Eager to support the North, the budding author volunteered for a fledgling corps of female nurses
By Robert Sattelmeyer
Published Online: January 30, 2012
For generations of Americans, Louisa May Alcott has been revered as the author of Little Women (1868), the semi-autobiographical novel about four sisters living in Concord, Massachusetts, while their father served in the Civil War. In Little Women and its equally popular sequels, Alcott was clearly the model for her heroine, Jo March, the rebellious tomboy who grows up to be a writer. It’s no surprise, therefore, that she is chiefly remembered today as the author of children’s books. The real Louisa May Alcott was a much more complex and interesting figure. To earn a living she penned—under a pseudonym—lurid and even racy stories with titles like “Pauline’s Peril and Punishment” for popular magazines. In addition, she wrote serious novels for adults. But she was also a lifelong advocate for social reform, championing abolitionism as well as women’s rights. Perhaps the least well-known aspect of her surprising career is that she volunteered to serve as a nurse in the Civil War. She nearly died from a disease she contracted during that period, and she later wrote one of the first memoirs to draw the public’s attention to conditions in the military hospitals and chronicle the suffering endured by wounded soldiers . . .
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