As I mentioned in the last post, many characters in the TV show “Little House on the Prairie” are based on the characters from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book series, Little House. An interesting character to look at is Miss Eliza Jane Wilder, Almanzo Wilder’s older sister. In the TV series, Eliza Jane comes to town with her brother Almanzo at the beginning of Season Six. This is similar to when Eliza Jane moved to De Smet, Dakota Territory, with her younger brother Almanzo and her older brother Royal.
Eliza Jane Wilder filed the claim on her land in 1879, but did not move to it permanently until around 1882; meanwhile, brothers Almanzo and Royal were working and living on their own claims, nearby. It was the fall of 1882 when Eliza Jane started teaching in De Smet (Pioneer Girl 241-42). In the book, Little Town on the Prairie, Laura also mentions Miss Wilder having a claim and a shanty just beyond the schoolhouse (149). The TV show condensed the different stages of the Wilders moving to De Smet in order to move the plot along; however, in Season Six Almanzo lives with his sister, Eliza Jane, instead of them living separately like they did in real life and the books.
In the TV series Miss Wilder first appears as Walnut Grove’s new teacher and Laura quickly takes a liking to her brother Almanzo. Then in the episode “Back to School,” where Eliza Jane and Almanzo first appear, Laura pretends to forget something in order to talk to Miss Wilder with the hopes of meeting her brother. A similar situation occurs in the book, Little Town on the Prairie, “Almanzo often brought [Eliza Jane] to the schoolhouse in the morning, or stopped after school to take her home. And always Laura hoped that Miss Wilder might, perhaps, sometime, ask her for a ride” (LTOP 149). At this point in the book series Laura had already met Almanzo when he took her to and from the Brewster school, but it provided the basis for Almanzo picking up and dropping off Miss Wilder at school. In real life, there is no account as to if this happened or not; however, the TV show did follow the book.
Regarding Eliza Jane there is a discrepancy between her character in the TV show versus the book. Laura portrayed Eliza Jane as a mean school teacher who lacked control of the classroom in her book series. In Pioneer Girl, Laura also discussed how Miss Wilder lacked control of the classroom and that she did not believe in punishment, except for when it came to Laura and Carrie (246-47). The book, Farmer Boy, also gives some insights into Eliza Jane as a child. Laura described Eliza Jane as a strict, bossy older sister, which is explicitly shown in the chapter “Keeping House” (203-227). Even though that chapter shows Eliza Jane at her worst, it also shows her at her best, when she covers up the black polish mark in the parlor for Almanzo.
In the TV show, the producers cut Eliza Jane some slack and made her a more likeable person. She was still strict in the TV show, mentioning that she would give the students a zero on their homework if it was not turned in on time; and Willie, in away took Laura and Carrie’s place and always was punished. However, overall, she was a more amiable person than she is in the books.