Looking for "Laura Ingalls Wilder Goes to the City" historic books
November 17, 2017 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Hello librarians and historians and researchers and all-around readers! I'm researching a novel and am looking for books (ideally non-fiction) about women born in the prairie/western states that then move to a larger city. More details inside!

Right now I'm casting a broad net but essentially I'm looking for a story that fits most of the following criteria:

- Nonfiction, ideally written by the woman herself (but I'll take well-researched fiction, too!)

- About a woman who is born in Great Plains sometime between 1850 and 1890ish (again, I know, broad net. I haven't pinned down my time period yet. other western locations are OK, too, but I'm focusing primarily on those states)

- And the woman moves to a large, cosmopolitan city (NYC is ideal, but also Boston or Chicago or another city I am not thinking of right now would work! Maybe not San Francisco, though, bc I feel like California had its own particular vibe? maybe not?) as a teenager or young adult, either by herself or with her family.

Specifically, I'm hoping to find insight into the reaction and differences in the "big city" compared to growing up secluded on the plains. My googles keep leading me to The Pioneer Woman's cookbooks, which is ... unhelpful at best.

Thank you!!
posted by good day merlock to Education (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 11:16 AM on November 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

..Annnnd, on edit, you were looking for non-fiction, not fiction! Sorry about that.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 11:17 AM on November 17, 2017

Hey, I'm DESPERATE, I'll take anything! :) Especially if it was written in the time period.
posted by good day merlock at 11:18 AM on November 17, 2017

Another fiction option, though at least woman-written: Willa Cather's Song of the Lark
posted by Mchelly at 11:22 AM on November 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Given your title, are you aware that Laura's daughter Rose wrote an autobiographical novel? It's called "Diverging Roads," and the characters are very thinly disguised versions of herself and her peers, dealing with the big city. Also her official biography, "Ghost in the Little House," goes into great detail about how she left the farm and worked in the cities (first as a telegrapher, then a journalist).
posted by Melismata at 11:36 AM on November 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

Melismata, I did not know that! That is fantastic.
posted by good day merlock at 11:41 AM on November 17, 2017

The novel was re-issued as "Rose Wilder Lane: Her Story" in the 1970s, with the real names and places substituted for the fictional ones, and the superfluous rambling ending :) cut out.

Also, the last book in the "Little House: The Rose Years" series, called "Bachelor Girl," is lifted verbatim from the novel.

/Rose geek
posted by Melismata at 11:46 AM on November 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

(She was very much of the get-me-the-hell-off-this-farm persuasion; I can give you the names of some of her short pieces too if you're interested.)
posted by Melismata at 11:51 AM on November 17, 2017

Speaking of Laura and Rose, Laura visited Rose in San Francisco in 1915 and wrote letters home to Almanzo which are collected in West From Home.
posted by damayanti at 12:08 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

An Old-fashioned Girl, by Louisa May Alcott, details a country girl visiting her wealthier city cousins. You can read it for free on Project Gutenberg.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:12 PM on November 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Daughter of Earth (autobiographical fiction) by Agnes Smedley may have some of what you're looking for.
posted by runtina at 12:37 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

This young adult novel is kind of the opposite of what you're asking for (modern city person goes back in time to 1860s cities and rural areas), but has some elements: The Root Cellar, by Janet Lunn
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:18 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

First thing I thought of was "Sister Carrie," so definitely worth a read. Karen Abbotts's non fiction "Sin in the Second City" is about the brothels of Chicago around the turn of the century, particularly the Everleigh Club which was owned by two sisters. (Theodore Dreiser, who wrote "Sister Carrie" was a patron.) The sisters' back stories varied, but spent some time on the great plains (Omaha?) before coming to Chicago. A lot of the house's resident workers were also from small prairie towns.
posted by writermcwriterson at 1:48 PM on November 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

She's at the edge of your time period, but there's a ton of biographical material available for Amelia Earhart, born in Kansas in 1897. She spent her childhood in Iowa and Minnesota, worked as a nurse in Toronto during WWI, and bounced from NYC to Long Beach (CA) to Boston as an adult. During the last years of her life, she made her home in Los Angeles.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:00 PM on November 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Hired Girl, a YA novel, is almost exactly this except she is born in Pennsylvania and moves to Baltimore.
Set in 1911 so she would have been born in the 1890s.
posted by exceptinsects at 2:26 PM on November 17, 2017

Annie Oakley was born in 1860 rural Ohio and eventually traveled the world with her "pioneer woman" act. Her autobiography is out of print but the recent biographies of her probably quote from her own words about her experiences with cities.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 2:47 PM on November 17, 2017

Lucy Maud Montgomery (not US plains, but rural Canada) moved to Ontario. I haven't read an biography of her, but I remember when Anne (of Green Gables) did the same in her novels.
Here's an autobiography
posted by Duffington at 2:49 PM on November 17, 2017

And this might take some digging, but novelist and naturalist Gene Stratton Porter 1863-1924 (Girl of the Limberlost) lived in rural Indiana but did visit the Chicago World's Fair at some point. You'd have to do a deep dive into a biography to see if she shared her impressions of the city.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 2:52 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Absolutely Project Gutenberg! There's lots written by and about young women *in* the 1890s through WWII, and one of the things writers did (and wrote about) was move to the city. They have LoC subject headings (mostly) which I don't know, but a first guess was promising: searching for "juvenile girls city" in English kicks up seven fiction books, starting with Alcott's An Old-Fashioned Girl but including the promising title The Girl from Sunset Ranch: Or, Alone in a Great City. I would also check other books by those authors.

First try at nonfiction was specifying biography, which turns up a whole lot.

And I enormously recommend contemporaneous books, not anything written more than thirty years after its story. It's apparently really hard to write based on secondary sources without getting pretty stereotyped; old books regularly surprise me with women doing things that we "know" women didn't do, and the material setting is unthinkingly dense and consistent.
posted by clew at 3:04 PM on November 17, 2017

Similarly to above, I just re-read the Betsy - Tacy series and in Betsy In Spite of Herself she traves from Deep Valley Minnesota to Milwaukee for a visit. I couldn't easily find if Maud Hart Lovelace did the same trip, but the Betsy-Tacy books are assumed to be somewhat autobiographical. Also MHH wasn't born until 1892.
posted by Duffington at 3:05 PM on November 17, 2017

Guys! This is wonderful. Thank you so much. I have so much to read!!!
posted by good day merlock at 12:00 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Is this a flu?   |   What ages is the Adam West Batman series... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.