Needlework and American History with Rose Wilder Lane

I have wanted to read Rose Wilder Lane’s Woman’s Day Book of American Needlework for years. I finally placed an order for an inter-library loan and received it last week.

I read it right through, she is such a good writer. As well as being the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose was fairly recently discovered to be a co-author and major editor of Laura’s famous Little House books, plus Rose Wilder Lane was a founding member of the Libertarian movement in America.


She makes the point that one or two hundred years before the American Revolution, people learned to be self-sufficient and make their own patterns, grow and spin and dye their yarns as well as everything else. It was this slow growth of self-reliance and skill that eventually culminated with people in the colony saying “Why am I being restricted or taxed on the the things I make?” They weren’t allowed to keep their own woven cloth and spun yarns, they were supposed to send them back to Britain. The only materials available to them otherwise were imported with high tariffs. No wonder they balked at this. Of course, they kept on making their own linens and raising sheep and dyeing and knitting yarn. She hammers this home through the entire book and it was quite rousing. From page 12:

“They did in needlework what Americans would later do in the human world of living human beings. As Americans were the first to know and declare that a person is the unit of human life on earth, that each human is a self-governing source of life energy that creates, controls, and changes societies, institutions, governments, so American women were the first to reverse the old meaning in needlework design.”

This particular passage was in the chapter on Embroidery. She says that most people drew their own patterns but in the late nineteenth century fortunes were made on embroidery from large companies providing patterns, kits and threads. From page 23:

“That pervasive cultural influence waned and vanished for a while. I suspect that the Binet tests caused the loss. A ten-year-old’s score of twelve on the Binet scale indicated that he was as advanced as the average twelve-year-old, and samplings of American children showed that many ten-year-olds averaged a score of twelve, a high level of intelligence for their years. But the Binet theory was that we have all our intelligence in our teens and do not develop it thereafter, so a notion spread that the average American adult is mentally only twelve years old. You’d hardly expect influential men to believe that, but of course they do not regard themselves as average, and many did believe it. The statement became a cliché, everywhere repeated for several years.

This wave of contempt for Americans was disastrous in many ways and incidentally injurious to our embroidery. The mammoth producers of its materials offered us only hideous designs which retarded children could do in the crude colors. I myself protested to the manager of one huge company and he replied decisively, ‘This country isn’t Europe; most Americans have the minds of twelve-year-olds.’”

That attitude is often prevalent in psychology and neuroscience today, although related to every human not just Americans. Bollocks to that, eh? It’s no wonder I can’t watch anything on television, it has been dumbed down to someone’s assumption of the lower mentality of human adults.

That was my stirring study for this week. Rose was a feisty, independent lady, a huge influence on society, but many of us only know of her through her mother’s books or this book on needlework. This is definitely an oversight on society’s part.

All the women screaming about being a princess and buying 200 pairs of shoes might investigate this woman if they can tear themselves away from the Kardashians for an hour.

It’s a sad juxtaposition, is it not? We let it happen, we allowed ourselves to be treated as if we had the mentality of children. Not so in reality. Rose knew it.


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3 Responses to Needlework and American History with Rose Wilder Lane

  1. eadouglas says:

    Ahh! I never knew this book existed, and as a huge fan of the Little House books, I am quite excited to read this.

    • JJ ColourArt says:

      YES, I hope you will. Rose was raised in pioneering times and learned all these needlecrafts herself, plus she is an excellent writer.

      Also read this book if you haven’t which explains more about how Rose did rewriting and editing on the Little House books. It also has some harsher truths about Laura and her life but I liked it:
      “Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind the Legend” by John E. Miller

      I also have an older book called “A Little House Sampler” edited by William T. Anderson which contains writing by both Laura and Rose–interesting, and has more biographical information.

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