On this day, the Saturday Evening Gazette publishes “The Rival Painters: A Story of Rome,” by Louisa May Alcott, who will later write the beloved children’s book Little Women (1868).
Alcott, the second of four daughters, was born in Pennsylvania but spent most of her life in Concord, Massachusetts. Her father, Bronson, was close friends with Transcendentalist thinkers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, whose progressive attitudes toward education and social issues left a strong mark on Louisa. Her father started a school based on Transcendentalist teachings, but after six years it failed, and he was unable to support the family and, afterward, Louisa dedicated most of her life to supporting them. After the publication of her first story, she made a living off sentimental and melodramatic stories for more than two decades.
In 1862 she went to work 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 established her reputation as a serious literary writer.
Looking for a bestseller, a publisher asked Alcott to write a book for girls. Although reluctant at first, Alcott finally agreed and poured her best talent into the work. The first volume of the serialized novel Little Women was an immediate success, and she began writing a chapter a day to finish the second. Her subsequent children’s fiction, including Little Men (1871), An Old-fashioned Girl (1870), Eight Cousins (1875), and Jo’s Boys (1886), while not as popular as Little Women, are still enjoyed today. 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 financially, emotionally, and physically. Her father died in March 1888, and she followed him just two days later.