Women and Adversity:
Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Little Women, The story of the four March sisters, which she based on her own family, is close to my heart because I have two sisters. My mother had four sisters, so growing up I saw interaction between my mother and aunts as well as experiencing firsthand interaction with my own sisters.
As the oldest daughter——we have an older brother——I was in charge on the domestic front: serious, bookish, authoritarian. My sister, Diane, was the free spirit who could handle difficult situations with aplomb, as she continues to do. Paula, the youngest, looked up to us and took steps to follow in our footsteps. She always sought perfection and continues to do that. The three of us can identify with Little Women. Louisa was born on November 29, 1832 in Germantown, PA but the family made their home in Boston and Concord, MA. Her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, a teacher and philosopher, educated his daughters and had literary friends, including Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
As Little Women opens, the March sisters’ father is fighting in the Civil War and Meg says, “It’s so dreadful to be poor!”
Louisa had determined at a young age that she was going to help the family escape poverty. “…I’ll be rich and famous and happy before I die…,” she says. She held several jobs to help support the family: teacher, domestic servant, seamstress. During the Civil War she worked as a nurse.
Starting around 1851, her poems, short stories and other works were published under the pen name Flora Fairfield. In 1863 she wrote Hospital Sketches, which convinced her to make writing her career. The publication of Little Women, in 1868 and then Part II in 1869, made Louisa financially independent.
She published short story and poem collections and more than 30 books. She was an abolitionist and feminist, never married and died on March 6, 1888 in Boston after suffering a stroke. Her father had died just two days before. She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord where her father and mother are buried.
Send comments on your experiences growing up with sisters——or growing up without a sister below in the comment section or at email@example.com.
If you would like to guest post about having sisters or being a sister, send me an email.
PBS is airing Little Women May 13. Check local listings
Next Time: Beverly Sills