Rose Wilder Lane

Rose Wilder Lane

Rose Wilder Lane (b. December 5 1886, De Smet, Dakota Territory – d. October 30 1968, Danbury, Connecticut) was an American journalist, travel writer, novelist, and political theorist. She is noted (with Ayn Rand and Isabel Paterson) as one of the founding mothers of the American libertarian movement and is also considered one of the seminal forces behind the American Libertarian Party. [cite web
title=Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Paterson, and Ayn Rand: Three Women Who Inspired the Modern Libertarian Movement
date=May 1996

Early life and schooling

Rose Wilder Lane was the first child of Laura Elizabeth Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder (and their only child to survive into adulthood). Lane's early years were difficult ones for her parents, the result of successive crop failures, illnesses and chronic economic hardships. During her childhood, Lane moved with her family several times, living with relatives in Minnesota and then Florida, briefly returning to De Smet, South Dakota, before the family finally settled in Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894, where her parents eventually established a dairy and fruit farm. Lane attended high schools in Mansfield and Crowley, Louisiana, (where her father's sister, Eliza Jane Wilder Thayer, had settled), graduating in 1904. Her intellect and ambition were demonstrated by her ability to compress three years of Latin into one, and by graduating at the top of her high school class in Crowley. Despite this academic success, her parents' financial situation placed college out of reach and her formal schooling was over.

Early career, marriage, divorce

After high school graduation she returned to her parents' farm and learned telegraphy at the Mansfield railroad station where the station master was the father of a school friend. Before she was eighteen Wilder was working for Western Union in Kansas City as a telegrapher. She worked as a telegrapher in Missouri, Indiana and California for the next five years.

In 1909, she married salesman and occasional newspaperman, Claire Gillette Lane. Around 1910, Lane bore a son who was either stillborn or died shortly after birth. Complications from subsequent surgery appear to have left Lane unable to bear more children. The details of the child's death remain vague; the topic is mentioned only briefly in a handful of existing letters, written years later to express sympathy and understanding to close friends who were also dealing with the loss of a child.

For the next few years Lane and her husband traveled around the US working various marketing and promotional schemes. Letters to her parents described a happy-go-lucky existence with both Lane and her husband transversing the US several times and working a variety of jobs, both together and separately. However, in diary entries and subsequent published autobiographical pieces concerning this time, Lane described herself as depressed and disillusioned with her marriage, caught in the tension arising from the recognition that her intelligence and interests did not mesh with the life she was living with her husband. One account even had her attempting suicide by drugging herself with chloroform, only to awake with a headache and a renewed sense of purpose in life.

Keenly aware of her lack of a formal education, during this time Lane read voraciously and taught herself several languages. Her writing career began around 1910, with occasional free-lance newspaper jobs that earned much needed extra cash. Between 1912 and 1914, Lane - one of the earliest female real estate agents in California - and her husband sold farm land in what is now the San Jose/Silicon Valley area of northern California. It made sense for the two to work separately to earn separate commissions, and Lane turned out to be the better salesman of the two. The marriage foundered, there were several periods of separation, and eventually an amicable divorce. Lane's diaries reveal subsequent romantic involvements with several men in the years after her divorce, but she never remarried.

The threat of America's entry into World War I had seriously weakened the real estate market, so in early 1915 Lane accepted a friend's offer of a stopgap job as an editorial assistant on the staff of the San Francisco "Bulletin". The stopgap turned into a watershed. She immediately caught the attention of her editors not only through her talents as a writer in her own right, but also as an extremely skillful editor for other writers. Before long, Rose Wilder Lane's photo and byline were running in the "Bulletin" daily. She easily churned out formulaic romantic fiction serials that would run for weeks at a time. Her accounts of the lives of Henry Ford, Charlie Chaplin, Jack London, and Herbert Hoover (who became a lifelong friend) were published in book form.

Also in 1915, Lane's mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, visited for several months. Together they attended the Pan-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE); many details of this visit and Lane's daily life in 1915 are preserved in Wilder's letters to her husband and are available in West From Home, published by Lane's heir in 1974. Although Lane's diaries indicate she was separated from her husband in 1915, Wilder's letters do not indicate this. Gillette Lane was recorded as living with his wife, although unemployed and looking for work during his mother-in-law's two month visit. It seems the separation was either covered up for her mother's visit, or had not yet involved separate households.

