The following two letters are excerpts from The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson. The letters between Wilder and her daughter Rose capture what may be surprising to many. Wilder loathed the Roosevelts and the New Deal.
Rose considered the reelection of Franklin D. Roosevelt to be national approval of the New Deal. Laura Ingalls Wilder and Manly shared Rose’s dislike of the administration. In this letter Laura refers to Rose’s official residence as being at Rocky Ridge, claiming head of the household status to reduce her income tax. Laura discusses this situation, her own local anti–New Deal activities, and home news.
March 12, 1937
Your letter enclosing Dewey Short’s came this P.M. [Republican Dewey Short, who hailed from Missouri’s Seventh Congressional District, was a member of the United States House of Representatives. He was a staunch opponent of the New Deal.]
Dewey Short is a grand person. He and Clark deserve a medal for valor. We were interested in his letter.
It is all right about those tax reports. If we work you for a handout, it is not your fault. I’ll stay out of income tax as long as I can. You can contribute quite a bit to us, and still the figures won’t amount to $2,500 and that is what I understand is the limit to keep us from paying tax on our income. So rest easy.
Damn everything anyway!
You can still be head of this household, and we can keep it up for you. God knows the farm is not self supporting. You have contributed to keeping it up for years. You don’t have to pay rent; the farm house can just be your home, and if you pay to keep it up, that is supporting us and our home. . . . .Who’s the wiser?
Truman is a liar. I wrote to him on this tablet paper. [Harry S. Truman was elected as a Democratic senator from Missouri in 1934.] There is a petition being signed to send congressmen at Dennis’s office. We keep talking, but I don’t know how much good it does.
I will be in town tomorrow to see Aunt Daisy and to give her your message. I will stir around a little and see how many I can get to sign to Dennis petition. [Aunt Daisy was Daisy Bray Freeman, the second wife of George Freeman, organizer of the Bank of Mansfield and a prominent citizen.]
People drive me wild. They as a whole are getting just what they deserve. “What’s the use?” they ask, “it won’t do any good,” they say. [Laura refers to political apathy.] I simply can’t read it in the papers any more. It makes me sick, actually.
Well, I hasten to relieve your mind, when all the time the subject of greatest importance is my new spring suit. To say that I was flabbergasted when I opened the box is putting it mildly. Rose, honey, it is lovely and fits like new spring suits should fit. The color is exactly what I like too. I like the feel of the goods of my new suit. It feels like sugar and cream tastes.
But look what you have done to me!
Not a blouse did I have but what disgraced the suit and absolutely not a hat I have will go with it. So I have spent my tightly pinched pennies. I have ordered two blouses from Montgomery Ward’s, one a lighter blue and one an eggshell. And then as a crowning extravagance I have ordered a dress, the exact blue of the suit, to wear with the top coat when I need it. It is acetylene silk, I know it but it is not spelled right. It is Acetate Crepe and cost $2.98. But I know it is a beauty. The blouses are silk. Haven’t got them yet, just sent the order. Now I must get a hat.
Isn’t it grand how John is doing? I’m tickled pink. [Rose sent John Turner to New Mexico Military Institute for the school year.]
Haven’t heard anything from Corrine. She has no phone and I hesitate to have them call her down into the drug store [the Murrays, after vacating Rocky Ridge, moved into rooms above Fuson’s Drug Store in Mansfield]. She could call me from somewhere, but never has since they moved. I haven’t seen her. Have only been in town three times since they moved, or maybe four, and had so many other things to do. Didn’t want to climb the stairs, either. I’m saving of my breath, you know, though it hasn’t bothered me for some time. The house stands just as it did when Manly wrote you about it. I think Corrine is all right, or she couldn’t do the things I hear of her doing. There is no need that you should worry about her.
Manly has made garden this week. Planted potatoes, peas, lettuce, radishes and turnips. It is lovely weather, makes an itching in my feet [to travel]. But! dust settled over us again.
I’ll wear the grapes whenever possible. Just now, I am wearing the pearls day and night. I sort of forgot about ’em till one night they woke me up saying they were sick. I got them out next morning.
I think I have found the yarn to finish the rug, at Montgomery Ward’s. Have ordered it and if it is not right can return it.
Manly likes so much to make rugs, I think I will let him work up all my old clothes into rugs like the pattern you drew.
