‘Flashback’ Lecture Notes: How the Little House Books Shaped American Politics
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because America’s strand of libertarian politics got a big boost from children’s literature.
By Sean Braswell
About 60 million copies of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder have been sold since the first one came out in 1932. And this week, in episode nine of OZY’s chart-topping history podcast Flashback, we learn how the iconic tale of pioneer life on the American frontier helped kick-start the libertarian movement and a new political era in America.
You can listen to the episode here, and then enjoy digging deeper into the story in my Lecture Notes below.
In Praise of Henry Ford
The first published writer in the Ingalls Wilder family was Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who would later play a major role in shaping and editing the Little House series. She first made a name for herself writing serial profiles of celebrities, including auto tycoon Henry Ford. Most of her biographical works centered on the same theme: a person of humble origins whose strength and courage allowed them to overcome poverty and adversity to achieve greatness. “We must have him as a symbol of something greater than ourselves, to keep alive in us that faith in life which is threatened by our own experience of living,” she wrote of Ford in his 1915 biography.
Little House in the Big Government
Both Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose, were adamantly opposed to the expanded role of the federal government under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal during the 1930s. But, before that, Laura actually briefly worked for the government herself, administering loans for the National Farm Loan Association as a way of making money after her husband, Almanzo, fell ill. Christine Woodside, author of Libertarians on the Prairie, told me about that period of Laura’s life and some of the surprising aspects of her character that it revealed.
Libertarian Summer Camp
Rose Wilder Lane helped her mother’s stories deliver a message of rugged individualism to a nation struggling in the midst of a Great Depression. In the 1960s, Rose would also help fund a free-market academy nestled in the mountains of Colorado called the Freedom School, whose illustrious alumni would include two brothers from Witchita, Kansas: Charles and David Koch. Here is a taste for what a Freedom School seminar was like, hosted by its founder, the incomparable Robert LeFevre, who had been an actor, a soldier, traveling salesman, TV anchorman and more.
‘Home is the Nicest Word There Is’
About two hours from where the Koch brothers grew up in Wichita is the Little House on the Prairie Museum, where visitors can visit the official homesite of Laura Ingalls Wilder. For a glimpse of the frontier house and museum, check out Jordan The Lion’s Daily Travel Vlog.