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A Lady of Courage   2 comments

Banner CourageWhen you don’t really find soldiers or police to be “heroic”, you have to look a little deeper to find profiles in courage. And I did and will continue to do so. We’re halfway through the year. I think I have only 23 more courage articles to write.

Check out Stephany Tullis’s blog for her topic on courage.

In the early 1940s, liberty was on the ropes. Tyrants oppressed and threatened people on every continent. Western intellectuals and presidents whitewashed mass murderers like Joseph Stalin, while Western governments expanded their power with Soviet-style central planning. Fifty million people were killed in the war that raged in Europe, Africa, and Asia. The United States, seemingly the last hope for liberty, was drawn into it.

Rose Wilder LaneThe established American authors who had defended liberty before the War had fallen silent or grown pessimistic.  Then three women burst onto the scene who refused to be silent. This is a profile of one of them.

Rose Wilder Lane described herself as “a plump, middle western, middle class, middle-aged woman.” She had bad teeth, her marriage failed, she worked to support her aging parents, and at one point during the 1930s, she was so financially distressed that her electricity was shut off. Yet, she helped revive the radical principles of the American Revolution and inspired millions of adults and children as the editor of the beloved Little House books about individual responsibility, hard work, stubborn persistence, strong families, and human liberty while also writing with great eloquence in the non-fiction field.

Born December 5, 1886, near De Smet, Dakota Territory to poor farmers, Almanzo Wilder and Laura Ingalls, who had been devastated by drought, hailstorms, and other crop calamities. The family lived in a windowless cabin for several years and missed many meals.

When Rose was four, the family gave up on Dakota and moved to Mansfield, Missouri, which offered better farming prospects. She went to a four-room, red brick schoolhouse that had two shelves of books that included Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Edward Gibbon. Her mainstay became the famous McGuffey Readers compiled by Cincinnati College President William Holmes McGuffey, who imparted moral lessons as he taught the fundamentals of reading and exposed young minds to many great authors of Western civilization.

“We did not like discipline,” Lane recalled, “so we suffered until we disciplined ourselves. We saw many things and many opportunities that we ardently wanted and could not pay for, so we did not get them, or got them only after stupendous, heartbreaking effort and self-denial, for debt was much harder to bear than deprivations. We were honest, not because sinful human nature wanted to be, but because the consequences of dishonesty were excessively painful. It was clear that if your word were not as good as your bond, your bond was no good and you were worthless … we learned that it is impossible to get something for nothing.”

Like most young women of her era, Rose quit school after the 9th grade, determined to see the world beyond rural Missouri. She took a train to Kansas City and accepted a job as a Western Union telegraph clerk on the night shift. She spent most of her spare time reading, perhaps three hours a day. By 1908, she relocated to San Francisco for another Western Union job and romance with advertising salesman Gillette Lane. They married in March 1909. She became pregnant but had either a miscarriage or stillbirth. She never conceived again.

By 1915, she and Gillette’s marriage had ended, but through his newspaper connections, Rose found her start as a journalist for the San Francisco Bulletin, a radical labor paper. She wrote a women’s column, then a series of daily 1,500-word personality profiles. She also wrote an autobiographical novel serialized in Sunset magazine.

In March 1920, the Red Cross invited her to travel around Europe and report on their relief efforts, so that prospective donors would know about the organization’s good deeds. Based in Paris, she traveled to Vienna, Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, Rome, Sarajevo, Dubrovnik, Tirana, Trieste, Athens, Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, and Constantinople. Lane imagined that post-WW1 Europe was the great hope for civilization, but instead, she eluded bandits, encountered bureaucratic corruption, endured runaway inflation, and witnessed civil war horrors and the darkening shadows of ruthless tyranny.

Lane visited the Soviet Union four years after the Bolsheviks seized power. Like many people of the era, she was enchanted by the Communist vision for a better life. She met peasants whom she expected to be rapturous about Communism. She later reported:

My host astounded me by the force with which he said that he did not like the new government.… His complaint was government interference with village affairs. He protested against the growing bureaucracy that was taking more and more men from productive work. He predicted chaos and suffering from the centralizing of economic power in Moscow.… I came out of the Soviet Union no longer a communist, because I believed in personal freedom.

After returning to America, her career blossomed as she wrote for the American MercuryCountry GentlemanGood HousekeepingHarper’sLadies’ Home JournalMcCall’s, and the Saturday Evening Post, among others. She also wrote novels about pioneer life and famed actress Helen Hayes dramatized one of Lane’s novels, Let the Hurricane Roar, on the radio. Like so many, Lane was financially devastated during the Great Depression. In 1931, she wailed:

I am forty-five. Owe $8,000. Have in bank $502.70.… Nothing that I have intended has ever been realized.

In 1936, Lane wrote an 18,000-word article on liberty for the Saturday Evening Post entitled “Credo”. Three years later, General Manager of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Leonard Read helped establish a little publishing firm called Pamphleteers, which reprinted Lane’s article as Give Me Liberty.

