Little Women: You may cherish the book, have a favorite film adaptation, and consider yourself a Jo, Meg, Beth, or Amy…but how much do you know about Little Women‘s author, Louisa May Alcott? Here are 7 amazing facts about the truly fascinating woman who was, in so many ways, ahead of her time!
She wrote lurid, sensational stories before Little Women.
Like her heroine Jo March, Louisa May Alcott wrote, published, and supported her family with what she called “blood and thunder tales”—gothic thrillers with names like “Pauline’s Passion and Punishment” and A Long Fatal Love Chase—before turning to her autobiographical and family-savory subject material. She published under the androgynous pseudonym A.M. Barnard.
Little Women draws heavily from Alcott's own life.
Louisa May Alcott took inspiration from her childhood memories and family members, basing Little Women‘s Meg on her oldest sister, Anna (an actress, who met her own “John Brooke”, John Bridge Pratt, playing opposite him in local theatre production). Alcott’s third sister, the gentle Lizzie (Elizabeth), contracted scarlet fever from a poor family she was helping, and died two years later, weakened despite her recovery, like her fictional counterpart Beth March. She was just 22. The youngest, May (Abigail), was an ambitious artist like Amy. And Alcott herself was a tomboy, a writer, an independent woman, like Jo March. But it was Alcott, not her father, who went to the Civil War; she enlisted as a nurse, but sadly, contracted typhoid fever during her service, and was plagued with health problems (long attributed to the mercury compound used to treat her illness, but in more recent years, speculated to be from the autoimmune disease lupus) for the remainder of her life.
Louisa May Alcott didn't initially want to write Little Women!
When asked by the publisher Thomas Niles to write a book for girls, she acquiesced, writing in her journal: “Marmee, Anna, and May all approve my plan. So I plod away, though I don’t enjoy this sort of thing. Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters; but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it.”
She wrote Little Women in under three months.
In fact, Louisa May Alcott wrote the first half—402 pages—in less than six weeks!
The "marriage plot" didn't interest her…In fiction or in life!
It’s telling that the woman who famously said, “I’d rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe” wrote in her journal, “Girls write to ask who the little women will marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman’s life…”
Louisa May Alcott was an abolitionist.
Her father, Bronson Alcott, founded an abolitionist society in 1850, and Alcott’s childhood home, The Wayside residence in Concord, Massachusetts, was a stop for fugitive enslaved people on the Underground Railroad. Of her Civil War service as a nurse, Alcott wrote, “My greatest pride is that I lived to know the brave men and women who did so much for the cause, and that I had a very small share in the war which put an end to a great wrong.”
Louisa May Alcott was an early American feminist.
She was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, when women were given school, tax, and bond suffrage in Massachusetts, in 1879. In 1881, she wrote to Thomas Niles, “I can remember when Anti-slavery was in just the same state that Suffrage is now, and take more pride in the very small help we Alcotts could give than I all the books I ever wrote…”
Watch The True Story of Little Women and Amy’s Art to learn more about Louisa May Alcott, her family, and her inspirations, straight from the Alcott’s family home in Concord, Massachusetts, Orchard House.
And don’t miss the May 13 premiere of Little Women at a special time—8/7c—on MASTERPIECE! #LittleWomenPBS