I remember picking up a well-worn copy of Little Women when I was nine years old. I remember being enchanted with Jo’s story, running up to my room to write and play, eventually reading the book so veraciously the cover came off in my hands.
Many years and countless readings later, I consider myself an extreme fan of everything March. This extreme fandom includes an annual holiday viewing of the 1994 film adaptation (Susan Sarandon as Marmee, Winona Ryder as Jo, CHRISTIAN BALE AS LAURIE COME ON PEOPLE) during which I quote every line through tears of joy/sadness.
[“THEY’RE NOT EMPTY NOW” – Jo, and also me, quietly sobbing on the couch.]
Being a Little Women connoisseur also means I fangirl over the novel’s author, the fascinating Louisa May Alcott. A lovely writer, a fierce and ferocious feminist, and an inspiring historical figure, LMA was a force to be reckoned with.
Today we celebrate Louisa’s 273rd birthday, so here are 273 facts you may not know about the acclaimed author.
I’m obviously not doing that.
BUT here are just twelve facts about this amazing woman who wrote one of our most beloved books of all time, as well as a link to buy a wonderful biography to get the final 261.
- Louisa May Alcott was born Nov 29, 1832 in Pennsylvania on her father’s 33rd birthday.
- Louisa’s dad Bronson Alcott was a famous transcendentalist in his own right, known for big ideas that didn’t always pan out. Her mother was Abigail May, a social worker.
- Louisa grew up among her father’s contemporaries, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. (All of these guys are buried together on Author’s Ridge in the famous Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, along with Louisa herself.)
- Other family friends included Nathaniel Hawthorne and Margaret Fuller, also some of Louisa’s first teachers.
- Louisa was always involved in political and social causes. She was even the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Mass!
- Both Louisa and her sister loved acting and theater, and at one point her youth, Louisa wanted to be a professional actor.
- She and her family once served as station masters on the Underground Railroad and were staunch abolitionists and feminists.
- Like the characters in Little Women, Louisa and her family knew poverty. Bronson’s goals for his transcendentalist school and other philosophic endeavors didn’t always succeed as he hoped, leaving the family to fend for themselves. The family was constantly moving, and they often received help and housing from Thoreau and Emerson.
- Louisa worked as a teacher, seamstress, and governess before earning a living as a writer.
- Louisa loosely based the characters in Little Women off her own family, the character of Jo serving as a representation of Louisa herself. Plus you can visit Orchard House in real life!
- Little Women was originally published as two books, Little Women and Good Wives. The end of Little Women left the world wondering if Laurie and Jo would end up together. (Still my biggest beef with the story, as Laurie was my first fictional love.) When the followup was published, readers were crushed. But Louisa stood by her beliefs, stating in her journal: “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life. I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.” BOOM.
- While she is best known for Little Women, Louisa wrote over 30 books and short story collections, as well as essays and poetry.
There are many biographies out there with way more than just 12 facts about this revolutionary woman. If you want to read a GREAT one, I recommend Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen. It reads like an engaging fiction novel, giving you historical insight as well as personal history. One of the only biographies I’ve ever read that I just couldn’t put down, the book also digs into Louisa’s relationship with her mother Abigail, proving strong, creative women ran her family.
I also recommend visiting Orchard House if you’re ever around the Boston/Concord area!
<—Here’s a photo of yours truly sitting on the steps of Orchard House.
Did I cry when I saw the desk at which she penned Little Women? Yes. Yes, I did. Did I cry the whole time kind of?
Yes. Yes, I did.
Point is, literature and young women the world over owe a lot to LMA. Happy Birthday, Louisa May Alcott! We love you!