Launches free-lance writing career

By 1918, Lane's marriage was officially ended and she had quit her job with the "San Francisco Bulletin" to launch a career as a free-lance writer. From this period through the early 1940s, Lane's work regularly appeared in leading publications such as "Harper's", "Saturday Evening Post", "Sunset", "Good Housekeeping",and "Ladies' Home Journal". Several of her short stories were nominated for O. Henry Prizes and a few novels became top sellers.

In the late 1920s, she was reputed to be one of the highest-paid female writers in America, and counted among her friends figures such as Herbert Hoover, Sinclair Lewis, Dorothy Thompson and Lowell Thomas. Despite this success, Lane's compulsive generosity with her family and friends often found her strapped for cash and forced to work on material that paid well, but did not engage her growing interests in political theory and world history. She suffered from periodic bouts of self-doubt and depression in mid-life, diagnosing herself as manic-depressive (now more commonly known as bipolar disorder). During these times of depression, when she was unable to move ahead with her own writing, Lane would easily find work as a ghostwriter or "silent" editor for other well-known writers.

Lane's occasional work as a traveling war correspondent began with a stint with the American Red Cross Publicity Bureau in post-WWI Europe and continued though 1965, when at the age of 78, she was reporting from Vietnam for "Woman's Day" magazine, providing "a woman's point of view." She traveled extensively in Europe and Asia as part of the Red Cross. In 1926, Lane, Helen Dore Boylston and their French maid traveled from France to Albania in a car they had named "Zenobia". An account of the journey, "Travels With Zenobia: Paris to Albania by Model T Ford" was published in 1983. Lane became enamored with Albania, and lived there for several long periods during the 1920s, spaced between sojourns to Paris and her parents' Rocky Ridge Farm in Missouri. She informally adopted a young Albanian boy named Rexh Meta, who she claimed saved her life on a dangerous mountain trek; she later sponsored his education at Oxford University in England.

In 1928, Lane returned to the U.S. to live on her parents' farm and there she took in and educated two local orphaned brothers. In 1938, Lane purchased a rural home outside of Danbury, Connecticut, where she spent the remainder of her life.

Literary collaboration

Lane's exact role in her mother's famous "Little House" series of books has remained unclear. A contributing factor was the stock market crash of 1929, which wiped out both Lane's and her parents' investments. The ensuing Great Depression further reduced the market for her writing, and she found herself isolated and depressed at Rocky Ridge Farm, struggling to maintain her commitments to support herself, her adopted children and her elderly parents, who had retired from active farming with Lane's encouragement and financial support. Her ghostwriting jobs increased at this time, because her depression tended to affect her ability to generate ideas for her own writing projects.

In late 1930, her mother approached her with a rough manuscript outlining her hardscrabble pioneer childhood. Lane, using her well-developed sense of what was marketable, took notice. She recognized that an American public weary of the Depression would respond warmly to the story of the loving, self-sufficient and determined Ingalls family overcoming obstacles while maintaining their sense of independence, as told through the eyes of the spunky Laura as she matured from ages five to eighteen.

Was Wilder a naturally skilled novelist who somehow never discovered her own talents until her sixties? Was Lane's only contribution to her mother's success her encouragement and her established connections in the publishing world? Or, did Lane have to essentially take her mother's unpublishable raw manuscripts in hand and completely (and silently) ghostwrite the series of books we know today? The truth appears to lie somewhere between these two positions—Wilder's writing career as a rural journalist and credible essayist began more than two decades before the "Little House" series, and Lane's formidable editing and ghostwriting skills are well-documented. The existing evidence (including ongoing correspondence between the women concerning the development of the multi-volume series, Lane's extensive personal diaries detailing the time she spent working on the manuscripts, and Wilder's own initial draft manuscripts) tends to reveal an ongoing mutual collaboration that involved Lane more extensively in the earlier books, and to a much lesser extent by the time the series ended, as Wilder's confidence in her own writing ability increased, and Lane was no longer living at Rocky Ridge Farm. Lane insisted to the end that she considered her role to be little more than that of an adviser to her mother, despite much documentation to the contrary. Wilder did not keep copies of her correspondence with Lane, but Lane kept carbon copies of virtually everything she ever wrote—including the correspondence with her mother concerning the Little House Books. The correspondence shows that Wilder sometimes adamantly refused to accept some of her daughter's suggestions, and at other times gratefully accepted them.

