Saturday, September 3, 2011

Women of Achievement: Louisa May Alcott

One of the most beloved books of my youth, Little Women, was written by Louisa May Alcott. The story chronicled the lives of four sisters. Louisa May Alcott pulled me into their world. Blessed with a vivid imagination and the drive to shine, Ms Alcott wanted to be famous from an early age.

When writing a story I love to create women characters that are strong, willful, stubborn, loyala woman just like Louisa May Alcott. The irony of writing about strong willful women in historicals is that it was difficult for women with these characteristics in the past. Women were looked down upon during this time if opinionated and independent. 
Although I’m not certain whether it was a conscious choice for Louisa to be different, I’m confident she chose to be herself. Perhaps it was being one of four sisters that drove her. Perhaps it was growing up in poverty. Perhaps it was her ambition. Whatever the reason, I believe because of her strength and determination she was able to achieve much in her life, leaving behind a legacy to be admired.

Her father might not have provided well for the material needs of his family, he did have connections. The Alcotts were within the inner circle of the Transcendentalist movement. Louisa’s father, Bronson, was best friends to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The influence of these men on her writing is undeniable, but writing wasn’t Louisa’s first plan to become rich and famous.
Louisa wanted to become an actress. Knowing that Little Women was based loosely on her on life and ‘Jo’ fashioned on herself, this information isn’t shocking. It is also not shocking to discover that her fame and fortune came from writing. What I found most fascinating and admirable was Louisa herself.
Louisa May Alcott was a woman of action and much more than an author. Louisa was a staunch abolitionist and supported racial equality. Saying this, one needs to remember the times Louisa grew up in. Abolitionists weren’t popular anywhere. Remember Louisa was raised outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Even there abolitionists were only tolerated. Most people of the era, even those who opposed slavery, still considered themselves above slaves even if they were free. Louisa’s family was part of the Underground Railroad. At times, her family hid runaway slaves in their home.

When the Civil War broke out, Louisa served as a nurse in the army. She tended patients in Washington. She assisted patients even holding the hands of soldiers dying from long and painful deaths. Her nursing these soldiers cost her her own health. She contracted typhoid fever and was treated for it with calomel (a mercury derivative) which hurt her physically and affected her for the rest of her life.

After she made her fame and fortune, Louisa set up a home for orphaned newsboys and told stories to the needy. She campaigned for women’s suffrage. She vowed when she was younger to be rich, and famous, and happy before I die. She fulfilled that vow and took on her family’s financial burden.

Louisa never married although there are rumors of a romance with a young man called “Laddie” when she was in Europe. We will never know for certain because she took that part out of her journal. One of Louisa’s friend Julian Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son, said about Louisa. “Did she ever have a love affair? We never knew; yet how could a nature so imaginative, romantic and passionate escape it?”

Because Louisa took on the financial responsibility for her family, marrying would have caused a dilemma for her. A woman at that time would have become a shadow of her husband with no economic or legal identity. Did she sacrifice herself for her family? That I can’t answer.

Louisa’s fortune was set with the publication of Little Women when she was 35. She had finally achieved the fame and fortune she had sought.
She died twenty years later and is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery by her parents. It is also the resting place of other notables such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Elizabeth Alcott.

She is renowned for her writings, but she was much more than an author. She was a woman of action. One to be long admired for her achievements.

You will find my next release, The Judas Kiss, out this coming January with Whiskey Creek Press. A historical romance. I’m excited because it’s the first in the Tides of Charleston series. You will find my other books, Dream Walker and Patriot Secrets, at most ebook stores. Follow me on Facebook- Novel Works is my fan page where I recommend books, authors, blogs… I’m also on Twitter @jhines340.


R.Wright said...

I love Little Women! I did know that Louisa May Alcott wrote it loosely around her life, but I didn't know what an amazing life she lead.

Barbara Edwards said...

Great blog about a wonderful author. I read Little Women as a girl and wanted to be Jo. Thanks for sharing.

Brenda Whiteside said...

Jerri - Thanks for this. So interesting and wow, I didn't know she was such an accomplished woman. Didn't know what she looked like either.

Jerri Hines/Carrie James-Haynes said...

The more I found out about her, the more I admired her. I can't imagine back in that time accomplishing what she did.

Karyn Good said...

Little Women was one of my most adored books growing up. I had no idea Louisa May Alcott led such a fascinating life!

Jannine Gallant said...

What a great blog! You've got to figure a strong woman produced such a strong and enduring book.

Jerri Hines/Carrie James-Haynes said...

I really love her spirit and determination. She took a lot on her shoulders.

Alison H. said...

This was fascinating, Jerri. I knew some of these things about Louisa but you really fleshed out her life. Thanks!

Vonnie Davis said...

Very interesting and educational post. She was a woman who left her imprint, no doubt about that. Strong women rule. ;-)

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Jerri,
Creeping out of my sick bed here. Great blog. Louisa was obviously a woman before her time. Little Women was one of my all time favourite novels. Loved Jo's boys too.



Laura Breck said...

I didn't realize the Alcotts were abolutionists. Thanks for the great history lesson!