The first volume of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved children’s book Little Women is published on this day. The novel will become Alcott’s first bestseller and a beloved children’s classic.
Like the fictional Jo March, Alcott was the second of four daughters. She was born in Pennsylvania but spent most of her life in Concord, Massachusetts, where her father, Bronson, associated with Transcendentalist thinkers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The liberal attitudes of the Transcendentalists left a strong mark on Louisa May Alcott. Her father started a school based on Transcendentalist teachings, but after six years it failed, and he was left unable to support the family. Louisa dedicated most of her life and writing to supporting her family. In 1852, her first story, the Rival Painters: A Tale of Rome, was published in a periodical, and she made a living off sentimental and melodramatic stories over the next two decades. In 1862, she worked as a nurse for Union troops in the Civil War until typhoid fever broke her health. She turned her experiences into Hospital Sketches (1863), which earned her a reputation as a serious literary writer.
Looking for a bestseller, a publisher asked Alcott to write a book for girls. Although reluctant at first, she poured her best talent into the work, and the first volume of the serialized novel Little Women became an instant success. She wrote a chapter a day for the second half of the book. Her subsequent children’s fiction, including Little Men (1871), An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870), Eight Cousins (1875), and Jo’s Boys (1886), were not as popular as Little Women. She also wrote many short stories for adults. She became a strong supporter of women’s issues and spent most of her life caring for her family’s financial, emotional, and physical needs. Her father died in March 1888, and she followed him just two days later at the age of 55.