Prairie Fires: Chapter 7 (Part 1)

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Child Abuse]

Friends, it has been a whole year and now it is time for me to re-read Prairie Fires.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 7 (Part 1)

I gained 200 new followers today from my programming tweets and now they get to wonder why I'm prattling on about Laura Ingalls Wilder. CHAPTER 7. When we last left Laura, she and Rose were both dipping their toes into the lucrative (more so than farming, anyway) world of newspaper articles. Laura was also forcing her disabled husband to build her a vanity house.

"In 1890, two-thirds of all Americans had lived in rural communities, but by the turn of the century that proportion started a downward slide that would never be reversed. By 1910, more than half of the population was concentrated in urban areas, lured by jobs and aided by a revolution in transportation...Henry Ford had introduced his Model T just two years earlier, and would sell fifteen million of them over the next two decades."

"But while the citizenry was on the move, massive corporations—“trusts”—seized control of the economy, consolidating the power of banks, railroads, and the oil industry in the hands of two titans, J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller." Farmers are fed up with the railroads and Teddy Roosevelt "ran for president on a promise to contain “predatory wealth,” which is something I'm very much in favor for and Rose presumably would not be.

"He was aided by those he dubbed “muckrakers,” early investigative journalists... Ida Tarbell laid the foundation for trust-busting with her meticulously reported History of the Standard Oil Company; published in 1904, it sparked public outrage". I know "muckraker" isn't really a positive-connotation term, but I think it's really wonderful and important to stress how crucial journalists were when it came to informing the populace about capitalism's excessive abuses. We've talked about Laura and Charles falling for the same scam over and over: the railroads hype up a place in order to create a land rush, and they come running. Yet it's hard to know what the truth really is if someone isn't REPORTING IT. There's not an internet! They can't google things! If the railroad-owned papers print that Florida has moderate climate and both the Garden of Eden AND the Fountain of Eternal Youth are located there, Michael Midwestern can't easily refute that off the cuff.

"At the same time, women were entering the workforce at a rapid clip, their numbers rising from 2.6 million in 1880 to 7.8 million thirty years later. Around 60 percent were confined to domestic servitude, but others were laboring in garment factories and mills." Working women + labor unions = organized women talking politics --> suffrage talk galore. "The women’s suffrage movement, started decades earlier at the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, was also gaining ground."

"The industrialized East and the South opposed such changes—children provided cheap labor in cotton mills—so the West led the way. Wyoming Territory, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho gave women the vote before the turn of the century". I don't know if it's true, but I recall a history teacher telling me that the other reason the West states went for suffrage first was as an incentive for women to emigrate there. The man-to-woman ratio was supposed to still be pretty dang unbalanced when a lot of the settlers were single men seeking a fortune, so they had to get pretty creative to coax women to come out west.

"Rose Wilder Lane would cast her first vote in California for Woodrow Wilson." Fun fact: Woodrow Wilson was a frothing racist assbag. Woodrow Wilson was so racist that he would probably take pride in being called a racist, he was enthusiastically *committed* to his racism.

"Missouri lagged behind. At a meeting in 1869, St. Louis city councilors had laughed uproariously when women’s suffrage was proposed, and during the first decade of the twentieth century no women’s rights petitions were presented to the state legislature." In Missouri, women organized through the formation of "farmer's clubs", which let them talk about farms AND suffrage and women's rights and so forth. These agricultural groups are places for Laura's work to be printed, which is a nice segue back to Laura.

"Kansas newspapers and the American Food Journal had printed remarks by Mrs. A. J. Wilder on the economic benefits of a five-acre farm and poultry operation. ...She calculated that it cost her eighty-five cents to keep a hen for a year, while the birds averaged 180 eggs each. At twenty cents a dozen, that yielded “a profit of $2.15 for each hen.”"

We'll talk later about Laura outright lying about the profits of farming, but even this early piece doesn't seem to pass the sniff test. First of all, I'm pretty sure Laura has *never* lived on five acres? Rocky Ridge started at 40 acres and they expanded to 100+. Charles' land was always more than 5 acres. Maybe it doesn't matter if the scope of the article was just poultry, but it feels like she's pretending to an experience that I don't think she has. Laura has also lived in situations--such as De Smet--where she tried to monetize her eggs and simply *couldn't* because so many people had chickens that no one was in the market to buy eggs. Again, maybe the article dealt with that, but Laura of all people should know how volatile prices are for farm goods. Hell, last we read she wasn't even selling eggs by the carton; she was selling them in her restaurant to her boarders, which is very different. Since they sold the town house and thus given up boarding-and-dining, maybe she's selling eggs by the carton *now*, but it's just as possible she's making up numbers out her ass.

"“The Small Farm Home,” the paper she wrote for the 1911 conference, went far beyond such commercial calculations. It was a manifesto for the philosophy behind the little house: 'People are seeking after a freer, healthier, happier life. They are tired of the noise and dirt, bad air and crowds of the cities, and are turning longing eyes toward the green slopes, wooded hills, pure running water and health-giving breezes of the country.'"

Laura, what... are you doing? She sounds like the railroad propaganda all over again! She's writing the same nuance-free paeans that ruined Charles' life so many times! The "pure running water" that nearly drowned you so many times as a child, Laura? The "health-giving breezes" that seared your crops with dry heat? The health-giving that caused Charles to die at 66, broken and weary from having worked too hard for too long? That blinded Mary with fever from the low-land mosquitoes? That gave Almanzo a stroke and left him unable to do farm work?

Look, we are going to have to grapple with the fact that Laura absolutely was a victim of cruel propaganda, AND she turned around and churned out the same lies and was willing to hurt people in turn. "Wilder assured readers that a five-acre farm could comfortably support a family through poultry, fruit, and dairy production."

WHAT? Again, Laura has lived on farms that were acres of 40, 100, 160 (the Homestead Act number), and 320 acres (the Timber Culture Act addition). She has not, to my knowledge, ever lived on a mere 5 acres. And those 40, 100, 160, and 320 acres have never, ever "comfortably supported" ANY of the families she's been in. Not once! Charles Ingalls sold / abandoned... five? six? how many farms? because they weren't supporting his family. Laura and Almanzo had to flee to Missouri and take wage jobs because their farms wouldn't support their families. James Wilder had a big rich farm and HE had to sell up and move west because drought hit hard enough to keep his farm from (say it with me now) comfortably supporting his family. Laura has known people who nearly died, who almost starved to death, who fled the west in defeat, because their acres didn't comfortably support THEIR families.

"She urged them not to be discouraged by the prospect of hard work, citing time-and labor-saving devices"-- I cannot BREATHE. The labor-saving devices that Charles couldn't afford, Laura? That you marveled at when Almanzo "wasted" money buying them?--"citing time-and labor-saving devices from oil stoves—“no carrying in of wood and carrying out of ashes”—to cream separators, sewing machines, gasoline engines, and new methods of piping water into the home from a spring or well." All of those things cost so much money! People don't HAVE money! Everyone is incredibly poor and you're telling them that if they just go into debt for the machinery, a tiny farm will leave them set for life!

"The payoff in space, freedom, and aesthetic beauty, she argued, was more than worth it. “We have a whole five acres for our back yard and all out doors for our conservatory, filled not only with beautiful flowers, but with grand old trees as well, with running water and beautiful birds, with sunshine and fresh air and all wild, free, beautiful things.”" I don't. I. What. Why is she saying she has five acres? She owns a hundred or more at this point! I mean, I guess she has "five acres" in the sense that I have "1 cat"? I do have 1 cat, I just also have 5.

I feel there's an especial layer of cruelty in gloating about the beautiful free wild things while she's making Almanzo cut his disabled feet to ribbons as he lugs stone to their huge lavish fireplace.

"As for social life, she argued, a farm was hardly isolated, with rural delivery of newspapers, circulating libraries, and neighbors for company." I... look, I didn't want to talk about this too much earlier because there's a lot of capacity for ableism here, but a LOT of prairie women had mental breakdowns from sheer isolation. They had a TERM for it at the time. (They called it "shack-wacky".) Women were driven to a breaking point by being alone, friendless, confined to the home with nothing but children for company, and constantly pregnant. Men at least had the opportunity to go to town for supplies and to sell their produce; women living on a 160 acre homestead could go weeks, months, or longer without seeing a face other than their husband/children.

