Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

The word that Laura refused to say in her wedding vows


Laura’s charming courtship with Almanzo Wilder culminated in a wedding ceremony in which Laura refused to say the word “obey” because she didn’t want to make a promise she couldn’t keep. At this time in her life, she also demonstrated a very early talent for writing that would get noticed by her teacher.


Full Episode | Laura Ingalls Wilder: Prairie to Page
The subtle libertarian politics of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books
What should be done about racist depictions in the “Little House” books?
Clip | The letter from NY that changed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life
Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1951.
8 Interesting facts about Laura Ingalls Wilder
What’s it like to attend “Laurapalooza,” the conference for Laura Ingalls Wilder superfans (“bonnetheads”)?
A “Little House” adulthood: How the books changed when I grew up
In promoting the “myth of white self-sufficiency,” the “Little House” books rewrite history
Covered wagon
Play Laura Ingalls Wilder bingo
Clip | Roxane Gay and others on racist “Little House” depictions
Join the Laura Ingalls Wilder #ShareYourShelfieContest
Clip | Until she was an author, money was a struggle for Wilder
Clip | The secret mother-daughter collaboration on “Little House”
Clip | Disaster was looming when the Ingalls moved to Minnesota
Clip | How the logs of the “Little House” cabin were stolen
A replica of the house that was described in the book "Little House in the Big Woods" near Pepin, Wisconsin.
How well do you know the life and work of Laura Ingalls Wilder? Test your knowledge with this expert quiz.
How well do you know the life and work of Laura Ingalls Wilder? Test your knowledge with this beginner quiz.
How well do you know the life and work of Laura Ingalls Wilder? Test your knowledge with this advanced quiz.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s famous gingerbread recipe
A replica of the house that was described in the book "Little House in the Big Woods" near Pepin, Wisconsin.
Laura Ingalls Wilder biographical timeline
Favorite quotes from the “Little House” books
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 1916 column for Thanksgiving reminds us to “just be glad that we are alive”
Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1951.
10 of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s most inspiring quotes
127 songs are mentioned in the “Little House” books. This playlist presents many of them.
A Laura Ingalls Wilder suggested reading list

- [Narrator] Laura takes her first teaching position at a school about eight miles south of De Smet.

She is 16, and around this time, Almanzo Wilder begins to drive her to and from De Smet every weekend.

- What I remember most about the romance is that even when it's not clear that they're dating, but that Manzo still shows up and takes her home every weekend, she has not asked, he has not even says that he's gonna do it, he just understands and he does it.

And he commits and shows his commitment that way.

He's not even doing it so he can see her, he's doing it so she can see her family.

That is the part of their courtship that made me understand actual courtship.

(birds singing) - [Narrator] The courtship continues when Laura returns to De Smet and to being a student.

During that year, she writes an essay which reads in part.

- [Voiceover Actor] 'Without an ambition to excel others and to surpass oneself, there would be no superior merit.

To win anything, we must have the ambition to do so.'

- There's that remarkable scene with Mr. Owen, which occurs in both 'Pioneer Girl' and later in the 'Little House' books themselves, where Mr. Owen compliments the young Laura on her first exposition, her first writing assignment.

- [Voiceover Actor] 'He looked at her sharply and said, 'You have written compositions before.'

'No, sir,' Laura said, 'This is my first.'

'Well, you should write more of them.

I would not have believed that anyone could do so well the first time.'' - What I think is remarkable about that is not only that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about the scene, both in 'Pioneer Girl' and later in the 'Little House' books, but that she kept the original writing assignment from Mr. Owen for all of those years.

She still has that, and she has, and she kept all of her scraps of poetry.

For me, that indicates that Laura Ingalls Wilder probably had the ambition to write very early on.

- [Narrator] Laura's school days end when she takes another teaching job, this one closer to home and to Almanzo.

By now, they have affectionate names for one another, Manly and Bessie.

- ''I was wondering if you wanted an engagement ring,' he answered, and I gave a startled gasp.

'That would depend,' I said, 'on who offered it to me.'

'Would you take it from me?' he asked.

And I said, 'Yes.'

Then he kissed me goodnight, and I went into the house, not quite sure if I was engaged to Manly or to the starlight in the prairie.'

- [Narrator] Laura refused to say the word obey in the wedding vows.

It would set the tone for their lifelong partnership.

- [Voiceover Actor] 'She summoned all her courage and said, 'Almanzo, must ask you something.

Do you want me to promise to obey you?'

Soberly, he answered, 'Of course not.

I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say.

I never knew one that did it, nor any decent man that wanted her to.'

'Well, I am not going to say I will obey you,' said Laura.

'I cannot make a promise that I will not keep, and Almanzo, even if I tried, I do not think I could obey anybody against my better judgment.'

'I'd never expect you to,' he told her.'


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.