Nellie Oleson – Biography
Nellie Oleson was the name Laura gave to her biggest rival in On the Banks of Plum Creek, Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years. But Nellie Oleson was actually based on three schoolmates from Laura’s childhood, so she would not have to name them personally in the books. This is only one of two instances where Laura delibrately used fictionalized names for certain unpleasant characters. The other instance was the Brewsters, when Laura taught her first term of school. Their actual name was Bouchie.
Nellie Owens was the primary basis of the character of Nellie Oleson. It was Nellie Owens who had a brother, Willie, just as Nellie Oleson did in the books. Nellie’s parents also ran a mercantile in Walnut Grove, just as Nellie Oleson’s parents did in On the Banks of Plum Creek.
Genevieve Masters was the daughter of Walnut Grove’s schoolteacher. It was from Genevieve that Nellie Oleson got her haughty attitude towards Laura, because Genevieve was from New York, just as Nellie Oleson was. Genevieve often would speak of how wonderful New York was, and wore fancier New York clothing. With her superior attitude, Genevieve was far nastier than Nellie Owens was, and the two became keen rivals. Later, the Masters moved to De Smet, and her character is more closely related to the Nellie Oleson of Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years.
Stella Gilbert is the third girl to be based on the character of Nellie Oleson. Stella lived on a farm outside De Smet. With a mother who was ill and bedridden, Almanzo innocently brought Stella along on buggy rides, not realizing the conflict between Stella and Laura. While it is unclear if Stella had any romantic intentions towards Almanzo, when Laura inserted the character of Nellie Oleson into this role, it became clear that Nellie had romantic intentions towards him.
Very little is known of these three girls afterwards. Nellie Owens brother, Willie, later became blind and went to a school for the blind and later married. In a letter written to fans, Laura said that Nellie Oleson moved to Louisiana, but it is unclear as to which “Nellie” she was referring to.
For even more on the three girls behind the Nellie Oleson character, read The Three Faces of Nellie Oleson by Robynne Elizabeth Miller.
- Miller, Robynne Elizabeth (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 140 Pages - 11/28/2016 (Publication Date) - Practical Pioneer Press (Publisher)