Little House on the Prairie

Season 6 Episode 1

Back to School (1)

Aired Wednesday 12:00 AM Sep 17, 1979 on NBC
out of 10
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145 votes

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Episode Summary

Back to School (1)

As the new school year begins, Nellie receives a surprising graduation present from her mother. Caroline gets a job when Charles is injured and unable to work. A new teacher arrives in Walnut Grove with a handsome younger brother who catches Laura's eye.

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  • This sixth-season opener finds Laura Ingalls moving forward into adulthood and introduces her--and us--to her future husband.

    This episode, the first of Little House's 6th season, gets the show back on the right track after a few season 5 missteps. More importantly, it introduces us to the man who would become Laura Ingalls' real-life husband--Almonzo Wilder. As season 4 did for Mary Ingalls, season 6 marks the beginning of Laura's official journey into adulthood.

    The first day of school arrives, and along with it, a new teacher (remember that Mrs. Sims left Walnut Grove at the end of season 4, like everyone else in town, never to return). How convenient, since the new teacher, Miss Wilder, has a bachelor brother, a strapping young hottie named Almonzo. Laura is immediately smitten (who among us wasn't?). Mrs. Oleson, though, has her "eyes on the prize", too, hoping to hook up her oh-so-available daughter Nellie with the new guy in town. Nellie, by the way, has just graduated from school, and her graduation gift (thinly disguised as a husband magnet) from her parents is a restaurant and hotel, neither of which she asked for or knows how to manage. Chaos ensues as Nellie and her mother try to cook and serve daily for a rightfully upset crowd. Laura, in the meantime, sidles up to Almonzo whenever possible; however, he regards her as nothing more than a "nice little girl".

    Meanwhile, Charles is injured in an accident at the mill. While recuperating, Caroline decides to pick up the financial slack by accepting the job as head cook at Nellie's restaurant. Mrs. Oleson arranges for an intimate dinner between Nellie and Almonzo after hours, but despite Mrs. Oleson's begging Caroline refuses to cook on a Sunday. Laura volunteers to do it "free of charge", and Caroline relents. Laura, of course, has an alterior motive; she wants the dinner date to be anything but a success. She prepares an appalling chicken dish which succeeds in gagging Nellie and Almonzo and ending the date before it really even begins. End part 1.

    This episode is brilliantly written, works on many levels, and manages to cover a lot of bases: it introduces a new teacher, and Laura's husband-to-be, and it paves the road to the future for not only Laura but, importantly, Nellie Oleson. A funny, thoughtful, pivotal winner of an episode. Don't miss it when it airs!moreless
  • A superb season opener as we see many changes take place in Walnut Grove.

    The girls are growing up! Laura and Nellie are heading towards adulthood at a high rate of speed and there are many changes in store.

    Nellie takes the graduation exam, which she passes, meaning that she is no longer a student. The town welcomes a new teacher, Eliza Jane Wilder, who is an older woman with a younger brother named Almanzo who is destined to be Laura's future husband. (In spite of Nellie's best efforts to have him attracted to her!)

    Meanwhile, Harriet gives Nellie a rather ostentatious graduation present - her very own restaurant, named "Nellie's", which offers food and accomodation and which, apparently, Nellie and Harriet intend to run between them. Such a pity for the patrons that neither of them can cook to save themselves!

    When Charles is injured and unable to work temporarily, Caroline, much to his annoyance, takes a job as cook in the new restaurant which is probably a good thing as the townsfolk seem very disinclined to eat the earlier offerings.