I have so many clothes now, I’ll never make over the old ones. As for giving them to anyone, they would go on relief before they’d make them over. Besides I’m fed up with giving things to people. So we’ll put those lovely old things into rugs.
How wonderful that Talbot Mundy to be able to write “The Sayings of Taliesin” himself. They are so good. Do you know the book I have, “Queen Cleopatra” by Mundy, comes between “Tros” and “The Purple Pirate”? It is grand to have them both. Don’t lose Tros.
We will try our best to keep the strawberries safe. Manly is doing something in the garden this afternoon. I don’t know what, but seems unable to keep away from it.
We often talk of what you mention, there being no opportunities now. If we had had such opportunities when we were young we would have been rich. If we were only a little younger than we are, we would do something about them. Anyone who will half try can make money surprisingly now. How they can keep from it, I can’t see. Nor what they do with the money they can’t prevent themselves from making.
Bruce says he gets $20 a month from his three cows. He feeds them hay he put up himself. They eat the leavings from our goat’s roughness. I mean, the cows eat what the goats won’t eat, and a little grain. And still Bruce is always hard up. I use him for an example because I know his affairs. Everyone else is the same. Suppose it costs half of the $20 to feed Bruce’s family, which it doesn’t. What would $10 a month clear have meant to us when we came here [in 1894]? Besides Bruce works a great deal of the time at good wages. They don’t seem to be extravagant. But what becomes of their money? Of course nobody else’s business is any of mine. But I find my heart is getting harder. I can have no least sympathy for people who can do, and will only holler that there are no chances for them now.
I wish they all might have the opportunities we had when I was young and no more. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch ’em?
My dear, I thank you so much for my new suit. It is lovely! Wish I could do something that would please you half as much.
I sent you a little loaf of “Sweet bread of Greece.” Tell me how you like it.
I’ll burn your letter and you burn mine.
Laura’s conservative bent escalated. Her reference to a birthday party for President Roosevelt was actually a fund-raiser to aid victims of infantile paralysis. Laura does not mention it, but Corinne Murray was on the planning committee. The New Deal Works Progress Administration had funded a sanitary sewerage project in Mansfield, and a $5,000 vocational- agricultural building at the high school.
February 20, 1939
The job of writing to you was all done up. And now comes the goody Valentine which calls for another letter. Never mind! I like to talk to you. And thank you for the Valentine box of candy. I may wear store teeth, but my old sweet tooth has never been extracted.
There isn’t much to write about, so I’ll just gossip a little.
Have you celebrated F.D.R.’s birthday properly? Mansfield is all torn up over it.
The tickets for Roosevelt’s birthday party in the Masonic Hall were 25 cents apiece and “they” couldn’t sell them. There were less than fifty people there. The refreshments were ordered from Springfield and cost nearly all the ticket money.
I really should have thought that there would have been the whole town there.
Mansfield has got $65,000 from the WPA and is bonding the city for $17,000, to be their share for building a sewerage system. The town is already bonded for more than it is worth.
God help the poor taxpayers!
We have had a rain. For three days and nights it rained. Water ran down the ditches and the creek roared. Yesterday it stopped and turned cold. Last night there was a sprinkling of snow and today is cold but the sun shines.
Have I told you we have lots of goat milk again? There are five little kids. We’ll be getting fat now I suppose.
We will be going up to Springfield first of next week so I can collect $20 interest from the Union National Bank. I intend to buy a mattress and blankets for my old oak bedstead on the sleeping porch and enamel to refinish it, and the dresser and commode that go with it. Then my $20 will be spent. We are going to put some kind of wallboard on the sleeping porch and make it look nice again, as it did when you were here. Then I’ll put a pretty linoleum on the floor. But we will not put in a bathroom upstairs, at least not now. It will take all my interest money to do the other things I want to do now. And we are living within our income, in spite of your advice. We feel easier that way. Besides, it would be a lot of trouble to put in a bathroom, and we are dodging all the trouble we can.
It is almost impossible to hire help here and when we do they are absolutely no good. Karl Tripp is almost impossible too.
But I had not thought the situation in New York could be as you write. [Rose had probably complained about New Deal programs hiring employees away from the private sector.] I wish Mrs. Roosevelt would have to scrub her own floors and do her own work.
Hope you are settled and comfortable. Much love,
From THE SELECTED LETTERS OF LAURA INGALLS WILDER by William Anderson Copyright © 2016 by William Anderson. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.