Louisa May Alcott: a Biography (02:55)
"Little Women" has been translated into over 50 languages and made into movies, musicals, operas, and anime. Ednah Dow Cheney wrote a simplified biography of Louisa May Alcott's life. The author wrote over two dozen books.
Louisa's Childhood (03:32)
Geraldine Brooks describes how Alcott modeled the four March sisters after herself and her siblings. Bronson Alcott moved the family to Boston to form his own school.
Bronson and Abigail Alcott (04:07)
While Abigail's family was wealthy and influential, Bronson was the son of a Connecticut farmer and self-educated. Ralph Waldo Emerson relied on the man's journals while writing "Nature." The Temple School closed down after the newspapers denounced Alcott's father for teaching sex education and admitting an African-American girl.
Moving to Fruitlands (02:58)
Bronson and Charles Lane created an experimental agrarian utopian community. Cotton, wool, and silk were forbidden on the property because of the founders' beliefs. Emerson worries how the family will fare in winter months.
Winter Sets In (03:35)
Lane starts to preach celibacy. Abigail decides to leave Fruitlands and after a long depression Bronson agrees to go with her. Alcott starts to worry about finances and desires to become wealthy one day.
House in Concord (04:18)
Emerson loans the family 500 dollars to purchase a home. Family friends included the Channings, Hawthornes, and Goodwins. Emerson loaned Alcott books from his personal collection.
Living in Concord (03:56)
Bronson reprimanded Alcott for being selfish. The family needed to take charity to survive and each member tried to contribute income. Abigail was far more volatile than docile Marmee.
Moving Back to Boston (03:29)
Abigail ran an employment office and Bronson gave talks. Louisa worked as a governess, companion, laundress, and teacher to support the family. They were nearly destitute and lived in a slum in Boston.
Starting Writing Career (02:10)
Alcott began to write while she worked as a seamstress, made ten dollars apiece on romantic stories, and had a brief stint as an actress. The family eventually moves back to Concord after Emerson loans them money.
Beth contracts Scarlet Fever and begs for ether; she dies at the age of 23. Alcott tries to find work in Boston. Listen to excerpts from "Work: a Story of Experience" and "Love and Self Love."
Anna Marries (02:53)
Alcott decides to remain a spinster because marriage was too restrictive. Fierce abolitionists, the Alcott's housed escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad. Alcott decides to work as a nurse during the Civil War.
Civil War Experience (05:08)
Listen to an excerpt of "Hospital Sketches." Alcott helped a soldier write a final letter to his mother before he died. Doctors treated her typhoid fever with Calomel, a type of mercury.
Typhoid Fever (04:12)
Bronson began to respect Alcott more because of her sacrifice. When she finally recovered, she did not recognize herself because the family had cut off her hair. Alcott wrote thrillers under a pseudonym and published "Hospital Sketches."
Writing Under a Pseudonym (02:05)
Leona Rostenberg discovered a letter from James R. Elliot requesting more stories. Pulp fiction paid more than other types of writing.
The author's first published novel generated negative criticism from Henry James, Jr. Alcott decides to accompany Anna Wells to Europe where she meets Ladislas Wisniewski, her inspiration for Laurie.
Romance in Paris (02:11)
Wisniewski accompanies Alcott to Paris. The two spend time together but eventually separate. Cheney believes the age difference could be the reason.
Needing Money (02:52)
Alcott wrote compulsively and would switch hands to keep from getting hand cramps, but she also suffered from depression. Merry's Museum offered the author a position as an editor with steady income.
"Little Women" (03:48)
Alcott decided to describe her youth and wrote the novel at Orchard House. Abigail made Alcott a glory cloak to help her stories flow. The author decided to keep the copyright.
A Literary Success (03:13)
Listen to critics' rave reviews of "Little Women." Alcott felt intense pressure to marry Jo to Laurie at the end of book two, but she refused. Now prosperous, the author attends the theater in New York and frequently acts.
Traveling To Europe (03:50)
Louisa and May go on a European Tour. A British physician prescribes a tonic to help her deteriorating health. When John Bridge Pratt dies, Alcott begins to write "Little Men."
Abigail's Health Deteriorates (02:38)
Alcott and Abigail insist that May remains in Europe to paint. Alcott begins to take opium to help ease the pain. Emerson informs the author of May's death from child bed fever.
Moving Back to Boston (03:20)
Bronson travels to the Midwest to gives lectures and suffers a severe stroke. Emerson informs Alcott of May's death from child bed fever. "Jo's Boys" took over seven years to write because the author was caring for her bedridden father and raising Lulu.
Alcott's Legacy (03:06)
Alcott made more money during her lifetime than Henry James and Herman Melville. Historians, experts, and fans discuss Alcott's contributions to the literary canon. The author inspired many future authors to write including Geraldine Brooks, J.K. Rowling, and Gloria Steinem.
Alcott's Last Days (04:12)
Alcott blamed mercury poisoning for her affliction, but experts believe it might have actually been an autoimmune disorder such as Lupus. Bronson died two days before the author.
Credits: Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (01:11)
Credits: Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women
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