    A wonderful episode and a great way to introduce the Wilder family to the series. You must watch this one!moreless
  • Laura and Nellie both vie for the attention of Ms. Wilder\'s brother Almonzo. Harriet convinces Almonzo to come to the restarurant so Nellie can cook. Nellie hires Laura to cook cinnamon chicken. Laura switches the cinnamon with black pepper.moreless

    This is a wonderful episode. Melissa Gilbert hilariously plays Laura in my favorite episode. Nellie is pretty good too, throwing great tempertantrums that would make a sailor blush. Almanzo \"Manny\" Wilder and Michael Landon sparkle. Never have I laughed, cried, and shouted so much over a television show or movie. I will never ever ever forget this episode, and I will never ever ever ever grow tired of it. A true classic. This is what \"Little House on the Prairie\" was made for. Positively one of the greatest, most wonderful, most memorable telvision show episodes. I love it so much!moreless
  • The wheels start turning as a bridge is built for Laura's impending adulthood in this very special, not-to-be-missed episode.

    This two-part episode is one of those charming, irresistable little gems that you find yourself watching over and over again, not just because of its beautiful storytelling and excellent acting, but because of its powerful character development. Throughout Season 5, it was obvious that Laura was no longer a little girl, but the plot material given to her did not reflect anything too mature or indicative of her growth spurt. With this Season 6 opener, however, we get a glimpse of a character who is now ready to show the world that she is a woman, thanks to a very special young man that she meets on the first day of school.

    Some new characters are introduced here, including Eliza Jane Wilder, who takes over as Walnut Grove's newest teacher (a hilarious moment takes place when young Albert comes to school dressed in his Sunday best, convinced that the new teacher will be physically attractive). I can't say that Eliza Jane was ever my favorite character, but she was certainly a unique one, and actress Lucy Lee Flippin did a nice job of making the role her own (even though the real-life Eliza Jane Wilder had very little in common with the show's interpretation).

    Then, of course, there is the unforgettable Almanzo Wilder, Eliza Jane's handsome and charismatic younger brother, and from the moment 15-year-old Laura lays eyes on him, she is smitten, to the point where she immediately carves their initials on Walnut Grove's "Sweetheart Tree." If you didn't know the real story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, you might be tempted to believe that this is another case of hapless puppy love for young Laura, but of course, we all know the story, and we all know that these two eventually become husband and wife. So begins Laura's somewhat long and exhausting journey of finding her footing as an adult, which ends up being about much more than just her actual age. Poor Laura certainly wants everyone to see her as a mature young lady, and she thinks that wearing her hair down and giving up playing baseball at recess will do the trick, but it's going to be much harder than that, especially since Nellie Oleson has her eye on Almanzo, too. Speaking of which, the Oleson family experiences some drastic changes in this episode, as well. Nellie has now officially graduated from school, and to help her daughter find a man pronto, Harriet stuns everyone in town--including her clueless husband--by opening "Nellie's Restaurant" right next to the mercantile! The trouble is, Nellie isn't particularly eager to catch a guy, and she most definitely isn't willing to flaunt her "availability" by cooking and establishing herself as a successful businesswoman, which is exactly what her mother wants.

    I could go on forever about this episode, but in short, it is a great deal of fun to watch from beginning to end, and when you reach Part 2, you will witness one of Laura and Nellie's most dramatic and hilarious fist fights yet! Interestingly enough, both girls are on the brink of womanhood now, but you may not be so convinced after you watch that scene. Overall, the 2-part episode shows us that while Laura is still young and has a lot to learn, she is well on her way to becoming the adult, wife, and schoolteacher that she strives to be. Enjoy watching, and be assured that it is definitely one of the series' finest!moreless
Dean Butler

Dean Butler

Almanzo James Wilder (co-star prior to season 7)

Melissa Gilbert

Melissa Gilbert

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls/Wilder

Patrick Labyorteaux

Patrick Labyorteaux

Andrew 'Andy' Garvey (1977 - 1981) (as Patrick Laborteaux)

Lucy Lee Flippin

Lucy Lee Flippin

Eliza Jane Wilder (1979 -1980)

Kevin Hagen

Kevin Hagen

Dr. Hiram Baker

Richard Bull

Richard Bull

Nels Oleson

David Murdock

David Murdock

Customer #2

Guest Star

Sunshine Parker

Sunshine Parker


Guest Star

Rod McGaughy

Rod McGaughy


Guest Star

Dan McBride

Dan McBride

Customer #1

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (20)

    • This two-part episode is one of Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder)'s all-time favorites.

