Mary Ingalls

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Mary Amelia Ingalls
MaryIngalls 1.jpg
Mary Amelia Ingalls
Mary Amelia Ingalls

(1865-01-10)January 10, 1865
near Pepin, Wisconsin, U.S.
DiedOctober 20, 1928(1928-10-20) (aged 63)

Mary Amelia Ingalls (January 10, 1865 – October 20, 1928) was born near the town of Pepin, Wisconsin. She was the first child of Caroline and Charles Ingalls and older sister of author Laura Ingalls Wilder, known for her Little House book series.


At age 14, Ingalls suffered an illness—allegedly scarlet fever— thought at the time to cause her blindness. [1] A 2013 study published in the journal Pediatrics concluded that viral meningoencephalitis actually stole her eyesight, based on evidence from firsthand accounts and newspaper reports of her illness as well as relevant school registries and epidemiologic data on blindness and infectious diseases.[2][3][4][5] Between 1881 and 1889, Ingalls attended the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton, Iowa.

The historical record doesn't show why Ingalls did not attend school during one year of that time, but she did finish the seven-year course of study in 1889 and graduated. She then returned home to her parents in De Smet, South Dakota and contributed to the family income by making fly nets for horses. After her father died in 1902, she and her mother rented out a room in their home for extra income. Following her mother's death in April 1924, she lived for a time with her sister, Grace Ingalls Dow in Manchester, South Dakota.

Ingalls family plot, De Smet Cemetery, South Dakota
Mary Ingalls' headstone at De Smet Cemetery, South Dakota

She then traveled to Keystone, South Dakota to live with her sister Carrie Ingalls Swanzey. There she suffered from a stroke, and on October 20, 1928 she died of pneumonia at age 63. Her body was returned to De Smet, where she was buried in the Ingalls family plot next to her parents at De Smet Cemetery.[6][7]

In popular culture[edit]

Ingalls was portrayed in the television series Little House on the Prairie by actress Melissa Sue Anderson. The television version of Mary Ingalls became a teacher in a school for the blind and married a blind fellow teacher, Adam Kendall, who was portrayed by Linwood Boomer.[8] The real Mary Ingalls never became a teacher nor married but returned to De Smet to live with her parents after graduating from Vinton.[9][10]


  1. ^ Benge, Janet and Geoff (2005). Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Storybook Life. YWAM Publishing. p. 180. ISBN 1-932096-32-9.
  2. ^ Allexan, Sarah S.; Byington, Carrie L.; Finkelstein, Jerome I.; Tarini, Beth A. (2013). "Blindness in Walnut Grove: How Did Mary Ingalls Lose Her Sight?". Pediatrics. peds.2012-1438.
  3. ^ Dell'Antonia, KJ (February 4, 2013). "Scarlet Fever Probably Didn't Blind Mary Ingalls". The New York Times. Retrieved February 4, 2013.
  4. ^ Serena, Gordon (February 4, 2013). "Mistaken Infection 'On The Prairie'?". U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved February 4, 2013.
  5. ^ Dispelling A Myth: Scarlet Fever Did Not Make Mary Ingalls Blind
  6. ^ "Rites Held At De Smet For Pioneer Of County". The Daily Argus-Leader. October 21, 1928.
  7. ^ "Mary Amelia Ingalls". Find A Grave. Retrieved June 12, 2019.
  8. ^ "Salesman turns actor". The Advocate. November 11, 1978.
  9. ^ Holloway, Diane (November 30, 1980). "Sight for sore eyes". Austin American-Statesman.
  10. ^ McGlynn, Ann (September 3, 2001). "Blind school's budget slashed". Quad-City Times.

Further reading[edit]

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