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The documentary legacy of Rose Wilder Lane and her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, encompassed in the holdings of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa. A journalist and philosopher, Lane also was the first biographer of Herbert Hoover. In fact, her work on "The Making of Herbert Hoover" (1919) led to a friendship with the Great Humanitarian that lasted more than forty years.

Chronology of the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Lane's papers at the Hoover Library document her extraordinary life as a newspaper reporter in San Francisco and other cities, and as a publicist for the American Red Cross during World War I. Her papers also include details of travels across Europe with sojourns to France and Albania, and her work in later years promoting Libertarian economic and political ideas. Most importantly, Lane's papers tell of her success as an author of books and magazine articles. The 30 linear feet of correspondence, diaries, book drafts, and other writings are rich in personal perspective and introspection.

Rose Wilder Lane

The papers also reveal Lane's important role as the editor of the classic "Little House on the Prairie" books written by her mother. Laura Ingalls Wilder had only limited writing experience when she embarked on the series of books that captivate young readers to the present day. Quite logically, Laura turned to Rose, a more experienced writer, for assistance with the series.

Laura started with a modest plan to write a single volume entitled "When Grandma was a Little Girl." With Rose's help, she submitted a proposal to Harper Brothers, but the editors at Harpers suggested that Laura write a series of books about her childhood in frontier communities across the Midwest. Such a project was ambitious and Laura turned to her daughter for advice and support Beginning in the early 1930's, Laura and Rose worked together to shape Laura's memories into books that would appeal to young readers. That the books enjoy an ever-increasing popularity is evidence of their success.

Rose Wilder Lane

This is not to say that the collaboration of these two women was without conflict. The three linear feet of correspondence, notes, resource materials and book drafts that constitute the Laura Ingalls Wilder Series in the Lane papers document the dynamic tension of the creative process itself. Laura submitted drafts of her work to Rose with a certain trepidation. Rose edited the manuscripts and, as she said, ran them "through my own typewriter." Sensitive about the quality of her writing, Laura at times objected to the changes that Rose made and said on occasion that the stories were no longer hers. Rose responded emphatically that the stories were and would always be the work of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Series is a documentary testament to their exceptional relationship. That we have so much evidence of the process that created the Little House series is a reflection of a rural mother and her cosmopolitan daughter. For the most part their collaboration was face to face across the kitchen table, but in a few instances they carried on their work by mail and we are fortunate, indeed, that this correspondence has survived.

Over the course of more than a dozen years--from the writing of "Little House in the Big Woods" in the early 1930's to the publication of "These Happy Golden Years" in 1943--Laura and Rose captured the essence of life in frontier America in nine classic volumes. Laura's stories continue to fascinate millions of young people across the country and around the world. And the story of the extraordinary literary partnership between mother and daughter continues to unfold for the many teachers, scholars, and other researchers who travel to the Hoover Library in West Branch.

For more specific information on the Rose Wilder Lane Collection, write the Senior Archivist, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, P.O. Box 488, West Branch, Iowa 52358.

National Archives and Records Administration
Last updated: June 16, 1999