The article explained how free competition enables civilization to flourish despite scoundrels:

I have no illusions about the pioneers. In general they were trouble-makers of the lower classes, and Europe was glad to be rid of them. They brought no great amount of intelligence or culture. Their principal desire was to do as they pleased.… [Yet] Americans today … are the kindest people on earth.… Only Americans pour wealth over the world, relieving suffering in such distant places as Armenia and Japan.… Such are a few of the human values that grew from individualism while individualism was creating this nation.

 

In 1942, an editor of John Day Company asked Lane to write a book about liberty. She commenced work while on a tour of the Southwest. She went through at least two drafts at her home in Danbury, Connecticut. Her book, The Discovery of Freedom, Man’s Struggle Against Authority, was published January 1943.

While most historians focused on rulers, Lane chronicled the epic 6,000-year struggle of ordinary people who defy rulers to raise families, produce food, build industries, engage in trade, and in countless ways improve human life. Her lyrical depiction of the American Revolution focused on how it helped secure liberty and unleashed phenomenal energy for human progress.

With stirring prose, Lane attacked myriad collectivist influences, including government schools and so-called “progressive” economic regulations. She ridiculed claims that bureaucrats could do better for individuals than individuals could do for themselves. At a time when her male counterparts were deeply pessimistic, she swept away gloom with her towering self-confidence:

Five generations of Americans have led the Revolution, and the time is coming when Americans will set this whole world free.

Despite her personal dissatisfaction with the book, she received lavish praise and The Discovery of Freedom had a big impact, circulating as an underground classic. It helped inspire the launching of several organizations to promote liberty — among them, Leonard Read’s Foundation for Economic Education, F.A. Harper’s Institute for Humane Studies, and Robert M. Lefevre’s Freedom School.

Although The Discovery of Freedom was a founding document of the modern libertarian movement, Lane had perhaps a greater calling behind the scenes. In 1930, Laura Ingalls Wilder gave Lane a manuscript about her early life from Wisconsin to Kansas and Dakota. Lane deleted the material about Wisconsin, then went through two drafts of the rest, fleshing out the story and characters. This became a 100-page manuscript tentatively called Pioneer Girl, and she sent it to her literary agent, Carl Brandt. The Wisconsin material became a 20-page story, “When Grandma Was a Little Girl,” a possible text for a children’s picture book. One publisher suggested that the story be expanded to a 25,000-word book for younger readers.

Lane worked behind the scenes, never telling her publisher that she was editing her mother’s work. By May 27, 1931, the “juvenile” was done, and Lane sent it off to publishers. Harper Brothers issued it in 1932 as Little House in the Big Woods, and it became a beloved American story.

In January 1933, Wilder gave Lane Farmer Boy, a manuscript about Almanzo’s childhood recollections. Publishers had rejected it, presumably because it was mainly a chronicle of farm skills. Lane spent a month turning it into a flesh-and-blood story, and Harper’s bought it. The following year, Wilder gave Lane a manuscript about her life in Kansas, and she spent five weeks rewriting it into Little House on the Prairie.

The books began generating significant income for the Wilders — a relief to Lane, whose aim was to help provide their financial security. Wilder expanded part of Pioneer Girl into another manuscript and gave it to Lane in the summer of 1936.

I have written you the whys of the story as I wrote it [Wilder explained].“But you know your judgement is better than mine, so what you decide is the one that stands.

Lane spent two months rewriting it and drafted a letter for their literary agent, asking for better terms. This manuscript became On the Banks of Plum Creek. Lane spent most of 1939 rewriting the manuscript for By the Shores of Silver Lake; in 1940, The Long Winter; in 1941, Little Town on the Prairie; and in 1942, These Happy Golden Years.

Throughout the later books especially, Lane portrayed young Laura Ingalls Wilder as a libertarian heroine. For example, in Little Town on the Prairie, she described her mother’s thoughts this way:

Americans are free. That means they have to obey their own consciences. No king bosses, Pa; he has to boss himself. Why (she thought), when I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn’t anyone else who has a right to give me orders. I will have to make myself be good.

In 1974, NBC began adapting the books for Little House on the Prairie, a hugely popular television series that ran nine years and resulted in more than 200 episodes. Then came a syndication agreement assuring that they would be run again and again for at least the next quarter-century. Michael Landon wrote and directed many shows and starred as Laura’s father, Charles Ingalls.

Lane’s last book was about American needlework, which she turned into a hymn for liberty.

American needlework tells you that Americans live in the only classless society. This republic is the only country that has no peasant needlework.… American women … discarded backgrounds, they discarded borders and frames. They made the details create the whole, and they set each detail in boundless space, alone, independent, complete.

I loved the Little House books as a child because my mother said they reminded her of growing up on the North Dakota prairie. I’m now reading Lane’s libertarian treatises and loving them as well. The liberty movement is not new; it’s just relocated its voice and is remembering the voices of past eras … voices like the heroic Ms. Rose Wilder Lane.

Stay Tuned for Thankful Thursday   Leave a comment

www.oyegraphics.comThe blog hop of gratitude continues. What better day to be thankful than Thanksgiving?

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Posted November 26, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Thankful Thursday

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