Book Recommendation- Sarah, Plain and Tall

Author: Patricia MacLachlen

Laura’s stories inspired a new interest in the stories of the pioneer life for children. These stories often emphasized the importance of family, hard work, and perseverance. They could also be incredibly descriptive, bringing the beautiful world of the prairie alive for many readers. One of the most charming and well-loved examples of this is a short book entitled Sarah, Plain and Tall. The book is the first in a series centered around the Witting family, living in the American Midwest during the late 19th century. The children, Anna and Caleb, are dealing with the death of the mother, and the fact that their tired papa doesn’t sing anymore. One day, their father announces that he has placed an order in the newspaper for a new wife, and he has received an answer from a woman named Sarah. Sarah comes all the way from Maine, bringing a collection of sea shells, a cat named Seal, and laughter and excitement to Anna and Caleb’s lives. The children and their father anxiously wait all summer, hoping that Sarah will not miss the sea and her family too much to stay with them. I finished this little book over an afternoon, making it the perfect length for a school-aged child or  someone looking for a quick read. Deceptively simple, Sarah Plain and Tall is full of rich descriptions of the prairie and heartwarming family ties

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Nellie Bly- Pioneer for Women in Journalism

On Thursday morning, November 14th, 1889, a 26-year-old woman was getting ready to board a steamship to London. She had gotten little sleep the night before, instead tossing and turning before rising with the sun to go to the docks. Her suitcase, carefully packed and full to bursting, only measured 16×7 inches. The woman’s name was Elizabeth Cochrane, and she was hours away from starting an attempt to travel some 28,000 miles 1L._V397387554_in seventy-five days. Elizabeth, better known by her moniker Nellie Bly, was born on May 5th, 1864, two years before Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was born in Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania, a town named for her father, a prominent landowner, judge, and businessman. Her early life was charmed with wealth and status, but it all came to a crashing halt when Nellie was six, and her father passed away without leaving a will. Nellie and her family were suddenly forced to leave their home and move to Pittsburgh, where Nellie’s mother remarried. Nellie’s stepfather was an alcoholic and he abused her mother; at their divorce trial, Nellie testified that her stepfather had “been generally drunk since he married [her] mother. When drunk he is very cross and cross when sober.”

Even at an early age, Nellie desired to be a fierce advocate for justice, especially for women. At the age of eighteen, she read a letter in the Pittsburgh Dispatch, claiming that women joining the workforce was a “monstrosity”. Nellie, who had grown up witnessing the lives of working women in industrial Pittsburgh, including herself and her mother, took offense to this letter and penned a fiery response to the paper. Her letter impressed those working at the Dispatch; she was offered a job as a writer in 1885. Nellie wrote pieces on the lives of working women, the unfairness of Pennsylvania divorce laws, and political corruption in Mexico, but she continued to be relegated to writing about “feminine” topics like fashion and flower shows. Frustrated with the lack of opportunity for her at the Pittsburgh Dispatch, Nellie quit and moved to New York.

In 1887, Nellie landed a job with the New York World, under editor Joseph Pulitzer. Her first assignment, to report on conditions at New York’s Blackwell’s Island mental institution, would be the one to secure her countrywide fame. In order to give the most accurate report possible, Nellie came up with a plan to have herself admitted as a patient. As a 23-year-old woman, she put on a show of “delusions and undoubtable insanity” and got herself committed to Blackwell Island, alone and without backup. She emerged after ten days with a series of damning accusations about the treatment she witnessed and experienced, including neglect, beatings, ice cold baths, and forced feedings. The report was a sensation, helping to craft new laws against mistreatment of mentally ill individuals in the state of New York. Nellie had launched a new frontier in investigative journalism, and she followed up this massive success with reports on lobbyists, inadequate medical care given to the poor, and posed as a prisoner in order to expose the treatment of female inmates by police.

