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Laura Ingalls Wilder & Real-Life Ingalls Family Whose Life Stories Inspired 'Little House on the Prairie'

Bettina Dizon
Feb 07, 2020
10:35 A.M.
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The Ingalls family became famous all over the nation after the famous television show “Little House on the Prairie” premiered over forty years ago. Still, no one is sure what the family is really like.

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It has been over four decades since the Ingalls were introduced on-air, whose lives inspired the making of the show.

Many know the family name but have different versions of their tale -- the version in the musical, the ABC miniseries, the NBC television show, and the one in the books. Here’s a look at the real-life Ingalls, ma, pa, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace.

A portrait of Caroline Ingalls, Carrie Ingalls, Laura Ingalls, Charles Ingalls, Grace Ingalls and Mary Ingalls. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

A portrait of Caroline Ingalls, Carrie Ingalls, Laura Ingalls, Charles Ingalls, Grace Ingalls and Mary Ingalls. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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CHARLES PHILLIP INGALLS

Better known as the head of the family, or “Pa,” Charles Philipp Ingalls has been in a family of farmers even before the beginning of time.

Like his ancestors, Charles thrived to seek for financial opportunities in the industry after marrying Caroline Quiner.

Together, the couple and Charles’ family helped to own a homestead but retired from farming soon after as his health did not permit it.

Caroline and Charles Ingalls. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Caroline and Charles Ingalls. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Finally, Charles and Caroline built their final home in De Smet, South Dakota, where they spent the rest of their lives. Although the books portray their lives well, it didn’t mention the financial struggles the family had.

The couple received financial aid from the Minnesota state government and the Dakota territorial government during the grasshopper plague and for Mary’s tuition, respectively.

CAROLINE LAKE QUINER INGALLS

Caroline was raised by her mother and stepfather, after her father passed away, and experienced hardship and instability.

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After marrying Charles, she saw the strings he pulled to have a better life for their family, which motivated her to be the strong woman she was to raise and support her family.

The family matriarch, or Ma as she is called, valued education and wanted the same for her children. The book portrayed her as pushed by the Victorian ideal than what was in real life.

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It was also written that Caroline disapproved of Laura helping with haying, as opposed to the real-life woman who went into the fields herself to lend a helping hand.

MARY AMELIA INGALLS

The eldest among the Ingalls siblings were Mary Amelia, who was also the fair-haired daughter. At the age of 14, Mary lost her sight, having a significant effect on her family.

With the family’s efforts and help from the government, the teen was able to attend the Iowa School for the Blind, which helped gain back her confidence.

Mary Ingalls. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mary Ingalls. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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She lived with her parents until Pa’s death and stayed with her mother until she followed her husband. After, she resided with Carrie for a while until suffering a stroke and passing away.

LAURA ELIZABETH INGALLS-WILDER

After Mary lost her sight, Laura had to step in for the family and helped create a homestead. She later worked as a seamstress and educator before tying the knot with Almanzo James Wilder.

Together, they tried several times to build a farm until making it in Mansfield, Missouri, and expanding it to over 200 acres.

Laura Ingalls. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Laura Ingalls. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Her passion for the farm life eventually led her to write articles on the Missouri Ruralist magazine, and later a fictional book of her childhood.

In her accounts, Laura removed details to make a better story than focused on her and the great tales of her family.

CAROLINE CELESTIA INGALLS SWANZEY

Caroline Celestia, more known as Carrie, landed a job in newspapering in Dakota Territory after having several other jobs.

Caroline Ingalls. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Caroline Ingalls. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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She later married David Swanzey, a widow, and settled in Keystone, South Dakota, where she spent the rest of her days.

GRACE PEARL INGALLS DOW

Ten years after Laura’s birth, Grace Pearl was born. She because a teacher before marrying a farmer, Nat Dow, and resided in Manchester.

Grace Ingalls. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Grace Ingalls. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Although Grace’s character development in the book isn’t as detailed, she was a memorable part of the Ingalls’ life story. Likewise, Grace was but an infant and toddler in the television series.

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