Little Houses of Liberty: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Literary Genius

Beloved by generations of readers, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series presents timeless truths about the human yearning for and exercise of liberty in the context of the American Westward movement of the post-Civil War nineteenth century. This course proceeds through each of the books in the series, weaving discussions of the semi-autobiographical novels with the history of the Ingalls and Wilder families in their quests for the free and independent lives of farmers. The question of success and failure of homesteaders on the Great Plains in the 1870s and 1880s, as they battled grasshopper plagues and severe drought, is framed in a Hayakian perspective. Wilder’s books have been among the most widely read juvenile fiction since their publication in the 1930s and 1940s, shaping much of our understanding of American pioneers and homesteaders. For this reason, academics over the past two decades have denigrated Wilder and her books, seeking to diminish if not completely erase the Little House series from the pantheon of great American children’s literature. They have intentionally misread Wilder’s work. This course returns to the novels themselves and approaches them with a love for story and an appreciation for their literary genius, as well as fascination with the depiction of liberty that runs throughout the series.


Dr. Dedra McDonald Birzer is a lecturer in history at Hillsdale College, where she teaches courses on the history of the American West, the history of American families, Latin American history, Classical Logic and Rhetoric, and on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Literary Genius. She is author of a forthcoming book on Rose Wilder Lane and her public intellectual community.

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