Lane's editing and ghostwriting skills brought the dramatic pacing, literary structure, and characterization needed to make the stories publishable in book form. In fact, this collaboration benefited Lane's career as much as her mother'sndash many of Lane's most popular short stories and her two most commercially successful novels were written at this time and were fueled by material which was taken directly from her mother's recollections of Ingalls-Wilder family folklore—"Let the Hurricane Roar" (later retitled "Young Pioneers") and "Free Land", both addressed the difficulties of homesteading in the Dakotas in the late 1800s, and how the "free land" in fact cost many homesteaders their life savings. "The Saturday Evening Post" paid Lane large fees to serialize both novels, and both were also adapted for highly popular radio performances.

Columnist for a Black Newspaper: The Pittsburgh Courier

During World War II, Lane had one of the most remarkable, but little studied, phases of her career.From 1942 to 1945, she wrote a weekly column for The Pittsburgh Courier, the most widely read American black newspaper. Through it, she reached several times more readers than just about anything else she wrote during this period. Each issue had a circulation of 270,000 while the total print run of The Discovery of Freedom during Lane’s lifetime was only about one thousand. [David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, [ “Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Zora Neale Hurston on War, Race, the State, and Liberty] Independent Review 12 Spring 2008).]

Rather than hiding or trimming her laissez faire views, she seized the chance to sell them to the readership. She sought out topics of special interests of her audience. Her first entry glowingly characterized the Double V Campaign as part of the more general fight for individual liberty in American history. "Here, at last, is a place where I belong,” she wrote of her new job. “Here are the Americans who know the value of equality and freedom." Her columns highlighted black success stories to illustrate broader themes about entrepreneurship, freedom, and creativity. In one, she compared the accomplishments of Robert Vann and Henry Ford. Vann’s rags to riches story illustrated the benefits in a "capitalist society in which a penniless orphan, one of a despised minority can create The Pittsburgh Courier and publicly, vigorously, safely, attack a majority opinion” while Ford’s showed how a poor mechanic can create “hundreds of jobs ... putting even beggars into cars." [Beito and Beito, [ ]

She combined advocacy of laissez faire and antiracism. The views she expressed on race were remarkably similar to those of black writer, and fellow individualist, Zora Neale Hurston. Lane's columns emphasized the arbitrariness of racial categories and stressed the centrality of the individual. Instead of indulging in the “ridiculous, idiotic and tragic fallacy of 'race,' [by] which a minority of the earth's population has deluded itself during the past century,” it was time for all Americans (black and white) to “renounce their race.” Judging by skin color was comparable to the Communists who assigned guilt or virtue on the basis of class. In her view, the fallacies of race and class hearkened to the “old English-feudal ‘class’ distinction.” The collectivists, including the New Dealers, were to blame for filling “young minds with fantasies of 'races' and 'classes' and 'the masses,' all controlled by pagan gods, named Economic determinism or Society or Government.” [Beito and Beito, [ ]

The Discovery of Freedom

Around 1940, despite continuing requests from editors for both fiction and non-fiction material, Lane turned away from commercial writing and became known as one of the more influential American libertarians of the middle 20th century. She vehemently opposed the New Deal, creeping socialism, Social Security, wartime rationing and all forms of taxation, claiming she ceased writing highly paid commercial fiction in order to protest paying income taxes. She cut her income and expenses to the bare minimum, and lived a modern-day version of her ancestors' pioneer life on her rural land near Danbury, Connecticut.

A staunch opponent of communism after experiencing it first hand in the Soviet Union during her Red Cross travels, she wrote the seminal "The Discovery of Freedom" (1943), and tirelessly promoted and wrote about individual freedom, and its impact on humanity. As Lane grew older, her political opinions solidified as a fundamentalist libertarian, and her defense of what she considered to be basic American principles of liberty and freedom could become harsh and abrasive in the face of disagreement - a charge often also leveled against other female libertarians such as Isabel Paterson.

