Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Carrie Ingalls Swanzey: Accomplished Woman

L-R Carrie Ingalls Swanzey, Mary Ingalls, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder was an accomplished woman. She rode across the West in a covered wagon, wrote for farm journals and newspapers, authored a series of books, and her family was integral in establishing a town in South Dakota. She was well-liked a pillar of her community in Mansfield, Missouri.

Do you know who else was an accomplished woman?

Mrs. Wilder's sister, Carrie Ingalls Swanzey.

Who was Carrie Ingalls Swanzey?

Born "Caroline Celestia Ingalls," just outside of Independence, Kansas on August 3, 1870, Mrs. Swanzey is remembered by Laura Ingalls Wilder fans first as "Baby Carrie," then as a sickly young lady who got in trouble for rocking her classroom bench in "Little Town on the Prairie ." We don't really hear much about Mrs. Swanzey after Mrs. Wilder married and moved on, however. And why would we? It was Mrs. Wilder everyone wanted to know about.

I'm fascinated by Carrie Ingalls, however. Well, maybe "fascination" isn't the right word. Maybe it's more that I'm interested in her.

As I was re-reading "Little House on the Prairie " I remembered that Baby Carrie was actually born during that time. I was thinking how it must have been for Caroline Ingalls, Sr., giving birth smack dab in the middle of Indian territory, with neighbors and a doctor she didn't know very well giving the assist.  But that's not why I'm interested in Carrie Ingalls Swanzey.

Downtown DeSmet in more modern times

Throughout most of "Little House" series, Mrs. Wilder portrayed her sister as meek or sickly. Carrie didn't really seem like someone who had a lot going for her. I'm not saying Laura didn't love and enjoy her sister, because it's obvious she did. However, she gave no indication of the woman Mrs. Swanzey turned out to be.

Carrie Ingalls Swanzey: An Independent Woman

I'm interested in Carrie Ingalls because she was an independent woman during a time when being an independent woman wasn't encouraged.  Even though she studied to become a teacher because she wanted to help support her sister Mary Ingalls in college, she didn't enjoy it and gave up after teaching only a short time. Thus, when Mrs. Swanzey was 19, she began her apprenticeship as a typesetter at DeSmet's newspaper, The Leader.

According to many articles and resources, Mrs. Swanzey held a variety of jobs while she was in her 20's including working at newspapers, teaching, working at the post office, and clerking at shops around town. Now, keep in mind this is during a time when most women her age were married and into their second or third child. While we may not know why Carrie married so late in life (we'll get to that in a bit), one can imagine people in town must have thought her of something of a spinster.

When Laura Ingalls Wilder discussed how "sickly" Carrie was, I wonder if it wasn't because of her issues with breathing. Mrs. Swanzey suffered from various issues with allergies, sinuses, and asthma. It was those health issues that drove her to seek out a more accommodating climate. At the age of 35 Mrs. Swanzey moved first to Boulder, Colorado, and then to Wyoming still as an unmarried woman--a bold step for a single gal. There's speculation she worked at a newspaper during this time, but nothing concrete.

Carrie Ingalls Swanzey: Homesteader and Newspaper Woman

Carrie Ingalls Swanzey

Her stay outside of South Dakota was short lived, however. Mrs. Swanzey moved back to South Dakota in 1908 or 1909. Like her father, Carrie was attracted by the promise of land - once Indian land - that was being offered to settlers. A lottery was held for "white" men and women and Mrs. Swanzey won the drawing and became a landowner, settling in the town of Topbar, South Dakota. (This photo found on Pinterest shows Carrie standing by her claim shanty. ) However, as winter into South Dakota isn't conducive to shanty life, Mrs. Swanzey only spent the warmer months on her own land, wintering in the town of DeSmet with her family.

While in South Dakota, Mrs. Swanzey began working at and eventually managing a newspaper, The Bugle, in the town of Pedro, Though it once had its own newspaper, Pedro is now abandoned as a ghost town.

In 1910, at the age of 40, Carrie Ingalls transferred to a different newspaper, The Roseland Review, in the town of Roseland, SD.  Mrs. Swanzey's employer, E.L. Senn, acquired several newspapers throughout South Dakota, and Mrs. Swanzey managed many of them. In 1911, she was managing a newspaper in the town of Keystone, SD when she met the man she would marry, David Swanzey.

Imagine traveling around the state as a single woman and managing newspapers instead of settling down and finding a husband. Again, we don't know if Mrs. Swanzey chose to be single during this time, or if there weren't suitors coming to call. In any event, she most likely a curiosity for those around her. Mrs. Swanzey enjoyed traveling and seeing new places,  and I like to imagine she enjoyed her independence. In fact, she was the only Ingalls sister to visit Laura and Almanzo Wilder at their home in Mansfield, Missouri.

