Little Lodges on the Prairie:
Freemasonry & Laura Ingalls Wilder

by Teresa Lynn

Tranquility Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-990-49770-7.
Reviewed by Susan Wittig Albert
Posted on 07/17/2014

Nonfiction: Biography; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context

Little Lodges on the Prairie fills an important gap in our understanding of the lives of one of America's best-known pioneer families: Charles and Caroline Ingalls and Laura and Almanzo Wilder, who were lifelong, active participants in Freemasonry and the Order of the Eastern Star. Teresa Lynn's book is fully documented, organized for easy reading and reference, and full of intriguing glimpses into pioneer community life. While there are no direct references to Freemasonry and Eastern Star affiliation in the famous Little House series published by Laura Ingalls Wilder, there is plenty of evidence of the indirect influence of Masonic values, and Lynn frequently points out these references.

Like many other men and women on the American frontier, the Ingalls and Wilders found that their membership in the Masonic lodge and the Eastern Star chapter fulfilled their desires for values-based affiliation, community participation, charitable work, and personal and community education. Opportunities in all of these areas were actively advanced through the programs and activities of the Masons and Eastern Star. Across the frontier, men and women members of both orders were recognized as outstanding leaders in their communities, and the establishment of a lodge in a town was a sign that the town's fortunes were in the caring hands of dedicated citizens.

Charles Ingalls became a member of the Masonic Lodge of De Smet, South Dakota, in 1885 and a member of Eastern Star in 1893. Caroline Ingalls became an Eastern Star charter member in 1889, along with Laura's sister Carrie. Carrie married a Mason in Keystone, South Dakota, and remained an active member and officer of Eastern Star for the rest of her life. Laura Ingalls Wilder joined the De Smet Order of the Eastern Star in 1893, but left the next year with Almanzo and their young daughter Rose to settle in Mansfield, MO. There, in 1897, she helped to organize a Mansfield chapter of the Eastern Star and was appointed to an office at the chapter's first meeting. She remained a member until 1931. In 1897, Almanzo joined the Mansfield Masonic Lodge, where he held various offices. He maintained his membership for the rest of his life, although his affiliation with Eastern Star ended, with Laura's, in 1931.

Teresa Lynn's personal interest in and understanding of the principles and values of Freemasonry and Eastern Star deeply inform this valuable book. In it, she traces the long history of both organizations, as well as the histories of the Ingalls and Wilder families and their interaction with the lodges and chapters to which they belonged in De Smet, Keystone (S.D), and Mansfield. Throughout, Lynn's research is painstaking and her documentation excellent. Her presentation is clear and easy to follow. While some readers may regret the lack of an index, the many photographs, letters, lodge and chapter documents, and other historic materials amply illustrate the text, and endnotes and a bibliography add suggestions for further reading. Altogether, an excellent book, highly recommended for Wilder and Ingalls fans who want to extend their understanding of the lives of this important pioneer family.

Teresa Lynn is a researcher, writer, and presenter who thrills to stories of real people overcoming adversity and making good; that's why she has always been enamored of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family. She is a member of the Order of the Eastern Star and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy & Research Association, and has studied both Freemasonry and the Ingalls family extensively for many years. Little Lodges on the Prairie [Tranquility Press, 2014] is her first book. Visit the author's website.

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