I gave my thoughts on the ALSC division of ALA removing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from their lifetime achievement award. As part of it I said there really wasn’t anything we could about changing the name. That’s still true, but since then I’ve seen an amazing amount of support coming out for Laura. The very idea that they are attacking Laura and her books has roused reactions of defense from a lot of people who I wouldn’t have said even knew who Laura was. Comments run on articles the way online comments tend to run if there is a lot of them, but there has been support online as well. Sales of the books have exploded on Amazon and I’ve heard that memberships in Laura organizations and donations have seen a spike. So the thing we CAN do is to funnel some of that good will into helping preserve the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesite museums with visits, donations, and memberships.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Branch of the Wright County Library
On my first trip to Mansfield I didn’t visit the public library – my mom planned those trips. However, once I started planning on my own I realized that the library was an important stop.
Laura and a club she belonged to, the Athenians, were part of club women’s efforts to establish public libraries all over the country. Although it’s the norm for a town of any size to have a public library today, that was NOT a given. It’s because of the efforts of now forgotten club women that many of our libraries exist. Laura and her club were successful and a library was established. (Club women don’t get enough credit for all the good they did.)
As you go across the country there are differences in how libraries are organized. In Missouri they are organized by county which means there is a main branch in one town (normally but not always the county seat) and then any other public libraries in the county are branches under the county wide administration. The Wright County Library has 3 branches: Hartville (county seat), Mansfield, and Mountain Grove. The Mansfield branch was named the Laura Ingalls Wilder Library at a reception in 1951.
Visit Laura at the Library?
During the last years of Laura’s life she wasn’t sure what was going to happen to her home. One of her thoughts was to turn the Rocky Ridge Farmhouse into a new location for the library which had been named for her. Another was that there would be a display of materials on Laura in the library in a different location. After all you will remember that Laura left the income of her estate to the library, giving her daughter Rose Wilder Lane only life estate. That didn’t happen, but there was a strong connection between Laura and local library. She was one of its most loyal patrons visiting every week.
Laura donated many unique things to the library for them to display. That included the original set of Barbara Brooks dolls that she describes in the only known recording of her voice. Some things they returned to the museum when it started, other things they have no idea what happened to (for instance a tool that Almanzo’s father had used in building their home), and some you can still see on display today. It’s well worth a visit.
Original Wilder Medal
By the time Laura received the Wilder Medal it was 1954. She only had a couple of more years to live so when she received the lifetime achievement award from the children’s literature division of the American Library Association, while honored she didn’t keep it. She passed it on to the library.
The medal was designed by Garth Williams patterning it after the image of Laura from Little House in the Big Woods. The medal has remained unchanged until this year. The ALA also no longer wants to use the Garth Williams design and in their committee recommendations suggested that past winners could turn them in for the new medal design.
The original Laura Ingalls Wilder medal was not well displayed in the original case (which was featured in the famous photo of Laura on that day – and which they seem to have pitched when they got the new library). It was stuck in between the dolls and I was amazed when I realized that THE original medal was sitting behind the boards where the casements of the doors came together.
Today it is much more prominently features in a newer, larger case — and I really have to get down there to get a better photo.
So if you are suddenly interested in this honor to Laura be sure to stop by the Laura Ingalls Wilder branch in Mansfield when you go to pay your respects to Rocky Ridge.
Updated July 19 2018: Thanks to Connie Ryle Neumann I added a clear photo of the original Wilder Medal.
UPDATED November 30 2018: A comment brought me back to the post and in re-reading it I caught several typos. I fixed them.
Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+, LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.