So when Laura says: "Country women who believed their “sisters in the city” had it better were advised to “wake up to your opportunities.… Acquire modern appliances, build a social life, and subscribe to the daily paper.”" She is... I don't even know how to characterize that. She KNOWS about prairie depression and isolation. She lived with a woman who brandished KNIVES at her husband! She was so desperate to go home on the weekends that she rode with a boy! 'Buy a sewing machine and read a paper' is not a substitute for social interaction, for people who need/desire social interaction. Again, it's unclear whether Laura knows that or not. Is she merely horribly wrong or additionally a scam artist?

"Upton Sinclair’s undercover research for his 1906 novel The Jungle had exposed the health hazards of meatpacking plants, launching a spate of “pure food” laws that regulated everything from wrapping of bread to tuberculin testing of milk. There was a growing sense that cities were blighted by polluted air, tainted food, and unwholesome influences." ..................................................? Hang on. The Jungle is one of my favorite novels, and if people were taking from that the message that they should all run out and buy a farm, I feel they've missed the message. The point isn't that cities are bad, it's that businesses will NOT self-regulate abuses.

I'm also a wee bit skeptical that city people who've never butchered an animal before are going to be able to move to the country and practice better food safety than the admittedly appalling conditions at the meat-packing plants. Like, if you don't want rat feces in your food (LEGIT DESIRE!) then "move to the country and store all your food in a drafty attic" maaaaaay not get you the purity you're hoping for. Anyway, I don't know if this is true but my favorite history teacher told us that President Teddy was reading THE JUNGLE over his favorite breakfast of sausages and that's why we have the FDA now and things like "rules about rat feces in sausages".

"For Wilder, farms offered the same restorative qualities, but on a human scale." One of my few criticisms of this book is it's too nice and this is one of those times: Fraser doesn't question often enough (in my mind) whether Laura really believed something untrue. I think it is infantilizing for us to just assume that Laura brainwashed herself rather than grapple with a painful childhood. Is it possible? Yes. Is that the most logical inference? Ehhhhh, maybe? It feels like we think of her as childlike.

And we don't just have to deal with her rejection of past truths: we also have to deal with her denial of the present. Almanzo is in visible pain. Rose writes about her memories of him soaking his swollen feet every night. He has to cobble his own shoes because his feet are disfigured from the stroke, his disability, and hard labor. Laura KNOWS her husband is in pain. She has to help him with tasks which require dexterity, like hitching up horses. She KNOWS that farms are not a panacea of health. She KNOWS that eating fresh food doesn't cure all ills. So when she writes in that tenor, we have to seriously question whether she's lying-for-pay (which Rose absolutely will do!) or whether she believes untruthful things which contradict the daily evidence of her eyes.

I do wonder whether we infantilize Laura because we knew her first and best as the child character she presented to us. But recall that "Laura" is a fiction of her own making. Personally, I find it more plausible that Laura was willing to lie for pay and justified herself by figuring that was just "what everyone did" and that she wasn't hurting anyone if she wrote the same hype everyone else was writing. Like, yeah, sure, it's hyperbole to say the nice breezes are "health-giving" but people will read it as hyperbole and if they don't that's their own fault for being credible. I.e., the same excuses all scam artists make.

"Beginning with this 1911 essay, her writing would repeatedly compare town and country, magnifying every advantage of life under the open skies, lived as close to the wild as possible." And the thing is, Laura doesn't eschew town. SHE doesn't deal with loneliness by buying a sewing machine and reading a newspaper. She's politically active. She's a high-ranking member in the Eastern Star Masonic lodge in town. She's traveled--and will do so again--to present her writings before crowds. She publishes huge swaths of her personal life in newspapers. Laura is VERY socially active. So while she's telling women to go live in isolation and be happy because a newspaper and a sewing machine are all you really need, she's traveling to town regularly (daily?) and writing for those same newspapers. If a country life is so fulfilling, one wonders why Laura is holding so tightly to town.

"Her optimistic portrayal of an economic rural utopia was misleading, however. And Wilder knew it". What an interesting way to spell 'lie', haha.

"And Wilder knew it: while her family relied on her egg money, as well as livestock, apples, and other produce supplied by Rocky Ridge, the farm never fully supported them, and they regularly had to supplement their income with additional jobs." Once more for the seats in the back: Rocky Ridge N E V E R fully supported them. Never. Not once. Not one year. Not even one month, I'm betting.

"What’s more, the Wilders owned considerably more than five acres, though the extra land did not make the bad years any easier to bear." Eh, the extra land was supplying the firewood that they're cutting down and selling, so I mean. And some of you have pointed out that feeding dairy cows and chickens on 5 acres means buying supplemental feed, more likely than not.

Shit, people are telling Laura TO HER FACE that she's lying: "At the 1911 Farm Week, Wilder’s talk was followed by another, which explored the drawbacks she had minimized." Imagine getting up to give a speech about how great farm life is and the next speech is about how wrong you were, this is like subtweeting of 1911.

[cont.] "“Inconveniences of the Farm Home” sketched out the bad roads and bad schools, the 7 percent decline in rural population over the past decade, the loneliness of farm life, and the fact that most women had no access to the improvements Wilder touted, including running water, electricity, and oil stoves." I mean, again. Laura knows this. She has the *capacity* to speak honestly about the trials farmers face. She is choosing not to, and continues to choose not to even as people contradict her.

But the media isn't interested in “Inconveniences of the Farm Home”. "But such realism did not impress John Case [newspaper editor]. He preferred Wilder’s idealistic, sunny defense of country life. On February 18, 1911, the Missouri Ruralist reprinted her talk, word for word, as “Favors the Small Farm Home.” It was her first major publication in the expanding world of agricultural journalism, and it launched a new career." The thought occurs that while "both sides" journalism has been a plague on our generation, it was probably at one time intended to be an improvement over "one side only and it's the lying propaganda side" journalism.

And we'll break here for tonight. Thank you!!


WHO IS READY FOR SOME PRAIRIE FIRES? When we last left off in Chapter 7, Laura was lying like a rug but professionally for money. People occasionally called her out to her face--which must have been awkward around the punch bowl!--but she soldiers on selling the Great American Myth.

Rose tells Laura (I am not kidding or exaggerating this even a little) to buy a $50 typewriter and to not spend all her money on cows. That's a $50 used refurbished typewriter, for you currency nerds in the audience.

Lane and her husband don't have nearly enough money for their lifestyle so they switch to selling California land to Oklahomans, always an ethical practice. Oh god. "If you are interested in farming where there are no extreme summers or winters; where you have artesian water to irrigate; good land; quick transportation to a market of two million people, write us and we will be glad to send you a descriptive booklet." Do we have any Californians in the audience who want to weigh in on your plentiful waters and mild climates.

Rose writes about the troubles Laura has with money: "There have been three very dry years in Missouri, you know, when the crops were nearly complete failures, and now this year, when they get a fair crop, it is impossible to sell anything at a profitable price." I remind you that while Laura is failing to grow or sell anything on 100 acres, she's writing articles telling people that 5 acres can sustain and enrich a family.

"Lane remarked that her parents seemed so hard up that they could not afford new clothes, an admission that would have horrified her mother."

"At times, Lane did not know where her feckless husband was or what he was doing. She appeared to be losing faith in his dealings, referring to vague intrigues in New Zealand and Central America." Sounds ethical! "[Rose] admitted they were running around with high-rollers, “Claire casually talking millions” with powerful men while she wondered whether their gas would be cut off that night, trying to suppress “the gnawing mad wish for twenty dollar[s] for the rent man.”"

"Thus it was that financial considerations—her wish to visit San Francisco and the Exposition, her daughter’s dire straits—drove Laura Wilder’s first attempts to write newspaper columns. In other words, it was an economic stopgap, much like her father’s carpentry or his civil service jobs."

That is an...interesting way of characterizing Laura's motives. "She wanted to travel" rather than "They didn't have money to buy clothes" or "Their crops weren't selling after three years of drought." I mean, I can well believe that *Laura* may have thought that her writing was a little side-job to make extra to cover the fripperies she wanted, much as Pa thinking of his carpentry as a "side job" rather than "the thing that yearly kept them from starving." But as much as "I'm only doing this for a little bit of extra cash" may have been how Laura/Charles characterized their non-farm work, they were consistently failing to support their families through farm work and the cash jobs kept them fed, so. I can call myself a hobbyist writer and a professional kitten wrangler, but at the end of the day it's the writing that balances the checkbooks and the kittens eat money and crap cute pictures. ...That metaphor got away from me at the end.

