Louisa May Alcott was not the only Alcott working off sexual energy

From Women and Health in America (first edition) there is this intriguing essay titled “What Ought to Be and What Was: Women’s Sexuality in the Nineteenth Century” by Carl N. Degler.

Quoting Dr Charles Taylor, 1882—

“It is not a matter of indifference whether a woman live a single or a married life … I do not for one moment wish to be understood as believing that an unmarried woman cannot exist in perfect health for I know she can. But the point is, that she must take pains for it.” “some other demand for the unemployed functions, must be established. Accumulated force must find an outlet …” (pg. 50)


Following the doctor’s orders

We already know that Louisa May Alcott channeled her tremendous energy into her creativity–writing. Louisa, however, was not the only physically vibrant and passionate Alcott sister. What about May?

May’s passion

owl by may alcott0001May, of course, was driven by her art, experimenting with many techniques (crayon, pastel, charcoal, clay, plaster, etc.). She covered the walls of her bedroom with pencil drawings of gods and goddesses while painting flowers by the desk where her sister Louisa wrote Little Women. She painted a Screech Owl, often seen in trees outside of Louisa’s window, on the mantle of her sister’s room.

Immortalized in Little Women


Louisa included a humorous story in Little Women of May’s alter ego, Amy making a plaster cast of her foot; unlike Amy, May did not get her foot stuck in the plaster. The foot is on display at Orchard House.

Serious ambition

Daniel Chester French en.wikipedia.org
Daniel Chester French en.wikipedia.org

May was often away in Boston taking art instruction and she taught students including Daniel Chester French. Within her was  serious ambition along with well-developed work ethic and a highly competitive spirit. Louisa would not be the only famous Alcott!

“Beautiful girl runner”


Dr. Taylor recommended exercise as an outlet for sexual energy, both of which Louisa and May employed. Louisa regularly took runs in the forest first thing in the morning before settling down to write–in fact, regular boarder Llewellyn Willis dubbed her “the most beautiful girl runner” he had ever seen. Louisa herself mused about being a horse in another life because of her love of running.


May kept right up, horseback riding and rowing (even alone while in England).

Visionary father

The Alcott sisters benefited from a father who was years ahead in his thinking. Bronson Alcott had always advocated physical exercise for his students and introduced gymnastics into the Concord schools when he was superintendent. All the girls were encouraged to take long walks (Louisa walked the 36 miles from Concord to Boston to attend a party and returned the same day, apparently with little effort.) and spend time outdoors in play.

May and Louisa threw themselves into their creative passions (and May had plenty left over to flirt with numerous admirers). They created lasting works of beauty. Dr. Taylor would have been proud.

A woman of zeal

Speaking of pouring themselves into their passions … their mother Abba also provided a compelling example. Consider how she emptied herself for her children, and the zeal by which she tackled her work as a missionary to the poor.

bronson-abbaAnd yet, Abba had plenty left over for her husband who, for a time, had a healthy sexual appetite. How did Abba feel about that?

Stay tuned …

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11 Replies to “Louisa May Alcott was not the only Alcott working off sexual energy”

  1. Oh yes, I was always sure May worked off her sexual energy with her art, and saw that she was much like Louisa in her love of certain sports, not like prissy Anna and delicate Lizzie. I’ve also been mulling over the fact that poor girls of those times couldn’t always marry so soon nor so easily as in Little Women. It seems they had to better themselves or make some kind of name for themselves before a worthwhile match came their way. Not easy. About the cast of the foot: how do we know that May didn’t have an episode like Amy’s the first time around? Maybe she had to attempt it two or three times before she got it right. Let me know what you think.

    1. The tour guides at Orchard House say that May never got her foot stuck when she made the plaster cast. Undoubtedly though it made a good beginning for a humorous story about Amy.

      1. Interesting, but how do they know? If I were May I’d get rid of the evidence and not write about it in my journal.

  2. Another thought re: Bronson’s view on exercise: Dr. Alec in Eight Cousins: good nutrition, no coffee, no pills; a girl needs EXERCISE, no corsets, fashion must follow psysiology; criticism of poor teaching, bad handwriting, bad spelling and grammar from being taught in “a Blimber hotbed, that turned out many a feminine Toots”. Fanny’s school was also criticized in An Old Fashioned Girl: “a fashionable school, where the young ladies were so busy with their French, German and Italian that there was no time for good English.” Louisa had a lot to say about education in nearly everything she wrote.

    1. As much as Louisa hated to teach, she certainly absorbed her father’s ideas, obviously thinking them to be quite worthy. Eight Cousins is a wonderful practical application of his views and we see how it turns Rose into a energetic, virtuous and purpose-filled young woman.

  3. I think Louisa hated teaching because she couldn’t do it her way. I wonder how Anna got through it…she did the most teaching for the longest time. It couldn’t have been much fun.

    1. Anna hated being away from home; I don’t think she minded teaching all that much. There was a point in Syracuse where she actually got over her homesickness and started to enjoy being away. As for Louisa, I think lack of patience was probably her problem.

      1. I never thought of that because she painted her teachers as such patient people; didn’t realize it could be wishful thinking. Then I didn’t think Anna was crazy about being away from home, but did it out of a sense of duty. I think she wanted to do financially what Louisa did later, but she was more limited and didn’t have aspirations to be a great writer or artist, and ultimately couldn’t move up as an actress due to her hearing loss. Are there any thoughts out there about what might have caused her hearing loss? Scarlet fever or genetics?

      2. Anna did what she did out of duty but she was a homebody at heart in my opinion. Oh yes, as a young girl she had longings to be great but they were just pipe dreams because she lacked the confidence and the will. I maintain that she actually was a greater rebel than Louisa as she truly broke away from the family to start her own. Louisa became the man of the family out of necessity but she was always tied to home.

        I am guessing the hearing loss was genetic because nothing is mentioned about any illness causing it in the reading I’ve done.

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