‘Little House on the Prairie’: How Karen Grassle Modeled ‘Caroline Ingalls’ After Own Mother

by Will Shepard

For many children, an early staple of their childhood reading was Little House on the Prairie. It was one of the early chapter books that kids could fly through. Because it was so popular, in 1974, NBC decided to turn it into a television show.

Almost immediately, the show began to do exceptionally well. The show did its absolute best to re-create each character as close to the books as possible. So, Karen Grassle was cast as Caroline Ingalls, better known on the show and in the books as “Ma.”

Caroline Ingalls was one of the strongest characters on Little House on the Prairie. She was depicted as one of the most mentally toughest characters on the show. Consequently, there was a lot for Karen Grassle to delve into during the show.

In an interview with Fox from late July 2020, Grassle explained how she was able to play “Ma” so well.

“If you read [Laura Ingalls Wilder’s] books and see photos, Caroline was very tough and sturdy.” Grassle continued, “My mother rode a horse barefoot to school, and as a young woman, she taught in a one-room schoolhouse! So I took her character, strength, and wisdom and infused Caroline with that.”

Karen Grassle Based “Little House on the Prairie” Character on Her Own Mother

Grassle certainly understood that Caroline Ingalls needed to be portrayed as kind, gentle, faithful, and courageous. So, it makes sense that she based the Little House on the Prairie character after the strongest woman she knew.

Not only did she care about her own children, but Caroline Ingalls was also their community educator. Even though there were not a ton of students in her class, she taught many people to read, write, and do arithmetic. She utilized the one-room schoolhouse admirably.

There are plenty of episodes that depict the characteristics that “Ma” was so well-known for. She was incredibly protective of her children, to a fault. This is evident in “The Award.” But, it goes to show how much Caroline Ingalls cared about her own family.

Karen Grassle’s Little House on the Prairie character is certainly a model mother. Even though she made mistakes, there was always a good intention behind her actions. Certainly, this would have been the case with Grassle’s own mother.