Marmee, the Mother of Little Women

Thanks to the advice of a reader (much appreciated, Gina!), I’ve started reading Marmee, the Mother of Little Women by Sandford Meddick Salyor. Certainly you cannot look at the life of Louisa May Alcott without looking at her parents. There are plenty of works on Bronson but not that much on Abba (“Marmee”).  This 1949 biography reads well and I’m enjoying it so far.

Abba’s father, Colonel May

The book begins by discussing Abba’s childhood. Her father, Colonel May, was a charismatic and well-loved figure. His involvement with the blossoming Unitarian movement and the Rev. James Freeman, a founder of the movement, is noted with a plaque at historic King’s Chapel in Boston. Termed “liberal Christianity” by Salyor, Freeman, a well-loved pastor of the chapel for many years, rejected belief in the Trinity and changed the liturgical service by removing all references to the Trinity and replacing them with God the Father (see wikipedia). Colonel May, a fine singer, was the power behind The Hymnal, published in 1799 for use in the chapel.

Personal connection

King’s Chapel holds a personal memory for  me as my best childhood friend was memorialized there. Kate Ross, an up-and-coming historical mystery writer whose series based on English dandy Julian Kestrel had won acclaim, died all too early from breast cancer. She was the most magical playmate a girl could ever have. We’d spend hours conjuring up imaginary characters and then acting out stories impromptu. We wrote a very melodramatic (and now hysterically funny) play called “Apache Captives” for our girl scout troop.

I always knew Kate would be a writer. Even though she studied ancient Greek at Wellesley College and got her law degree at Yale, I knew she would write. We drifted apart as childhood friends do, but years later, my husband rushed home to tell me Kate was the on the radio! She was on a talk show with the now late David Brudnoy (a legendary talk show host) so I called in! We reconnected on the radio. Later we saw each other and had a wonderful visit. I have her last novel, The Devil in Music, in my library.

Even as I write this, I can see the early appeal Louisa May Alcott had for me with her flair for plays and drama. I loved doing that too. Kate was my Louisa and I was her Anna.

Talent passed down

Later on in the book Salyor describes Colonel May’s artistry as a conversationalist, attracting most particularly the children of the neighborhood to come and listen to his stories.  He would vividly act out characters and I could see immediately where Louisa got her talent.

There was much musical talent in the family – Colonel May with his deep bass, Sam (Abba’s brother) with his tenor, Louisa (her older sister) with a dazzling soprano, and Abba with her alto. Undoubtedly this is where Lizzie got her musical talent. Not much is said about just how accomplished she was but the talent certainly ran deep in the family.

I’m looking forward to getting deeper in this book!


6 Replies to “Marmee, the Mother of Little Women”

  1. I don’t know the book “Transcendental Wife” — please tell us about it.

    I want to read Marmee. The biographers make much of Bronson Alcott’s character and his influence on Louisa, but in LMA’s fiction it is mostly wise, mother-type female characters who give support and advice.

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