    • In this episode, Eliza Jane Wilder tells Laura that there is no age restriction for teachers, but in the episode Sweet Sixteen, Eliza Jane and the Superintendent talk about 16 being the required age to teach.

    • When Nellie's restaurant is unveiled, Mrs. Oleson becomes cocooned in the giant canvas and falls down. However, the viewer can see actress Katherine MacGregor clearly pulling the sheet around herself intentionally, then spinning around and falling. Apparently, this is the best the director could come up with as a device to get the actress to fall down as the script must have called for. It's very noticeable and clumsily executed.

    • The scene where Almanzo drives past Laura in his buckboard and offers to give her a ride was the very first scene that actor Dean Butler shot.

    • Notice how much more make-up Melissa Gilbert (Laura) appears to be wearing in this episode and throughout Season 6. Her blush and eye shadow are very bright and noticeable, not at all subtle, and since she was still portraying a young schoolgirl at this point, it shouldn't have been that way. Obviously, though, this was done to help ensure that Laura's transformation from child to adult was a little less sudden by the time they reached the season finale.

    • When Caroline runs into Doc Baker's office after hearing that Charles was hurt, Jonathan assures her that the doctor said nothing was busted up inside. However, just a couple minutes later, Doc Baker says that Charles has broken some ribs.

      Reply: Actually, Jonathan does tell Caroline that Charles has some broken ribs, and he also says he has a broken arm. When he says nothing is busted inside, I believe he is referring to the fact that none of his organs were ruptured, which was probably what Caroline was most worried about after hearing that a 900 pound stone rolled over her husband.

    • In a 2007 interview, Dean Butler (Almanzo) stated that he almost killed a horse in his first scene, when the animal got away from him and took off running. This was, of course, the scene where Almanzo was going to pick his sister Eliza Jane up from school, and he stopped to ask Laura where she was.

    • Dean Butler (Almanzo) admitted in a previous interview that he and Melissa Gilbert "didn't always work easily together," largely because of their 8-year age difference, and the fact that Butler himself had girlfriends before, whereas 15-year-old Gilbert hadn't ever been in a relationship in real life. Still, Butler says that he and Gilbert have remained friends to this day, and he admired her courage and work ethic on the show. He also remembers how professional Gilbert was when he first met her, even though she was only a teenager at the time. Apparently, she shook Butler's hand right away and always impressed him by being so "in command."

    • In this, the first episode of Season 6, Charles is involved in an accident and breaks several ribs. Ironically, he did the same thing after falling out of a tree in the first episode of Season 1, A Harvest of Friends.

    • Eliza Jane is the only Walnut Grove teacher who remained a spinster throughout the show. Everyone else either was married, got married, or had a boyfriend.

    • This episode marks Alice Garvey's resignation as Walnut Grove's teacher, after working for less than one year. Of all five teachers that taught there throughout the series, her tenure was the shortest. Alice Garvey resigns, but we never really get an explanation why. One can only assume that she either wanted to get back to being a housewife, or she didn't like having to be the mother of one of her students.

    • This is the very first appearance of Lucy Lee Flippin as Eliza Jane Wilder, and from the very beginning, Flippin portrayed Eliza Jane as a sweet, timid, and awkward woman. In Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, though, Eliza Jane was not such a friendly character, and in fact, she was unkind to Laura and Carrie.

    • This is definitely not the first time that Laura comes to school all dressed up for a boy. She did the same thing in Season 1's For the Love of Johnny Johnson and Season 4's The Rivals.

    • Watch closely in the scene where Nellie walks down to the kitchen to check on Laura, who is cooking the meal for her and Almanzo. It is clear that Nellie is not wearing a certain undergarment that lends help to the female anatomy, located at the upper part of the body. Either that, or she's not wearing one that's very supportive. It is completely noticeable as she is walking, and quite shocking!

