The Loh Down On Science

There's Something about Mary

And now--the shocking truth about Laura Ingalls Wilder!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Millions know the Little House on the Prairie books and TV show. What they don't know? Laura Ingalls Wilder may not have been strictly honest about her sister Mary.

Laura says Mary went blind from scarlet fever.

But when med student Beth Tarini asked her instructors, they were skeptical. After becoming a doctor, Tarini investigated.

Medical data from the time report that blindness due to scarlet fever was mostly temporary. So what about Mary?

Family letters say Mary’s symptoms included severe headaches, partial facial paralysis, and something Laura called “spinal sickness.” Those symptoms suggest viral meningoencephalitis. It's an inflammation of the brain and the membrane around it. Severe cases can destroy the optic nerve and lead to blindness.

Why the change? It could be that Laura and her editors thought readers would understand scarlet fever better, which was common at the time. 

Just call it . . . a Little Fib on the Prairie.

 

<p><em>The Loh Down on Science</em> is produced by <a href="http://www.lohdownonscience.org">LDOS Media Lab</a>, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the <a href="http://www.moore.org">Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation</a>.<br />
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