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Alcott in Her Own Time

A Biographical Chronicle of Her Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates

Daniel Shealy

Publication Year: 2005

By 1888, twenty years after the publication of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) was one of the most popular and successful authors America had yet produced. In her pre-Little Women days, she concocted blood-and-thunder tales for low wages; post-Little Women, she specialized in domestic novels and short stories for children. Collected here for the first time are the reminiscences of people who knew her, the majority of which have not been published since their original appearance in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Many of the printed recollections in this book appeared after Alcott became famous and showcase her as a literary lion, but others focus on her teen years, when she was living the life of Jo March; these intimate glimpses into the life of the Alcott family lead the reader to one conclusion: the family was happy, fun, and entertaining, very much like the fictional Marches. The recollections about an older and wealthier Alcott show a kind and generous, albeit outspoken, woman little changed by her money and status.

From Annie Sawyer Downs’s description of life in Concord to Anna Alcott Pratt’s recollections of the Alcott sisters’ acting days to Julian Hawthorne’s neighborly portrait of the Alcotts, the thirty-six recollections in this copiously illustrated volume tell the private and public story of a remarkable life.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page

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pp. vii-xviii

Late in her life, only months before her death in March 1888, Louisa May Alcott wrote her own recollections of her childhood. These were happy memories. Hard times appeared glossed over: no mention of the Fruitlands failure that almost broke up the family, only a passing nod to the Temple School episode that effectively ended her father’s teaching career. Now in her ...


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pp. xix-xxx

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[Reminiscences of a Childhood in Concord in the 1840s]

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pp. 1-4

Therefore to those acquainted with the circumstances, it does not appear surprising that so many remarkable persons were attracted to Concord, Massachusetts, between 1830 and 1880. The name of the town is itself significant of the character and aim of its founders. What appears to have been the most important factor in the fashioning of Concord character was the presence in...

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[Louisa May Alcott in 1860]

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pp. 5-6

Many of our literary townspeople were interested in our schools—Louisa Alcott often wrote verses for the High School when there was to be a public entertainment—I recall one verse of a little poem—"And one there comes among us . . . With counsels wise and mild, . . . With snow upon his forehead, ...

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[Louisa May Alcott in the Early 1860s]

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pp. 7-11

I first met Louisa M. Alcott, at a party given for my sister and myself, by Mrs.and Miss Thoreau, mother and sister of the late Henry D. Thoreau, in the early spring of 1860. A short story of hers had just been published in the Atlantic Monthly, and people had just “found her out,” and were congratulating her. I am sorry I have forgotten the name of the story. It was a fancy ...

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[A Visit to the Alcotts in 1864]

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pp. 12-14

I dont know when or how to begin my journal! Such a crowd& whirl of good time, & great events was never crammed into three days before! Three days! It seems a fortnight. I was last heard from I believe in the Concord cars, on the way to Miss Alcott at 7 in the morning. We got there at 81⁄2, & found Miss May Alcott &...

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[A Letter about Louisa May Alcott in London] (1866)

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pp. 15-16

I have also been piloting Miss Alcott of Concord, author of Moods and Hospital Sketches. She is a jolly Yankee girl, full of the old Nick and thoroughly posted on English literature so that it is great fun to take her about, as she appreciates all the literary associations. We have had some most ludicrous adventures in the old haunts of London. She had resolved to see the street in ...

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“A Letter from Miss Alcott’s Sister about ‘Little Women’ ” (1871)

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pp. 17-19

Dear Julia and Alice: From your note to Miss Alcott I infer that you are not aware that she is at present in Italy, having gone abroad in April last, with the intention of remaining a year or more, trying to get well. But knowing how pleased she would be with your friendly note, I think perhaps a word from sister “Meg” will be better than leaving it unanswered, and far better than that ...

