Little House on the Prairie/Laura Ingalls


I know Laura became a teacher on the show, however I only remember her taking one test to receive her teaching certificate! Was it that easy or did I miss something. Please tell me what Laura & even Mary had to do education wise to become teachers? Thank you.

Great question! On the Little House on the Prairie television series, it did show Laura only taking one test before she began her teaching career. The television series showed Mary attending a session at the school for the blind and then becoming a teacher herself. The ‘real life’ version was a bit different.

Mary had always looked forward to teaching and carrying on the tradition of being a teacher as Ma had before she married Pa. Unfortunately, after suffering a stroke from a brain fever (mentioned in By the Shores of Silver Lake as happening because of scarlet fever) her chances of teaching were ended. In order to help with sending Mary to Iowa College for the Blind in Vinton, Iowa, and to carry on Ma’s dream of one of her daughters teaching school, Laura began to study and prepare to take the teacher’s examination as soon as she was able, which was supposed to be at age 16.

At the end of Little Town on the Prairie, Laura is met at home by family friend, Mr. Robert Boast, and his distant relative, Mr. Lew Brewster, who asked Laura if she would be interested in teaching at a settlement led by Mr. Brewster about twelve miles from town. (Lew Brewster was actually a pseudonym for Louis Bouchie. Louis Bouchie's wife was an unpleasant person, and Laura wished to respect their privacy, thus the name change.) When Laura told Mr. Boast and Mr. Bouchie that she was only 15, they said that she didn’t need to mention that to the County Superintendent of Schools, who was willing to stop by the house that day to give Laura a brief examination to see if she could receive her first teaching certificate. The Superintendent of Schools, Kingsbury County, Dakota Territory, George A. Williams, stopped by Laura’s home that day and gave her a brief examination. After her oral examination, Mr. Williams presented Laura with a third-grade teaching certificate on December 10, 1882, two months before her 16th birthday. (In Little Town on the Prairie, it says that the certificate was presented on December 24, 1882, but this was an enhancement for dramatic effect.  A copy of the actual certificate can be seen on page 25 of William Anderson's book Laura's Album (Harper Collins, 1998).

The first school where Laura taught was the one-room Bouchie School and was a two month teaching assignment in January and February of 1883, for which she received $20 per month. In Chapter 18 of These Happy Golden Years, Laura takes her first public teaching examination, and receives a second grade certificate. Laura taught that term at the Perry School, which was another one-room school near her parents’ claim. She taught a three month term and had only 3 students, for which she received $25 per month. In Chapter 26 of These Happy Golden Years, Laura takes her final teaching examination and once again receives a second grade certificate. Her final term of teaching took place at the school near her friend, Florence’s, home.  She boarded with Florence’s family while teaching there and received $30 per month for this three month teaching assignment. Laura's time as a teacher ended when she married Almanzo Wilder on August 25, 1885. At that time, married women were not allowed to teach school, though several married women are pictured as teachers on the Little House on the Prairie television series. This was actually an inaccurate representation from that era. In real life, Laura later admitted that she did not particularly enjoy teaching, but felt the responsibility from a young age to help her family financially, and wage-earning opportunities for women were limited.

I did a bit of research to find out about teaching certificates in the early 1880’s. Passing a written teacher’s examination was the basic requirement for earning a teaching certificate. These public examinations were usually given much as ACT or SAT tests are given today, with the candidates completing their examinations within a room of others doing the same. A first grade certificate was good for 2 years, second grade for eighteen months, and third grade for 12 months. There was also a probational certificate for a candidate who came within 10% of getting a third grade certificate. They were allowed to teach for 6 months, but then had to then earn a higher grade or they couldn't teach. There was also a five-year professional certificate for teachers who graduated from a Normal School (teacher's college).

I really enjoyed researching to answer your question!  I hope this gives you the answer you were seeking!  

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Janet B


I can answer most questions pertaining to the book series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, as well as questions regarding Laura's actual life, and questions regarding things that happened in the television series. If I don't know the answer myself, I enjoy researching to find the answers.


I have read the LHOTP book series every year since I was 11 years old. (That would be 33 times!) I have also enjoyed reading biographical information about Laura and her family. I was lucky enough to get to visit the home/museum of Laura and Almanzo in Mansfield, MO. I have watched the television series for years, and thoroughly enjoy it; though sometimes I am frustrated by little inconsistencies I catch as I watch. That's what makes me think it would be interesting to help answer questions others might have!

I have had seven items published in Children's Ministry Magazine.

B.S. in Elementary Education/Early Childhood Education from Southwest Baptist University.

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