Carrie Ingalls Swanzey: Wife and Step Mother

Mrs. Swanzey married her husband, a 50 year old widower and miner name David Swanzey on August 1, 1912. As he had two young children, she retired from the newspaper life to help raise them. Carre Ingalls and David Swanzey's Wedding Announcement: Carrie Ingalls and David Swanzey Marriage Announcement
In Rapid City, Thursday, August 1, 1912, David N. Swanzey, of Keystone, and Miss Carrie Ingalls of De Smet, Rev. W.H. Sparling officiating. There are many Rapid City people who will be much surprised to read that Dave Swanzey has taken unto himself a wife. 
Mr. Swanzey has lived a good many years in the Hills and is known to everybody around Keystone and Hill City, and to all the old timers in Rapid City. He is very much a gentleman and the lady is fortunate in being chosen as his bride. 
The bride is an accomplished young lady, being at one time the manager of the Keystone Recorder and later was in charge of the Hill City Star. She has been living with her mother at De Smet for a few months, and came from there here except that she stopped on her way at Philip, near which place she has a claim. Mr. Swanzey met her here and they went immediately to the Episcopal church and were married. They left last evening for Hot Springs, where they will spend a few days before going to Keystone to live. 
They will go immediately to housekeeping.
I want to say here that every account I read about the Charles Ingalls family is that there were no grandchildren who survived besides Rose Wilder Lane. However, as Carrie Ingalls Swanzey took over a mother's role and raised two children, I would like to think her step children are part of the Ingalls legacy. (I'm going to be learning more about them in the weeks and months ahead and sharing what I learn here.)

Incidentally, Mr. Swanzey was the man who named Mt. Rushmore.

In 1924, Caroline Quiner Ingalls passed away leaving Mrs. Swanzey's sister, Grace Ingalls Dow, to care for eldest sister Mary Ingalls who was blind. In 1926, Ms. Ingalls came to stay with the Swanzey family in Keystone. While visiting, she has a serious of strokes, one that was quite debilitating. After time spent in a hospital to recover, Ms. Ingalls returned to the Swanzey's Keystone home where she passed away on October 20, 1928 at the age of 63 after succumbing to pneumonia and the symptoms of her various strokes.

Carrie was very supportive of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her stories, sharing her own stories and memories with Mrs. Wilder for her books and articles. On June 2, 1946, at the age of 75, Carrie Ingalls Swanzey passed away due to complications of diabetes. She was only outlived by her sister Laura and step-daughter, Mary.

Carrie Ingalls Swanzey: Accomplished Woman

Now, I ask you...wasn't Carrie Ingalls Swanzey an accomplished woman? During a time when women married young and spent their lives taking care of their husbands and families, Mrs. Swanzey traveled and enjoyed a career as a newspaperwoman. She owned her own land, and made her own way and for that she has my admiration and respect.

Disclaimer: All links to books on this page are affiliate links. All images in this blog post are via Wikimedia Commons and part of the public domain.


  1. I just love the stories of Little House Of The Prairie.... Thank You for sharing.

  2. You're welcome! It's something fun I like to talk about so I'm glad you're enjoying it.

  3. I'm curious to know if you learned any more about Carrie's step children and any children that may have carried on the Ingalls legacy.

  4. It is really offensive to me for you to go on several times about Carrie being "strange" for being single. I know how the past was and still is, but Carrie deserves more than speculation that simply no one wanted her. Eliza Jane was portrayed as a stupid, bumbling ugly unwanted mess on TV, when in fact she was attractive and self made into a prosperous woman. Think about this.

    1. Yeah, that's not what I said at all. Maybe give it another read?

  5. Wow that comment was unnecessary.i loved this,thank you for sharing.its nice to read about these women of the past.(although it was strange she waited until 40,s to marry)

    1. Maybe there just wasn't anyone around who peeked her interest. Women had very limited choices back then, if she had married young she may not have been able to accomplish all the things she did. Aside from the church activities, it was deemed improper for a married woman to have any outside interests.

  6. A woman's pioneer life was very harsh. Many, many women were plagued with depression due to isolation and physical exhaustion. Suicides occurred, but not much is wtitten on that since it was taboo.
    It is plausible that Carrie witnessed the hard life her mother lived and simply opted for something different.
    Her choices are to be commended for blazing a trail for other women to follow.

  7. Since much of our pioneer history has been (like much of history in general) translated through male lenses, we'll never know exactly how people felt about things or did what they did; we can only speculate, especially for women. I like Deb's comment above. I think it's very plausible that Carrie wanted something different than what she saw around her because the choices were very limiting back then for women. Also, she strikes me as more like her father, someone who wanted adventure and travel. She also had to have been very smart to have fallen in with the newspaper trade and E.L. Senn, a man who founded many newspapers. I've set type and ran a press before, and it's hard, dirty work. Plus, she also wrote for the presses she managed. AND she went back to work this time at the railway station in Keystone after her husband died, so she probably learned a new trade there, and in later life! Amazing.


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