Woman of the Century/Louisa May Alcott

ALCOTT, Miss Louisa May, author, born in Germantown, Penn., 29th November, 1832. Her birthday was the anniversary of the birth of her father, the late A. Bronson Alcott, the "Sage of Concord." Louisa was the second of four daughters, only one of whom, Mrs. J. B. Pratt, is now living. Surrounded in childhood by an atmosphere of literature, she began to write at an early age, her reading including Shakespeare, Goethe, Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Miss Edgeworth and George Sand. Her first poem, "To a Robin," was written when she was eight years old. In 1838 the Alcott family removed to Boston, and she lived in or near that city until her death. Concord was longest her home. Their life in this latter town was interrupted by a year spent in an ideal community, "Fruitlands," in the town of Harvard, where they abstained from meat as food. The experience Miss Alcott described in an amusing sketch, "Transcendental Wild Oats." Returning to Concord, the Alcotts lived for a while in a house that was afterwards Hawthorne's home. Her father, a distinguished lecturer and teacher of his time, was one of the first to insist that gentleness was more influential than the rod, and to show that education should bring out the best that was in a child's nature, not simply cram a young mind with facts. Miss Alcott received her instructions chiefly from Henry Thoreau. Emerson was Mr. Alcott's most intimate friend, and very early in her life Miss Alcott became his favorite. When she was fifteen, Mr. Emerson loaned her a copy of "Wilhelm Meister," from the reading of which dated her life-long devotion to Goethe. At the age of sixteen Miss Alcott began to teach a little-school of twenty members, and continued to do work of this kind in various ways for fifteen years, although it was extremely distasteful to her, and at the same time she began to write stories for publication. Her first published book was "Flower Fables" (Boston, 1855). It was not successful. She continued to write for her own amusement in her spare hours, but devoted herself to helping her father and mother by teaching school, serving as nursery governess, and even at times sewing for a living. Many of the troubles of those early years have been referred to in the sorrows of Christie in her volume called "Work," published after her LOUISA MAY ALCOTT.jpgLOUISA MAY ALCOTT. name was widely known. After awhile she found there was money in sensational stories, and she wrote them in quick succession and sent them to many papers; but this style of writing soon wearied her and she had conscientious scruples about continuing it. In 1862 she became a nurse in the Washington hospitals and devoted herself to her duties there with conscientious zeal. In consequence, she became ill herself and narrowly escaped death by typhoid fever. While in Washington she wrote to her mother and sisters letters describing hospital life and experience, which were revised and published in book-form as "Hospital Sketches" (Boston, 1863). In that year she went to Europe as companion to an invalid woman, spending a year in Germany, Switzerland, Paris and London. Then followed "Moods" (1864); "Morning Glories, and Other Tales" (1867) "Proverb Stories" (1868). She then published "Little Women," 2 volumes, (1868), a story founded largely on incidents in the lives of her three sisters and herself at Concord. This book made its author famous. From its appearance until her death she was constantly held in public esteem, and the sale of her books has passed into many hundred thousands. Most of her stories were written while she resided in Concord, though she penned the manuscript in Boston, declaring that she could do her writing better in that city, so favorable to her genius and success. Following "Little Women" came "An Old-Fashioned Girl" (1870); "Little Men" (1871), the mere announcement of which brought an advance order from the dealers for 50,000 copies; the "Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag" (1871), 6 volumes; "Work" (1873); "Eight Cousins" (1875); "A Rose in Bloom" (1876); "Silver Pitchers and Independence" (1876); "Modern Mephistopheles," anonymously in the "No Name Series" (1877); "Under the Lilacs" (1878); "Jack and Jill" (1880); "Proverb Stories" a new edition revised, 1882), "Moods" a revised edition (1884); "Spinning-Wheel Stories" (1884); "Jo's Boys" (1886). This latest story was a sequel to "Little Men." "A Garland for Girls" (1887). With three exceptions her works were all published in Boston. Miss Alcott did not attempt a great diversity of subjects; almost everything she wrote told of scenes and incidents that had come within her personal knowledge. The sales of her books in the United States alone amount to over a half-million. Her "Little Women" reached a sale of 87,000 copies in less than three years. She wrote a few dainty poems, but never considered that her talents lay in versifying. Her death occurred 6th March, 1888, just two days after the death of her father. She was buried on 8th March in the old Sleepy Hollow graveyard in Concord, the funeral being a double one and attended only by the immediate relatives. Miss Alcott's will directed that all her unfinished manuscripts, including all letters written by her, should be burned unread.