    • Mrs. Oleson seems intent on Nellie and Almanzo having a private dinner on Sunday night when the restaurant is closed ("just the two of you," she says). Yet, at what would have been the very beginning of the meal, as Almanzo is running out, Mr. and Mrs. Oleson show up at the restaurant, dressed up, as if to join them. This makes little sense.
      Reply: It does indeed contradict what Mrs. Oleson said before, but you know how she is. Anyone who knows her knows that she wouldn't pass up the chance to stick her nose in her daughter's potential new romantic relationship.

    • This episode marks one of the first times that Harriet really toughens up with her daughter, with the whole restaurant thing. In the past, she has often just let Nellie do whatever she wanted, and she hasn't enforced much discipline at all.

    • Look closely in the final scene of this episode, when Laura (Melissa Gilbert) is laughing hysterically about her little joke on Nellie. You will notice that Gilbert has a beautiful set of straight teeth for the first time in the series. In previous interviews, Gilbert has said that because her braces had to keep being removed and hidden during the course of the series, it took five years to get her teeth straightened out for good. This is quite different from Alison Arngrim (Nellie), whose braces were visible in Season 3.

    • It's a bit of a stretch that Harriet Oleson and Caroline were both so gullible with Laura's fake-sweet behavior as she offered to cook a meal for Nellie's "date" with Almanzo. Both Harriet and Caroline know that their daughters have butted heads constantly over the past five years, and all of a sudden, Laura is supposedly wanting to do something truly nice for Nellie. Strangely, though, neither of the mothers questioned this or appeared shocked over it.

    • Laura developed quite a few crushes throughout the show's run, but the introduction of Almanzo represents her final (and most important) infatuation with another man. She fell for older boy Johnny Johnson in Season 1. Then, in Season 2, she had two crushes: one on the boy she asked to the dance in "Spring Dance," and the other with Jason Carter in "Talking Machine" (an innocent puppy love that carried over to the third season, as well). Then there was Jimmy Hill, the boy that she stuffed apples in her dress for in Season 4's "The Rivals," and at the end of that same season, she liked Seth, who had his eye on Mary instead.

    • This is the episode where Almanzo gives Laura his special nickname for her, Beth. In the original "Little House" books, though, it was Bess.

  • QUOTES (10)

    • Harriet: (when Nellie is throwing a tantrum) Oh, Nels, do something!
      Nels: I will. I'll go to bed. (leaves quickly)

    • Laura: (overvoice) If I had a remembrance book, I would mark this down as a very special day. Though I didn't know it at the time, I had just met the man I would someday marry--Almanzo Wilder!

    • Laura: (to Nels about Nellie's graduation surprise) We promise not to tell, cross our hearts!
      Nels: All right. Everyone's going to know today, anyway. You see, Harriet thought that--
      Harriet: (from across the street) NELS!
      Nels: I swear, she could hear a flea belch from a mile away!

    • Caroline: (about working at Nellie's Restaurant) I don't see how it's any different from the job in Winoka.
      Charles: It's a big difference!
      Caroline: How?
      Charles: It just is!
      Caroline: That's not an answer, Charles.
      Charles: (pauses) All right. When we were in Winoka, you waited on strangers. These are our friends, our neighbors, people that we have as guests in our own home. I don't want you serving them and then standing around, waiting for tips.
      Caroline: I see. So it's not my working hard that you're concerned about. It's your pride.
      Charles: It's our pride. You're telling me it wouldn't bother you?
      Caroline: That's exactly what I'm telling you.

    • Charles: (after finding out Caroline got a job working for Harriet Oleson at the restaurant) I just don't see how you can call that good news. Well, I won't have it. I won't have you working for that woman!
      Caroline: Charles, I won't really be working for Mrs. Oleson. I'll really be working for Nellie.
      Charles: Yeah, well, aside from a few pounds, what's the difference?

