Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 Ц March 6, 1888) was an American novelist best known as author of the novel Little Women and its sequels Little Men and Jo's Boys. Raised by her transcendentalist parents, Abigail May and Amos Bronson Alcott in New England, she grew up among many of the well-known intellectuals of the day such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau. Nevertheless, her family suffered severe financial difficulties and Alcott worked to help support the family from an early age. She began to receive critical success for her writing in the 1860s. Early in her career, she sometimes used the pen name A. M. Barnard.
Published in 1868, Little Women is set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts and is loosely based on Alcott's childhood experiences with her three sisters. The novel was very well received and is still a popular children's novel today. Alcott was an abolitionist and a feminist. Never married, she died in Boston.
Alcott was born on November 29, 1832 in Germantown, which is now part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on her father's 33rd birthday. She was the daughter of transcendentalist and educator Amos Bronson Alcott and social worker Abby May and 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 1838, where Alcott's father established an experimental school and joined the Transcendental Club with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Bronson Alcott's opinions on education and tough views on child-rearing shaped young Alcott's mind with a desire to achieve perfection, a goal of the transcendentalists. His attitudes towards Alcott's sometimes wild and independent behavior, and his inability to provide for his family, sometimes created conflict between Bronson Alcott and h
s wife and daughters.
In 1840, after several setbacks with the school, the Alcott family moved to a cottage on 2 acres (8,100 m2) of land, situated along the Sudbury River in Concord, Massachusetts. The three years they spent at the rented Hosmer Cottage were described as idyllic. By 1843, the Alcott family moved, along with six other members of the Consociate Family, to the Utopian Fruitlands community for a brief interval in 1843Ц1844. After the collapse of the Utopian Fruitlands, they moved on to rented rooms and finally, with Abigail May Alcott's inheritance and financial help from Emerson, they purchased a house in Concord. They moved into the home they named "Hillside" on April 1, 1845.
Alcott's early education included lessons from the naturalist Henry David Thoreau, but she received the majority of her schooling from her father, who was strict and believed in "the sweetness of self-denial". She also received some instruction from writers and educators such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, all of whom were 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.
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 sisters also supported the family, working as seamstresses and governesses, while their mother took on social work among the Irish immigrants. Only the youngest, May, was able to attend public school. Due to all of these pressures, writing became a creative and emotional outlet for Alcott. Her first book was Flower Fables (1849), a selection of tales originally written for Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson.