The needlework book published by Woman's Day in 1961.
The needlework book published by Woman's Day in 1961.
Few people are aware that a world famous author once lived in Spring Valley. No, not Laura Ingalls Wilder, but her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Rose was one remarkable person who could have been labeled a "liberated woman" and her life story is awesome in its entirety.

Rose's parents, Almanzo and Laura (Ingalls) Wilder, were among the pioneers who tried to wrest a living from the Dakota Territory prairies. The "free land" offered by the U.S. government was anything but free - pioneers paid dearly with severe hardships of drudgery, accidents, illnesses, a harsh climate of droughts, grasshopper plagues, hail and snowstorms.

Their firstborn in December 1886, Rose was a bright inquisitive child who learned to read at age 3. She was allowed to start school at age 5 in DeSmet, S.D., and was more intelligent than her classmates, meaning school was very boring for her. She was truly self-educated, reading every book in the school library and countless volumes from an indulgent neighbor. Her parents, along with Rose, came to Spring Valley in 1890 to live with his parents while they recuperated from a bout with diphtheria. After her family moved to Mansfield, Mo., her aunt Eliza Jane invited her to attend high school at Crowley, La., and from there she blossomed as a "career girl."

Always a progressive thinker, Rose became a telegraph operator for Western Union in Kansas City; her livelihood took her to San Francisco in 1908 where she became the first woman real estate salesperson in California. She married a fellow worker, Gillette Lane, and they enjoyed a busy and exciting life until World War I brought an end to the real estate boom, and their marriage ended in divorce in 1918.

Then Rose began her lifelong career as a popular writer, doing articles for newspapers, free-lancing for magazines, then novels. She wrote biographies on Henry Ford and President Herbert Hoover, the latter a personal friend. After World War I, she traveled around the world for the American Red Cross, investigating and reporting on conditions in the war torn countries of Europe and Asia. Her heartbreaking stories in the American press on the refugees, starving orphans and war devastation brought in badly needed dollars for relief efforts.

Rose wrote for Harper's, National Geographic, Ladies Home Journal, and even the Minneapolis Journal. In 1922, she won an O. Henry prize for the best short story, "Innocence." After a sojourn with her parents at Mansfield, Rose traveled again to Europe, where she and a friend settled in Albania, a country she truly loved. Eventually she returned to Missouri; her parents were living in the "rock house" she had built for them; Rose lived and entertained friends in the original country home. An astute observer of the times, during the Great Depression in the early 1930s, she wrote "Let The Hurricane Roar," which became a top bestseller, serialized by the Saturday Evening Post and the Country Gentleman in 1933-34.

While Rose kept up a prolific writing career, her mother was writing articles for the local farm magazine and paper. Laura Ingalls Wilder wished to write about some of her childhood adventures, and Rose was more than willing to assist. To their surprise, Laura's first book, "Little House in the Big Woods," was an immediate success and thus began the series of eight "Little House" books - and we know the rest of the story.

Rose continued her work, famous as one of America's best-known authors. She loved the American democratic life and especially the "individualism" allowing humans to control their destinies. Her thesis on personal liberty, "Credo" in the Saturday Evening Post was considered one of the most successful magazine stories ever published, garnering many thousands of approving letters.

Rose later established a home in Danbury, Conn., where she wrote "The Discovery of Freedom," to become known as the "grande dame" of the Libertarianism philosophy. However, because she turned down the opportunity to apply for Social Security, the F.B.I. actually sent an investigator to check her out. Totally outraged, she wrote that she told the young agent, "I am an American citizen. I hire you. You have the insolence to question my attitude? What is this - the Gestapo? If I'm against this Social Security, then I'm subversive as hell!" This incident received wide radio and press coverage, Rose warning readers of the threat to their personal rights. At one time she gave up all writing and income (she resented how the government spent the income tax she paid!) and lived off the gardens she raised in Connecticut.

In the early 1960s Rose was persuaded by Woman's Day magazine to do a series of articles on American needlework, which brought thousands of letters from their eight million readers. This resulted in the publication of a beautiful volume, "Book of American Needlework," shown here. It is gloriously illustrated with full color examples of 13 types of needlecraft including crewelwork, candle-wicking, crochet and quilting. In the five-page introduction she tells us, "Needlework is the art that tells the truth about the real life of people in their time and place ... we live in a classless society ... it expresses a new and unique spirit."

The end of this fascinating and unbelievable life? Rose actually was a war correspondent in Vietnam in 1965 for Woman's Day magazine, followed by travels around the country speaking about the war. She then established a second home in Harlingen, Texas, her "winter retreat." At age 81, she began plans for a round-the-world trip to visit places she had never seen. Back home in Danbury, Conn., Rose baked bread, invited friends in for an evening of conversation; then went to bed, not to waken in this life.

A most admirable woman and we here in Spring Valley can say she indeed lived here a little while. Bless her memory!