    • Charles: It's hard to believe a new year's starting already. It really does fly, don't it?
      Caroline: It'd fly a lot faster if you'd help me with these dishes.
      Charles: Caroliine, doing dishes isn't a man's work.
      Caroline: Charles, don't be sacreligious.
      Charles: I'm not!
      Caroline: Then you do believe in the Bible?
      Charles: Of course I believe in the Bible, but what's that got to do with doing dishes?
      Caroline: II Kings 21:13: And I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down. The Bible's by the bed, you can look it up.
      Charles: I don't need to look it up; I know you know your Bible.
      Caroline: Dish towel is over there.
      Charles: Thank you, Reverend.

    • Charles: Caroline Ingalls, what would I do without you?
      Caroline: You're not without me, Charles. (smiles) And you couldn't.

    • Laura: I'm sorry about yesterday.
      Almanzo: What happened?
      Laura: Well, you getting your name wrong and all.
      Almanzo: Oh, that's okay. I liked it. Now, from now on, you and only you may call me Manly.
      Laura: You're joking with me!
      Almanzo: No, I'm not. But now I'm going to have to come up with a nickname for you. You got one?
      Laura: Well, sort of. It's silly--my Pa gave it to me when I was young.
      Almanzo: Oh. What is it?
      Laura: It's,'s.....Half-Pint.
      Almanzo: Half-Pint? (laughs)
      Laura: Well, I'm getting a little too old for a name like that, but I don't want to hurt his feelings. You know how fathers are.
      Almanzo: Oh, yeah. Well, I certainly can't be calling a lovely young lady like you Half-Pint, so I'll just have to think of something else. What's your full given name?
      Laura: Laura Elizabeth Ingalls.
      Almanzo: Laura Elizabeth......well, how does Beth sound?
      Laura: Beth?
      Almanzo: Yeah.
      Laura: (smiling) I like it!
      Almanzo: All right, then. Beth it is!

    • Almanzo: (about Laura's hair) Ah, now I knew there was something different.
      Laura: You did?
      Almanzo: Yeah, it looks real nice.
      Laura: Thank you!
      Almanzo: You know, there's nothing cuter than a little girl in pigtails!

    • 2) Charles is unhappy that Caroline is working at the hotel fetching and carrying for others, whilst he is injured.

      Caroline: "Somebody once said - 'There's no reason to be ashamed of any job, so long as you do your best'."
      Charles: "What idiot said that?"
      Caroline: "You."

  • NOTES (8)

    • In previous interviews, Dean Butler (Almanzo) has compared Lucy Lee Flippin (Eliza Jane)'s acting style to that of "a little bird, so delicate and graceful." Butler has also said that Michael Landon was very fond of Flippin.

    • Dean Butler (Almanzo) has fondly recalled in previous interviews that he graduated from college in May 1979, on a Friday, and he went right to work for Little House three days later, on that Monday! During the audition process, Michael Landon asked him when he was finishing up school, and Dean told him, and Michael proceeded to say, "Okay, I'll see you that Monday!"

    • This is the first season premiere episode that does not feature Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary. It's also the first premiere episode where we do not see the entire Ingalls family together.

    • In this and future episodes, it is indicated that Laura was the one heavily pursuing Almanzo, but in the books, it was reversed--Almanzo was the one pursuing her more.

    • This is the first of many episodes where we are told that Laura and Almanzo have a significant age gap between them, yet the exact number of years are never revealed on the show, obviously to avoid any uproar from audiences if they knew exactly how far apart the two actually were in age. In real life, Melissa Gilbert and Dean Butler are 8 years apart, so when this episode was filmed, Gilbert was 15, and Butler was 23--and they had the important responsibility of passing off as a soon-to-be married couple.

    • The introduction of Eliza Jane Wilder marks the third of five full-time teachers in the Walnut Grove School. Miss Beadle and Mrs. Garvey came before her, and Laura and Miss Plum succeeded her.

    • Mrs. Oleson and Nellie Oleson are credited as guests stars in this episode.

    • Introduction of Almanzo Wilder & his sister Eliza Jane Wilder.