I am pleased to share with you a wonderful essay about the professional lives of Louisa May Alcott and May Alcott Nieriker written by Lauren Hehmeyer, a professor of History and English at Texarkana College. Professor Hehmeyer presented at the May Alcott conference in Paris in June of 2018 (see previous post) and is currently collaborating with Azelina Flint, PhD on a book of essays on May Alcott Nieriker. Professor Hehmeyer is also writing a biography on the life of May Alcott Nieriker.
Here is her essay, “Let the World Know You Are Alive”: May Alcott Nieriker and Louisa May Alcott Confront Nineteenth-Century Ideas about Women’s Genius, published in issue #66 of The American Studies Journal.
This article examines the attitude of the nineteenth-century artist May Alcott Nieriker toward the concepts of talent and genius, two terms that were subject to debate and controversy among the Transcendentalists of her hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, especially as they applied to women. Her attitude differed from that of her elder sister, the writer, Louisa May Alcott, who had some reservations about the use of the word as applied to her literary efforts.
Nieriker (the model for the character of “Amy” in Little Women) embraced the term genius for women and eventually achieved success at the Paris Salon in 1877 and 1879. Nieriker’s last picture, La Négresse, is a rare, respectful treatment of a black subject. Nieriker’s choices in her life and work are evidence of her belief that women could reach creative fulfillment, even genius. Click here to continue reading.