Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Woman Writes Herself: Exploring Identity Construction in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Pioneer Girl.”

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Jonathan Chambers (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Lesa Lockford (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Ronald Shields (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Stephannie Gearhart (Committee Member)


For scholars of Theatre, Performance, and Women’s Studies, the problem of discovering and resurrecting voices of those peoples who have been silenced, oppressed, and erased from traditional histories looms large. In particular, the force of a patriarchal culture, which privileges the masculine public and oppresses the feminine private, has proven a difficult negotiation for those who wish to rectify the historical imbalance. In this dissertation, I use Hélène Cixous’s concept of feminine writing as a method to explore the possibilities and connections between feminine writing and the female body, and to discover to what extent women have agency to construct who they are through writing, using Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Pioneer Girl” as my main primary source.

While many scholars have focused attention on Wilder’s published “Little House” series, I center my study on her lesser-known, handwritten, unpublished, autobiographical manuscript. In an attempt to re-conceptualize what kinds of writing contain value, I examine how “Pioneer Girl” and a few other articles and personal letters are viewed in tandem with their “finished” counterparts. My three main chapters revolve around Wilder’s feminine identity, as connected to the process of writing her life and sense of Self in “Pioneer Girl”: Chapter 2 explores the social context and values of pioneerism and the American First Wave feminist movement as intertwined with the creation of Wilder’s subjectivity; Chapter 3 tracks the construction of “Laura” within the body of the text; and Chapter 4 concentrates on the identity of the text itself, viewing the process of its writing and audience as a performance.

My work with Laura Ingalls Wilder and “Pioneer Girl” produces the author and text as exemplars of the notion that women who construct themselves outside of the strictures of andocentric culture is both possible and valuable. In placing different permutations of her work on an equal plane, I piece together a new framework of Wilder’s “body” of/as work.