Women in the Arts Series: Louisa May Alcott
Simply put, Louisa May Alcott is a true inspiration. She not only defied traditional gender notions and became one of the most celebrated authors in the 19th century, but she also fought for women’s rights and was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Connecticut.
Who is Louisa May Alcott?
Born in 1829 into a very progressive family, Louisa May Alcott got to enjoy a rather untraditional education for a woman at the time. Her father and teacher, Amos Bronson Alcott, who was also the leader of a transcendentalist commune, always pushed her to pursue her talent and become a writer.
Nonetheless, she did not come from a wealthy background. To financially support her family, Alcott started out her career writing sensation stories about murder, sex and drugs under the pseudonym AM Barnard. It was only in 1863, with the publication of her account of Civil War experiences called Hospital Sketches, that she began publishing under her own name thus manifesting her desire to become a serious writer.
Little Women: Her most celebrated work
Most of you will have heard of the novel Little Women, published in1868. Not only because of the recent adaptation in 2019 directed by Greta Gerwig, but also because it is part of many literature curricula. It is a novel about strong female heroines who stand up for themselves and pursue their dreams. At the time, it portrayed a realistic depiction of family life in the 19th century, a depiction that younger readers could relate to.
What many of you might not know, though, is that much of Little Women is based on Alcott’s childhood. When she was asked by her publisher Thomas Niles to write a book for young women, her mind immediately went to her own childhood. The four main characters, sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March are based on Alcott and her three sisters. The novel explores the sisters’ different personalities and destinies growing up while concurrently depicting a realistic picture of a modest family of 19th century New England.
After the publication of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott finally gained financial independence. This is also partially due to her publisher. In fact, if it hadn’t been for her publisher, Alcott would have probably sold her copyright rights to a publishing company which would have left her with little revenue from her own work. However, her publisher encouraged her to negotiate with the publishing house to keep the rights for herself, which resulted in her making a fortune from the book.
"An honest publisher and a lucky author, for the copyright made her fortune, and the ‘dull book’ was the first golden egg of the ugly duckling."
Alcott was, and still is, inspirational. She was an accomplished writer and demonstrated how women can have successful careers. In addition to this, she was hugely influential in her political endeavours. Of course, her choosing to keep the copyrights was a huge political statement, since it showed her self-conviction, but she was also a campaigner for women’s rights.
In fact, she was an open supporter of the suffragette movement and was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Connecticut in 1880. Even though the vote was only for the school committee, it was a huge step forward. In preparation for the vote, Alcott and her family even went door-to-door to encourage women to exercise their right to vote- it ended up having a total of 19 female voters.
Louisa May Alcott – what a woman. As much of an icon and inspiration in her times as she is nowadays. She showcases how important it is, particularly as a woman, to believe in yourself and fight for your rights. It may sometimes be hard but, as exemplified by Alcott, it is definitely worth it.
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Edited by Olena Strzelbicka