Jean Coday Oral History Interview

Title Card for the VideoToday’s post is doing double duty. In the first half, Jean Coday has long been the driving force behind the Laura Ingalls Wilder/Rose Wilder Lane Home and Museum. Coday’s interview reveals how she got involved with the museum, what role she’s played, and a little bit about Laura’s life in Mansfield. In the second half, I’m going to talk about oral history as a research method. Not a lot of people have a very clear idea in their minds of what research looks like. I like to share examples to help people clarify it in their minds.

This is an excellent example of what an oral history interview is like. An important part of oral history is including indexes and transcripts. Below the video are my notes with general time codes.


Ozarks Voices: Jean Coday, Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association, July 14, 2014

Ozark Voices is an oral history project undertaken by the Missouri State University Libraries. The interviewer is Tom Peters, Director of Library. It was shot in the director’s office at the Rocky Ridge complex. Coday also serves as President of HomePride bank in Mansfield.  Coday is from Ash Grove, Missouri.

Why did the Wilders settle in Mansfield? What happened to bring them specifically to Mansfield?

Mower goes by, watch things like that if you do oral history, it’s OK to cut and come back afterwards

August 22nd 1894 Wilders arrive

Cody never met Wilder, she was in Mansfield to visit her father-in-law before Laura died, but husband did, described about 5 min

How do people in town remember her? As farm woman who lived in community, everyone called her Mrs. Wilder

Saw as another farmer

Conversation from book about how got nicknames

Progressive farmers and laying hens

They’re trying to regrow orchard, have 25 trees, been a lot to take care of, have sketch by Laura showing how they planted them

Almanzo was a deliveryman

Almanzo wrote Fruit Growing Experiment Center, station told him to mix lye with oil to keep it on trees

Why Laura wrote the books

How did the books become famous

Why do people want to visit house

About 18 min They still get letters from children “Dear Laura how are you?” because they see her as a friend

Importance of family and love for each other

Did fame turn Laura’s head

Where original manuscripts are located

Mansfield owns 5 of the original “Little House” manuscripts and original Pioneer Girl

What was Rose’s role in books (on side of editor and book agent only)

Rose built Rock House and Laura and Manly lived there 9 years

Rose bringing electricity to farm, Rose brought out a single line phone, party lines were still the rule for decades after

Rose moved to New York City, Laura and Almanzo moved back to Rocky Ridge

About 25 min Irene Lichty and her role in forming association, Lichty’s father had been a Civil War Solider who married a much younger woman so Litchty’s mother was about Laura’s age. When Laura went to town she visited a couple of friends, including Litchy’s mother and the other aunt Betsy Pringle

Coday arrived in 1960, Litchy asked both Coday and her husband to serve on board

They had the house and 2 1/2 acres to start. Lichty was opening house bringing lunch with her, had bookshelf in bedroom with things to sell, by the time Codays came on realized needed to be more organized, they came 3 years after bought the farm

Litchy was primary guide in early years, board helped her in making repairs on home, reinforced it with cables throughout the upper level, they are shooting in Almanzo’s workshop which was briefly the bookstore and then the director’s office, Garage for cars taken down for museum,

Roger MacBride about 30 min

Both get MacBride’s relationship with Libertarian Party wrong, skates around Ed Friendly and Roger’s connection to show

Touch will controversy including court case on behalf of library, Peters sees in terms of intellectual property, Corday barely touches on it

About 35 minutes – People don’t consider Laura a Missouri author although Laura lived decades here. Twain is even though barely visited as an adult. Laura is a Missouri author by choice.

Laura going back to South Dakota and Rose’s feelings about Mansfield

Current fundraising projects – archives and museum buildings, adding trail

Have chicken coop, garden done by Baker Creek Seeds, hopes to return to original driveway and turn into a 1920s/1930s working farm,

About 42 min – worked on buying back land, now about 180 acres

Didn’t buy additional land until 1990 when bought the Rock House and 50 acres for 100,000. Paid that back and bought place across the way. Last buy was 87 acres that horseshoed around homesite. Still paying that off.

Hoping will increase visitation. Think will add 15% to visitation and hope that will encourage town to create more tourist supported businesses like hotels, bed and breakfasts, etc.

They still have contacts almost every week about someone wanting to do an article.

She re-reads the “Little House” series every year.

“She told a story in a way that is timeless and it was in a way that is so charming and so sweet that everybody feels better after they read them…You just feel like you’re part of the family. That’s how the children who read them or have them read to them feel.”

Note about Civil War women

Oral History

Some good points they demonstrate for oral history:

A good idea with oral history is to be part of a larger project like this one from Missouri State University Libraries. It makes it easier for people to find your efforts and helps guarantee that the work won’t disappear after you die.

Have a list of questions over subjects you think they’ll know about.

Try to make the subject comfortable.

Some points they can work on:

An important part of oral history is also making a transcript. While transcripts don’t always pass on the nuance of a recording, a print version makes it easier to scan to find and search and print formats are usually more stable than those of audio or video. YouTube does do an auto transcript, but I don’t see any attach transcript although they may have one separately.

You control your environment. People are going to be listening to this hopefully for decades. Pay attention to the sound. Get rid of background noises like lawn mowers by requesting they wait or waiting yourself. Have a good quality mic.

Learn more about Oral History:

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 . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.


Arts and Humanities Month

October is not only National Information Literacy Awareness Month, but it’s also National Arts and Humanities Month. Kansas Humanities has really been the only agency I’ve seen doing much to celebrate, but I appreciate their efforts.

This week they are shouting out SAVE A STORY. Stories are important things. They are how people learn. They are how people connect. They are how people make sense of the world.  As the late Tom Clancy wrote in Debt of Honor: “If you don’t write it down, it never happened.” So write it down:

Don’t know how? Find the basics of Oral History here:

Sarah S. Uthoff is 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.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+,LinkedIn, and She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.