"After her “Small Farm Home” article appeared in the Missouri Ruralist, she followed up with a more personal piece, “The Story of Rocky Ridge Farm,” submitted under the name of A. J. Wilder in response to a farm story contest. While he may have dictated some details, Almanzo almost certainly did not write the piece. Letters to his daughter reveal how stiff and laborious he found putting pen to paper." So now Laura is... well "fraud" seems strong but "ghostwriting" seems a little too mild here.

"The article began by admitting the difficulties the Wilders had faced getting started, acknowledging that Almanzo’s “broken health” had made clearing the land and turning it into a farm a “heroic effort,” resulting in “short rations at the first.”" I've said before in this series that I care little about a man being emasculated (a fundamentally toxic concept), but I'll bet Almanzo found it humiliating having his failures splashed all over the newspaper like that. Not to mention the underlying humiliation of his wife having to work a cash job like writing because his farming wouldn't pay the bills, and the further humiliation of her being the consistent bread-winner of the family in that day and age.

"There was no description of the years in town, of supplementing farm income with wages, or of the anxiety engendered by poverty." We see a consistent pattern with Laura: she never, ever tells the truth when it comes to her life. She plays up the farming, polishes all farming failures as a temporary setback, and just omits the details about the wage work which kept them alive. She does that here and now with Rocky Ridge and she'll do it later with Charles, skipping over YEARS of her life in which he had no farm and only had city jobs to pay the bills. Each case in isolation could be explained--those preteen years were traumatic for her, etc--but the *pattern* is damning. Laura is making money by fraudulently presenting farming as a rosy dream. People wouldn't buy these stories if she told the unvarnished truth.

To a certain extent, I don't even blame her for that. I polish up some of the details of *my* life in my writing. No one wants to hear about a day spent lying on the bathroom floor sobbing in pain. I don't particularly want to write about it. I get that! I do. And at least here in the beginning, it's probable that Laura wasn't planning to build a forever legacy that changes the course of how history is perceived in the minds of many Americans. It's like the Biblical inerrancy problem: the people writing the gospels, the letters, and so forth which make up our Bible weren't thinking "I need to be as accurate as possible for the benefit of people centuries from now!" They were thinking "what's the most entertaining, logical, clever, persuasive way to make my point to my intended audience" and as added fun, that "point" may not have even been a good one worth making but we're stuck with it now as "canon".

Laura came from a culture which lied about farming. She was lied to about farming her entire life, and then she willingly became part of that industry of lies in order to put food on the table. For the money, I don't entirely blame her. She may or may not have felt a stab of guilt over the people she was deceiving, but *someone* was going to do this work, if not her. And the alternative was, at least at first, starving. Would I have chosen differently? But for never going back and correcting the record, for *continuing* to insist that her tales were true even after starvation was impossible, for ensuring that her legacy would taint the historical record: for all that, I blame her deeply.

Anyway, the point is that Laura is bad and she should feel bad. The only reason we remember her even a little kindly is that her monstrous daughter was so much worse that she kinda pales in comparison. THERE, I SAID IT.

"Over the following months, Wilder continued journeyman writing efforts under her husband’s name, probably utilizing his dictation. A Missouri newspaper article appeared in 1912 with specific instructions, and a diagram, on how to build a sturdy gate." And that's another thing! She could make money *teaching* people how to farm without upselling it as something only amateurs could do! Give a seminar, Laura! Charge people for seats! THERE WERE ETHICAL WAYS TO MONETIZE YOUR SKILLS.

"A few months later, a Ruralist feature with A. J. Wilder’s byline explained techniques of apple husbandry. Almanzo criticized the practice of spraying trees with insecticide, recommending an organic method: “As I never allowed hunting on the farm, the quail were thick in the orchard and used to wallow and dust themselves like chickens in this fine dirt close to the tree.” Natural pest control, he said, kept his trees free of boring insects. He would always prohibit hunting on their land." Prohibiting hunting on your land is probably easier when you're not starving. Charles hunted regularly for that very reason. So maybe they aren't starving to death after all and just need money for clothes. I warily retract some of my previous sympathy, to be rationed out later as needed.

"Soon Wilder was publishing in newspapers all over the state, from Cape Girardeau to Mexico, Missouri. She did not hesitate to step out from behind her husband when offering her own expertise, such as on raising chicks late in the season." I really wish we knew how much she was making, because that would answer a lot of ethical questions I have.

Her chicken piece is incredibly demanding and precise, involving clean sand, fine-chopped bone, bread crumbs, milk, oil, insect powder, and vaseline. I marvel again that she peddled the idea that anyone could do this. I sure as hell couldn't. Look, I raise cats because you can feed them twice a day and they're basically self-regulating. I have never once had to rub vaseline on a cat, for instance. Nor had to know whether it was "clean sand" feeding day or "fine-chopped bone" feeding day. When they were sick for a month, I programmed everything into a calendar app and then just did what it told me. And then my ex called to beg me to take him off my calendar because he didn't understand why his phone was prompting him for mycelaxidone or whatever. I couldn't handle something like: "The birds required “perfectly clean” coops, adequate ventilation, and constant care, all taking up hours each day." That is what I am saying.

"The time had to be stolen from other chores, including scalding and skimming milk, churning butter, hauling slop to the pigs, and processing and rendering meat from butchered animals." I'm tired just READING that. "Farm work was so labor-intensive that in the fall of 1912, Wilder experienced a health crisis and was hospitalized." WHAT ABOUT THE HEALTHFUL BREEZES THAT ONLY FARMERS RECEIVE, LAURA? YOU WROTE ABOUT THEM, REMEMBER?

*sing-song* Everyone should farm because it's a gateway to the most healthful life possible *collapses from a prolapsed lung or whatever* I am so glad people farm, I love potatoes and rice and food in general, but for fuck's sake, I am just aghast at her claiming it is the most healthful thing ever and ANYONE can do it when it takes a shitload of Not Being Disabled and then hospitalizes her.

Through all this I presume Almanzo is farming (because who else is bringing in the produce that doesn't sell in the years when the produce doesn't die?) in addition to building her ridiculous house and like. They SOLD their PAID-FOR town house. The one where they lived so he could work a CASH JOB that let him SIT AND REST while he delivered oil, and where she got GOOD MONEY running a hotel and restaurant. WHY WHY WHY. They sold that house, bought more land that eats money and gives nothing back, failed to eke out crops, and she churned out newspaper articles based on her husband's expertise as he slowly starves them to death.

"“Recovering from a serious illness,” Wilder wrote, inspired her discovery that she could do chores—ironing, washing dishes, frying griddle cakes—while seated on a high stool." Laura... I've known since I was seven that I could sit down while I folded clothes. Small children know how to sit down! My god, 1914 must have been grim. "What's in the newspaper today, Hank?" "Well, Gladys, this woman has discovered she can sit down while she cooks griddle cakes." "You don't say, Hank!"

@TheCQC. The thing is, that routine is nearly all bunk. Chickens mostly just need to be fed and have the eggs collected. Yes, bone meal, but you buy it in sacks and free-feed it, and diomataceous earth takes care of mites. You just feed them whatever, then collect eggs. Kids often do it.


If you combine "chickens aren't that precise, actually" with "even small children know how to sit down", it feels like she's drumming up expertise for articles that there don't really need to be articles about?

"Extolling the latest timesavers, including vacuum cleaners, she elaborated on a favorite topic: finding solace in nature. “I have always found that I did not get so tired, and my day seemed shorter,” she wrote, “when I listened to the birds singing or noticed, from the window, the beauties of the trees or clouds.”" Does she understand that most people can't afford things like vacuum cleaners? Does she remember those days when she "marveled" at the cost of a heater for her husband?

How is Rose doing? "In the summer of 1914, after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo and the outbreak of war in Europe, sales of California farmland had fallen off." "Mentored by legendary muckraker Fremont Older, editor of the Bulletin for the past twenty years, Beatty was looking for an assistant, at $12.50 a week. Lane jumped at the chance, boarding the next San Francisco–bound train. She also chose that moment to free herself of her husband, saying later, without sentiment: “I got rid of Gillette in January, 1915.” The marriage had lasted little more than five years, although the couple would not formally divorce until a few years later." NICE.

"A pattern was being laid down. With her parents, Rose would always swing between apologetic and exasperated, begging pardon and then, in the next breath, offering advice on how they should manage their affairs. The child who had suffered through all her parents’ catastrophes would never establish her own professional or economic independence, always mingling her affairs with theirs."

Oh my god, the Wilder farm house still has a $500 mortgage note on it, I did not realize that. I assumed that before Laura poured all these renovations into it--at least some of which had to cost SOME money--she would've paid the damn thing off.

