The real reason Mary Ingalls went blind
Melissa Sue Anderson, right, portrayed Mary Ingalls in the 1970s NBC TV show "Little House on the Prairie."
February 4th, 2013
10:47 AM ET

The real reason Mary Ingalls went blind

If you watched "Little House on the Prairie," chances are you remember the story of Mary Ingalls.

The television show and popular book series drew on the real-life experiences of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Mary, Laura's sister, went blind as a teenager after contracting scarlet fever, according to the story. Now a team of medical researchers are raising questions about whether that's true.

Dr. Beth Tarini, one of the co-authors of the paper, became intrigued by the question as a medical student.

"I was in my pediatrics rotation. We were talking about scarlet fever, and I said, 'Oh, scarlet fever makes you go blind. Mary Ingalls went blind from it,'" recalls Tarini, who is now an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan. My supervisor said, "I don't think so."

Tarini started doing research. Over the course of 10 years, she and her team of researchers, pored over old papers and letters written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, local newspaper accounts of Mary's illness and epidemiological data on blindness and infectious disease in the late 19th century. What they found was intriguing.

In Wilder's unpublished memoir, "Pioneer Girl," there is no reference to Mary having scarlet fever the year she went blind. (She did have scarlet fever when she was much younger.) "She never says scarlet fever. She never says rash," Tarini says, pointing out the rash is a telltale sign of scarlet fever.

Digging deeper, when researchers looked at epidemiological data from the time, they saw that most cases of blindness attributed to scarlet fever were temporary. In addition, newspaper accounts of Mary's illness report "severe headaches" and one side of her face being partially paralyzed.

Finally, and perhaps the most important piece of evidence, in a letter Wilder wrote to her daughter, Rose, right before her book "By the Shores of Silver Lake" was published, she makes reference "some sort of spinal sickness". The letter also mentions that Mary saw a specialist in Chicago who said "the nerves of her eyes were paralyzed and there was no hope."

Diagnosis by these disease detectives: viral meningoencephalitis, which causes inflammation of the brain and the meninges, the membrane that covers the brain. In severe cases, it can cause inflammation of the optic nerve that can result in a slow and progressive loss of sight.

It may not be the biggest bombshell to hit the medical world, but to "Little House" fans, the question remains: why did Wilder change her sister's illness to scarlet fever? The study authors believe it could be because Wilder and her editors thought scarlet fever would be more relatable to her readers. Scarlet fever is mentioned in other books from the period, including "Little Women" and "Frankenstein."

But there is also an important wider medical lesson we can learn from this research. Today, about 10% of people infected with strep get scarlet fever, says Tarini. It is easily treatable. But because the cultural reference to scarlet fever is so ingrained in our culture, people assume it is very dangerous. "People read as children that scarlet fever makes you go blind," says Tarini. "Parents look concerned ... so I have to debunk it in the office."

The study was published Monday in this week's edition of the journal Pediatrics.

soundoff (1,771 Responses)
  1. combigan

    buy brimonidine online combigan eye drops generic

    May 22, 2021 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. rv collision repair

    I used to be able to find good advice from your content.


    May 22, 2021 at 09:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. RV Supplies Riverside

    Excellent blog you have here.. It’s difficult to find quality writing like yours nowadays. I really appreciate people like you! Take care!!


    May 22, 2021 at 09:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Internet Marketing Experts Near Me

    I'm very happy to find this great site. I wanted to thank you for ones time for this wonderful read!! I definitely really liked every part of it and I have you saved to fav to look at new things in your site.


    May 22, 2021 at 10:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. camper repair shops


    May 22, 2021 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. rv furniture companies

    A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment. I think that you need to publish more about this subject matter, it might not be a taboo matter but generally people do not talk about such subjects. To the next! Kind regards!!


    May 22, 2021 at 11:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. local paint shops near me

    Hi, I do believe this is an excellent site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I'm going to return once again since i have book marked it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide other people.


    May 22, 2021 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Local Marketing Firm


    May 22, 2021 at 12:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. RV Camera Near Me

    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you, However I am having difficulties with your RSS. I don’t know the reason why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anybody else having similar RSS problems? Anyone that knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanx!!


    May 22, 2021 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. RV Dent Repair Orange County


    May 22, 2021 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. repairing rv blinds


    May 22, 2021 at 18:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. rv fridge repair near me

    This excellent website truly has all the information and facts I needed about this subject and didn’t know who to ask.