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[Louisa May Alcott Visits the Sorosis Club in 1875]

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p. 20-20

Louisa M. Alcott may be credited with inventing a substitute for a speech. She visited the Sorosis the other day, and was formally presented to the Club by the president as the “most successful woman author in America,” and being on her feet told a little story. She said at Vassar College the girls, as usual, asked for a speech; and when she, also as usual, told them she never had and ...

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[A Letter about the Alcotts and Orchard House] (1876)

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pp. 21-22

I have been gadding unusually for me. I went to the meeting of the Free Religious Association, where I was sorely tempted to speak; because the only woman who did speak was so flippant and conceited, that I was ashamed of her. In the same excursion, I spent a day and night at Concord, with the Alcotts. Mrs. Alcott was a friend of my youth, and the sister of my dear friend ...

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[A Visit with Anna Alcott Pratt] (1878)

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pp. 23-26

I was very much pleased at receiving such a nice letter from you while I was in Medford, but thought I would not answer it till I had made my call on Mrs. Pratt and could tell you something about the “Little Women.” . . . Found Mrs. Pratt’s house without any difficulty, as it is very near the depot and the ticket-agent pointed it out for me from the doorway. She lives in a ...

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“Miss Alcott’s Birthplace” (1891)

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p. 27-27

Louisa May Alcott, authoress of “Little Women,” and other stories, was born Nov.29, 1832, in a house somewhat retired from the main street, and known as “The Pinery,” or “Pine Place,” owing to its being surrounded by pine trees and situated where the Post Office now stands, a few doors northwest of St. Luke’s Church. Here her father taught school, composed of children of ...

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“Mr. Alcott and His Daughters” (1882)

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pp. 28-31

The following account of the venerable Mr. A. Bronson Alcott, Emerson’s life-long friend, still living, in his eighty-third year, will be read with interest. His name is inseparably associated with that of his distinguished fellow-townsman. It is from a paper in the New York “Home Journal,” entitled “Literati at Concord,” November, 1874:—...

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“Recollections of My Childhood” (1888)

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pp. 32-39

One of my earliest memories is of playing with books in my father’s study. Building towers and bridges of the big dictionaries, looking at pictures, pretending to read, and scribbling on blank pages whenever pen or pencil could be found. Many of these first attempts at authorship still exist, and I often wonder if these childish plays did not influence my after life, since books have ...

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From Louisa May Alcott: A Souvenir (1888)

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pp. 40-41

Miss Alcott was a much more beautiful woman, before her illness, than one would perhaps judge from any portrait of her. These have not been notable successes, and once caused her to remark, “When I don’t look like the tragic muse, I look like a smoky relic of the great Boston fire.”Her face, with its strong, firm forehead, crowned with a wealth of beautiful ...

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“The Author of ‘Little Women’ ” (1888)

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pp. 42-46

In the year 186[4] two young women, sojourning a few days in Concord, sought out Miss Alcott, their old acquaintance and friend. The description of this meeting comes to memory with peculiar freshness, whenever I recall it, for the account of a congregation of three served as my introduction to the dear resident of the river town. The visitors found her easily and received a ...

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“The Alcotts” (1888)

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pp. 47-52

Twenty-five years ago, it was my fortune to spend nearly a year in the beautiful little village of Walpole, New Hampshire. Opposite my uncle’s house was a large and hospitable-looking mansion, in which dwelt a family widely known in that neighborhood for their generosity, as well as for their wealth. ...

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From Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters and Journals (1889)

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pp. 53-57

Miss Alcott’s appearance was striking and impressive rather than beautiful. Her figure was tall and well-proportioned, indicating strength and activity, and she walked with freedom and majesty. Her head was large, and her rich brown hair was long and luxuriant, giving a sense of fulness and richness of life to her massive features. While thoroughly unconventional, and even free ...

