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|Little House on the Prairie character|
|First appearance||On the Banks of Plum Creek|
|Last appearance||These Happy Golden Years|
|Created by||Laura Ingalls Wilder|
|Family||Harriet and Nels Oleson (parents)|
Willie Oleson (brother)
|Relatives||Nancy Oleson (adopted sister)|
Nellie Oleson is a fictional character in the Little House series of autobiographical children's novels written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was portrayed by Alison Arngrim in the NBC television show Little House on the Prairie (1974 to 1983), where her role is much expanded. Three different girls from Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood — Nellie Owens, Genevieve Masters and Stella Gilbert — were the basis for the fictional Nellie Oleson.
Nellie Winfield (Owens) Kirry
|Born||August 2, 1869|
Walnut Grove, Minnesota, U.S.
|Died||November 2, 1949 (aged 80)|
Forest Grove, Oregon, U.S.
Owens was born on August 2, 1869, two years after Laura Ingalls. She had a younger brother; William B. Owens (1881-1934; played by Jonathan Gilbert in the television series). Nellie's parents, William (1836-1920) and Margaret (1836-1908) Owens (renamed Nels and Harriet Oleson in the television series; called only "Mr. and Mrs. Oleson" in the books), did, as Laura describes, run the local mercantile in Walnut Grove, Minnesota.
Later in her life, around 1883, the Owens moved to California; probably via the Oregon Trail. In 1891 they went to Tillamook, Oregon, where Nellie taught school and in 1893 married Henry Francis Kirry (1869-1951). They moved to Bay City, Oregon and had three children; Zola (1894-1986), Lloyd (1896-1961) and Leslie (1900-1931). Soon, the Kirries changed their home again by moving to Rainier, Oregon in 1899. Her brother Willie went blind from a firecracker explosion, attended a school for the blind, married, and also had three children.
There seems to be no indication that Laura ever saw Nellie Owens again after Laura's family left Walnut Grove in 1879. Nellie died on November 2, 1949 in Oregon and is buried on Forest View Cemetery in Forest Grove, Oregon.
Genevieve Maude (Masters) Renwick
|Born||November 12, 1867|
Hornby, New York, U.S.
|Died||November 7, 1909 (aged 41)|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
The second girl, Genevieve Masters, was born November 12, 1867 in Hornby, Steuben County, New York and was the spoiled daughter of a former teacher of Laura's. Genevieve wore beautifully tailored clothes and had striking blonde curly hair, just as "Nellie Oleson" had. Genevieve boasted continually about how much more proper and "civilized" things were in the "East". With her superior attitude, Genevieve was far nastier than Nellie Owens had been, and Laura and Genevieve became keen rivals, both academically and socially.
Gennie's family moved to De Smet not long after the Ingalls family, but the Owens family did not move. Therefore, the "Nellie" of Little Town on the Prairie is most likely Genevieve Masters. In her "Letter to Children" written late in her life (a sort of form letter sent to the hundreds of children who wrote her monthly), Laura stated: "Nellie Oleson . . . moved back East, and did not live many years." Laura was evidently referring to Genevieve Masters in this letter as Nellie Owens lived to the age of 80. Masters married William Graham V. Renwick (1864-1924) and had one daughter, Margaret (1900-1982).
Estella M. (Gilbert) Merrill
|Born||May , 1864|
Lake City, Minnesota, U.S.
|Died||September 16, 1944 (aged 80)|
Yakima, Washington, U.S.
The third girl, Stella Gilbert, born in May 1864, lived on a claim north of the Ingalls in De Smet. She was reportedly very attractive and was very interested in Almanzo Wilder. She was possibly the girl who convinced him to take her on several buggy rides, which were described in These Happy Golden Years. Almanzo, who was not aware of a conflict between Stella (Nellie in the books) and Laura, eventually became aware of Stella's fear of horses (which disgusted him). In addition, Laura eventually gave Almanzo an ultimatum regarding Stella, and Almanzo's invitations to Stella to join them on the rides stopped. This was the last appearance of a "Nellie Oleson" in the series.
Stella's older brother was Dave Gilbert, the brave 17 year old who made the very risky run to Lake Preston, Dakota Territory on his horse-drawn sled between blizzards to take the outgoing mail and bring back the incoming mail, as described by Laura in The Long Winter.
Little House books
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Nellie Oleson appeared in three of the Little House novels Ingalls Wilder: On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937), Little Town on the Prairie (1939), and These Happy Golden Years (1943) — the fourth, seventh, and eighth in the series. Laura is 13 to 15 years old in the two intervening novels. On the Banks of Plum Creek alone is set in Minnesota, near Walnut Grove where the long-running television series is set. In that novel Laura is 7 to 9 years old.[clarification needed]
Oleson also stars in Nellie Oleson Meets Laura Ingalls, a book by Tui T. Sutherland (as Heather Williams), published by HarperCollins in 2007. The Library of Congress catalog summary is "Wealthy, spoiled Nellie Oleson is only happy when she is the center of attention, and so she feels angry and left out when Laura Ingalls, a poor country girl, moves to Walnut Grove and is embraced by Nellie's friends and schoolteacher." Nellie Oleson Meets Laura Ingalls is one among dozens of Little House series extensions published beginning in the 1990s.
