Sylvia Webb was a girl who was raped and died from injuries sustained in a fall from a ladder.
Sylvia was a 15-year-old girl who lived with her widowed father, Hector Webb. She had physically matured faster than most of her female classmates, and, as a result, attracted attention from several teenage boys in her classroom.
When Albert Ingalls, Willie Oleson, and his friends are caught peering through her bedroom window, Mrs. Olsen calls a board meeting and accuses Sylvia of teasing and luring boys over to her house. However, she is quickly overruled by the rest of the board when Charles Ingalls points out (without condoning) that school-age boys often try to sneak a peek at attractive girls out of natural curiosity, and they cannot blame Sylvia for it. Despite this, her father accuses her of enticing the boys and orders her to wrap herself more tightly under her clothes to conceal her budding breasts.Meanwhile, Albert admits that he participated in peeping through the windows, and was able to smooth things over with Sylvia when he defends her against several classroom boys who continue to tease her.
One afternoon, while walking home from school, Sylvia picks some flowers in a nearby meadow and woods, unaware that she's being observed. Sylvia is then seized from behind and raped by an unidentifiable assailant dressed in black and wearing a clown mask and knit cap (the rape taking place off camera). She eventually makes her way home, bruised and battered, and tells her father, Hector Webb, of the attack. Hector is unsympathetic, however, and is more concerned for his reputation than any injury to his daughter. He tells her not to tell anyone since no could know "of [this] disgrace" and leaves her to cry in her room.
Not long after, Sylvia collapses at school after being severely overworked by her father (much to the concern of fellow town citizens), and is brought to Dr. Baker by Laura and Albert. After examining her, Dr. Baker reveals that, in addition to her exhaustion, Sylvia is pregnant. That evening, Harriet Oleson, having eavesdropped on a telephone conversation between Doc Baker and Mr. Webb concerning Sylvia's situation, learns of Sylvia's pregnancy and begins spreading an unfounded rumor that Albert is the father. Meanwhile, Mr. Webb becomes deeply shamed and announces plans to sell the house and move out of the town. He tells Sylvia they need to leave to a town where no one knows them and to say, regarding her pregnancy, that her "husband" died in an accident. When Sylvia accuses him of blaming her for the attack, he confirms this by telling her that she "reaps what she sows" (meaning that she must face the consequences of "her" actions).
Meanwhile by then, Albert and Sylvia had become secretly romantically involved and Albert even wished to care for Sylvia as well as her child and to raise the baby as his own. When Mr. Webb finds out that Albert has been secretly visiting her, he threatens to kill Albert if he does so again. He then comes to believe Albert had fathered his daughter's baby and vows to kill him for it. When Sylvia begs her father not to hurt Albert, he calls her a whore and she runs away. Mr. Webb barges into the Ingalls' house with a gun, Albert swears that he did not get Sylvia pregnant.
Charles, Albert and Mr. Webb search for Sylvia, but Albert finds her first at an abandoned barn. The two resolve to run away together, and Albert leaves to make the arrangements. Albert is then caught stealing money from his employer, the local blacksmith, Irv Hartwig. As he pleads with Hartwig for his assistance in carrying out their plans, he discloses Sylvia's whereabouts to him.
At the abandoned barn, Sylvia is again attacked by her masked assailant. When Sylvia swings a piece of lumber at her attacker, the mask and cap are knocked off, revealing her assailant to be Irv Hartwig. As Hartwig pursues Sylvia up a ladder, he is grabbed from behind by Albert, though he easily throws Albert off. Sylvia falls from the ladder and loses consciousness. Hartwig, unconcerned that Sylvia has been injured, takes a piece of lumber and prepares to strike Albert. At that moment, however, he is shot and apparently killed by Mr. Webb.
That evening, under Dr. Baker's care, Sylvia requests to see Albert. Although (likely) knowing that Sylvia is near death, Albert tells Sylvia she got "lucky" and that she will soon recover. Albert then convinces her that the two of them will still get married. As she fantasizes about being married in a church and wearing yellow flowers for the wedding, she asks Albert to kiss her. After he does, Sylvia loses consciousness and dies. (Episode 717: Sylvia (Part 1), (Episode 718: Sylvia (Part 2))
Behind The Scenes
Sylvia Webb was played by Olivia Barash. Sixteen years of age when this episode was filmed (though Sylvia is fifteen), she was nominated for the Young Artist Award for Best Young Actress in a Television Series for this two-part episode.
While the characters of Laura and Sylvia were adult teacher and teenage student, the two actresses, Melissa Gilbert and Olivia Barash, are less than 9 months apart in age.