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Who is Louisa May Alcott?

By Kathy Hawkins
Updated May 23, 2024
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Louisa May Alcott is one of America's most famous female writers of the 1800s, primarily known for her classic novel, Little Women. She lived from 1832 until 1888, leaving behind an enduring legacy of literary works.

The daughter of a famous Transcendentalist, Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott spent much of her childhood and teenage years in Concord, Massachusetts. Her father was good friends with well-known writers including Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Louisa attended many dinners with them as a child, and grew to share their Transcendentalist ideals, which included an adherence to spiritualism and individuality.

As she grew up, Louisa May Alcott became a fierce advocate for women's rights, and fought to abolish slavery. At one point, in 1847, an escaped slave stayed with her family for a week. As an adult, she developed a strong interest in writing; her first novel, Flower Fables, was published in 1854.

Louisa May Alcott worked as a nurse in the Union Hospital during the Civil War for a six-week period. Her experiences in the hospital inspired her next book, which was a revised collection of the letters she sent to her family while working there. Under the pen name A.M. Barnard, Louisa May Alcott wrote numerous "potboiler" books, which featured headstrong, stubborn heroines who exacted revenge on anyone who crossed them. Though these books were considered low-brow, they were highly successful.

Louisa May Alcott's greatest success and fame, however, came with the release of her novel, Little Women. The story of four sisters and their mother in a New England town during the Civil War was based heavily on her own experiences growing up. The novel's protagonist, Jo, was based on Louisa May Alcott herself, as a strong, intelligent women. Jo is still recognized as an inspirational character for young women today.

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is widely recognized as a classic children's book. Today, it is frequently taught in schools and read at home. It has been made into a film many times, the last in 1994, with stars Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder.

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