Louisa May Alcott
Author of Little Women and
Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on November 29,1832. During her childhood the family moved to Concord, Massachusetts. Her father was the noted A. Bronson Alcott, the “Sage of Concord”, and intimate friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson. While he had a great mind, he was an idealist and didn’t regularly provide for his families necessities. Her mother, Abigail May was of old-line Boston stock, and was of prominent lineage. She was a woman of incredible stamina, wisdom, and love. She was a patient woman, as was much needed being married to an abstracted idealist . It was Abigail Alcott who kept the family together, encouraging the failing husband in his moments of depression, and making ends meet by accepting menial work. She became an inspiration and role model to the young Louisa. While much of her youth was lived in poverty, Louisa’s early surroundings were of a highly intellectual and literary character, and she naturally took to writing while she was very young.
Due to the family’s low income and the burdens of her mother, Louisa felt compelled to become a wage earner to help support the family, so she taught school, served as a governess, worked as a domestic servant, traveling companion, and took in work as a seamstress. She was later to use these experiences in her novels.
Becoming weary of menial tasks, she began to write sensational stories, such as thrillers, for the local papers which were financially lucrative. At this time she wrote mostly anonymously or using a pseudonym. But her conscience was not easy in this matter, and she abandoned the writing of such tales. Instead, she began writing from her experiences and her confidence began to grow.
In1865, Louisa became the companion to an invalid lady and traveled to Europe. This trip supplied her with material for ensuing travel pieces. Upon her return, she was again compelled to earn a wage, due to her families debts and needs, so she continued her writing. In 1867 she turned to the juvenile field and accepted the editorship of Merry’s Museum, a girls’ magazine. With accepting this job, she moved to Boston.
The following year, she was approached by the Roberts Brothers publishing firm to write a novel for adolescent girls along the lines of those for boys written by Oliver Optic. With her family’s encouragement, Louisa set to work on such a novel. She had keen powers of observation and a sensitivity to adolescence that proved to be a winning combination. She used her personal experiences and faith in God to form the plot of her book and the cast of characters for her novel came from her own family.
While her published works numbered more than 270 items, many of which were written for young girls, Louisa May is best known for the novel, Little Women, which was written in its entirety in only two six week periods. This story gives to us a charming and straightforward picture of nineteenth-century life, as seen through the eyes of an adolescent girl of the day. Miss Alcott is associated in the minds of many as Jo March, the tomboy heroine of Little Women.
Little Women was an immediate success. Letters poured in from thousands of young ladies who were touched by the book and especially the character of Jo March. It reached a sale of 87,000 in three years. Louisa followed up this work with An Old Fashioned Girl and Little Men. Other works that followed were Aunt Jo’s Scrap Bag, in six volumes, Modern Mephistopheles, Proverb Stories, Spinning Wheel Stories, Jo’s boys, and A Garland for Girls. She also wrote Hospital Sketches, which was her last record of her own experiences in ministering to the sick and wounded.
Miss Alcott had ambition and ability for a high grade of literary work. While she could have continued pursuing a lucrative career in sensational writing she was rewarded by following her conscience. She found true success as a writer of children’s stories, thus becoming a “moral guardian” to young girls the world over.