@kingdomofwench. this is such an interesting parallel with so many "self-care!1" and "wellness" articles

She's a 1914 Instagram Influencer.

@eustaciavye77. And one of the things influencers do is make basic things SEEM complicated and then sell you a product to make it easier. Note the "chickens are so complicated" bit.

@shiphitsthefan. imagine Laura writing for Buzzfeed

18 Reasons Why You Need 5 Acres!!

Laura goes to San Francisco to see Lane and the Exposition, but she "had never envisioned the trip merely as a vacation. She planned to combine sightseeing with freelance work and intensive study of the writing business. “I am being as careful as I can,” she promised Almanzo. “I am not for a minute losing sight of the difficulties at home or what I came for.” During her stay, she intended to model herself on Lane, [...] and selling travel pieces to the Ruralist and other outlets."

Learning from Lane was probably a mistake; she's a novice at this point and a liar to boot. "In light of Lane’s approach to the task, the column’s subhead carried a certain irony: “Truth is seldom on the written page.” What Lane was writing was far from truth. It straddled a line between fact and fiction, bearing no resemblance to contemporary journalism in terms of accuracy and identification of sources. She was learning not to report but to entertain. Her first publications included a romantic serial [...] For her, as for many tabloid journalists of the time, there was little distinction between fact-based reporting and pure invention."

The newspaper business basically suffers a tragedy of the commons/capitalism: lurid invention is bought in higher quantities than actual truth, so everyone who wants to stay in business has to start lying to keep up. "One of Lane’s first efforts, “Ed Monroe, Man-Hunter,” which appeared in installments in August and September 1915, is a case in point." I don't even know how to summarize this, it is banana bread. It was loosely based on an ex-convict's memories but turned into a heroic police officer of 20+ years on the force. "Told in the first person, “edited” by Rose Wilder Lane, and illustrated with crude line drawings, the story was a dime novel in miniature, concocted from invented dialogue and comic-book theatrics. An editor’s note claimed it bore “the authority of TRUTH, the power of REALITY.”"

"Neither Lane nor her mother saw anything wrong with this." I mean. Laura has been professionally lying in her articles already so... yes. This is not surprising to me. "She urged Almanzo to read Lane’s articles, emphasizing “that all the stories in them, although incidents, are true, and actually happened.” Yet she acknowledged in the same breath that the real “Ed” was not a detective. Her interpretation demonstrates how elastic the concept of truth and “true stories” was at the time, even in a medium designed to publish factual material. In years to come, she and Lane would cling fast to this notion of “truth,” which reflected not objective reality but something closer to felt experience."

I keep thinking about the "fake news" we're plagued with and how it suffers from this same issue of "truth" being what the reader "feels" is true, rather than what is actually true. You can prove 800 different ways that Hillary Clinton didn't shoot Vince Foster in the head or run a sex slavery ring out of the basement of a pizzeria that doesn't have a basement or whatever, but it's still "true" to people who hate her. "This gives me an emotional response" or "This fits with my preconceived biases of reality" is always going to be more comfortable to humans than "This challenged me to admit that I've been profoundly wrong in painful ways."

"Lane was working so frenetically—churning out a first-person “autobiography” of Charlie Chaplin after a few brief interviews, then a similar life of Henry Ford—that even her hard-working mother blanched at her hours." (We'll see those biographies later and they're a sack of lies that get Rose in trouble.) "“The more I see of how Rose works,” [Laura] wrote to Almanzo, “the better satisfied I am to raise chickens. I intend to try to do some writing that will count, but I would not be driven by the work as she is for anything and I do not see how she can stand it.”" (It's really a shame that Rose wasn't better at her craft; she should've made a decent fiction writer, given her propensity for imagination and hard work. But her prose is so over the top that it just isn't good imo.)

"The women were already swapping stories for profit. While Wilder was in town, Lane must have inveigled her for tales of the blizzard-bound winter in De Smet, which turned up in Lane’s “Behind the Headlight” a serialized first-person “memoir” of a railway engineer. The engineer’s memories were remarkably similar to events that Wilder would write about in her own memoir, such as an Indian predicting “BIG snows.” Without the added depth of Wilder’s recollected emotion, the stories seemed flat and false". (Laura needs to stop fucking adding native people for flavor in her stories.)

"Lane’s readiness to bend facts to her liking was not confined to her work." Oh-ho. Her husband is still living with her--probably to share expenses--and she just straight up lies to Laura and Laura never even realizes the marriage is over / on the rocks. Laura is, in fact, hopeful that Claire will pay back the loan the Wilders gave them. "She would have to be “on the ground” when he received [money], she said. If not, it would disappear, since “money runs through his fingers like water.”"

"A handful of Wilder’s poems about fairies appeared in the children’s section of the Bulletin, and the Ruralist had belatedly come through, asking for two substantial articles about the Exposition. They would be published by the end of the year. One featured recipes of international foods, from French croissants to Chinese almond cakes (Laura privately confided to Almanzo a distaste for Chinese food)". Jesus tap-dancing Christ, OF COURSE they paid a white woman to write about Chinese food. Do you think she'd ever in her life even made French croissants or Chinese almond cakes?

OMG, HANG ON YOU GUYS, I FOUND IT. It's $16 on Kindle, but fuckit, that's what god made business expenses for, hang on, I'm downloading it, lolsob.

Croissant and Chinese Almond Cakes recipes. I need some cooks to heckle for me, I can barely boil water. (If they're NOT horribly incomplete / wrong, then we're going to assume she "interviewed" uncredited chefs for their recipes, right?)

Oh god, here is a complete list of her recipes in this article:

- "Russian Forrest". This is something deep fried and drenched in powdered sugar; I cannot for the life of me tell from the 5-sentence recipe. But anything deep fried and sugared is tasty.

- "Mexican Tamale Loaf". Tamale... loaf??? Oh god, it's tamale meat and then they dumped the masa in "to make as thick as mush" and then poured into a mold to cool. Is that an actual thing in Mexico, because this feels like sacrilege to me. I love tamales.

(I can actually make tamales, I went to a CLASS. The teacher was this amazing Mexican lady who explained that tamales are eaten on special occasions like weddings or Christmas, rather than every day. This scholarly dude frowns thoughtfully and asks, "Is there a cultural reason for that?" obviously expecting some kind of Deep Mythology and she just goes, "No, they're just a pain in the ass to make." She ran a restaurant with her husband for 20 years making tamales, and when a guy came around selling a tamale-making machine, her husband introduced HER as his "tamale-making machine" and she folded her apron and left and wouldn't return without an apology.)

@egnowit. This sounds like what we used to call tamale pie, but not poured into a mold. Grandmother used to make it often for us, and Mom sometimes did, too. Probably was an easy, cheap way to feed a lot of folks.

- "German Honey Cake". No idea how authentic this is, but at least looks edible.

- "Italian White Tagliarini". I don't... "roll very thin as for noodles, and cut in any desired shape." Siri, show me 'not giving a fuck'. "Serve with sauce.", it says. NO instructions for what to put in the sauce or what color the sauce is or anything. Just flour, water, eggs, and salt for the noodles, roll thin, cut in any shape, slop sauce on it. AUTHENTIC.

@TheCQC. I write recipes for small amounts of money (Patreon), so, I would guess that Laura can cook, and that these are her best guesses at replicating things she ate. 50/50 whether she actually tested them.

I'm wondering if they even had the space / time / equipment to test them. Especially given their, ahem, rigor in their other articles.


- "Sauce for Tagliarini". Olive oil, garlic, carrots, tomatoes, salt and pepper, onions, celery, parsley, hamburg steak, cloves, butter. Okay, I guess that's probably edible.

"Croissonts" are next, then the "Chinese Almond Cakes" which @pandalism89 thinks is probably Chinese almond cookies, not mooncakes.

A lot of you are pointing out that old timey recipes are sparse on details, and I do know that, but these are supposed to be "exotic" foreign fare that the Missourians back home haven't been exposed to. So it's not as simple as "eh, I won't write down the stuff that everyone knows because they've been watching Mother make this from childhood," I should think.

- "Unleavened Bread, or Matzas". "Mix flour and water to a very stiff dough. Roll this into a thin sheet, cut into round or square pieces, and bake in a hot oven."

- "Poori". "This bread is considered by the Hindus as a luxury and usually is eaten on feast days. A rather stiff dough is made from flour, water, and salt. Small cakes are cut from this dough and cooked in boiling butter."

Neither of those last two have any quantities, which again makes perfect sense if you've seen this food before but seems like an odd choice in a piece which is supposed to be "food from foreign shores that only exists in San Francisco" or whatever?

