Alcott Family and Little Women


Transcendentalism, abolitionism, temperance, vegetarianism,
women’s rights, Fruitlands, poverty: these topics
will be examined in the enduring story of Little Women
and the unique family behind it.

Louisa May Alcott was 36 years old when she wrote
Little Women. When her publisher asked her to write
a book for girls, Louisa claimed she knew “little about
any but my own sisters & always preferring boys,” as a
tepid excuse. Dubbing her work in progress The Pathetic
, the name she often applied to her own family,
Alcott created the loving March family of genteel poverty
in Concord, Massachusetts, during the Civil War. The
history of the Alcott family was not quite so idyllic: it was
one of grueling poverty.

Her idealistic, impractical father, Bronson, was never
very good at earning a living for his wife, Abigail, and his
four daughters. This meant that Abigail, Louisa, and her
older sister, Anna, went out to work to support the family.
Louisa recounted her many jobs in her novel, Work. Her
father’s failed commune, Fruitlands, nearly tore the family
apart. Louisa recounted this episode in Transcendental
Wild Oats
, a comic satire of a supposed Eden.

This class will attempt to show the various influences on
Louisa May Alcott’s life. Her father’s notions of education
reform were ahead of his time. As a member of the
Transcendentalist circle of Concord, Bronson’s daughter
had some unique advantages. She had the run of Ralph
Waldo Emerson’s library. Along with other Concord
children, she explored the woods with Henry David
Thoreau. Emerson and Thoreau served as models for
characters in her novel, Moods.

Louisa met the feminist writer Margaret Fuller, whose
ideas on women’s rights and autonomy are evident in
many of Alcott’s writings. Her favorite uncle, Samuel
Joseph May, was an early, active abolitionist. The
Alcotts embraced the reform movements of the 19th
century and lived them.

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