Little House on the Prairie television series
|Little House on the Prairie character|
|Portrayed by||Alison Arngrim|
|First appearance||1.02 Country Girls|
|Last appearance||9.08 The Return of Nellie|
The Little House books were later adapted into a long-running television series. Played by actress Alison Arngrim, Nellie Oleson was a manipulative, witty, sharp-tongued character on the NBC television show, Little House on the Prairie. Her parents, Nels and Harriet Oleson, owned the mercantile in the small town of Walnut Grove, set in post-Civil War Minnesota. Early in the series, the character of Nellie closely resembled her counterpart from the books - mainly as portrayed in On the Banks of Plum Creek. She had long, elaborately curled hair, acted very prissy and spoiled - yet underneath, she could display a vicious and manipulative personality. Nellie took after her doting mother Harriet (Katherine MacGregor), while father Nels (Richard Bull) tended to be stern with his two children and had little tolerance for Nellie's often cruel antics. Nels and Harriet frequently conflicted on the rearing of both Nellie and Willie; Harriet's assertiveness frequently won out, although Nellie was not always allowed to get away with her behavior. For example, on the episode called "The Cheaters", Mrs. Oleson finds out Nellie has cheated, and Mrs. Oleson started hitting Nellie with her jacket.
Arngrim's character grew in importance during the series (as did the roles of the entire Oleson family) as she served as a perfect antagonist to honest, tomboyish Laura Ingalls, played by Melissa Gilbert. Nellie and Laura feuded during their school years together, which was at times comically paralleled with quarreling between the two girls' mothers, Harriet Oleson and Caroline Ingalls (Karen Grassle).
After Nellie graduated from school, her mother, Harriet, bestowed her with a restaurant and hotel. At first, Nellie balked, showing great incompetence in the hospitality business. Eventually, Nels and Harriet hired Percival Dalton (played by Steve Tracy) to help Nellie learn how to cook and run the restaurant. During this time, Nellie began maturing — thanks to Percival's work with her and Nels's values winning out over Harriet's — and fell in love with Percival. The two eventually married, and Nellie gave birth to twin children (Benjamin and Jennifer).
Nellie became a close friend of Laura's in her adult years and Laura attended her wedding. Before Nellie takes off for her honeymoon, she throws the bouquet to Laura. In the episode "Come Let us Reason Together", Laura's mother Caroline helped deliver Nellie's twin babies.
Arngrim left the series at the end of the seventh season. Nellie's resulting departure was explained by having her move with Percival and their twins to New York to run the family business when Percival's father falls ill; the move is made permanent when Percival's father dies. After Nellie's departure became permanent, the Olesons adopted a daughter named Nancy (played by Allison Balson), who bore a striking resemblance to Nellie, although she had a nastier and meaner disposition than Nellie. Nellie — who retained her pleasant personality seen in her later years — returned in the ninth season and met Nancy, who briefly ran away from home when she (mistakenly) believed that her adoptive parents loved Nellie more than her. When Nellie first meets Nancy and see how she acts, she asks her parents in shock: "I know I was temperamental at her age, but I wasn't THAT bad....Was I?" They all start to laugh, then they realize she was as bad.
Compared to the book On the Banks of Plum Creek, the series presented Nellie Oleson as a much more prominent character. In the books, Nellie's family members are very minor characters, whereas the Olesons became major figures on the series, with several episodes focusing on Nellie or her family. Eventually, the "villainous duo" of mother Harriet and daughter Nellie proved to be very popular with viewers for their often evil, yet humorous, antics.
- Although the character of Nellie does not appear in any of the Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder movies, in Part 1 there is certain Patsy Robbins girl (played by Jenny Dare Paulin), who clearly reminds of Nellie.
- In the Little House on the Prairie musical, Nellie Oleson was played by Sara Jean Ford and Kate Loprest.
- "The Real Nellie Oleson, Laura's Prairie Frenemy". History Daily. 11 April 2019. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
- Miller, Robynne Elizabeth (2016). The Three Faces of Nellie. Practical Pioneer Press. ISBN 069281258X.
- Willie Owens on Find a Grave
- William Owens on Find a Grave
- Margaret Owens on Find a Grave
- Forest Grove grave draws 'Little House' lovers in Portland Tribune
- Nellie Owens on Find a Grave
- Willie Owens (2) on Find a Grave
- William Renwick on Find a Grave
- Margaret Renwick on Find a Grave
- Genevieve Masters on Find a Grave
- Stella Gilbert on Find a Grave
- Source is our five book articles (the 5 Newberry Medal runners-up, about which much has been published, although we cite little).[clarification needed]
- "Nellie Oleson meets Laura Ingalls". Library of Congress Online Catalog (catalog.loc.gov). Retrieved 2015-10-09.
- Beyond the Prairie, Part 1 on IMDb.com
- Gruber, Xaque (1 October 2015). "The Nellie Olesons Celebrate 20 Years of Demented Hilarity at Silver Lake's Cavern Club". Huffpost / The Huffington Post. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
- Foley, F. Kathleen (11 January 1996). "Nellies' Shows Promise in L.A. Debut". Los Angeles Times.