"Father asked us what was God's noblest work. Anna said men, but I said babies. Men are often bad, but babies never are." -- Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 — March 6, 1888) was an American novelist. She is best known for the novel Little Women, set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, and published in 1868. This novel is loosely based on her childhood experiences with her three sisters.
"A faithful friend is a strong defense; And he that hath found him hath found a treasure.""A little kingdom I possess, where thoughts and feelings dwell; And very hard the task I find of governing it well.""Conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long; even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty.""Do the things you know, and you shall learn the truth you need to know.""Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.""Girls are so queer you never know what they mean. They say No when they mean Yes, and drive a man out of his wits for the fun of it.""Good books, like good friends, are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable.""Happy is the son whose faith in his mother remains unchallenged.""Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.""He who believes is strong; he who doubts is weak. Strong convictions precede great actions.""Housekeeping ain't no joke.""I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.""I like to help women help themselves, as that is, in my opinion, the best way to settle the woman question. Whatever we can do and do well we have a right to, and I don't think any one will deny us.""I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship.""It takes people a long time to learn the difference between talent and genius, especially ambitious young men and women.""It takes two flints to make a fire.""Let my name stand among those who are willing to bear ridicule and reproach for the truth's sake, and so earn some right to rejoice when the victory is won.""Love is a great beautifier.""Money is the root of all evil, and yet it is such a useful root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can without potatoes.""Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us - and those around us - more effectively. Look for the learning.""People don't have fortunes left them in that style nowadays; men have to work and women to marry for money. It's a dreadfully unjust world.""She had a womanly instinct that clothes possess an influence more powerful over many than the worth of character or the magic of manners."""Stay" is a charming word in a friend's vocabulary.""We all have our own life to pursue, our own kind of dream to be weaving, and we all have the power to make wishes come true, as long as we keep believing.""What do girls do who haven't any mothers to help them through their troubles?""Women have been called queens for a long time, but the kingdom given them isn't worth ruling.""Work is and always has been my salvation and I thank the Lord for it.""You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long, and the great charm of all power is modesty."
Alcott was the daughter of noted transcendentalist and educator Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail May Alcott. She shared a birthday with her father on November 29, 1832. In a letter to his brother-in-law, Samuel Joseph May, a noted abolitionist, her father wrote: "It is with great pleasure that I announce to you the birth of my second daughter...born about half-past 12 this morning, on my [33rd] birthday." Though of New England heritage, she was born in Germantown, which is currently part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the second of four daughters: Anna Bronson Alcott was the eldest; Elizabeth Sewall Alcott and Abigail May Alcott were the two youngest. The family moved to Boston in 1834, After the family moved to Massachusetts, Alcott's father established an experimental school and joined the Transcendental Club with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
In 1840, after several setbacks with the school, the Alcott family moved to a cottage on of land, situated along the Sudbury River in Concord, Massachusetts. The Alcott family moved to the Utopian Fruitlands community for a brief interval in 1843-1844 and then, after its collapse, to rented rooms and finally to a house in Concord purchased with her mother's inheritance and financial help from Emerson. They moved into the home they named "Hillside" on April 1, 1845.
Alcott's early education included lessons from the naturalist Henry David Thoreau. She received the majority of her schooling from her father. She received some instruction also from writers and educators such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, who were all 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.
As an adult, Alcott was an abolitionist and a feminist. In 1847, the family housed a fugitive slave for one week. In 1848, Alcott read and admired the "Declaration of Sentiments" published by the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights.
Poverty made it necessary for Alcott to go to work at an early age as an occasional teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and writer. Her first book was Flower Fables (1849), a selection of tales originally written for Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1860, Alcott began writing for the Atlantic Monthly. When the American Civil War broke out, she served as a nurse in the Union Hospital at Georgetown, D.C., for six weeks in 1862-1863. Her letters home – revised and published in the Commonwealth and collected as Hospital Sketches (1863, republished with additions in 1869) – garnered her first critical recognition for her observations and humor. Her novel Moods (1864), based on her own experience, was also promising.
She also wrote passionate, fiery novels and sensational stories under the nom de plume A. M. Barnard. Among these are A Long Fatal Love Chase and Pauline's Passion and Punishment. Her protagonists for these tales are willful and relentless in their pursuit of their own aims, which often include revenge on those who have humiliated or thwarted them. Written in a style which was wildly popular at the time, these works achieved immediate commercial success.
Alcott produced wholesome stories for children also, and after their positive reception, she did not generally return to creating works for adults. Adult-oriented exceptions include the anonymous novelette A Modern Mephistopheles (1875), which attracted suspicion that it was written by Julian Hawthorne; and the semi-autobiographical tale Work (1873).
Alcott's literary success arrived with the publication by the Roberts Brothers of the first part of Little Women: or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, (1868) a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood with her sisters in Concord, Massachusetts. Part two, or Part Second, also known as Good Wives, (1869) followed the March sisters into adulthood and their respective marriages. Little Men (1871) detailed Jo's life at the Plumfield School that she founded with her husband Professor Bhaer at the conclusion of Part Two of Little Women.Jo's Boys (1886) completed the "March Family Saga."
In "Little Women," Alcott based her heroine "Jo" on herself. But whereas Jo marries at the end of the story, Alcott remained single throughout her life. She explained her "spinsterhood" in an interview with Louise Chandler Moulton, "... because I have fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man." However, Alcott's romance while in Europe with Ladislas Wisniewski, "Laddie," was detailed in her journals but then deleted by Alcott herself before her death. Alcott identified Laddie as the model for Laurie in Little Women, and there is strong evidence this was the significant emotional and likely sexual relationship of her life.
In 1879 her younger sister, May, died. Alcott took in May's daughter, Louisa May Nieriker ("Lulu"), who was two years old. The baby had been named after her aunt, but was nicknamed Lulu, whereas Louisa May's nicknames were "Weed" and "Louy."
In her later life, Alcott became an advocate for women's suffrage and was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Massachusetts, in a school board election.
Alcott, along with Elizabeth Stoddard, Rebecca Harding Davis, Anne Moncure Crane, and others, were part of a group of female authors during the Gilded Age who addressed women’s issues in a modern and candid manner. Their works were, as one newspaper columnist of the period commented, "among the decided 'signs of the times'" (“Review 2 — No Title” from The Radical, May 1868, see References below).
Alcott, who continued to write until her death, suffered chronic health problems in her later years. She and her earliest biographers attributed her illness and death to mercury poisoning: during her American Civil War service, Alcott contracted typhoid fever and was treated with a compound containing mercury. Recent analysis of Alcott's illness suggests that mercury poisoning was not the culprit. Alcott's chronic health problems may be associated with an autoimmune disease, not acute mercury exposure. Moreover, a late portrait of Alcott shows on her cheeks rashes characteristic of lupus. Alcott died of a stroke in Boston, on March 6, 1888, at age 55, two days after visiting her father's deathbed. Her last words were "Is it not meningitis?"
The story of her life and career was told initially in Ednah D. Cheney's Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters and Journals (Boston, 1889) and then in Madeleine B. Stern's seminal biography Louisa May Alcott (University of Oklahoma Press, 1950). In 2008, John Matteson won the Pulitzer Prize in Biography for his first book, Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father. Harriet Reisen's biography, "Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women," was published in 2009, and includes the most extensive primary source material (much discovered since Stern's biography), including Madelon Bedell's unpublished notes of interviews with Lulu before Lulu's death. The children's biography Invincible Louisa written by Cornelia Meigs received the Newbery Award in 1934 for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.