Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Louisa M. Alcott
A dozen of us sat about the dinner-table at the Hotel Bellevue, Boston. One was the
gifted wife of a gifted clergyman; one had written two or three novels; one was a
journalist; one was on the eve of a long journey abroad; and one, whom we were all glad
to honor, was the brilliant author of Little Women. She had a womanly face, bright, gray
eyes, that looked full of merriment, and would not see the hard side of life, and an air of
common sense that made all defer to her judgment. She told witty stories of the many
who wrote her for advice or favors, and good-naturedly gave bits of her own personal
experience. Nearly twenty years before, I had seen her, just after her Hospital Sketches
were published, over which I, and thousands of others, had shed tears. Though but thirty
years old then, Miss Alcott looked frail and tired. That was the day of her struggle with
life. Now, at fifty, she looked happy and comfortable. The desire of her heart had been
realized,--to do good to tens of thousands, and earn enough money to care for those
whom she loved.
Louisa Alcott's life, like that of so many famous women, has been full of obstacles. She
was born in Germantown, Pa., Nov. 29, 1832, in the home of an extremely lovely mother
and cultivated father, Amos Bronson Alcott. Beginning life poor, his desire for
knowledge led him to obtain an education and become a teacher. In 1830 he married Miss
May, a descendant of the well-known Sewells and Quincys, of Boston. Louise Chandler
Moulton says, in her excellent sketch of Miss Alcott, "I have heard that the May family
were strongly opposed to the union of their beautiful daughter with the penniless teacher
and philosopher;" but he made a devoted husband, though poverty was long their guest.
For eleven years, mostly in Boston, he was the earnest and successful teacher. Margaret
Fuller was one of his assistants. Everybody respected his purity of life and his
scholarship. His kindness of heart made him opposed to corporal punishment, and in
favor of self-government. The world had not come then to his high ideal, but has been
creeping toward it ever since, until whipping, both in schools and homes, is fortunately
becoming one of the lost arts.
He believed in making studies interesting to pupils; not the dull, old-fashioned method of
learning by rote, whereby, when a hymn was taught, such as, "A Charge to keep I have,"
the children went home to repeat to their astonished mothers, "Eight yards to keep I
have," having learned by ear, with no knowledge of the meaning of the words. He had
friendly talks with his pupils on all great subjects; and some of these Miss Elizabeth
Peabody, the sister of Mrs. Hawthorne, so greatly enjoyed, that she took notes, and
compiled them in a book.
New England, always alive to any theological discussion, at once pronounced the book
unorthodox. Emerson had been through the same kind of a storm, and bravely came to
the defence of his friend. Another charge was laid at Mr. Alcott's door: he was willing to
admit colored children to his school, and such a thing was not countenanced, except by a
few fanatics(?) like Whittier, and Phillips, and Garrison. The heated newspaper