The Real-Life Inspirations of Little Women
Whether you’re watching MASTERPIECE’s Little Women or one of the many, many others, you’ll find the March family at the core of each and every iteration of the beloved story of sisterhood and community. Although the March family is fictional, the characters—including the four sisters whose stories have captivated generations of girls—are heavily based on Louisa May Alcott’s real-life family. Get acquainted (or re-acquainted) with the Marches and the Alcotts, two families with big hearts and incredible stories.
Father March - Bronson Alcott
Louisa based the character of Father March off of her own father, Bronson Alcott. Both men were idealistic, scholarly, and passionate about helping their fellow man. While Father March served as a chaplain during the Civil War, Bronson Alcott never served in the Union Army–though he was a vocal abolitionist (Louisa was the only one in her immediate family to serve during the war, as a nurse). Perhaps Bronson Alcott’s greatest contribution was as an educator; he was part of the early Transcendentalist movement in America, and an “experimental” educator known for a progressive teaching approach.
Marmee March - Abby May Alcott
The real March family matriarch was just as caring, strong, and capable as the beloved, fictional Marmee March. Abby May Alcott was both a loving mother and a social-minded activist. She and Bronson Alcott served in the Underground Railroad, and Abby May vocally supported the women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements. Just like Marmee, Abby May was also very encouraging of her daughters’ talents, including May’s (Amy) art career and Louisa’s (Jo) desire to be an author.
Meg March - Anna Alcott
Anna Alcott, or Meg March in Little Women, was the the oldest daughter Alcott family, noted for her patience, femininity, and dutifulness. Just as in Little Women, Anna Alcott loved performing in plays that her sister wrote. Although Anna married a fellow member of her drama group–not a neighborhood tutor–the couple did wed in the Alcotts’ home. Louisa’s description of Meg’s wedding relied heavily on her real account of Anna’s wedding at Orchard House.
Jo March - Louisa Alcott
Bold, brash, and unconventional–Jo March and Louisa May Alcott were one and the same. An aspiring author with a hot temper, the heroine of Little Women was admittedly modeled after Louisa. Both women were fiercely independent, physically active, and unhappy with the lot of women in their society. The most glaring difference between them was that Louisa remained a spinster, while Jo married; this was likely, in part, due to the public outcry after the first part of Little Women was published.
Beth March - Beth Alcott
A tragic case of art imitating life, both Beth March and Beth (Elizabeth) Alcott died from illness at a young age. Like her namesake character, the real Beth was shy, sweet, and loved playing her piano. She also contracted scarlet fever when helping a poor family, a testament to her kind, sacrificial nature.
Amy March - May Alcott
The youngest in both families, Amy March–or May Alcott–was a talented artist. She was the first woman to have work displayed at the Paris Salon, and acted as tutor and mentor to American sculptor Daniel Chester French, who went on to create the Lincoln Memorial. Although Jo and Amy had a complicated relationship in Little Women, Louisa and May appear to have been much more amiable–May illustrated the first edition of Little Women, and after Louisa sold her novel, she used her earnings to bring May on a trip to Europe.
You can learn more about the real Amy’s art in this MASTERPIECE video!
Watch Maya Hawke as Jo, Jonah Hauer-King as Laurie, Katherine Newton as Amy, plus Emily Watson, Angela Landsbury, and Michael Gambon as seen on MASTERPIECE in Little Women on PBS Passport, an added member benefit.