Little House on the Prairie taught a timeless life lesson early in season two. Tough times require some sacrifice, even from the children.
Remember the Little House on the Prairie episode called The Richest Man in Walnut Grove? It ran Sept. 10, 1975 to help usher in season two of the series. Meanwhile, the United States was going through a recession caused by rising oil prices, dips in the stock market and heavy government spending on the Vietnam War.
On Little House on the Prairie, the Ingalls were having financial problems. They’d run up an account at the town mercantile store. Charles Ingalls was ready to pay if off. But Hanson’s Mill closed after a big customer declares bankruptcy. Charles is left without two months’ pay. The women in the family want to help.
Mary Ingalls, played by Melissa Sue Anderson, wants to quit school and go to work for Mrs. Whipple, the town’s seamstress played by former Broadway actress Queenie Smith. She talked about this Little House on the Prairie episode during an interview in 2007.
Anderson Explained How She Sold Scene to Her Little House on the Prairie Parents
Mrs. Whipple “was a little old lady even then,” Anderson said. “She had a habit of speaking quickly, even then. That became a thing with me (as Mary), where I would then go home and try to sell my parents can I get this job, can I get this extra job? I can do it and keep up with my school work. I can do this, I can do that to make the extra money. And I would then take on her (speaking style) and even faster than she talked.
“And it was these funny, funny scenes where I said ‘she sewed me how I could so, I mean showed me how I could sew’ and ‘duh-di-duh and duh-di-duh.’ And I really, really, really wanted the job. It brought out another side, again and showed families at times had to pull together. Everybody had to work. Everybody had to pull their share, do their share.”
Mary worked for Mrs. Whipple. Charles’ wife Caroline, along with Laura, planted extra vegetables to sell. They also sold eggs laid by the family’s chickens. Charles took on extra jobs, worked at a livery and helped to install an irrigation system. Everyone pitched in. Charles paid off the debt at the store. He’s told: “Charles, with a family like that, you must be the richest man in Walnut Grove.”
Charles replies, “I know I am.”