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Louisa May Alcott

poet, novelist

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on November 29, 1832. Her father was transcendentalist educator Amos Bronson Alcott, her mother was Abigail May Alcott, a social worker. The family, which also included three other daughters (Anna Bronson, Elizabeth Sewall, and Abigail May), moved to Concord, Massachusetts, in 1840, where their friends and neighbors included noted writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Henry David Thoreau, as well as William Ellery Channing, a prominent Unitarian minister. Although Amos Alcott did his best to provide for his family, he was constantly investing in idealistic projects that failed and the family was instead constantly in financial straits. While still quite young, Louisa did everything she could to help support her parents and sisters, including working as a seamstress, household servant, and teacher.

One of the ways Louisa earned money was by writing poetry and short stories for popular magazines. Her first book, Flower Fables (1854), consisted of a collection of fairy stories she made up to tell her students. She did not achieve real success, however, until publication of Hospital Sketches (1863), in which she wrote about her experiences as a nurse in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. All of Louisa's works up to and including Hospital Sketches were published under pen names, but the success of the latter book gave her the confidence to begin publishing works under her given name. Her first novel, Moods, was published in 1864. In 1868 she became editor of Mary's Museum, a magazine for little girls.

The same year Alcott began her editing job, a publisher urged her to write a book for little girls, and she reluctantly agreed to try. The result of her efforts was Little Women (1868-1869), which was an immediate success; her income from sales of the book provided financial security for Louisa's family. Alcott based Little Women on her own experiences, and the March family is largely her family; Jo March, the main character, is Louisa herself. Alcott continued the story of the March family in Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886). Her other books for young readers include An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870) and Eight Cousins (1874). She also wrote novels for adults, including Work (1873) and A Modern Mephistopheles (1877), but they were not as successful as her books for children.

In addition to writing, Alcott was also active in the woman suffrage and temperance movements. She died in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 6, 1888, and is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.


World Book Encyclopedia Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, Inc., 1979

Link of Interest

Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House

See Also

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Civil War

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The Robinson Library >> American Literature >> 19th Century

This page was last updated on September 15, 2018.