Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

Louisa May Alcott (Photograph by A.W. Hosmer) (The Paul Brooks Collection)

On November 29, 1832, Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania. She was the second daughter of Amos Bronson and Abigail May Alcott.

In March 1840, the Alcott family moved to Concord. Louisa and her older sister Anna attended Concord Academy which Henry Thoreau and his brother John ran between 1838 and 1841.

At 10 years old, Louisa’s family moved to Fruitlands, a utopian society established by her father. After Fruitlands failed seven months later in January 1844, the Alcotts moved to Still River, just outside of Concord.

It is easy to find evidence of Louisa’s transcendentalist upbringing in her writing. At age twelve, Louisa wrote,

Running over the hills just at dawn one summer morning and pausing to rest in the silent woods, saw through the arch of trees, the sun rise over the river, hill, and wide green meadows as I never saw it before. Something born of the lovely hours, a happy mood and the unfolding aspirations of a child’s soul seemed to bring me very near to God; and in the hush of that morning house I always felt that I “got religion”…

The first book Louisa published was Flower Fables in 1854. Flower Fables is a collection of stories which Louisa originally wrote for Ellen, the daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The book begins with a quotation from Emerson’s Woodnotes.

As an adult, Louisa published her first full length novel, Moods, in 1864. It is a romance novel which she described as “odd, sentimental, and tragical.” Like Little Women, Moods is understood to be based largely on Louisa’s life. A romantic interest of the main character Sylvia Yule is a fictional version of Henry David Thoreau. Louisa writes that he was,

broad shouldered, strong limbed, and bronzed by wind and weather. A massive head covered with rings of ruddy brown hair, gray eyes, that seemed to pierce through all disguises, an imminent nose…Power, intellect, and courage were stamped on face and figure making him the manliest man Sylvia had ever seen.

Orchard House (The Paul Brooks Collection)

Fans of Little Women will know that much of the novel is based on Louisa’s youth. Orchard House is where Louisa wrote and set Little Women. However, many of the memories she includes in Little Women took place when the Alcott family lived next door in what became Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s Wayside. Louisa, like her fictional protagonist Jo, lost her sister two years after she had recovered from scarlet fever. When Elizabeth Alcott died, Emerson, Thoreau, Franklin Sanborn, and Anna’s friend John Pratt carried Elizabeth to her grave in Sleepy Hollow, a new Concord cemetery.

Years later, when Henry Thoreau died, Louisa composed a poem titled “Thoreau’s Flute.”

Louisa died March 6, 1888 just two days after her father passed away. She is buried alongside her family in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Texts by Louisa May Alcott

About Louisa May Alcott: