Little Women Makes a Big Splash

Lithograph of "Emiment Women" in 1884. Louisa May Alcott is seated in the center.

The first of two volumes of Little Women hit the bookshelves on September 30, 1868. The 2,000 copies in the first printing sold out quickly, and the publisher had trouble meeting demand. Thankfully, Alcott delivered the manuscript for the second volume to her publisher only three months later to whet the appetites of all those waiting with bated breath to find out what was to become of the March girls.

Although a great deal of the book is autobiographical, and the character of “Jo” is identified with Alcott herself, the author’s life was far more complex and darker than the book implies. National Public Radio aired a feature on Louisa May Alcott back in December of 2009 titled, aptly, “Not the Little Woman You Thought She Was”, which was written in conjunction with a new documentary on Alcott at the time that ran on PBS.

Much of the complexities of the Alcott household resulted from Louisa May’s father, Bronson Alcott, who was also, of course, a great thinker of the age, if not always a consistent provider for his family. Bronson Alcott was good friends with a number of important literary figures of the day, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A few items relating to both Alcotts can be found in MHS’s museum collection.


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