Three years later, Nellie was boarding a steamship to London. She had proposed to her editor at the New York World that she could beat the record set by Phileas Fogg in the popular Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days. At first her editor resisted, claiming that a woman would require a chaperone, and that the “dozen trunks” she would likely pack would slow her down. Nellie replied in the feisty way she was known for. “Very well. Start the man and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.” Her editor acquiesced. Later that week she set off, armed with one suitcase and a lot of determination. She had her itinerary memorized: New York to London, followed by stops in Calais, Brindisi, Port Said, Ismailia, Aden, Colombo, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong, Yokohama, and finally San Francisco, ending with a hopefully triumphant return to New York by train. Her trip was a nail-biting puzzle; any misstep or delay could cost her the record. In the end, Bly managed her trip in 72 days, six hours, and 11 minutes, completely smashing the fictional Fogg’s record. She arrived in Jersey City, the official finish line, to massive crowds of people cheering her on. For the duration of her trip, Nellie Bly was the most famous person in America.

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The map of Nellie’s journey, as published in the New York World.


After a long career in journalism and business, Nellie Bly would eventually pass away in 1922 at the age of 58 from pneumonia. Her legacy, however, continues to live on in the rich American tradition of trailblazing female reporters. Her work brought attention to places that people rarely ventured too, from the slums of New York to women’s prisons to mental asylums. Her whirlwind journey across the globe exemplified her free spirit and restless intelligence, but her heart remained in New York, where her work was. Arriving at the train station in Jersey City to ecstatic crowds, Nellie wrote “I took off my cap and wanted to yell with the crowd, not because I had gone around the world in seventy-two days, but because I was home again.”

Book Recommendation – The Birchbark House Series

Author: Louise Erdrich

Through each of her Little House books, Laura paints a comprehensive and incredibly detailed picture of pioneer life, making readers all over the world feel like they are living it along with her. However, Laura’s experiences only make up half of the frontier story. For readers interested in the experiences of the Native Americans living on the prairie, there is a series similar to Laura’s in its scope and descriptive powers. The Birchbark House series tells the story of Omakayas, an Ojibwa girl living in the southern Ontario Lakes region. Omakayas, which means “Little Frog”, grows up with an adoptive family on Madeline Island. She lives the life of a typical 7-year-old, and readers who delight in Laura’s descriptions of everyday pioneer chores will find much to love as they watch Omakayas learn to cook, tan moose hides, and pick berries. Omakayas experiences her own frontier journey, moving further and further west escaping smallpox epidemics, encroachment by white settlers, and many other dangers and difficulties before finally settling on the plains of Dakota Territory. There are five books in this series, following Omakayas and her family as they grow and travel. If you’re looking for a new series about the American West to devour, The Birchbark House should be first on your list.

Pioneer Cooking: Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar

Over the summer me and the other intern, Molly, decided that it would be fun to try out some of the original pioneer recipes from, The Little House Cookbook. Hopefully our attempts of making pioneer food will make you want to try some of the recipes yourself!

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We decided to start with an easy recipe- Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar. This recipe can be found on page 112 of The Little House Cookbook. Laura writes about this recipe in her book, Little Town on the Prairie:

“The day was ending with perfect satisfaction. They were all there together. All the work, except the super dishes, was done until tomorrow. They were all enjoying good bread and butter, fried potatoes, cottage cheese, and lettuce leaves with vinegar and sugar.” (34)

The ingredients needed for this recipe are simple and fairly self-explanatory: lettuce, vinegar, and sugar. Now lettuce is vague term, as today there are many types of lettuce. We know that Ma would not have used iceberg lettuce as it was not invented until the early 1900’s. Instead the lettuce she used would have been leafy, like something she would have grown on the homestead. If you have garden lettuce use that, but if you don’t happen to have a prairie garden on hand you can use romaine lettuce like we did. As for sugar and vinegar, use whatever kind you have at your house. Today the closet vinegar would be apple cider vinegar as pioneers often  made their own using peels and cores of apples. To make your own vinegar like Ma, there is a recipe in The Little House Cookbook on page 131. However, if you do not have the time or emotional investment to make homemade vinegar you can just get some from the store. As for the kind of sugar they would have used, it would have either been white or brown sugar, whatever kind they had at the time. The recipe does not specify which kind to use, so you can use either kind. In our case, we used brown sugar.

Once you have all the ingredients you can begin making your Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar.

