‘Little House on the Prairie’: The Cast Member Who Taught Melissa Gilbert About Puberty

Melissa Gilbert hit puberty when she was starring in Little House on the Prairie. Her mother had never explained the facts of life, so the Laura actor relied on one of her castmates to fill her in.

Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls, Lindsay/Sidney Greenbush as Carrie Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls
Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls, Lindsay/Sidney Greenbush as Carrie Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Melissa Gilbert’s mother never taught her about puberty or the birds and the bees

In Gilbert’s memoir, Prairie Tale, she dives into her relationship with her mother. She was “at the helm of everything, including my career, my food intake, and how I dressed–my whole life.” But one area she wasn’t so involved in was Gilbert’s going through puberty.

“At ten, I’d found a box of tampons under the sink in her bathroom and when I asked what they were, she said they were for applying makeup,” wrote the actor.

When Gilbert turned 14, she started to become curious about the birds and the bees. One day, while in the car, she asked her mother about how her sister was born.

Upon realizing what her daughter meant, Gilbert’s mother said: “It was very lovely.” And that was the end of the conversation.

Melissa Gilbert on Growing up alongside Melissa Sue Anderson on ‘Little House on the Prairie’

While Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson played sisters on Little House on the Prairie, they were not close in real life. During the fourth season of the show, Gilbert felt that, all of a sudden, her co-star had grown up and left her in the dust.

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“She had really long fingernails (I bit mine ravenously), wore makeup, smoked cigarettes, and guzzled TaB,” wrote Gilbert. “She was way beyond my league. Then when she began dating actor Lance Kerwin of James at 15 fame, forget it. She wasn’t just out of my league. She was in a different universe. It was like all of a sudden she was grown up.”

“After that, she dated Frank Sinatra Jr. But we never talked about any of that stuff,” she continued.

Alison Arngrim taught Melissa Gilbert about puberty

Gilbert and Anderson were not close, but Gilbert and the actor who played Nellie Oleson, Alison Arngrim, were. They were best friends.

“Alison was my great source of information,” wrote Gilbert. “She made sure I noticed her boobs on the day they popped out.”

Then, a short time later, Oleson whispered to Gilbert that she had “a pillow between [her] legs.” Gilbert, initially, didn’t understand what her friend meant.

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“In my defense, I knew what it meant to get your period; I’d just never heard of a maxipad,” wrote Gilbert. “Luckily, Alison had provided a demo on tampons using a glass of water, given a lesson on hygiene, and demystified everything else by the time I got my period for the first time at fifteen.

“If she hadn’t, imagine how surprised I would’ve been when I told my mom that I got my period and she handed me a box full of things she’d said were for putting on makeup.”