The lead-up to the recipes is... something. She starts with Aladdin's wonderful lamp and how a genie is nothing compared to a modern woman in her kitchen. "She takes down the receiver to telephone her grocery order, and immediately all over the world the monstrous genii of machinery are obedient to her command. All the nations of the world bring their offerings to her door--fruits from South America, Hawaii, Africa; tea and spices from India, China, and Japan; olives and oil from Italy; coffee from strange tropical islands; sugar from Cuba and the Philippines."

It's a deeply colonial vision; all these places existing to serve and service her with their 'delicacies' without having to appreciate or respect the people who labor to create them. I'd point out the inconsistency of this attitude coming from a farmer, but it's another case where whiteness matters more than ethical or intellectual consistency. She then flips everything on its head to extol the white farmers; you see, we consume the little 'once-in-awhile' bits and pieces and delicacies of those exotic locales, but we PROVIDE staples that they need every day and otherwise wouldn't get for themselves.

"This modern magic works both ways. The natives of all these far away places may eat the flour made from the wheat growing in the fields outside our kitchen windows. I never shall look at Missouri wheat fields again without thinking of the 'Breads of All Nations' exhibit, where natives of eight foreign nations, in the national costumes were busy making the breads of their countries from our own American flour." AMERICA. Flour sifting is described in detail. "This first grade flour is kept for home use, the second grade being shipped to the Orient, where some of our middle-western wheat makes its final appearance in Chinese noodles."

Oh god, I don't. I just. TW for racism in all this, OBVIOUSLY, but especially the next tweet.

Laura describes the people at the exposition: "the smiling Oriental in charge", "the little, bland Chinese girl in her bright blue pajama costume, the smiling, high-cheeked Russian peasant girl, the Hindoo in his gay turban, the swarthy, black-eyed Mexican". And, yes, Times Have Changed but riddle me how she was able to write about the "Scotchman from Edinburg" without describing his clothes or visage in a manner which would render him as childish or exotic. He's just "from Edinburgh". Simple as that. So, I mean, ONE QUESTIONS why the Chinese girl--who for all we know was a woman who Laura infantilized--couldn't just be "from Beijing".

So for all that, we've determined that Laura's recipes sound as sparse as the (white, American, published) recipes of the time/location she was from, and her descriptions are as racist as the (white, American, published) descriptions of the time/location etc. But "no better than (many of) her peers" isn't high praise, especially when we're talking about someone the conservatives worship as Mother America while insisting that she was super-not-racist because she romanticized Native Americans in harmful ways.

AND it's important to remember that lots and lots of people WEREN'T lazily racist in accepted ways, it's not like social change was one day grated by a special angel who descended from heaven. The ability to BE BETTER isn't a new modern invention.

AND the fact that her recipes weren't awful (but probably not authentic in any real sense) kind of underscores white privilege in a nutshell. The paper wasn't willing to pay actual experts to contribute their knowledge; they wanted this distilled through whiteness. "Decent enough to pass muster" is practically the motto of white privilege, while the non-white people who would actually have done a good job are left without being paid and get to watch their culture rendered with inauthentic touches.

Laura is the face of "acceptable" racism; she talks up the people of color she meets, but in infantilizing micro-aggression ways. She lives in a sundown town. She takes money to whitewash non-white recipes. She profits from the theft of native land.

Rose will later be the face of active, hostile, screamy racism and we'll get there, but it's another way in which Laura is awful but seems 'nice' in comparison with her devil spawn. But never, ever, ever, ever, EVER let Laura off the hook for her racism just because lots of people were racist at the same time.

We'll have to stop there for the night because it's almost midnight and I have to work tomorrow. Goodnight, my loves and friends.


Friends, you know what time it is!

When we last left off in Chapter 7, Laura had gone to San Francisco to see the Exposition and had managed to sell a few travel articles, one of which was her best guess for how to make 'foreign food'. The other article she managed to sell "touted gold medals awarded to Missouri’s livestock and its “Palace of Agriculture,” which featured a larger-than-life statue of the state’s governor rendered entirely in corn."

It's interesting that as a Texan I see nothing odd about statues rendered in butter (we have one every year at the State Fair), but statues rendered in CORN just sounds bananas. It's like how Batman sounds perfectly normal to me but Ant-man I can't cope with. Spiderman, sure, makes perfect sense. Bee-man, lol what, that's ridiculous. Cat-woman, obviously, yes, of course. Dog-woman, what, no, stop that.

"These accounts seem flat, in retrospect, and the Missouri article closer to propaganda. It was Wilder’s unstudied letters that captured her disarming candor and humor. Her talent lay not in straightforward journalism but in personal writing, the stuff of memoir." That... is not how I would characterize Laura's talents; I'd say she makes a better fiction writer than a non-fiction one. There's no shame in that! It's a rare soul who is equally good at both.

After the fair is over, Laura is ready to go home. "Again and again, Wilder assured her husband of her affection and allegiance to the life they had built together after intense struggle. “Believe me,” she told him, “there is no place like the country to live and I have not heard of anything so far that would lead me to give up Rocky Ridge.”" ...huh.

There's a line in Shakespeare's Hamlet that we get wrong a lot because English is a weird language; specifically "The lady doth protest too much". Modern usage of "protest" usually has a connotation of disagreement, as in you accuse me of something unsavory and I protest that you're wrong and I'm innocent, but the word can meant simply asserting a thing to be true. In the context of Hamlet, the lady "protesting" is proclaiming--protesting!--that she loves her husband too much to every remarry when he dies. The character observing that the lady "doth protest too much" is saying either/both that she's declaring her love suspiciously wayyyyy too much and/or that the play wouldn't harp on this point so much if it wasn't a plot point being foreshadowed.

I wonder, with all that said, why Laura felt the need to repeatedly protest over and over again that she definitely loves Almanzo and is coming home and doesn't want to move out to California and adores Rocky Ridge. Fraser has a tendency to take Laura at her words, which I think is (a) the dangers of biographying someone likable, and (b) to a certain extent you have to in order to write anything scholarly about them. (As opposed to Twitter shitposts.) I, however, am a mere Twitter Shitposter and can speculate that Almanzo may have been feeling a need for reassurance, or Laura may have been feeling a twinge of lost opportunity. @liminalfruitbat pointed out to me today the juxtaposition of Almanzo's emasculation (with Laura writing about how his disability made it hard for him to provide for the family--when the opposite is true!!!!!) against her nickname for him, "Manny".

ANYWAY, moving on: Woodrow Wilson "finally secured what generations of farmers had been calling for: the Federal Farm Loan Act. It would have a profound effect on the Wilders’ lives." I'm not up on the Federal Farm Loan Act, but Woodrow Wilson was motivated by basically racism and nothing else, so I have to assume it fucked over non-white people in some way. Is there a historian in the audience?

"Around the time the Farm Loan Act was working its way through Congress, Rose Wilder Lane was walking across California farmland, from Palo Alto through the Santa Clara, Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Napa valleys. She was writing an exhaustive, eighty-eight-part Bulletin series, “Soldiers of the Soil,” illustrated with large photographs of herself attired in sensible walking dress and floppy hats." I don't. I can't... how do you commentate that? PRESENTED WITHOUT COMMENT.

"With war looming on the American horizon, Lane redefined the seventy thousand farmers serving San Francisco as soldiers, “the real defenders of America … the great Continental Army.” Farming was portrayed as an epic, heroic national and international project." There's... there's something here I can't quite tease out here, an idea I'm on the verge of. I wish we could tie together Rose's lionization of farmers and the American myth; Laura's lionization of farmers and the American myth; the conflation with soldiers; the white supremacism of Laura, Rose, and Woodrow; and the white supremacism of the farm acts.

Farmers *were* soldiers, in a sense: they were the front-line offensive moving the indigenous owners of the land further west. The farm acts were constructed in order to accomplish this very goal. Rose isn't using "soldier" in that sense, but she's no less wrong for once. Farmers were the soldiers of white supremacy, whether they realized it or not. Rose and Laura are bound and determined to romanticize the farmer in white supremacist ways; Rose writes of them as soldiers even as Laura is insisting that American exports of wheat are the life-giving daily staples that all other nations need to survive.

To Laura, the farmer feeds non-white people who would die without his hard work; to Rose, the farmer drives out the non-white people who would threaten her; but they're both selling farmers to the public as white supremacy and not mere makers of food. And all this is happening in the context of Woodrow Wilson's presidency, when Woodrow was segregating everything he could get his hands on because he was a frothing racist who would be offended if you suggested he wasn't racist to the bone. I feel like it would be a mistake to treat these three events--Laura's racism, Rose's racism, and Woodrow's racism--as three entirely separate things which developed independently of each other.