  1.  Rinse the lettuce leaves and pat them dry with towels.20370344_1508600559162727_955177754_n
  2.  Put your vinegar in a cruet or a bowl if you’re not fancy enough to have a cruet.
  3.  Put your sugar in a bowl.
  4.  Take a leaf of lettuce and sprinkle vinegar on top.20371022_1508600412496075_33814977_n
  5.  Take some sugar and sprinkle it on top of your lettuce and vinegar.
  6.  Roll up your lettuce leaf and eat it like “a celery stalk.”lettuce and vinegar

If you turned your nose up at this recipe because of the seemingly odd combination of ingredients, you will be pleasantly surprised. Molly and I were shocked as to how good it tasted together. We were not sure what to expect, but it is definitely a good way to make a lettuce snack more exciting and is very easy to make!20292168_1508600312496085_1055735604_n

Nellie Oleson: Myth or History?

After hearing in our last post that Doc Baker and the Garvey family are characters completely original to the Little House TV series, you were probably glad to hear that at least Laura’s nemesis in the TV show, Nellie Oleson, and the rest of the Oleson family came from the books.

However, it turns out that not everything the TV show tells us about the Olesons comes from the books. In addition, not everything that we think we know about the Nellie Oleson of the books is true to history.

#11 Nels and Harriet Oleson

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A photo of the real Nellie and her family. Nellie stands in the center of the photo.

In the TV show, Harriet is Nellie’s mother. From season one and on, Harriet is a consistently antagonistic character. She’s rude, nagging, prideful, and vain. Like daughter like mother, I guess you could say. The Nellie of the TV show obviously takes after her mom. Nels Oleson, on the other hand, is a kind, generous, and gentle man, his greatest fault being that he’s a bad disciplinarian and a bit of a pushover. Although these characters certainly help make the TV show more interesting, their characters have almost no grounding in the books. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Oleson’s first names are never mentioned, and the characters really only appear in two chapters in the book On the Banks of Plum Creek. These chapters don’t give us much insight into who they are as individuals besides the fact that they are more wealthy than the rest of the town because Mr. Oleson owns a store in town and that the parents don’t seem to have much discipline over their rude and selfish children.

#12 Nellie Oleson

Even though we may not know for sure whether or not Mrs. Oleson was rude and vain, we do know more about Nellie Oleson, right? Well, it turns out that “Nellie Oleson” never even existed. Before you get too upset, though, I should explain that Laura did know girls who were like Nellie Oleson. In fact, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s depiction of Nellie Oleson in the Little House series is based on three different real-life girls who Laura knew during her childhood and adolescent years. And all three of these girls had Nellie-like qualities, which meant that they didn’t get along with Laura very well. The names of these girls were Nellie Owens, Genevieve Masters, and Stella Gilbert. The real life Nellie Owens did have a brother named Willie, as did the Nellie Oleson of the TV show and books, and her parents also owned a store in Walnut Grove. The season one TV episode “Town Party, Country Party” is probably one of the most accurate-to-the-book portrayals of the Nellie/Laura rivalry. As we know from Laura’s autobiography, Pioneer Girl, this portrayal also stays pretty true to events that actually occurred in Laura’s life.

Walnut Grove Myths

As we have been discovering in the past few posts of our Little House myths series, the popular Little House on the Prairie TV show has propagated some incorrect information about the Ingalls family. Last time, I debunked a few myths about Laura’s life as a young adult. This time, I’m going to take care of some of those myths that have spread about the town of Walnut Grove itself.

#8 The Ingalls Family in Walnut Grove

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A photo of the real Plum Creek in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. The sign on the opposite bank marks the location of the dugout that the Ingalls Family lived in upon first arriving in the area.

In the Little House TV show, Laura lives in Walnut Grove from the time her family moves there after living temporarily in Kansas until a few years after her marriage to Almanzo Wilder. She and her family do move occasionally during this time, only to return after a short time to their beloved town in Minnesota. In real life, the Ingalls family only lived in Walnut Grove, MN, for a total of three years, moving to Burr Oak Iowa after the first two years to work in a hotel. They came back a year later. The historical Laura spent her teenage and young adult years in De Smet, South Dakota, and that is also where she met her husband, Almanzo. To point out one nod that the TV show makes to the travels of the historical Ingalls family, the TV show family does move away from Walnut Grove to work in a hotel at one point, which is very similar to the historical family’s move to the Masters Hotel in Iowa. However, the fictional town of Winoka that the TV show family moves to appears to be in the Dakotas, not Iowa.

