What happened to Laura’s sisters?

Have you ever wondered what became of Mary, Carrie, and Grace Ingalls? We know a little about the lives of Laura’s sisters through the “Little House” book series, but what happened to them after the series ended?

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Mary Ingalls

Mary Ingalls

Wilder describes Mary’s blindness in her fifth book, By the Shores of Silver Lake, stating, “Mary and Carrie and baby Grace and Ma had all had scarlet fever..the fever had settled in Mary’s eyes, and Mary was blind” (By the Shores of Silver Lake, p. 1-2).  A few years ago, new research was presented indicating that Mary may not have suffered from Scarlet Fever but a form of viral meningoencephalitis.

Mary began college at the Iowa College for the Blind in November 1881. She would complete the seven year course eight years later. We are still unsure why Mary missed a year during that time. Mary learned an abundance of information while at college; according to The Ingalls Family of De Smet, some of the subjects Mary studied were Arithmetic, History, Physiology, Chemistry, Literature, Algebra, and Political Economy. Mary also became skilled in music. Laura gave Pa her $75 that she received for teaching the Perry School in order to buy Mary an organ, so she could enjoy it while she was home from college.

After Mary graduated college she would return to De Smet and live with Ma and Pa at their house on 3rd Street. She helped Ma with the housework and enjoyed reading, sewing, and making bead work. Mary returned from college after her first year and brought Laura a gift of “a bracelet of blue and white beads strung on thread and woven together” (These Happy Golden Years, p. 126). After Pa died in 1902, Mary and Ma became extremely close. The two women were loved by the community but often kept to themselves. Caroline Ingalls would pass away in 1924. A couple years later Mary decided to visit her sister, Carrie, in Keystone, South Dakota, and while she was there she suffered a series of strokes and eventually passed away in 1928 at the age of 63. Mary never let her blindness keep her from doing what she wanted and lived a very fulfilling life.

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Carrie Ingalls Swanzey

Carrie Ingalls Swanzey

After graduating high school, Carrie went on to work for the De Smet Newspaper, where she learned about the printing and publishing trade. She also wrote articles and practiced the art of photography. One of the first pictures that she took was of Ma sitting in the Ingalls home parlor. It was not too much longer until Carrie became a homesteader herself. According to The Ingalls Family of De Smet, Carrie claimed land in western South Dakota near the town of Philip, SD. She lived in a small shanty and spent the required six months on the claim. She did not stay there for long, however, because she returned to the newspaper industry when she moved to Keystone, SD.

It was in Keystone that Carrie met David Swanzey. He was 16 years older than her and was a widower with two children. David was looking for a wife to be a mother to his two young children. The whirlwind romance between Carrie and David lasted only 6 months before the two got married. Carrie, who was 42 at the time, would never have any children of her own. She became the stepmother to David’s two children and raised them as her own. Her husband, David, helped name Mt. Rushmore, while his son, Harold, helped build it. Carrie lived a long life. She died in 1946 at the age of 75.

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Grace Ingalls Dow

Grace Ingalls Dow

After graduating high school, Grace attended Redfield College in preparation to become a teacher. She followed the footsteps of Ma and her sister, Laura, and started teaching schools around the small town of Manchester, which was about 8 miles west of De Smet. While teaching she met Nathan Dow, who was 18 years older than her. The two began courting and would eventually get married in the parlor of the Ingalls Home in 1901. The couple moved to their own homestead in Manchester and became farmers.

Grace and Nathan would never have any children of their own. After Ma died in 1924, Grace and Nathan moved in with Mary to care for her in De Smet. They eventually returned to their homestead once Mary left to visit Carrie in Keystone. The town of Manchester no longer stands today. It was wiped out by a tornado in 2003 and is no longer considered a town. Grace, who suffered from severe diabetes, died in 1941 at the age of 63. Her husband outlived her by 2 years.

Check out our blog post about Manchester!

 

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