Concord is not the only place where you can take a Little Women pilgrimage.
Last week Sylvia (a friend I met through the Summer Conversational Series) and I visited Swampscott, a small community on the North Shore next to the city of Lynn. It was here in August of 1857 that Abigail took Elizabeth for a summer sojourn in the vain hope that Lizzie would revive.
Louisa immortalized that visit in Little Women, chapter 36, “Beth’s Secret.”
Our visit took place on August 16. It turns out I have a letter, transcribed, from Lizzie dated exactly August 16, 1857! We were where Abba and Lizzie were, exactly 156 years later! I felt very strong emotions coming to Swampscott that day but not just because of Lizzie but also because my mother’s family, the Breeds, is one of the oldest families in Lynn and Swampscott. My mother grew up in Swampscott.
Here you can see what kinds of activities Lizzie enjoyed during her stay. I can see why she rallied but it was not to last. The weather unfortunately turned cold and rainy and the gains she had made when it was pleasant were lost.
Note regarding Swampscott and Lynn
Although Abba’s letters keep mentioning the city of Lynn, Lizzie and her mother were in fact in Swampscott, staying with relatives and also Wendell Phillips and his family (see Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother by Eve LaPlante, pg. 214, ebook). Sylvia, a former Swampscott resident, had corresponded with the local historian who was able to pinpoint exactly where the Phillips home had been.
Swampscott had only been incorporated as a town in 1852 and before then had been a part of Lynn since the 1600s. Lizzie mentions Phillips Beach which is in Swampscott.
The letter comes from the Amos Bronson Alcott Family Letters collection, Houghton Library MS Am 1130.9 (27).
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I had had a sick day, but I will write a line to you & give you my journal.
Monday 10. We came to Lynn, T[homas]. Sewall coming with us. Found everything pleasant & comfortable, I felt pleased with my quarters. Mrs. Phillips devoured Abbie’s picture & thought I was the image of her, & hugged me every few minutes. Took a cup of tea and salt fish for tea . In the evening Jessie hearing Abbie Alcott had come, came in to call, but was crushed. He is a quite a tidy bashful lad, & seemed greatly taken aback.
Tuesday 11. Rode out shopping with mother. Had a delightful ride into the town. Afternoon, worked on canvass with the girls a while, rested myself, & Katie & Joe came over. Had a restless night.
Wednesday 13. At eleven, glorious tide, took a bath, and had a grand time; much refreshed; laid down awhile. Auntie and Mr. Bond called a minute, thought me looking much better; walked on the Beach with Sara, & got some shells; lovely air, enjoyed myself.
Thursday 14. Rained, we sewed and read loud, quiet morning. Afternoon took a walk to Aunt Connie’s – Good day. Callers in evening.
Friday 15. Worked some, trimmed my hat, walked out; ate little. In the evening had a glorious sail on the water to Red Point, round Phillips Beach, sloop named “I tell ye. ” Got home and lay down. Sick night. Up and down.
Saturday 16. Sat idle all day; we moved into the chambers upstairs, airy and delightful; looks upon the water. Afternoon rode into town & back. Had a pretty good night.
Sunday 17. Lovely day, but sick & blue all day till evening. Saw Dr. Newall [Dr. Newhall] – new prescriptions, felt better. Began milk and magnesia. Lovely evening. They go to a lecture; mother & I … alone. Aunt Connie calls. I [made] a cap for Fred to smoke in. My first lesson in crochet – learning makes stitches. Mrs. Adams & Lydia (?) are here, pass of time. George & Willie are here, have not come yet. I have a lovely hat & I like the girls very much – Sara the best – Cady rigid & busy – I eat fish, & like it, chicken, mutton, milk & tea, am now stronger. Can enjoy walking some. The boat sales will be delightful, a good a time – air cool & fresh, blew in my lungs, & easily, it was glorious, whole family can go in the Dory. He is a fine charmer; much riding all the time, horseback, & vehicle, much going on, diverting for me & pleasant.
Can write no more, my eyes give out – Thanks for nice letters and lines all round. Goodbye, Lizzie.
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