Louisa May Alcott
1832 - 1888
The Alcott Family Marker in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord MA
Louisa May Alcott is best known as the author of Little Women, the classic and still-loved children's novel based on her early family life in 19th century New England. Alcott was also the author of dozens of other popular works, an early supporter of women's suffrage, and a contemporary of Transcendental philosophers such as Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Emerson. Few know that she served in the Civil War as a nurse, and the author of a book about Civil War era nursing called Hospital Sketches.
The Alcott family were ardent abolitionists, and one of Alcott's early memories was of a 'Contraband' slave hiding in the family's home enroute to Canada on the Underground Railroad. When the Civil War broke out, Alcott was eager to aid the cause and at the age of thirty began service as a nurse at the Union Hospital at Georgetown in December, 1862.
After six weeks of service, she fell ill with typhoid pneumonia, nearly dying, and was returned home. Although she eventually recovered from the illness, its after effects and those of the mercury-based medication used to treat it left her with permanent pain and debility; in her own words, "I was never ill before this time and never well afterward". Alcott's book about her nursing experiences, Hospital Sketches, was published in 1863. According to Louisa, "the Sketches never made much money, but showed me 'my style', and taking the hint, I went where glory awaited me".
Glory came in 1868 with the publication of the phenomenally successful book Little Women. Louisa acknowledged that the success of this work arose from the fact that, like Hospital Sketches, it was taken from life. "We really lived most of it, and if it succeeds, that will be the reason of it".
As a proponent of human rights, a patriot, a spokesperson for children and families, and a nurse, Louisa May Alcott is aptly described, in the words of her father Bronson Alcott, as 'duty's faithful child'. She died on March 6, 1888 and is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord MA.
Photo of Louisa May Alcott's grave by Jo Ann Spears
Louisa May Aloctt by Ednah D. Cheney, Copyright 1980 by Chelsea House Publishers, reprint of the 1889 edition published by Roberts Brothers, Boston.