Setting that aside for me to percolate on, we soldier (lolsob) onwards.

"After the last installment appeared, Lane was invited to give a talk to the Pomona Grange of Santa Rosa’s Patrons of Husbandry. Somehow she gave the audience the impression that she herself owned a farm, hundreds of miles away, which she was “managing” in absentia." You KNOW she meant Rocky Ridge, lol. Of COURSE it's hers, she's their daughter! Of COURSE she's managing it, she writes them letters telling them what to do! lolsob.

Farm Loan Act: "The act allowed for the creation of community-based National Farm Loan Associations, distributing low-interest, long-term loans to farmers who joined them. Farmers could borrow from one hundred to ten thousand dollars, up to half the value of their land and 20 percent of the improvements made on it. Hundreds of associations sprang up nationally. One of them would be in Mansfield, Missouri."

I guess that's great and all, but I keep coming back to the raw surrealism of expecting the people who make the nation's food to PAY for their own tools and seeds. Capitalism is so WEIRD when you think about it. Like. If all the farmers just stopped and decided to be basket-weavers instead, you and I and everyone else who doesn't have a garden would.........die. We'd just starve to death, and no amount of twitter shitposting (however excellent!) would put food on my table. It seems like, in the interest of not dying, we should make it EASIER and CHEAPER for farmers to make food that we intend to eat, like, why would we place barriers between them and the food we want them to make. "Here is Farmer Sarah and here is the food I want her to make for me, in order for Farmer Sarah to get there, I need her to pony up eleventy billion dollars in cash." WHY? Pls explain why capitalism makes sense in the context of creating food.

"It was a good deal, administered by trusted friends and neighbors. In contrast to later federal programs, the association was organized, staffed, and run by the community. Its officers were locals, not outsiders. To borrow from the association, a farmer was required to become a dues-paying member and to buy a share of stock at $5 for every hundred dollars borrowed." Oh, well, there it is: it's probably hard to be a local non-outsider to a literal Sundown Town if non-white. I knew Woodrow wouldn't leave it up to chance that non-white people would be screwed over. Man was dedicated to his racism.

"The Wilders applied for a loan from the program in March 1919, the same week that Wilder’s article on the plan ran in the Ruralist. They borrowed a thousand dollars at 5% interest, a slightly more advantageous rate than advertised, with the farm as collateral." I'm struggling with how they're able to offer the farm as collateral when there's a mortgage on the house, but apparently the land and the house are separate. I'm also struggling with how they had debt-free lives in town and cash-paying jobs that were easier on their bodies and they gave all that up in order to go into debt and live on a farm and wreck their health. (Laura had to be hospitalized last time!)

Like, at what point--when you're putting up your PAID FOR farm for collateral to a loan--do you think "maybe we should stop sinking money into this money pit we've dug and sunk all our money into"???? Farming is their EXPENSIVE HOBBY. They have never, not once, NOT ONCE, made a profit at it! They are the proverbial "make a small fortune by starting with a large fortune" joke!

Like. LIKE.

Imagine you are a knitter of knit hats and you sell them on Etsy. You buy the materials to make a hat for $10. Four hats, $40.

The first hat is ruined by kittens.

The second hat is ruined by kittens.

The third hat mysteriously combusts.

The fourth hat you can only sell for $4 because there is a glut of hats on Etsy.

You sit down to balance your books and tally up that you're out $40 for yarn and you made $4. So naturally you put a mortgage on your house in order to buy more yarn?????? And you are happy that you have a low, low 5% interest rate but COUNTERPOINT you have never once made a profit!!!!!! I JUST. This is like some kind of gambling addiction? That if they just keep feeding quarters into the furrows, *eventually* the big haul will come in and they'll win big?

"Given the disastrous debts that cost them their Dakota homestead and tree claim, it was a notable risk, even though federal land banks were less prone to foreclose than private institutions. The Wilders were in their fifties." FIFTIES! Charles died when he was 66!! Neither of them are in anywhere approaching peak health! They have no children to help on the farm--Rose is not a farmer! WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?

"Perhaps they wanted to make improvements". STOP. BURN THE FARM TO THE GROUND, YOU WOULD LITERALLY SAVE MONEY IF YOU DID SO. "Whatever the motivation, they placed all ninety-seven acres of their greatest asset, Rocky Ridge Farm, in the hands of the federal government." I mean???? I wouldn't really call it their "greatest asset" so much as "expensive cursed millstone they can't seem to unequip from around their neck"? The nicest thing Uncle Sam could do at this point would be to take the farm away and tell Laura she has to live in town and learn to like it, dammit.

"For much of the next decade, in the Odd Fellows Hall on Mansfield’s town square, Wilder would process loan applications, fill out paperwork, and write to applicants about their progress. She received a small percentage on every loan closed and a flat fee for preparing quarterly and annual reports. Once again, she was following in her father’s footsteps, working like he did as a civil servant." It's almost like.... farming isn't lucrative...? or easy? especially at an elderly age and poor health??? "Friends and townsfolk remembered her as a strong promoter of the program. “She wanted everybody to borrow money like they did,” one recalled."


"Local prejudice did not stand in her way: she shook hands with “our colored member,” scandalizing Mansfieldians." Ah, yes, her one Black friend who is allowed to file for a loan with the eight billion white land-owners. Sigh. Uhhhhhhhhh? "She made a joke of it to Lane, referring to rumors that one of President Warren G. Harding’s great-grandmothers was an African American: “If we have him for president, why not treat the colored brother kindly?”"

"The job marked the period of Wilder’s greatest engagement in community. Having once found conviviality in spelling bees, singing school, and literary socials in De Smet, she now sought it by joining women’s clubs, advancing her [...] work at the same time." Wasn't it just 2 years before when Laura was selling articles urging women to move out into the middle of nowhere and find intellectual stimulation and society via reading an occasional newspaper? YES, I THINK IT WAS.

Interesting how Laura needs other women to move away and just deal with total isolation and loneliness, but *she* needs to be the belle of the town, head of the masonic eastern star lodge, loan officer extraordinaire, celebrity, famous author, etc. She is a founding member of the local "Athenian Club" (for Athena, goddess of wisdom) and the local Justamere (Just-a-mere) club. Yeah, she's all about that high-falutin' prairie isolation.

"[The Justamere club] was a highly exclusive clique, limited to eighteen members, all personal friends dedicated to high-minded talks" on “economic world conditions, politics, legislation, inventions, discoveries, new books, poems, drama, music, new fashions, prominent persons, history, religion, art and nature.”" So basically like getting a newspaper once every three months when Pa goes to town. Oh wait, no, it's not like that at all. LAURA YOU ARE A LIAR AND A FRAUD.

"Each monthly meeting was presided over by a member who led the discussion while plying her fellows with creative refreshments. Wilder herself wrote the words to the club song." LOL, of course she did. Of course she did. Goodnight, everybody! I'll see you tomorrow!


Alright, my friends, I am going to beat back the winter doldrums by being PRODUCTIVE and that means it is PRARIE FIRES TIME.


When we last left, Laura had overcome her old social anxieties (I GUESS? MORE ON THAT IN A MINUTE) in order to become closely involved in a bunch of town social clubs and a job which smells very Multi Level Marketing at first whiff. We already talked about how this is hypocritical of Laura after she shamed women for not embracing isolation and 'just' reading a newspaper. But I must say, this gives me a tiny pause as someone who had pegged Laura as socially anxious.

One wonders, perhaps, if those anxieties were easier to manage when she was no longer the thread-bare clothed local failed farmer slash boarding house woman and was now a burgeoning local celebrity who traveled and sold articles to newspapers all over the US. I don't even mean that in a snarky way; it's entirely possible that being poor and feeling like a failure held Laura back from social participation, and that when those fortunes reversed, her anxiety lessened.

Where I have a problem with this (and of course I do, ya'll know me) is it changes the tenor of Laura's love-affair with isolation in her works. It makes her prairie propaganda less "humans need space to breathe" and more a factor of denying the impact of classism. In other words, it's easy to want to be Maria from The Sound of Music dancing in the hills and singing about the beauty of nature, and harder to admit that maybe your desire for prairie isolation was less a matter of the human condition and more a matter of classism and poverty ruining communities for you. And we can bicker all day over whether this failure on Laura's part was one of gross cynicism (because the stories wouldn't sell otherwise) or nostalgia-fueled tinted-glasses, but the harmful impact was the same regardless of motive.

