Little House on the Prarie–A Modern-Day Diagnosis

Little House on the PraireSo have you seen the article about research concluding that Mary from the Little House books probably didn’t lose her eyesight to scarlet fever?

I LOVED the Little House books when I was young. I completely wore out the full set of paperbacks. I mean, they were tattered. I wanted to be Laura (and with my hair and freckles, it wasn’t a stretch). Mom even made me a sleeping cap like the girls wore on the television program.

So now researchers have concluded that scarlet fever was unlikely to have caused Laura’s older sister Mary to go blind. She probably had another fever-related illness that caused her to lose her eyesight when she was 15.

I’ve seen quite a few links to articles about this lately and while I’ve read a few of those (being such a huge fan!) all I can conclude is–who cares? At the time Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the books the consensus was that her sister went blind as a result of scarlet fever. And it was the family’s reaction to the blindness and all that resulted from it that are interesting. Laura began teaching to earn money so Mary could go to the school for the blind. Mary met her husband. Laura began writing. Lives were changed, relationships were forged, the future was set in motion.

And the future included a series of wonderful books that helped shape me when I was a child. Was it scarlet fever, brain fever or a spinal disorder that changed Laura and Mary’s lives? I really don’t care. I’m just grateful the Ingalls family allowed a painful circumstance to influence readers for generations after.

10 thoughts on “Little House on the Prarie–A Modern-Day Diagnosis

  1. “all I can conclude is–who cares?”
    I burst out laughing!
    Of course, ‘who cares?’ It doesn’t change a thing!

    LI Wilder changed so many things for girls, as did LM Montgomery and countless other women who forged through a man’s field and showed the world what a girl can do.

    In case anyone is curious, both my mother and mother in law lost their hearing to scarlet fever. That disease terrified millions of parents the world over.

      1. John’s entire family is fluent in ASL. They could sign when they were babies. You ain’t seen nuthin’ til you see two deaf people argue. Whoooo nelly!
        I can do Survival Signing. But my MIL once dragged me to the movies and I had to interpret an entire movie for her. It was quite fun.
        She’ll get me to tell stories of my adventures because, apparently, she thinks I’m expressive. 🙂

      2. But my Mom was a PERFECT lip reader. Nothing got by her, unless the speaker had a beard. She has a cochlear implant now, so she can hear perfectly. But that show “Sue Thomas FBI”? MOm could lip read that well. She was fun at parties. Heh.

  2. I love Laura Ingalls Wilder and have read many books about her and Rose, her daughter. I don’t think the article shed any new light on Mary’s condition. It’s always been assumed that scarlet fever was a catch-all phrase. What I would like to see is research into the reason the male lineage in all three generations of Ingalls/Wilder died. Laura’s brother died as a baby (if I remember correctly before 2 years of age). Laura’s son died within a few weeks of birth, and Rose’s son died either in childbirth or within hours. This makes me more curious than things like Mary’s eyesight.

  3. Gabrielle Meyer

    I agree, Sarah! It doesn’t really matter how it happened, but the fact that it impacted countless generations of people, giving hope and encouragement to others who suffer, is the real story. I did want to clarify something – the real Mary Ingalls never married. The television show fictionalized her marriage for the romance factor. In real life, Mary went to the school for the blind in Iowa for eight years and then returned home to De Smet, South Dakota, where she lived with her parents until their deaths and then lived with her sister Grace for a time and her sister Carrie later on. She died at the age of 63. I was disappointed when I learned the truth a few years ago, but I know Mary led a very fulfilling and happy life – and that’s all that matters, as well.

  4. Mom

    Gabrielle, I did not know that. I guess that’s the beauty of historical fiction or poetic license or whatever you want to call it. Sarah, excellent post and example of showing how “all things work for good for those who love the Lord.” And the good just ripples on and on…. (I really enjoyed seeing how much you liked wearing that night cap.)

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