Is ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Racist? Laura Ingalls Wilder Controversy Explained

Rosalie Gross
June 28, 2018

The first award was given to Wilder in 1954, three years before her death. Although Wilder's books continue to be widely read, the organization says her "legacy is complex" and "not universally embraced". Her "Little House on the Prairie series" is world-renowned for its portrayal of the struggles of prairie life in North America in the 1800's.

"The decision was made in consideration of the fact that Wilder's legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC's core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness", the ALSC said in a brief statement following the vote.

An editor at Harper's chose to change the word "people" to "settlers" in 1953, though that did little to silence critics who characterized such wording as racist, according to The Washington Post.

Wilder, who lived from 1867 to 1957, published eight of the family-friendly Little House novels, and they were published between 1932 and 1943.

The association, a division of the American Library Association, voted over the weekend to remove Wilder's name from the award, the Washington Post reports, and rename it the Children's Literature Legacy Award.

"Changing the name of the award, or ending the award and establishing a new award, does not prohibit access to Wilder's works or suppress discussion about them". In 1952, she apologized amid criticism for the opening sentences of "Little House on the Prairie", which state, "there were no people".

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In changing the award's name, the library association attempted to navigate this tension.

In the late 1990s, scholar Waziyatawin Angela Cavender Wilson approached the Yellow Medicine East School District after her daughter came home crying because of a line in the book, first attributed to Gen. Philip Sheridan but a common saying by that time: "The only good Indian is a dead Indian".

A letter from the ALSC board noted the "complexity" of the issue and "the emotion surrounding it", and also acknowledged Wilder's books "have been deeply painful to many readers".

Still, Caroline Fraser, author of Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, argued that the racial insensitivity in Wilder's book shouldn't mean that children shouldn't read it.

"But no white American should be able to avoid the history it has to tell".

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