On November 29, 1832 Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, PA. Alcott grew up in Boston and Concord, MA, at a time when girls were not expected or encouraged to become educated. With only meager teachings from her father, Alcott became determined to learn. She visited neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson to study his books, went on nature excursions with Henry David Thoreau, and associated with Nathanial Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, and Julia Ward Howe. Due to the family’s poverty, Alcott went to work at a young age as a seamstress, tutor, governess or any job she could find. But she was unwavering in her desire to become something great and said “… I will make a battering-ram of my head and make my way through this rough and tumble world.”
Alcott began her writing career by getting poetry and short stories published in magazines. When the Civil War broke out, she worked as a nurse in Washington DC, during which time she wrote many letters to her family. Alcott collected these letters at the end of the war and they were published as a memoir called Hospital Sketches. This milestone in her writing career led her to believe she could be a serious writer. After she published a novel called Moods in 1864, her publisher asked her to write a book for girls.
Alcott’s Little Women was received with great acclaim in 1868. It was based on her family dynamics, and the lead character Jo was a reflection of herself. The novel allowed her both financial success and the ability to keep writing. After Little Women, Alcott wrote many more novels, such as Jo’s Boys and Little Men, which were well-received, but never quite as popular as Little Women.
Alcott never married. She spoke of her spinsterhood saying “I am more than half-persuaded that I am a man’s soul put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body … because I have fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man.” When her sister died in childbirth, Alcott became guardian of her niece. She also adopted her sister’s son, and cared for both children until her own death.
Alcott was never sure she wanted to write a children’s novel, and was skeptical of her abilities in that genre. However, before publication, “the completed manuscript was shown to several girls, who agreed it was ‘splendid.’” Alcott said, “they are the best critics, so I should definitely be satisfied.”
Alcott died on March 6th, 1888, and is buried in Concord on “Author’s Ridge,” near Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau.