mutilation), girls and women never quit …
- Trying to go to school
- Providing 2/3 of the world’s unpaid labor
- Giving birth to the next generation
- Fighting for survival
An Ordinary Life
There were likely many other women who shared the same experiences as Laura Ingalls Wilder, yet we don’t know their stories. Perhaps those women thought their lives were too common to bear retelling. (Indeed, Laura fictionalized her own life story in the Little House books to create a more compelling tale.)
When I consider my own life, it feels as dull and uninspiring as a March day in Minnesota.
Yet, when seen in a different light, in a different way, there is beauty even in an ordinary life.
That beauty comes when I answer God’s call on my life to share the good news of his redeeming love. The story of Jesus — God with Us — who loved us enough to leave heaven, live on this earth to show us his love, and to die for us. Then come back to life — Resurrection Sunday — and prepare a place for us in Heaven. My call is to faithfully tell that gospel story over and over again to myself, my family, my friends, and my acquaintances. That’s the hope I have to offer.
My role is small, but I support others who courageously take God’s story of love to other less hospitable parts of the world. One of those people is my daughter, Kiersten, who has been studying for years to prepare to work as a linguist in support of Bible translation and literacy work. Her hope is to travel to the village of Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea this summer and live there for at least two years. I can’t even imagine what her daily routine will look like in a third-world country.
But I do know that girls are amazing, then and now.
. . .
(I especially love reading autobiographies, biographies, and historical fiction. I’m so grateful to the women who’ve impacted my life through their writing, as I discussed in this blog post.)