"Clubwoman, farm activist, member of a Masonic organization, secretary-treasurer for the Mansfield branch of the federal Farm Loan Association, and columnist for the Ruralist: by her fifties, Wilder had become a formidable figure, the embodiment of her teenaged ideal of “ambition.” Publishing twenty-one columns in 1916 and twenty-two the year after, she began developing her voice and themes. Tentative at first, growing more relaxed as she got comfortable, Wilder’s farm columns contained the genesis of her later novels. Increasingly, she was developing characters, experimenting with scenes and dialogue, and reaching back in her memory for anecdotes".

"The character who emerged most clearly was her husband, whom she referred to not by name but as “The Man of the Place.” Quirky, blunt, fond of pie, he wandered in and out of her pieces much as the actual man must have wandered in and out of her sight". As we talk about "mommy bloggers" (a rather sexist and minimizing term for women who are paid writers for national outlets) infringing on the privacy of their children, we sometimes neglect to talk about spouses. Given how Laura has a tendency to write about Almanzo as a child--and given that is a thing that is done to disabled people--I do wonder how he felt about his "quirky" presence on the page.

One illustrative column has The Man complaining about the cost of chicken feed, only to be comforted when Laura pulls out her record books and demonstrates the net benefit the chickens bring in.'s hard for me to believe that Almanzo ever seriously failed to realize that chickens are worth the cost of feed. He grew up on a big farm which included chickens and poultry. She does write recriminating columns about her own temper and sweet ones about Almanzo bringing her wild flowers; @NaomiKritzer's comparison to Erma Bombeck is apt here. It's not just bashing Almanzo.

"The rest of her family began to crop up in her columns too, with mentions of her father, mother, and Mary. But what began as an exercise in sentimentality and nostalgia soon became something more complex. She began airing unresolved issues, the rivalry and tensions between herself and Mary, left unsettled when Mary went blind and Laura married and left home." See this is... this is one reason why you have to be careful as a writer, because (a) commercial writing isn't a healthy 1-to-1 substitute for counseling, and (b) it's easy to cross all kinds of lines when you start using your family for profit.

Laura is working out her childhood emotions through her columns and I really wish she'd had a therapist just because people deserve one. She seems--and I'm struggling with how to put this delicately--a little TOO invested in childhood events that happened decades ago. Then again, maybe this is the logical result of being raised in almost total isolation from community: your family becomes a unhealthy metric of self-worth.

But case in point: Laura is still *tormented* by the Pretty Blonde / Ugly Brunette thing she had with Mary.

I'm struck by how well Laura positions herself in her writing as the "underdog" of the family when really she had most of the advantages and it's not by chance that she was the one who managed to escape poverty. She was the strongest. The healthiest. The better fed (or at least more so than Carrie and Grace). And here she is in her 50s, still stressing over the fact that her blind sister had "prettier" hair. It seems... unhealthy. We read her books and sympathize with her (in part because I absolutely view Charles and Caroline as abusive parents, however well-meaning) but it's interesting that we never hear about the other children's struggles. Just Laura's.

"She returned to the sibling conflict in a column about justice, revisiting an ancient wrong. Resurrecting the childhood spat over whose hair was prettier, Mary’s blond curls or her own brown locks... For the younger girl, it was “a tragedy in her little life” that her “dark skin, brown hair and snub nose” made her feel homely beside her beautiful sister. Taunted by her bossy sibling, the “little brown girl” lashed out and slapped her. Compounding the injustice, the girl was then “soundly spanked and set in a corner,” where she glowered at “the parent who punished her.” The tale revealed resentment suppressed for decades. “I hate to write the end of the story,” she said of her punishment and the “sense of injustice” it instilled. What began as a dispassionate exercise turned into an outburst: “No, not the end! No story is ever ended! It goes on and on and the effects of this one followed this little girl all her life.”"

I'm not wrong, right? That feels a little intense? NO STORY IS EVER ENDED AND THIS ONE FOLLOWED ME ALL MY LIFE. I *do* wonder if the gentle resolution offered in the books--where Charles holds her and points out that HIS hair is brown like hers--was true to life or something she added to soften the episode.

"Such primal feelings would compel her to rehearse the family drama yet again, casting herself as the heroine, attempting to wrest from the past the satisfaction life rarely afforded. The story was definitely not ended." I do appreciate Fraser pointing out that Laura does consciously cast herself as the heroine in the family; I think that's important. For all that she's sympathetic, I think it's worth remembering that she's writing this as a relatively wealthy 50yo while her aging mother and two disabled sisters are eking out starvation wages back home and NOT being invited to live in Laura's giant house.

"She was beginning to taste the gratification that came from seizing control of a narrative, summoning beloved figures, settling scores, and addressing grievances." As for Rose's appearance in her mother's writings: "She popped up at frequent intervals [...] a figure inexplicable and unknowable, liable to descend upon an unsuspecting rural populace and wreak havoc." SHE WILL INDEED DO THAT IN THE FUTURE. It's interesting that Laura characterizes her correctly in that regard.

I do have to wonder how Laura juggled writing her truth with "make up anything, it's fine" as a writing philosophy for essays, and what Rose thought of that if she ever read the columns with herself in them. She may have avoided those. Oh god, we're about to go into Rose's fake biographies and I want to be awake and rested to do THOSE justice.


"By the time the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, Rose Wilder Lane was thirty-one, and her burgeoning career as a celebrity biographer was causing friction with virtually every one of her major subjects." WHOOPS. "...she moved on to serialize the lives of Charlie Chaplin, Henry Ford, Jack London, and Herbert Hoover, all of which she attempted to publish in book form. All were controversial. ...Lane, for her part, took a more underhanded approach." She interviews Chaplin, then cobbles together a serial told in the first-person, supposedly by him, but without him in the byline. Papers print it and book offers appear for Rose.

"The work’s fanciful title—Charlie Chaplin’s Own Story: Being the Faithful Recital of a Romantic Career, Beginning with Early Recollections of Boyhood in London and Closing with the Signing of His Latest Motion-Picture Contract—suggested a Dickensian novel....Lane was not named as the author. Instead, the copyright page included a note: “The subject of this biography takes great pleasure in expressing his obligations and his thanks to Mrs. Rose Wilder Lane for invaluable editorial assistance.” Like the rest of the text, that acknowledgment was a fabrication. Scholars have described the book as a “flagrant autobiographical fake” displaying “great mendacity.”"

I just....I can't get over the fact that she just MADE UP someone's life story and assumed that nothing bad would happen to her? Like, I think it's one thing to make up a fictional character and present him as real. Few people at the time would probably care that The Real Story of Roy Johnston was a creative pastiche of life incidents collected here and there. Sure. But Charlie Chaplin is a famous somebody; I feel like people are going to notice and care that you rewrote his life to be an Oliver Twist rip-off. (I'm not making this up.)

"When Chaplin learned of the book’s imminent publication, he threatened legal action, charging through his lawyers that it was “purely a work of fiction.” He and his brother were particularly disturbed by the portrayal of their father as a vicious drunk. Advance copies had already been distributed, but Bobbs-Merrill recognized that the jig was up and halted distribution rather than risk a lawsuit. Remaining copies were destroyed, although Stan Laurel had a copy, which he lent to another biographer. In this and other ways, Lane’s spurious works would continue to mislead the public for decades."

Honestly, I'm astonished that didn't end her career right then and there. It ought to have. She's friends with the editor, but that and a nickel will get you all the water you can drink around the company fountain. The fact that they didn't sack her meant they were prioritizing the moneys coming in over accuracy and alienating their interview subjects. Seems short-sighted? You can only do that so many times.

"Lane urged Chaplin to reconsider, unapologetic about her attempt to capitalize on his fame. Even in a career characterized by audacity, her letter stands out as particularly unprofessional, impertinent, and shameless. “Truly, I don’t believe you realize how very well that story was written,” she ventured, going on to remark, casually, “You’ve lived a life which makes a corking book … whose popular appeal is greater than that of a book any other hack writer is apt to write.” She complained that he had put her in a “perfectly frightful position with the Bobbs Merrill people.” His objection to the hijacking of his life must be, she supposed, that he expected “some of the money.” She could scarcely offer that, she said, since it would amount to a few hundred dollars at most—a tone all paparazzi would recognize." WOW.

