Louisa May Alcott was born on November 29, 1832, in Germantown, Pennsylvania. When she was almost 2 years old, her family moved to Massachusetts, the state where she lived the bulk of her life. Louisa May Alcott's father, Amos Bronson Alcott, was an important—though controversial—man, both in his time and in his community. Although he was a loving father, he was not very responsible or practical, so Louisa's mother, Abigail May Alcott, filled the role of "head of household". Just like Jo, the protagonist in her Little Women, Louisa had three sisters—one older (Anna Bronson Alcott) and two younger (Elizabeth "Lizzie" Sewall Alcott and Abba May Alcott). And, much like Jo's sister Beth, Lizzie died at age 22 from complications of scarlet fever. But, unlike Jo, Louisa also had a little brother, who died as an infant.
Louisa May Alcott was a versatile writer who started at an early age. At the encouragement of her father, she kept a diary as a child—which probably helped her to discover her love and talent for writing and surely provided ideas later for her various plots and characters. As a teenager, Louisa wrote several plays, poems, and short stories. She achieved publication for the first time at age nineteen, with a poem entitled "Sunlight. Louisa May Alcott wrote her first novel, The Inheritance, at age seventeen, but it went unpublished for nearly 150 years until 1997, after two researchers stumbled across the handwritten manuscript in the Houghton Library at Harvard University. Of course, Ms. Alcott is best known for a different novel, Little Women, which she wrote in two parts. Like Jo in Little Women, Louisa also wrote many "blood and thunder" tales, which were published in popular periodicals of the day. She did not openly claim authorship for many of these Gothic thriller stories, however: for some, she used the pseudonym, "A. M. Barnard"; for others, she chose to remain completely anonymous.
Louisa May Alcott's career was not restricted to writing. Beginning in her late teens, she worked as a teacher for several years and off-and-on as a seamstress. In December of 1862, at age 30, she traveled to Washington, DC, to serve as a Civil War nurse at the Union Hotel Hospital in Georgetown. The following year, she re-wrote her letters detailing that experience, to form Hospital Sketches, which was published first serially and then as a book. And, in the winter of 1867/68, Ms. Alcott became the editor of Merry's Museum, a children's magazine. Louisa Alcott also was an avid social reformer. Abolition, temperance, and educational reform were among her chosen causes. But being a feminist at heart, she especially fought for women's rights, including suffrage. In fact, she was the first woman to register to vote in Concord. Unlike Jo in her Little Women, Louisa May Alcott never married. She died at age 55 on March 6, 1888, (two days after her father) and is buried on "Authors' Ridge" in Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, with her family. Nearby are the graves of her friends and mentors Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.
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