Rose Wilder Lane: Of “Little House” and Libertarianism

Just a few brief words of acknowledgment for Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968).

Today Lane is best known as instigator-editor-maybe-ghostwriter of her mother Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. But the more you investigate her the more interesting she gets. For example did you know that she wrote the first biographical book about Charlie Chaplin? Granted it came out in 1916 when Chaplin had scarcely done anything yet, and the details about his background were largely later disavowed, but it’s notable. The full text of that book, Charlie Chaplin’s Own Story is available here.

Charlie Chaplin’s Own Story was one of Lane’s first books. She also wrote biographies of Henry Ford (1917), Herbert Hoover (1920) and Jack London (1921). She wrote over two dozen books during the course of her literary career. She also wrote short stories and novels, including the popular books Let the Hurricane Roar a.k.a. Young Pioneers (1932) and Free Land (1938).

But this too is only part of the story. For Rose Wilder Lane is also considered one of the founders of modern libertarianism, (often unfairly lumped together with Ayn Rand and Isabel Paterson as libertarianism’s “Three Mothers”). Her influential political books include Give Me Liberty (1936) and The Discovery of Freedom (1943). Lane was of literal pioneer stock, and had largely grown up in agricultural struggle with her family. She was a firm believer in individualism — and this at a time when socialist solutions were in vogue both in government and among the chattering classes.

Lane had developed her literary chops on the job. Largely self-educated (and make no mistake; she was brilliant), Lane fell into a job as an editorial staff of the San Francisco Bulletin during World War One when there was a labor shortage. Her talents got her notice. In time her fee-lance articles, essays and fiction acquired a national audience.

In later years Lane became a mentor to Roger Lea MacBride. MacBride later wrote eight novels based on the life of his mentor (much as Lane had earlier helped her mother chronicle her own life). MacBride was the libertarian party’s candidate for President in 1976 and inherited the Little House royalties. I wonder what Lane, who died in 1968, would have made of the preachy, liberal tone of the tv show?