Description for visually impaired readers: image of a beach in background with white waves and sea to the right. White writing says: I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship” Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on November 29, 1832. She and her sisters Anna, Elizabeth, and [Abba] May were educated by their father, teacher/philosopher A. Bronson Alcott, and raised on the practical Christianity of their mother, Abigail May.
Louisa spent her childhood in Boston and in Concord, Massachusetts, where her days were enlightened by visits to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s library, excursions into nature with Henry David Thoreau, and theatricals in the barn at “Hillside” (now Hawthorne’s “Wayside”).
Like the character of “Jo March” in Little Women, young Louisa was a tomboy: “No boy could be my friend till I had beaten him in a race,” she claimed, “and no girl if she refused to climb trees, leap fences …”
For Louisa, writing was an early passion. She had a rich imagination and her stories often became the basis of melodramas that she and her sisters would act out for friends. Louisa preferred to play the “lurid” parts in these plays –“the villains, ghosts, bandits, and disdainful queens.”
At age 15, troubled by the poverty plaguing her family, she vowed that she “will do something by and by. Don’t care what, teach, sew, act, write, anything to help the family; and I’ll be rich and famous and happy before I die, see if I won’t!”
Confronting a society that offered little opportunity to women seeking employment, Louisa nonetheless persisted: “… I will make a battering-ram of my head and make my way through this rough and tumble world.” Whether as a teacher, seamstress, governess, or household servant, for many years Louisa did any work she could find.
Louisa’s career as an author began with poetry and short stories that appeared in popular magazines. In 1854, when she was 22, her first book, Flower Fables, was published. A milestone along her literary path was Hospital Sketches (1863), a truthful and poignant account of her service as a Civial War nurse in Washington, DC based on letters she wrote home to her family in Concord.
When Louisa was 35 years old, her publisher, Thomas Niles, asked her to write “a book for girls.” The 492 pages of Little Women, Part I were dashed off by Louisa at the desk her father built for her in Orchard House in less than three months 1868. The novel is largely based on the coming of age stories of Louisa and her sisters, with many of the domestic experiences inspired by events that actually took place at Orchard House.
Virtually overnight, Little Women was a phenomenal success, primarily for its timeless storytelling with the first American juvenile heroine, “Jo March,” who acted from her own individuality — a free-thinking, flawed person rather than the idealized stereotype of perfection then prevalent in children’s fiction.
In all, Louisa published over 30 books and collections of short stories and poems. She died on March 6, 1888, only two days after her father, and is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, MA.