So, just so we're clear, when Chaplin objected to Rose stealing his "life story" by reworking Oliver Twist to have his name in it, she insisted that he just DIDN'T RECOGNIZE what a good writer she is. She then complained that he'd put her in a bad position with her employers and accused him of only making a fuss because he wanted a cut--which she very definitely insisted she couldn't afford so he should jog on.

"In the face of Chaplin’s wrath, Lane was neither abashed nor discouraged. Before the Bobbs-Merrill debacle played out, she had already latched on to Henry Ford, interviewing him during his Exposition appearance on a battleship. Her serial on his life appeared in the Bulletin in the last months of 1915, and was soon published in book form under an intriguing title: Henry Ford’s Own Story: How a Farmer Boy Rose to the Power That Goes with Many Millions Yet Never Lost Touch with Humanity. Years later, Lane’s own biographer acknowledged that Ford “repudiated the book for its inaccuracies.”" I'm surprised he didn't threaten to sue. Or buy the paper and burn it to the ground.

"Next, she took on Jack London." OH HERE WE GO.

"The author of The Call of the Wild and White Fang had died suddenly, on November 22, 1916, at the age of forty. Less than six months later, Lane was writing to his widow, Charmian London, pleading for permission to write a biography of him." That feels.....incredibly disrespectful to the widow. I mean, I understand wanting to move fast on these things, but holy shit. Rose gushes over this being her chance to break into magazines, states that she's already spent the advance they gave her, and implies strongly that she needs the money to support her family. Oh, no, just straight up states that, not implies. "The widow had already turned away several interested parties but pitied Lane after learning that she needed to “support her family.”"

There's so many layers of crassness here and it fascinates me because Laura absolutely raised Rose to *not* ask for favors or charity. When Rose visited wealthier distant relatives, Laura wouldn't even let her ACCEPT food from them. So it's amazing to watch Rose grow from an impoverished background which hates asking for favors--out of shame?--to an adult who will shamelessly beg and wheedle for every drop of sympathy.

The serial begins: "The whole thing was fiction, as London could see from the outset. She and Jack London’s stepsister were dismayed right away by the portrayal of his “lonely poverty-cruel childhood” and by depictions of his father as a drunk." I...what? That's exactly what she did with Charlie Chaplin: portray his father figure as an abusive drunk. Is she just ripping off Oliver Twist again? Are all her "biographies" the SAME biography??

"After wrangling with Sunset over an opportunity to examine proofs before the chapters appeared, London was shocked to read an account of how she had lost a child due to the “stresses” of sailing the South Seas. This was “flatly untrue,” she said. (Indeed it was.)" London rushes corrections to the magazine, who essentially ignores her comments. Rose "tried to assuage her by saying that “my own two babies died,” a manipulative ploy to play on a bereaved woman’s sympathies." That' interesting number. We only know of ONE miscarriage, followed by a surgery which probably rendered her unable to conceive. Of course, we did theorize there was maybe a secret baby or abortion back in the day.

"Belatedly, Lane made it clear that she expected to publish the articles as a book. She repeatedly tried to wheedle permission, falsely claiming that she was someone who had never done newspaper work because she had more of a “conscience.” She told London, “Surely, you can appreciate that I tried not to be yellow.” But London, denouncing the Sunset pieces as “an erroneous interpretation” of her husband, was having none of it." YESSSSS.


I want so badly to know if it was written or typed.

"The Lane who emerged during this period had no conscience, was heedless of others’ feelings, and possessed little regard for professional courtesy....she was proceeding with her writing career using the same lax standards of behavior she had absorbed from Claire Gillette Lane and the real estate business: make any promise, no matter how misleading; take every advantage in selling a commodity....She appeared to have no qualms or moral compass, no sense of what was fair or appropriate. Her own biographer described her behavior with Jack London’s widow as a “subtle and continuing calculation” that skirted outright lies. Actually, it was worse." I'm stunned that she apparently expresses no remorse to a woman who was obviously distraught at the false portrayal of her beloved departed husband.

In her own corner of the world, Laura isn't being much more ethical than Rose; she starts plagiarizing material from her daughter to pad out the columns she has for sale. "In 1918, in one memorable column [...] she repurposed under her own name a humor feature Lane had written several years. She expanded it and altered some of the phrasing, yet the two columns—in structure and duplication of material—were much the same. The mother and daughter may have thought it harmless, sharing a humorous yarn the way Wilder’s father once swapped whoppers around the stove at the hardware store. But plagiarism had been recognized as unethical since at least the mid-1800s and a nearby institution—the University of Missouri, which opened the world’s first journalism school in 1908—was devoted to promoting strict standards. Neither woman appeared to heed them."

In lukewarm defense of Laura, I can see how the concept would confuse her. Like, yes, theft is bad, but it's entirely possible/likely that Rose encouraged her to reuse the material. At that point it may not have felt like theft since Rose consented. And Laura probably wouldn't have thought about the ethical issues from the point of view of the newspaper--i.e., buying old, already published material that was being sold as new work. I hope I'm not reflexively defending Laura, who was genuinely awful! It's just... mild consensual plagiarism seems so quaint after pages of Rose shamelessly manipulating a grieving widow.

It's World War I outside, so Laura writes patriotic pieces about supporting the troops. "She shared a conversation with a farm neighbor, a woman who had decided to wear overalls in the fields in conscious imitation of women working in the munitions factories. “Isn’t the raising of food to preserve life as important as the making of shells to take it?”" I honestly didn't know that overalls were factory clothes first and farm clothing after. Laura has done this before, playing up farmers as soldiers (and now factory workers in support of the war). Part of this can be seen as talking up her profession and hobby, but it's important to remember that farmers *were* being used as white supremacy tools.

That said, GOOD LORD. "we will be found on the line just behind the trenches, “fighting for Uncle Sam,” as I heard one woman say, and every extra dozen eggs, pound of meat or bushel of vegetables we raise will help beat back the enemy, hunger." Living with Laura sounds so EXHAUSTING. Every extra pound of meat we raise, Almanzo, beats back the ENEMY THAT IS HUNGER. America was only in WWI for, like, a year? How much of our meat, really, was going to our troops? Probably not every extra pound raised on the Missouri farms.

"She faulted the Women’s Trade Union League for working to improve labor conditions and reduce hours solely for urban women and children, while farm women were working fourteen to sixteen hours a day with no representation." I...................................... I am honestly confused by that position and I am sad there's not more clarification there. Farm women are essentially self-employed owners or co-owners of their own business, at least in Laura's family farm model. Yes? The owner of the business doesn't LACK representation when it comes to business decisions.

Like, farm hours *are* brutal and way too long, I agree. The answer to that, best I can see it, is to shake farmers free of the capitalism model and stop making them buy their own tools, seeds, and stock. GIVE them money to make food. But it seems weird to fire shots at people making life better for factory women--who DO lack representation--by claiming those folks aren't doing anything for your hours *which you set yourself*. No one is making Laura farm 14 hours a day? It just feels like Laura is pulling "I feel uncomfortable when we are not about me" from the @ProBirdRights account. She could write about farm abuses and farm issues without setting up factory labor as some kind of nemesis who is getting all the sexy preferential treatment.

"She talked about [dreams] punctured by reality. The flock might have made millions, she said, “if the hens had performed according to schedule; if the hawks had loved field mice better than spring chickens; if I had been so constituted that I never became weary.”" That's so sad but also another exhibit in why tying farming to capitalism is bad--and a jarring reminder of the white privilege Laura has that her biggest dashed dreams are the lack of "millions" her hens could've produced.

@crwilley. And she's never worked in a factory but sewing shirts in DeSmet was not entirely unlike it? So she has a clue of how much it sucks???

Fun fact: While Laura lives in the palatial estate her disabled husband built for her by hand, her elderly mother and blind sister are sewing shirts as fast as they can in a little one-bedroom house (iirc) in order to eat food every night. It really does paint Laura as one of those poor people who are convinced they're just a temporarily embarrassed millionaire. (Which I suppose in Laura's case, ended up being truer than it usually does.)

Ya'll, I want to keep going, but my bronchial cough is rapidly worsening and the cough syrup has codeine in it and makes me sleepy. I love you and will have to pick this up tomorrow. Big thanks to folks who hit up the tip jar, and please consider buying this charity anthology which will NOT be available again after, like, 5 days from now. LIMITED TIME!

I mean, my story is pretty great and all, but my FRIENDS' stories in this one are AMAZING and I can't hype them hard enough. Genderqueer Athena in one story and trans woman Ares in a lesbian relationship with Aphrodite in another, and y'all, these are GOOD stories. (My contribution is a trans boy little red riding hood and he's very gay for his woodcutter, hahaha!)


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