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“Recollections of Louisa May Alcott” (1892)

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pp. 58-73

No name in American literature has more thrilled the hearts of the young people of this generation than that of Louisa May Alcott. What a life of beneficence and self-abnegation was hers! How distinctively was her character an outcome of the best New England ancestry. In her veins ran the blood of the Quincys, the Mays, the Alcotts, and the Sewalls. What better inheritance ...

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“A Foreword by Meg” (1893)

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pp. 74-77

In the good old times, when “Little Women” worked and played together, the big garret was the scene of many dramatic revels. After a long day of teaching, sewing, and “helping mother,” the greatest delight of the girls was to transform themselves into queens, knights, and cavaliers of high degree, and ascend into a world of fancy and romance. Cinderella’s godmother waved her ...

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From Sketches from Concord and Appledore (1895)

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pp. 78-88

Mr. Alcott’s house in Concord was situated on the Lexington road about three-quarters of a mile from the village centre. It was the best-looking house almost in the town, being of simple but faultless architecture, while the others were mostly either too thin or too thick, or out of proportion in some way. It lacked a coat of fresh paint sometimes, but this was to its advantage from ...

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“When Louisa Alcott Was a Girl” (1898)

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pp. 89-99

In the year 1840 a remarkable family moved to Concord; high-minded, cultivated, exceedingly poor, despised by most persons, welcomed by one or two; apparently so ill fitted to fight the world’s fight that failure was sure. Yet they won, in the end, respect, recognition, success, and their name is honorably associated with that of the town. ...

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[Reminiscences of “Laurie”] (1901 and 1902)

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pp. 100-109

In the fall of 1857, I, a motherless boy of fifteen, landed in Concord, Massachusetts (a place I knew nothing of except its Revolutionary fame), and was enrolled as a student in the school taught by Mr.Frank B. Sanborn. I became a member of the family of Mr. Minot Pratt. With John, the second son, who had just returned from the West, and with Carrie, his only sister, I formed at ...

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From The Alcotts in Harvard (1902)

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pp. 110-123

Early in the summer of 1843, curiosity and interest were aroused in the minds of the inhabitants of the quiet town of Harvard, Massachusetts, by the advent among them of a small colony of that class of high thinkers who had received the name of Transcendentalists. The little colony, sixteen in all, comprised Bronson Alcott and nine other men, Mrs. Alcott, Miss Anna Page, and the ...

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From Bits of Gossip (1904)

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pp. 124-125

During my first visit to Boston in 1862, I saw at an evening reception a tall, thin young woman standing alone in a corner. She was plainly dressed, and had that watchful, defiant air with which the woman whose youth is slipping away is apt to face the world which has offered no place to her. Presently she came up to me. ...

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“A Concord Notebook: The Women of Concord—III. Louisa Alcott and Her Circle” (1906)

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pp. 126-132

The most famous of all the Concord women, in all parts of the earth, has long been Louisa Alcott, daughter of the philosopher Bronson Alcott, and commemorated by him in his volume of “Octogenarian Sonnets,” every one of which was composed after he was eighty and printed in his eighty-third year. Remembering her enthusiasm as a hospital nurse in the second year of the...

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From The Alcotts as I Knew Them (1909)

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pp. 133-144

In the spring of 1845 the usually tranquil neighborhood in Concord, Massachusetts, known as the “East Quarter,” was somewhat agitated by learning that Mr.A. Bronson Alcott had purchased a place in that part of the town, which he would occupy with his family. Previous to this he had been a citizen of the town long enough to acquire ...

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“Reminiscences of Louisa M. Alcott” (1912)

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pp. 145-152

The representation of Miss Alcott’s “Little Women” as a drama, in theaters from Buffalo westward, amid applause and appreciation, is a long-deferred tribute to the dramatic element in her gifted nature. This tendency to the melodramatic, which she began to manifest as a child, and which almost placed her on the stage as an actress in the mimic scenes that had attracted ...

