I am currently preparing for a presentation I will be giving about Victorian domestic life as seen through the living experiences of the Alcotts. For me the most fascinating period of that part of their history are the Boston years (1848-1855) where they essentially existed as nomads. Their dwellings ranged from cheap rented rooms and small houses in the South End slums to mansions owned by rich family relations. Eve LaPlante in her book, Marmee and Louisa, stated that the family moved so often during those years that the girls no longer unpacked their trunks (pages 153-154). In her short story, “Recollections of My Childhood,” Louisa described their move to the city in this way:
“My sisters and I had cherished fine dreams of a home in the city; but when we found ourselves in a small house at the South End with not a tree in sight, only a back yard to play in, and no money to buy any of the splendors before use, we all rebelled and longed for the country again.”
“Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women,” the film by Nancy Porter and Harriet Reisen for PBS (available right now for free on Amazon Prime) features pictures of the types of places where the Alcotts could have lived:
I always wondered though about the “mansion” described by LaPlante where the family lived for two summers while the owners vacationed elsewhere. The home was located at 88 Atkinson Street (now 234 Congress Street), blocks from the outskirts of the slums; it was partially destroyed by the Great Boston Fire of 1872. (My thanks to Maria Powers for this information, from the Facebook group, Louisa May Alcott: A Group for Fans, Readers, & Scholars).
In his book on the fire, Anthony Mitchell Sammarco offered this rare photograph of the home:
It’s no wonder Louisa called her great-uncle’s home “commodious.” (LaPlante, pg. 153)
Maria Powers, who pointed me to the above house, also posted this one:
It is the home of Louisa’s cousin, the Reverend Samuel May of Leicester, MA. LaPlante wrote that during 1853, Louisa worked as a “second girl” for the Mays; a “resident domestic servant who washed linens and clothes for two dollars per week, most of which was sent home.” (page 166)
It’s no wonder from such varied living experiences that the Alcotts provide such a rich history of their domestic lives. I am enjoying this line of research immensely! I will post my presentation on this blog after it takes place for those of you who have indicated that you wish you could come but live too far away.
You can find out more about the Rev. Samuel May of Leicester and the plans by Becker College to restore the home here.
Find-a-Grave has a short biography along with pictures of the grave stones.
If you are interested in attending my presentation, you can find out more here.
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