Later Years

During the late 1940s and through the 1950s, Lane played a hands-on role in launching the “libertarian movement,” a term she apparently coined. She wrote book reviews for the National Economic Council and later for the Volker Fund, out of which grew the Institute for Humane Studies. Later, she lectured at, and gave generous financial support to, the Freedom School headed by libertarian Robert LeFevre. [Beito and Beito, [ ]

After her mother's death in 1957, Lane generously donated the Rocky Ridge Farmhouse and many of her family's belongings there to help establish the popular museum that still draws thousands of visitors each year to Mansfield. Inheriting Wilder's growing "Little House" royalties put an end to Lane's self-enforced modest lifestyle, she began to travel extensively again, and thoroughly renovated and remodeled her Connecticut home. Also during the 1960s, Lane revived her own commercial writing career by publishing several popular magazine series, including one about her remarkable tour of the Vietnam war zone in late 1965.

She also wrote an immensely popular book detailing the history of American needlework (with a strong libertarian undercurrent) for Woman's Day and edited and published "On The Way Home", providing an autobiographical setting around her mother's original 1894 diary of their six week journey from South Dakota to Missouri. This book was intended to serve as the capstone to the "Little House" series, for those many fans who since Wilder's death were now writing to Lane asking, "what happened next?". She also contributed book reviews to the influential William Volker Fund, and continued to work on extensive revisions to "The Discovery of Freedom", which she never completed.

Lane also was the adoptive "grandmother" and mentor to Roger MacBride. MacBride is best known as the Libertarian Party's 1976 candidate for President of the United States. MacBride was the son of one of her editors with whom she formed a close bond when he was a young boy, later admitting she was grooming him to be a future Libertarian thought leader. In addition to being her close friend, he also became her attorney, business manager and ultimately the heir to the "Little House" series and the multi-million dollar franchise that he built around it after Lane's death. MacBride was the author of the spinoff "The Rose Years" Little House Series, a multi-part semi-fictional re-telling of Rose's life from the age of seven to nineteen.

The last of the many protégés to be taken under Lane's wing was the sister of her Vietnamese interpreter; impressed by the young girl's intelligence, she helped to bring her to the United States and sponsored her enrollment in college. [cite book
title=The Ghost in the Little House
publisher=University of Missouri Press
date=May 1995

Lane died in her sleep, aged 81, on October 30 1968, just as she was about to depart on a three-year world tour.



*"The Story of Art Smith" (1915) (biography)
*"Henry Ford's Own Story" (1917) (biography)
*"Diverging Roads" (1919) (fiction)
*"White Shadows on the South Seas" (with Frederick O'Brien) (1919) (non-fiction travel)
*"The Making of Herbert Hoover" (1920) (biography)
*"The Peaks of Shala" (1923) (non-fiction travel)
*"He Was A Man" (1925) (fiction)
*"Hillbilly" (1925) (fiction)
*"Cindy" (1928) (fiction)
*"Let the Hurricane Roar" (1932) (fiction) now better known as "Young Pioneers".
*"Old Home Town" (1935) (fiction)
*"Give Me Liberty" AKA "Credo" (1936) (political history)
*"Free Land" (1938) (fiction)
*" [ The Discovery of Freedom] " (1943) (political history) adapted in 1947 as "The Mainspring of Human Progress"
*"What Is This: The Gestapo?" (1943) (pamphlet)
*"On the Way Home" (1962)
*"The Woman's Day Book of American Needlework" (1963}
*"Travels With Zenobia: Paris to Albania by Model T Ford" (1983) (with Helen Dore Boylston, ed. William Holtz ISBN 978-0826203908
*"The Rediscovered Writings of Rose Wilder Lane, Literary Journalist" (2007) (ed. Amy Mattson Lauters)

About Lane

*Holtz, William V., 1995. "The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane". University of Missouri Press. [ More.]
*———, ed., 1991. "Dorothy Thompson and Rose Wilder Lane: Forty Years of Friendship Letters, 1921-1960". University of Missouri Press. [ More.]
*Lauters, Amy Mattson, 2007. "The Rediscovered Writings of Rose Wilder Lane, Literary Journalist." University of Missouri Press. [] .
*Beito, David T. Beito and Beito, Linda Royster. [ “Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Zora Neale Hurston on War, Race, the State, and Liberty] Independent Review 12 Spring 2008).
*Miller, John E., 1998. "Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder". University of Missouri Press. Contains extensive material on Rose and Laura's literary collaboration, including facsimiles of their correspondence.

External links

* [ Works by Rose Wilder Lane] at Internet Archive
* [ Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968)] , from the Cato Institute.

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