Biography of Louisa May Alcott

By Radiyah Shakur

Louisa May AlcottLouisa May Alcott is perhaps most famous for writing Little Women, a novel which is partially autobiographical and has shaped the way many women since the Victorian era have defined womanhood, family, and girlhood.

Louisa Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on November 29, 1832. Her father Amos Bronson Alcott was a teacher and transcendentalist philosopher, and her mother a social worker and reformer.

Writing was an early passion for Louisa, who had a rich imagination. She enjoyed acting out plays, which she had written, with her sisters. Spending her childhood in Boston and in Concord, Massachusetts, Louisa spent time with family friends Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

At age 15, troubled by the poverty that plagued her family, Louisa took on a variety of jobs. She and her older sister Anna taught small children and mended and washed laundry. For years Louisa took on any work she could find.
Louisa’s career as an author began with poetry and short stories that appeared in popular magazines. In 1854, when she was 22, her first book Flower Fables was published. Among other publications, Alcott wrote Hospital Sketches in 1863 based on the letters she had written home from her post as a nurse in Washington, DC during the Civil War.

When Louisa was 35 years old, her publisher Thomas Niles told her he wanted her to write "a book for girls." This was the turning point in Louisa’s literary career. She wrote fervently for two and a half months and produced Little Women, set in Civil War New England, based on her own experiences of growing up as a young woman with three other sisters. The novel, published September 30, 1868, featured Jo March as the first American juvenile heroine to act from her own individuality rather than the idealized stereotype then dominant in children’s fiction.

In all, Alcott published over 30 books and collections of stories. Although she is widely known as a juvenile writer, she also published stories that explored themes of self expression and women's rights.

Louisa May Alcott died on March 6, 1888, only two days after her father, and is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.


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