Pioneer of Liberty
Rose Wilder Lane: Pioneer of Liberty
By Amy Lauters
Nearly forgotten in a bruising McCain-versus-Obama battle over
independents is the fact many voters will be choosing neither the Democratic nor
Republican nominee for president. Examining the history of these parties, one
disgruntled independent had this to say:
“… a group of sincere and ardent collectivists seized control of the Democratic
Party, used it as a means of grasping Federal power, and enthusiastically, from
motives which many of them regard as the highest idealism, began to make America
over. The Democratic Party is now a political mechanism having a genuine political
principle: national socialism.
The Republican Party remains a political mechanism with no political principle. It
does not stand for American individualism.Its leaders continue to play the
70-year-old American professional sport of vote-getting, called politics.”
It may surprise you to learn that these words were penned nearly 70 years ago by a
woman most people probably know better as Baby Rose from the “Little House on the
Prairie” TV series.
Rose Wilder Lane. (Image via Wikimedia
Rose Wilder Lane died 40 years ago, Oct. 30, 1968, the night before
she was to embark on a world tour as a reporter for Woman’s Day magazine. She left
behind a remarkable body of writing spanning more than 50 years, made her mark on
American literary history by helping shape the “Little House” books, and is one
reason voters entering the booth on Nov. 4 can choose Libertarian nominee Bob Barr
So how did little Baby Rose grow up to be a pioneer female journalist and an
inspiration figure for one of the largest political parties in the country?
Born Dec. 5, 1886, Lane was the first and only surviving child of Almanzo and Laura
Ingalls Wilder, who were farming the drought-ridden prairie of South Dakota. After
years of successive crop failures and tragedies that included the loss of a second
child, the burning down of their home, and bouts with diphtheria and stroke, the
Wilders lost their farm. Lane would later describe her childhood as “a nightmare.”
Finished with high school and determined to be independent, Lane
headed for Kansas City to become a telegrapher. After transferring to California,
she met and married Claire Gillette Lane. The couple traveled extensively, selling
real estate in California and writing for varied publications to supplement their
But Lane’s writing career didn’t take off until she was hired by the San Francisco
Bulletin in 1915. When the Lanes divorced three years later and Rose Wilder Lane
left the Bulletin to become a freelancer, she found a variety of periodicals eager
to publish her work, including Sunset, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping,
McCalls, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Weekly, World Traveler, Country Gentleman and the
Saturday Evening Post.
Lane knew how to shape a narrative and used literary techniques to breathe life into
nonfiction stories. She received acclaim for her fiction work as well, much of it
set in the Ozark Mountains of her childhood. Her short story “Innocence” won an O.
Henry prize in 1922, and her novels “Let The Hurricane Roar” and “Free Land” were
published to wide acclaim.
A large part of her literary legacy, however, rests on the work she
did as behind-the-scenes editor of her mother’s work. After an initial Laura Ingalls
Wilder manuscript written for adults, “Pioneer Girl,” failed to attract a publisher,
Lane suggested refashioning it into a story for children. With Lane’s considerable
input, Wilder reworked the manuscript into “Little House in the Big Woods.”
Published in 1932, it became wildly popular and launched a book series still in
print today that is widely considered a classic of American children’s literature.
The long-running TV series later helped introduce a whole new generation to the
By this time, Lane’s writing had allowed her to travel the world, and she was
witness to the political changes taking place in post-World War I Europe. “I am now
a fundamentalist American,” Lane wrote in a 1939 autobiographical sketch.
Invigorated with a newfound sense of purpose, she began to make a strong political
argument for individual independence and freedom from government interference in the
everyday lives of Americans.
Her political writing in the Saturday Evening Post, Woman’s Day and other
publications struck a chord. And though the 1943 printing of “Discovery of Freedom”
only ran 1,000 copies, it so impressed young thinkers of that generation that it’s
difficult to imagine the Libertarian Party in America being created without it.
Despite its influence among people like Robert LeFevre, founder of the Colorado
Freedom School, Lane continuously refused to have the essay republished, claiming
she needed time to update and revise it.
Her most important contribution to political thought was thus out of print for
nearly 30 years until it was republished posthumously in 1972 by the newly founded
Libertarian Party. Lane’s “adopted grandson” and lawyer, Roger Lea MacBride, later
ran for United States President in 1976 on the Libertarian Party ticket. He also
authored three additional “Little House” books and co-produced the TV series.
Throughout her life, Lane downplayed her role in establishing the
“Little House” franchise, even as its success allowed her the financial freedom to
support causes she believed in and pursue the political writing for which she hoped
most to be remembered. Perhaps then its best she didn’t live to see her “nightmare”
childhood replayed for millions of American homes in the “Little House: A New
Beginning” spin-off. Nor would she likely enjoy the various lawsuits surrounding
the Laura Ingalls Wilder estate, the latest of which landed in court only last
Lane’s final trip as a freelancer for Woman’s Day was to Vietnam in 1965, when she
was 78 years old. Lane worked her themes of independence and Americanism into that
final piece, attributing to Major Nguyen Be a quote encapsulating the personal
beliefs she’d spent decades espousing, beliefs one can’t help but think were shaped
by her hardscrabble pioneer days on the prairie:
“We stay; we survive. Because freedom is right and right is everlasting.”
• Amy Mattson Lauters is an assistant professor in the Dept. of Mass
Communications at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and editor/author of "The Rediscovered Writings of
Rose Wilder Lane, Literary Journalist.”