Louisa May Alcott Biography & Facts
Louisa May Alcott (; November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888) was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet best known as the author of the novel Little Women (1868) and its sequels Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886). Raised in New England by her transcendentalist parents, Abigail May and Amos Bronson Alcott, she grew up among many well-known intellectuals of the day, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.Alcott's family suffered from financial difficulties, and while she worked to help support the family from an early age, she also sought an outlet in writing. She began to receive critical success for her writing in the 1860s. Early in her career, she sometimes used pen names such as A. M. Barnard, under which she wrote lurid short stories and sensation novels for adults that focused on passion and revenge.Published in 1868, Little Women is set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts, and is loosely based on Alcott's childhood experiences with her three sisters, Abigail May Alcott Nieriker, Elizabeth Sewall Alcott, and Anna Alcott Pratt. The novel was well-received at the time and is still popular today among both children and adults. It has been adapted many times to stage, film, and television.
Alcott was an abolitionist and a feminist and remained unmarried throughout her life. All her life she was active in such reform movements as temperance and women's suffrage. She died from a stroke, two days after her father, in Boston on March 6, 1888.
Louisa May Alcott was born on November 29, 1832, in Germantown, which is now part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on her father's 33rd birthday. She was the daughter of transcendentalist and educator Amos Bronson Alcott and social worker Abby May and the second of four daughters: Anna Bronson Alcott was the eldest; Elizabeth Sewall Alcott and Abigail May Alcott were the two youngest. As a child, she was a tomboy who preferred boys’ games. The family moved to Boston in 1834, where Alcott's father established an experimental school and joined the Transcendental Club with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Bronson Alcott's opinions on education and tough views on child-rearing as well as his moments of mental instability shaped young Alcott's mind with a desire to achieve perfection, a goal of the transcendentalists. His attitudes towards Alcott's wild and independent behavior, and his inability to provide for his family, created conflict between Bronson Alcott and his wife and daughters. Abigail resented her husband's inability to recognize her sacrifices and related his thoughtlessness to the larger issue of the inequality of sexes. She passed this recognition and desire to redress wrongs done to women on to Louisa.
In 1840, after several setbacks with the school, the Alcott family moved to a cottage on 2 acres (0.81 ha) of land, situated along the Sudbury River in Concord, Massachusetts. The three years they spent at the rented Hosmer Cottage were described as idyllic. By 1843, the Alcott family moved, along with six other members of the Consociate Family, to the Utopian Fruitlands community for a brief interval in 1843–1844. After the collapse of the Utopian Fruitlands, they moved on to rented rooms and finally, with Abigail May Alcott's inheritance and financial help from Emerson, they purchased a homestead in Concord. They moved into the home they named "Hillside" on April 1, 1845, but had moved on by 1852 when it was sold to Nathaniel Hawthorne who renamed it The Wayside. Moving 22 times in 30 years, the Alcotts returned to Concord once again in 1857 and moved into Orchard House, a two-story clapboard farmhouse, in the spring of 1858.
Alcott's early education included lessons from the naturalist Henry David Thoreau who inspired her to write Thoreau's Flute based on her time at Walden Pond. Most of the education she received though, came from her father who was strict and believed in "the sweetness of self-denial." She also received some instruction from writers and educators such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, and Julia Ward Howe, all of whom were family friends. She later described these early years in a newspaper sketch entitled "Transcendental Wild Oats." The sketch was reprinted in the volume Silver Pitchers (1876), which relates the family's experiment in "plain living and high thinking" at Fruitlands.Poverty made it necessary for Alcott to go to work at an early age as a teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and writer. Her sisters also supported the family, working as seamstresses, while their mother took on social work among the Irish immigrants. Only the youngest, Abigail, was able to attend public school. Due to all of these pressures, writing became a creative and emotional outlet for Alcott. Her first book was Flower Fables (1849), a selection of tales originally written for Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Alcott is quoted as saying "I wish I was rich, I was good, and we were all a happy family this day" and was driven in life not to be poor.
In 1847, she and her family served as station masters on the Underground Railroad, when they housed a fugitive slave for one week and had discussions with Frederick Douglass. Alcott read and admired the "Declaration of Sentiments", published by the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights, advocating for women's suffrage and became the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Massachusetts in a school board election. The 1850s were hard times for the Alcotts, and in 1854 Louisa found solace at the Boston Theatre where she wrote The Rival Prima Donnas, which she later burned due to a quarrel between the actresses on who would play what role. At one point in 1857, unable to find work and filled with such despair, Alcott contemplated suicide. During that year, she read Elizabeth Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Brontë and found many parallels to her own life. In 1858, her younger sister Elizabeth died, and her older sister Anna married a man named John Pratt. This felt, to Alcott, to be a breaking up of their sisterhood.
As an adult, Alcott was an abolitionist and a feminist. In 1860, Alcott began writing for the Atlantic Monthly. When the Civil War broke out, she served as a nurse in the Union Hospital in Georgetown, DC, for six weeks in 1862–1863. She intended to serve three months as a nurse, but halfway through she contracted typhoid fever and became deathly ill, though she eventually recovered. Her letters home—revised and published in the Boston anti-slavery paper Commonwealth and collected as Hospital Sketches (1863, republished with additions in 1869)—brought her first critical recognition for her observations and humor. This was her first book and inspired by her army experience. She wrote about the mismanagement of hospitals and the indifferen.... Discover the Louisa May Alcott popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Louisa May Alcott books.