Louisa May Alcott - Pine Place Historic Marker
Backstory and Context
About Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott's father, Amos Bronson Alcott (1799-1888), was an educator in Boston who moved to Philadelphia in 1830. He had been invited to the city by the Quaker Rueben Haines to help establish a progressive school at Pine Place, affiliated with Germantown Academy. The school promoted discussion and self-analysis over the more typical memorization and repetition of the day . Louisa's mother, Abigail May, who kept extensive journals all her life, assisted at the school. The Alcotts also lived at Pine Place, and on Amos' thirty-third birthday, Louisa was born there on November 29, 1832 [2; 3]. Her elder sister Anna had been born a year earlier at a nearby boarding house . After Rueben Haines' death, the school eventually failed, and Amos opened Alcott's School. However, only a year later the family moved back to Boston, and Louisa was raised primarily in Boston and Concord, along with her sisters, Anna, Elizabeth, and May [2; 3; 4]. The Alcotts were friends with transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and worked with them as part of the Underground Railroad. Amos helped found William Lloyd Garrison’s Preliminary Anti-Slavery Society and allowed an African American girl to attend his school in Massachusetts, despite white parents' objections [3; 4]. Abigail was also an active abolitionist, and had been a member of Philadelphia's Female Anti-Slavery Committee .
The family struggled with poverty, and at 15 years old, Louisa (already passionately involved in writing) swore to help her family and achieve wealth and fame before her death. She worked as a teacher, seamstress, governess, and household servant—the only acceptable employments for a woman at the time—while writing and publishing poetry and short stories in magazines under the pen name A. M. Bernard . She used her mother's initials and a masculine-sounding last name because women's writing was not considered serious at the time . When she was 22 years old, her first book, Flower Fables (1854), was published; she went on to write nearly 300 stories, novels, poems, and articles, including writing anti-slavery articles for The Atlantic and publishing her most famous novel, Little Women (1868), which she wrote when her publisher asked her to write "a book for girls," . During the Civil War, she served the Union as a nurse in Washington, D.C., though she would have preferred to fight alongside the men, according to her journals. On the basis of her experience, she published Hospital Sketches in 1863 [3; 4]. While working as a nurse, she became ill herself and got mercury poisoning during treatment. Permanent damage to her nervous system resulted, and may have contributed to her death. Louisa never married, though she had offers, and spent her life helping her family, the cause of abolition, and the women's suffrage movement. After the death of her sister, she also raised her niece .
Around 1880, Louisa spent a week in her hometown of Philadelphia, where she visited Germantown Academy to the delight of the girls attending. Louisa's father died on March 4, 1888, and, at age 55, Louisa died two days later, on March 6. She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, near Emerson and Thoreau's graves [3; 4]. She had written up to the day of her death. The Germantown Historical Society at 5501 Germantown Avenue holds books and other materials related to her life and works .
Historic Marker Inscription:
Louisa May Alcott
The author of “Little Women” was born here at “Pine Place,”
Nov. 29, 1832, to the educator Bronson Alcott and his wife Abigail. An
abolitionist, Civil War nurse, and suffragist, she wrote children’s books and Gothic thrillers. The Alcotts lived in this county, 1830-34 .