    May 22, 2021 at 20:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Video Marketing Near Me


    May 22, 2021 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. SEO Marketing Service

    Having read this I thought it was extremely informative. I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this informative article together. I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    May 22, 2021 at 20:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Content Marketing Agency


    May 22, 2021 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. lighting repair near me

    An outstanding share! I've just forwarded this onto a co-worker who had been conducting a little homework on this. And he actually ordered me breakfast simply because I found it for him... lol. So let me reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending some time to talk about this topic here on your web page.


    May 22, 2021 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. camper repair center


    May 22, 2021 at 22:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. RV Bay Doors Near Me

    There is certainly a great deal to learn about this topic. I love all of the points you've made.


    May 22, 2021 at 23:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Social Media Marketing Services

    Having read this I believed it was very informative. I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this informative article together. I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it!


    May 22, 2021 at 23:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. chloroquineorigin

    https://chloroquineorigin.com/ chloroquine prophylaxis chloroquine side effects chloroquine nz buy chloroquine online canada

    May 23, 2021 at 01:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. RV Body Shop Near Me


    May 23, 2021 at 03:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. custom rv painting


    May 23, 2021 at 07:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. tausAffessy

    tadalafil generic https://apcalisetadalafil.com/ – cheap generic cialis for sale buy tadalis tadalafil generic https://tadalafilol.com/

    May 23, 2021 at 14:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. RV Bay Doors Near Me

    It’s hard to find educated people about this subject, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks


    May 23, 2021 at 18:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. RV Batteries Los Angeles


    May 24, 2021 at 03:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. ibs collision center


    May 24, 2021 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. brimonidine

    brimonidine side effects brimonidine tartrate

    May 24, 2021 at 09:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Video Marketing Company


    May 24, 2021 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Tembepteriope

    cialis at canadian pharmacy https://tadagatadalafil.com/ where to get tadalafil cost of cialis what is tadalafil

    May 24, 2021 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. tausAffessy

    generic cialis tadalafil https://tadalafilww.com/ – tadalafil goodrx generic cialis tadalafil tadalafil generic https://tadalafilol.com/

    May 24, 2021 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. cyclosporine

    cyclosporine eye drops cyclosporine

    May 24, 2021 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. RV Alignment California


    May 24, 2021 at 17:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. RV Interior Remodeling Orange County

    May I simply just say what a relief to discover a person that genuinely understands what they are talking about over the internet. You definitely realize how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More and more people have to read this and understand this side of the story. It's surprising you're not more popular since you surely have the gift.


    May 24, 2021 at 18:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. collision repair riverside ca


    May 24, 2021 at 19:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. RV Driver Seats Los Angeles


    May 24, 2021 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. paint a horse trailer

    Can I just say what a comfort to find somebody that truly knows what they're discussing on the web. You actually realize how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people must look at this and understand this side of the story. I can't believe you're not more popular given that you certainly have the gift.


    May 24, 2021 at 19:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. rv parks orange county california


    May 24, 2021 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. rv technician near me

    Your style is so unique compared to other people I've read stuff from. Thanks for posting when you've got the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this blog.


    May 24, 2021 at 21:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. RV Awning Orange County

    Hi there! This article couldn’t be written much better! Looking through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I am going to send this post to him. Fairly certain he's going to have a great read. Thank you for sharing!


    May 24, 2021 at 22:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Soosteemocush

    https://cttadalafil.com/ side effects for tadalafil buy generic cialis online with mastercard buy tadalis tadalafil cialis

    May 24, 2021 at 22:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Social Media Marketing Companies


    May 24, 2021 at 22:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Forklift Repair Shop

    Good day! I simply wish to give you a huge thumbs up for the great information you have here on this post. I'll be returning to your blog for more soon.


    May 24, 2021 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Forklift Repair Shop Near Me


    May 24, 2021 at 23:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Local Marketing Consultant


    May 24, 2021 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Internet Marketing Service Near Me


    May 25, 2021 at 00:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Local Marketing Experts

    After I initially commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there a means you are able to remove me from that service? Thanks a lot!


    May 25, 2021 at 01:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. SEO Marketing Consultants


    May 25, 2021 at 01:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Forklift Maintenance Shop Los Angeles


    May 25, 2021 at 02:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Forklift Maintenance California


    May 25, 2021 at 02:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Forklift Cylinders Los Angeles


    May 25, 2021 at 03:17 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Leave a Reply to RV Air Conditioner Repair Near Me


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.