#9 Dr. Hiram Baker

One of the most notable secondary characters in the Little House TV show is Dr. Hiram Baker, the town’s physician. Doc Baker appears in every season of the show, and he’s always trusty and dependable. Unfortunately, however, no Doc Baker ever appears in Laura’s original stories. Although other Walnut Grove townspeople such as Miss Beadle, Reverend Alden, and Mr. Nelson were all based on characters from the books, Laura never mentions a Doc Baker.

#10 The Garveys

Although there are plenty of minor characters in the TV show who do not appear in the books, it may be shocking to learn that even some of the Ingalls’ family’s best friends, the Garveys, are just as fictional as Doc Baker. However, some of the family friends from the TV show do come from the books, including the Kennedy family and the Olesons. However, there’s some stuff about the Oleson family in particular that isn’t quite what you see in the books or in history. Check back next time for more about the infamous Nellie Oleson and her family.

Come Celebrate with us!

This year, as many fans know, has been a yearlong celebration of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th Birthday. On July 14-16,th the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society will be hosting a birthday party for Laura! We will be holding demonstrations, speeches, crafts, autographs, pictures, and more! One aspect of the weekend that some fans may be most interested in, is the appearances of Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder on the hit TV series, “Little House on the Prairie,” and Alison Arngrim who played the mean girl, Nellie Olsen. Despite their “Little House” careers ending over thirty years ago, Butler and Arngrim are still very active in their respective fields today.

After “Little House on the Prairie” Dean Butler did a series called, The New Gidget, Into the Woods on Broadway, toured internationally with West Side Story, and did a feature called Desert Hearts. Butler only pursued acting until the late 90s when he decided to take a different path of producing.

Today Butler is producing a TV show called Feherty which airs on the Golf Channel, part of the NBC sports complex. This show is hosted by David Feherty, a former professional golfer, and is an entertainment talk show centered around golf personalities. In an interview with Paulette Cohn on biography.com Butler discussed how he really enjoys working for the show and has “had a great time with [it].” He also talked about how Michael Landon was a great example for producing. He said that, “there is nothing I do as a producer that I don’t ask myself, on some level: What would Michael do?” Butler’s experience on the TV show Little House on the Prairie still helps and guides him in the work he does today. [1]

Alison Arngrim has been busy since “Little House on the Prairie” went off air, she has started her own one woman comedy show, written a memoir, and now is starring in a You Tube series. Her latest web series is called “Life Interrupted” which has a cast filled with childhood stars. Some of the stars include Erin Murphy from Bewitched, Dawn Wells from Gilligan’s Island, and Michael Learned from The Waltons.

Arngrim enjoys the cast because she believes that it brings a wide variety of viewers who feel nostalgic towards their favorite childhood shows, according to a recent interview with Fox News. Both Butler and Arngrim said that they enjoy keeping in touch with their Little House castmates, and in a way the cast looks out for one another. Arngrim also said that she lives ten minutes away from Rachel Lindsay Greenbush who played baby Carrie on the TV show.[2]

Join us July 14-16th and celebrate Laura’s birthday! Alison Arngrim will also be doing her comedy show, “Confessions from the Prairie” with a reception afterwards. The pictures and autographs with Dean Butler and Alison Arngrim cost a small fee. The tickets for Alison’s show and reception are on sale now on our website.

Check out our schedule of events: http://www.discoverlaura.org/birthday-event.html

For more information call 800-880-3383 or email us at info@discoverlaura.org

 

[1] Cohn, Paulette. “Dean Butler Reminisces on ‘Little House’ Days and Michael Landon (Interview).” Biography.com. July 20, 2015. Accessed May 24, 2017. http://www.biography.com/news/little-house-on-the-prairie-dean-butler-interview.

 

[2] Nolasco, Stephanie. “‘Nasty Nellie’ Alison Arngrim talks ‘Little House on the Prairie’ days, reveals what she’s up to now.” Fox News. March 23, 2017. Accessed May 24, 2017. http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2017/03/23/nasty-nellie-alison-arngrim-talks-little-house-on-prairie-days-reveals-what-shes-up-to-now.html.