Did the real Amy March get together with the real-life Laurie? Letters between May Alcott and Alf Whitman

Did the real-life Amy know Laurie? Apparently so, and they were good friends! How do we know? Through a stash of letters at the Houghton Library from May Alcott to Alfred Whitman.

Who was Laurie based upon?

Alf is one of two boys on whom Laurie from Little Women was based (the other being Louisa’s “Polish boy,” Laddie). Alf and Louisa corresponded for many years long after his departure from Concord despite their age difference of about 10 years (he being 15 and she 25 when they met in Concord in 1857). They acted together in the Concord Dramatic Union (now the Concord Players) and referred to each other in their letters as Dolphus and Sophy, from roles they had played in “Haunted Man.”

from a Ladies Home Journal article, 1900-1901, courtesy of the University of Michigan

You can download the article here:
alf whitman ladies home journal v. 18 1900-1901

Alf Whitman’s other friend

I did not realize that May too had become friendly with Alf – she was only two years older than he. She would refer to him too on occasion as Dolphus. So in fact, the real Amy March did get together with the real Laurie Laurence!  (Although they never married).

May Alcott and Alf Whitman

May’s life as a young adult

These ten letters, covering the years 1858-1861, give interesting details of May’s fairly carefree life at 18, 19 and 20. The letters are upbeat and newsy but surprisingly, lack any mention whatsoever of the tragedy that occurred in the Alcott home with the death of older sister Lizzie. As far as I know, there is only one line in an 1862 journal which May had just taken up again after letting it lag for a good ten years.  Here is what she wrote:

Feb. 22, 1862, page 68 of May Alcott’s journal; Houghton Library at Harvard University, MS Am 1817, Louisa May Alcott additional papers, 1845-1944

A carefree life

May’s letters mostly consist of descriptions of her very active social life consisting of parties, skating, horseback riding, rowing and playing whist.  She also bragged of flirting! There is a period where she spent 3 months in Syracuse, at the invitation of Uncle Sam May, to  teach piano, singing and art. She was not yet thinking of pursuing art as a career. But she also was not interested in settling down to marry and have children.

Here are links to the 10 letters from Houghton Library. Her handwriting is very easy to read (although it is interesting to note how it changed, the letters becoming bigger and rounder as she grew older).

http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.HOUGH:37673751
http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.HOUGH:37673772
http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.HOUGH:37673791
http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.HOUGH:37673807
http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.HOUGH:37673824
http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.HOUGH:37673839
http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.HOUGH:37673859
http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.HOUGH:37673885
http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.HOUGH:37674049
http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.HOUGH:37674069

What do you think of May from reading these letters? I for one see a lot of Amy in these letters. They are a fun read and give us an inside look at an Alcott who enjoyed her life and never looked back.  Her “Laurie” was precious to her.
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3 Replies to “Did the real Amy March get together with the real-life Laurie? Letters between May Alcott and Alf Whitman”

  1. Yes! And don’t you remember Laddie/Laurie showing May the sights of Paris while Louisa was too ill to travel? May had all the fun while her sister got an overdose of trouble, disappointment, hard work and ill health.

    1. Oh yes, I remember from Harriet Reisen’s book. May was given a free ride by the entire family. It’s almost like they wanted one member spared of all the hardship. And you can see what a difference it made in the way she turned out — May was able to enjoy and desire, good times.

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