Louisa May Alcott
November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888
American author Louisa May Alcott was born one of four sisters in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1832, but spent the majority of her life in Massachusetts. Her father, noted transcendentalist Amos Bronson Alcott, taught and experimented in communal living with his close friends Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The experiment, which was largely a failure, forced Alcott’s mother Abigail May Alcott, her sisters, and herself to assume the practical labor of running the community farm, while her father and his friends philosophized. Louisa, consequently, felt largely responsible for the financial needs of her family from a young age, and she taught, tutored, washed, mended, and performed whatever work she could find to support them. Even so, her father schooled her liberally, and she enjoyed frequent discourse with the men in his society, known today as the New England Transcendentalists, several of whom took an active role in her education. Bronson’s associations also introduced her to Margaret Fuller, who advocated women’s rights.
Louisa began writing early, and her financial needs led her to attempt publication. She published her first poem, “Sunlight,” in 1852 under the pseudonym Flora Fairfield. Her first book, Flower Fables, followed in 1855. She began Little Women in 1868, drawing largely on her experiences with her own sisters at her family home, Hillside, in Concord, Massachusetts, and completing the first manuscript in only two and a half months. Readers will recognize Beth in Louisa’s sister Lizzie, who contracted scarlet fever in 1856 and passed away later that year. Likewise, Meg seems to have been drawn from Louisa’s sister Anna, who married shortly after Lizzie’s death, breaking up the close-knit family.
Little Women chronicles the coming of age of the March family and the changes the sisters’ impending adulthood occasioned. Some speculate that Louisa drew the March family the way she wished her own family had been. At any rate, the book was a success and a sequel, Old Fashioned Girl, followed in 1870. At this point, her career blossomed. She published Little Men (1871), Work (1873), Eight Cousins (1874), and Rose in Bloom (1876). Her youngest sister, May, married in 1878, naming her first daughter after Louisa; when May died, Louisa became guardian to her namesake.
Alcott moved with her niece to her father’s hometown of Boston in 1880. There, she continued to support her family, including her father, with her writing skills. She published Jo’s Boys in 1886, which would be her last novel. Her health declining, she died the accomplished author of over 30 books, short stories, and poems, in 1888, at the age of 56, two days after the death of her father. She lies buried among other notable New England authors on Authors’ Ridge in Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.