Louisa May Alcott is easily remembered as the author of the sweet coming of age novel about four sisters in Civil War era New England. It was based on her life and her family, but it left out a lot. Like poverty, consistent moving, a father with more lofty ideals than successful methods to deliver them, and writing a large body of work across many genres before she even sat down to write Little Women. Learning her story brings a deeper level of appreciation to all of her work and a good look into the era from a unique perspective.
Plus, it’s a great story of a determined, brilliant and brave woman. Lots to love.
Louisa was born on November 29th, 1832 on her father’s 33rd birthday. She was an active child; headstrong, clever, and did we mention active? She did have three sisters that she would later base her Little Women characters on, and the family moved over 30 times in Louisa’s childhood years. They settled down in Concord, Massachusetts, for a long stretch, but Papa was never good with money, started a (quickly) failed Transcendentalist Utopian community, and Mama Abigail (we call her “Abba” because she called herself that) took control of the family. But that meant a lot of hard work for all of the girls (except the baby, May…Amy in the books).
Louisa called this house, Orchard House, “Apple Slump” in a derogatory way, but this dessert looks very good (and we stopped looking when we found a recipe that called for bourbon because…duh.) Apple Slump Recipe, would be great noshing when you have a Little Women viewing party.
Louisa had her first published work at 22, then more romance, mystery and thrillers (think: Bodice Rippers) under her own name – and pseudonyms. She did an eye-opening stint as an Army nurse during the Civil War, wrote a successful series of stories about it when she came home, and was then asked to write a juvenile novel for girls.
So she did. And then she did several times more. It wasn’t that she loved writing any particular genre, she loved getting paid to write anything that sold.
Louisa also spent time and energy working on abolition, women’s suffrage and helping the impoverished. When her baby sister May died just after childbirth, Louisa took the child into her own home(s) and raised her.
Well, raised her until years of some mystery ailment (although signs seem to point to Lupus) sent her health into a spiral and she died (signs seem to point to a stroke) at the age of 55 on March 6, 1888…two days after her birthday-twin father died at 88.
Time Travel with The History Chicks
If you are in the Concord (it’s near Boston. Massachusetts) area, you really should stop by Louisa’s Orchard House museum, and if you’re like the rest of us and are too far away, you can take a virtual tour. Here’s a link to Louisa May Alcott Orchard House
And here you may as well go to Fruitlands, too…why not? You’re almost there anyway. Fruitlands Museum, Harvard Massachusetts.
Like books? Want to read some of the ones we’ve suggested over the years and talk about them with other listeners? Join our Goodreads Book Club!
Beckett’s suggested LM Alcott reading:
This one is available on Project Gutenberg so you can start reading right now! Louisa May Alcott: Her life, letters and journals
Transcendental Oats is also online for your reading pleasure.
If you are excited about reading Pilgrim’s Progress, it’s on Project Gutenberg, too! It starts with an Author Apology…ahhh, we’ve all read books that should have had one of those, amirite?
If you would like to join our private Facebook group, The History Chicks Podcast Lounge, here is a link and if you could answer the entry question when you knock on the door, it makes our lives just a little easier!
If you would like to join our listener run Goodreads Book Club and read some of the books that we have been recommending over the years and join in the discussion from the comfort of your own home, please do!