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Who was Louisa May Alcott?

Updated on December 2, 2016

Amos Bronson Alcott

American educator and Transcendentalist philosopher and father of Louisa May Alcott. Born near Wolcott, Conn., Nov. 29, 1799. Died Boston, Mass., March. 4, 1888.

Alcott believed that education should stimulate a child's imagination. In 1834 he founded the Temple School in Boston, where he put into practice his liberal ideas on education. Considered revolutionary at that time, the school's program minimized punishment and included organized play, gymnastics, and an honor system. The program urged respect for the child's intelligence and potentialities. However, Alcott's theories were regarded with suspicion, and the school failed.

Early in 1840, Alcott and his family moved to Concord, Mass., where he became a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1844, Alcott founded the shortlived cooperative community Fruitlands near Harvard, Mass. He was unable to make the farm prosper and abandoned it within a year.

An idealist with little business sense, Alcott was beset by financial problems for much of his life. His family lived in poverty until 1868, when his daughter Louisa May published the first part of her famous novel Little Women.

Louisa May Alcott, American author. Born Germantown (now part of Philadelphia), Pa., Nov. 29, 1832. Died Boston, Mass., March 6, 1888.

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the most widely read novels ever written for young people. The book is memorable for its warmth and glowing humor and for its vivid portraits of the four devoted sisters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March. Jo, the spirited tomboy and the most striking of the sisters, is generally thought to represent the author.

Like the "little women" in her novel, Louisa and her three sisters enjoyed a happy family life despite financial handicaps. Their father, Amos Bronson Alcott, was a well-known educator and philosopher, whose career was marked by great personal prestige but constant financial difficulties. His children adored him and were educated by him at home. In 1840 the Alcotts moved to Concord, Mass., where Louisa came to know Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

While still in her teens, Louisa began to help support the family by teaching, sewing, and doing housework. She also began to write short stories, but her early pieces were overly melodramatic and few were sold. In 1855 she published her first volume of stories, Flower Fables. However, she did not win recognition as a writer until the publication of Hospital Sketches (1863). This book was a collection of excerpts from her letters written during her service as a Civil War nurse.

Miss Alcott's first novel, Moods (1864), was not a great success, but the money it brought enabled her to travel to Europe. During the trip she decided to follow the suggestion of her publisher and write a book for girls based on her childhood experiences. The two successive volumes of Little Women (1868-1869) were the result. These met with such enthusiasm from the public that she continued the story of the March family in Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886).

Miss Alcott wrote one novel for adults, Work (1873), an autobiographical account of a woman's efforts to support a family. Her other popular juvenile books include An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870), Eight Cousins (1875), Under the Lilacs (1878), and Jack and Jill (1880). All of them were successful but none achieved the overwhelming acclaim and enduring popularity of Little Women.

In 1975, Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott was published. This book contains four of the thrillers that Miss Alcott wrote during the 1860's under the name of A. M. Barnard.

Although the profits from Little Women eased her money worries, Miss Alcott remained the sole support of her family for the rest of her life. Her writing and charitable work left her little time for friends, and she never married. She died at the age of 55, two days after the death of her father.


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      CarinaLamendola 7 years ago

      I do a radio show about biographies. good job!