TV Show Truths: Laura Teaching

A favorite part of the books and TV show for many fans is the start of Laura and Almanzo’s relationship. The start of their relationship relates back to Laura’s teaching job in the books, TV show, and in her real life.

In the books and TV show Laura gets her teaching certificate at age fifteen, even though she is supposed to be sixteen before she can take the teacher examination.

LIW at 17

Laura at age 17, shortly after she started teaching. (Picture Credit: Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association)

In both situations, the school district is desperate for a teacher that they do not mind that Laura is fifteen. There is a slight variation between the two though in the fact that in the book, Little Town on the Prairie, Laura does not tell the superintendent that she is fifteen because he does not ask her age (306). However, in the episode “Sweet Sixteen” it is made known to the superintendent that Laura is not yet sixteen, but she will be in two weeks. The superintendent then said that they could make the exception for her since she did pass her examination. Also, the timing between the book and TV show are slightly off as in Little Town on the Prairie Laura receives her teacher’s certificate on December 24, 1882 (306). The TV show is slightly off from this as Laura receives her teacher’s certificate roughly two weeks before her 16th birthday, which would have been around January 24, 1883. Despite the few discrepancies on the dates the TV show and book stay close to each other.

The problem arises when looking at Laura’s real life; there are actually a lot of conflicting information between Laura’s accounts in her books of her first teaching experience and what happened in her real life. Laura was still underage at the time she got her teaching certificate; however, it was a different situation. According to Laura’s teaching certificate she received it on December 10, 1883, therefore at this point Laura was already sixteen (Pioneer Girl 261). One might think that she was then of age to be a teacher, but that was not the case. Prior to 1883 the Dakota Territory had no age restrictions on school teachers. That changed in 1883 when the Dakota Territory made it mandatory for the superintendents to hold public teacher examinations for anyone over the age of eighteen. This meant that the legal teaching age was eighteen and not sixteen, as Laura writes about in her books (Pioneer Girl 260-61). There is some uncertainty as to if Laura deliberately made this change or if she had just forgotten and had the dates confused in her head.

There is one aspect that the TV show and books were correct on in relation to Laura’s real life. That aspect is the name of the superintendent who gave Laura her teacher’s certificate. All three say his name was Mr. Williams.

Even though the TV show and books did not follow Laura’s real life, they still kept the aspect of Laura being an underage teacher when she had her first teaching job. Stay tuned to the next post to hear about Laura and Almanzo’s courtship.

 

 

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