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“The ‘Little Women’ of Long Ago” (1913)

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pp. 153-161

Although the librarians and the publishers tell us that the popularity of “Little Women” has never been on the wane, since the days when it was brought out, I find that the personal interest of its readers in the author has had a revival since the book has been dramatized and its characters have been brought to life upon the stage. As the only living descendant of Miss Alcott ...

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“Beth Alcott’s Playmate: A Glimpse of Concord Town in the Days of Little Women” (1913)

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pp. 162-168

When my grandchildren see the tears roll down my cheeks, as I read Little Women, they think I am just a little foolish and sentimental, because they don’t understand what it meant to me to follow my own old playmates, the Alcotts, and to experience again the sorrow and the grief that came to me with the death of the dearest of them, “Beth.” The children laugh and cry, ...

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From Alcott Memoirs (1915)

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pp. 169-182

A delicate boy of fourteen, I was journeying in early June, 1844, from Boston to Still River Village in the town of Harvard, in one of the lumbering stage-coaches which at that time had not been displaced by the steam railway, save upon a few important thoroughfares, to spend my long summer vacation as boarder in the home of a relative. ...

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From Across My Path: Memories of People I Have Known (1916)

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pp. 183-185

In 1869 “Little Women” came into the world and took by storm all young people and all people who had once been young. Miss Alcott had been known as a writer of fairy tales, had published a volume of “Flower Fables” and had contributed a number of stories to Boston journals. In 1863 she published her experiences in a war hospital, under the...

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[A Visit to Louisa May Alcott] (1917)

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pp. 186-187

In the course of his newspaper work Mr. [Russell H.] Conwell went out to Concord to interview Louisa M. Alcott. He rapped at the front door of the old-fashioned house, and someone, whom he took for the maid, came to the door. “I’d like to see Miss Alcott,” he said. “Come right in,” she said. “But please take my card to Miss Alcott. Perhaps she will not care to see a ...

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[Memories of the Alcott Family] (1922 and 1932)

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pp. 188-210

When in the 1860’s you thought of the Alcotts you thought of Louisa; and some malign wit said that she was her father’s best contribution to literature. Even before she wrote Little Women, she was eminent in her family, though none of the other members of it was negligible. She was a big, lovable, tender-hearted, generous girl, with black hair, thick and long, and flashing, humorous ...

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From Memories of Concord (1926)

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pp. 211-219

Two of the names that have added to Concord’s fame are those of A. Bronson and Louisa Alcott. Mr. Alcott was intended for a Plato, but set down on a barren New England hillside, where a living must be made by a profession, a trade, or hard manual labor. To none of these was our impractical philosopher adapted. Incapable of earning enough to pay rent or supply the needs of ...

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“Louisa May Alcott: By the Original ‘Goldilocks’” (1936)

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pp. 220-223

Since “Little Women” and “Little Men” have appeared on the screen, there has been such a revival of interest in Louisa May Alcott that it may be of interest to my readers to hear some personal reminiscences of her. I can remember her as far back as when I was a child of four or five for she then lived only a few doors from my grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. W. W. ...

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“Glimpses of the Real Louisa May Alcott” (1938)

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pp. 224-226

There are not many living who knew her well or have records of interest regarding her. It is possible that from an assortment which the present writer treasures some selections may add to the picture, real or mythical, of a woman who was great as well as beloved. . . . When, under the presidency of Mrs. Abby Morton Diaz, the author of ...

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“Miss Clara and Her Friend, Louisa” (1960)

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pp. 227-232

For many years while I was a very young girl I spent my summers with my grandmother at her home in Massachusetts. The small town in which she lived was like most New England villages at the turn of the century, ordered and peaceful and somewhat sedate. There were tall pure spires on the Wren churches around the Common in the center of the village and back from the ...


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pp. 233-240

Image Plates

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pp. 241-264

E-ISBN-13: 9781587295980
E-ISBN-10: 1587295989
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877459385
Print-ISBN-10: 087745938X

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2005

Edition: paper