Little Guides to Big Ideas is an SFL educational series introducing important libertarian thinkers. Each post is written to give liberty-minded students a starting point to learn from the great movers and shakers who have contributed to the ideas of liberty. The entire Little Guide to Big Ideas series can be found here.
As a young city girl, I loved reading Little House on the Prairie and imagining what my life would be like if I had lived during the expansion of the American West. When I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, Rose, I was delighted. Here was the last of the pioneer girls, living at the start of the industrial age, creating her own path through the coming modern world. But it wasn’t until recently that I re-discovered Rose, not as the strong willed girl who created her own language, but as one of the founders of the modern liberty movement.
The daughter of Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose was born on December 5, 1886 in the South Dakota prairie. After facing drought, diphtheria, stroke, the death of a second child, and losing their house to fire, her family took the long road by covered wagon to the Ozarks. There, with the little money they had saved, they bought a small farm, naming it Rocky Ridge. Rose attended school in Mansfield, Missouri and excelled so much that she soon outgrew the small school and educated herself at home. She moved to Crowley, Louisiana with her Aunt Eliza to finish her education at the Crowley high school, where she graduated top of her class. Always a free spirit, she left home and became a telegrapher in Kansas City. Soon after, she moved to California, where she met her husband, Claire Gillette Lane. It was an unsuccessful marriage, lasting only nine years and resulting in what is thought to have been a miscarriage. During that time, however, Rose began her writing career as a reporter for the San Francisco Bulletin in 1915. Her first novel, Diverging Roads, was published in 1919. She also wrote several biographies and her short story “Innocence” won the O. Henry prize in 1922.
After World War I, Rose worked for the Red Cross Bulletin. She travelled extensively in the Balkans, and, after her time with the Red Cross, travelled in Europe and the Middle East including the Soviet Union. When she returned, she became an extensive freelance writer. She also helped her mother Laura edit and publish her Little House on the Prairie series. In 1936, she wrote an article, which was later reprinted as “Give Me Liberty,” condemning her youthful sympathies with the communist party. This article displayed the independent spirit that Rose had always believed in: “I hold the truth to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable liberty, with individual self-control and responsibility for thoughts, speech and acts, in every situation.”
Rose became very concerned with government infringement of individual liberty. Her most important and influential work on Libertarian thought was her 1943 book The Discovery of Freedom. It explores the history of individual freedom and the struggle human kind has had against authority and oppression. Limited to 1,000 copies, it had immense influence on the likes of Robert LeFevre, who founded the “Freedom School,” which was mostly based on the ideas presented in Rose’s book.
Writing was not the only thing Rose did. She was also an activist, campaigning against such things as zoning and social security. Always an avid traveler, her last job was at the age of 78 when she travelled to Vietnam as a writer for Women’s Day. When she died in 1968, Rose left a writing legacy and had sowed the seeds of the modern liberty movement. She understood the individuality and freedom that is the basis of libertarian thought today and had the courage to stand up for what she believed in. Her influence is still felt.