The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Christine Woodside on Libertarians on the Prairie

Griffin Free Public Library: 22 Hooksett Road, Auburn, Wednesday, July 19, at 6:30 p.m.

Back to the Little House books
Christine Woodside on Rose Wilder Lane’s contribution

By Kelly Sennott

 In 1976, 17-year-old Christine Woodside wrote to the curator of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, seeking a job. She received a decline via a light pink envelope and spent the summer making sandwiches at a nearby restaurant instead.

Woodside was not deterred. She still devoured everything she could about the author of her favorite books, which she admired for their themes of independence. In college, she cited By the Shores of Silver Lake for a paper on the American West.
“I was fascinated with Laura Ingalls Wilder from the beginning. Even as an adult, I found myself rereading the books and admiring the straightforward pluck that she had, and I wanted to know more about her. I wanted to know what happened after the books,” Woodside said via phone. 
Woodside, a journalist and avid outdoors person who lives in the Connecticut River Valley, loves writing about ordinary Americans and their clashes with nature. She edits Appalachia, the Appalachian Mountain Club’s twice-yearly journal, and recently edited New Wilderness Voices, an essay anthology containing themes of wilderness, wildness and humanity. 
But it was a 2000 road trip with her husband and two kids that cemented her determination to write about Wilder — specifically, a stop at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa, which holds the Rose Wilder Lane papers, including letters between mother and daughter. 
“They weren’t living in the same place at the time, but there was a lot of evidence about their collaboration,” Woodside said. “It was undeniable the way Laura was completely relying on Rose’s help.”
Woodside’s September 2016 book, Libertarians on the Prairie: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Making of the Little House Books, tells of this secret mother-daughter writing collaboration. Wilder had always wanted to tell people about her childhood on the frontier, but it was her daughter, Lane, who had the writing chops to get it done.
“[Lane] had been writing magazine fiction for a long time and had traveled all over the world and published a couple of books,” Woodside said. “She was sure she could help her mother get that story into print. Laura wrote her story on tablets, handed it to Rose, and Rose tried to turn it into a magazine article.”
Lane wasn’t able to sell it in New York. So, without telling her mother, Lane took some of the material and created what became the first children’s book of the series, Little House in the Big Woods. People lapped it up.
“It was the Great Depression. People were struggling. There was fear for jobs and incomes. Banks were closing. Laura’s message was: enough is as good as a feast. The pioneers had been able to take very little and make a lot out of it, and they were satisfied with their freedom and their independence,” Woodside said. “The pioneer life was one that many, many people had lived. … But nobody had thought to write a kid’s book [about it] at that point.”
Self-reliance was the Wilder family business, but it was Lane who shaped the tone, ideas and the politics of the books — freedom, respect for free markets, love of nature and natural order.
“Rose’s influence in the books is pretty profound. She had to pull together the manuscripts, and she would inject scenes and emphasize aspects of life underscoring that Americans need to be free. Americans need little government,” Woodside said. “Simultaneous to this, she became very involved in the anti-communist movement, which was the beginning of modern conservatism. Rose’s efforts led to a group of people starting the Libertarian party.”
Woodside’s research involved lots of travel, lots of reading — papers, newspaper stories, biographies, letters — and interviews with Laura Ingalls Wilder experts, including Bill Holtz, author of The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane, and Susan Wittig, who wrote a novel based on the mother-daughter collaboration, A Wilder Rose. Woodside determined her political angle with the help of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Farah Stockman, whom she met via a Boston writing group. 
Woodside talks about the book at the Griffin Free Public Library July 19, and visits Hanover and the White Mountains afterward to discuss New Wilderness Voices and finding inspiration on the trail. She’s happy to see the result after years of work and lots of help. 
“What I learned during this endless project was what an active community writing a book really is,” Woodside said. 

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