“Housekeeping ain’t no joke …” Victorian Huswifery with the Alcotts

Coming up on Thursday, February 8 from 7 to 8:30 pm at the Brigham Hill Community Barn in Grafton, MA (my hometown), I will be giving a presentation on the Victorian housewife as seen through the experiences of the Alcotts:

Description

I will explores the back-breaking work of the typical Victorian housewife through the experiences of Louisa May Alcott and her family. The Alcotts dwelled in all kinds of homes, from rural to city, from slum to mansion. Through their experiences I examine the love-hate relationship between 19th century housewives and the endless chores of cooking, cleaning, sewing and laundry.

The presentation will include a slideshow of pictures of various homes where the Alcotts lived, along with various tools they would have used in daily housework.

It is sponsored by the Grafton Historical Society in partnership with the Grafton Public Library.

Location

The Brigham Hill Community Barn is found on 37 Wheeler Road in  Grafton. It’s a beautiful setting for this presentation.

Email me at louisamayalcottismypassion@gmail.com or call 508-839-0000 for more information.

Hope to see you there!

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Merry Christmas from Orchard House (and from me!) – a look back over an extraordinary year, and a look ahead

2017 has been a banner year for Alcott fans (and more is promised in 2018 and 2019 as the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women looms). As a result it has also been quite the year for this blog! Especially within the last several months, the growth of readership has been extraordinary. I have so enjoyed all of your comments as our community continues to grow.

High points of 2017

Undoubtedly the news of the year is the new BBC One/Masterpiece series on Little Women. Those lucky viewers in Great Britain will get to see the series over Christmas while those of us in the states will have to wait until May 13 and 20. It bodes well for the series that Jan Turnquist, Executive Director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House was brought in as consultant.

No doubt the biggest thrill of 2017 has been the discovery of the photograph of Anna Alcott Pratt and the coverage in the Boston Globe. The best part was working with such dedicated people to bring this photograph and those of John Bridge Pratt to the public. I have been asked to contribute an article to the January newsletter for the Louisa May Alcott Society.

Another even more important discovery this year was acquistion by the Concord Library of working manuscripts by Louisa May Alcott. For the first time scholars can see the edits made by the author written in the margins of the manuscripts as they were prepared for publication. It affords a tremendous opportunity for study of Louisa’s writing process.

Another milestone is the creation of the new Facebook discussion group sponsored by the Louisa Alcott Society and Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. This is a great place to get together and chat about all things Louisa May Alcott.

A wonderful novel based on the life of May Alcott Nieriker (and her relationship with Louisa) was released this year and has attracted lots of attention, It was written by Elise Hooper and is called The Other Alcott.

Looking ahead to 2018

2018 promises new books on Little Women as a result of the 150th anniversary of its publication. Coming in August will be Anne Boyd Rioux’s much anticipated  Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters. It is available on Amazon for pre-order.

And speaking of books, over the course of 2017  I have made progress on my book on Elizabeth Sewall Alcott. While I cannot reveal any further information at this time, things appear to be moving in the right direction. You will be the first to know when I say more.

Orchard House’s Summer Conversational Series will be focusing on Little Women; it takes place the week of July 15-19. Details can be found at louisamayalcott.org.

I have been offered a public speaking engagement by the Grafton (MA) Historical Society in partnership with the Public Library. It will take place on February 8 at 7pm at the Grafton Community Barn. If you are local to the area, I hope you can come! The topic is:

“Housekeeping ain’t no joke:” Victorian Huswifery with the Alcotts

Author, blogger and Alcott aficionado Susan Bailey explores the often back-breaking work of the typical Victorian housewife through the experiences of Louisa May Alcott and her family. Having moved some 30 times before setting in Orchard House in 1858, the Alcotts dwelled in a variety of homes, from rural to city, from slum to mansion. Until the publication of Little Women in 1868, they lived in poverty. Through their varied experiences Ms. Bailey explores the love-hate relationship between 19th century housewives and the endless chores of cooking, cleaning, sewing and laundry.

A Christmas greeting

Finally, I could not think of a more appropriate way to wish you all a Merry Christmas than to feature this article by Lis Adams, education director at Orchard House.. Louisa May Alcott is truly a Christmas author who inspires her readers to give of ourselves to those around us. She knew the true meaning of the season.

Season’s Greetings to all of you, and Happy New Year!

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Air dates for “Little Women” in America on Masterpiece Theatre announced!

Here is Orchard House’s announcement regarding the airing of “Little Women” on Masterpiece Theatre (taken from a December 7, 2017 Facebook post):

“Now and then, in this work-a-day world, things do happen in the delightful story-book fashion, and what a comfort that is.” from Little Women, “Pleasant Meadows.” It’s true! Thrilled to share that the new adaptation of Little Women will air Sundays, May 13 & 20, 2018 at 8/7c on Masterpiece on PBS! To our friends around the world, you may even catch it sooner during the holiday season (lucky!). This series will release on DVD, too. Delightful, indeed!

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Important discovery of previously unpublished photos of Anna Alcott Pratt and John Bridge Pratt

Read the Boston Globe story about this discovery,
first revealed on this blog.

I am thrilled to be able to reveal, for the first time, previously unknown photos of Anna Alcott Pratt and John Bridge Pratt to you. Continue reading

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“The March Sisters at Christmas:” So, what did you think?

December 2017: This movie is now showing on TV. It would likely be featured on the Hallmark Channel but I’ve seen it on local stations as well. It is also available for purchase on Amazon.

I went into this movie preparing to hate it. I don’t watch Lifetime and am not a huge fan of “chick flicks” (with the exception of “Pretty Woman” – Richard Gere <sigh> 🙂

I am also wary of fan fiction surrounding Little Women although The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly and March by Geraldine Brooks were both terrific.

However, “The March Sisters at Christmas” proved to be a very pleasant surprise. Here’s what made it work for me: Continue reading

Finding serializations of popular Alcott books in St. Nicholas magazines

Amazing finds today at the local used bookstore (or rather, old book warehouse), The Book Bear in charming W. Brookfield, MA.

Two entire rows are devoted to antique books!

First, two volumes of St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls:

The volume for 1875 (with a serialization of Eight Cousins)

and the volume for 1878 (with a serialization of Under the Lilacs):

And finally, a piano book for children with a copyright of 1850! Super hard to find these. Can’t you just see Beth when she was younger, playing these pieces?

Got a great price on these! Feeling very rich, and grateful. 🙂 Well worth the 45 minute drive (as the town centers of Sturbridge and the Brookfiels are very charming).

If you come to New England, make the Book Bear a stop on your visit.

 

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A sense of place: Visit the homes where Louisa May Alcott worked and lived in the early 1850s

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:

Home of Rev. Samuel May, cousin to Louisa May Alcott. from the Worcester Telegram

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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New Facebook discussion group on Louisa May Alcott — come join us! Plus, more sneak peaks at the Little Women BBC series

In a collaboration between the Louisa May Alcott Society and Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, a new Facebook discussion group has been created. It is called Louisa May Alcott: A Group for Fans, Readers, & Scholars.

I hope you will all join in on the discussion!

Here’s a tease as to what is available in this group — pictures from the new Little Women series on BBC One:

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More pictures are promised — visit Louisa May Alcott: A Group for Fans, Readers, & Scholars and join!

Be sure and visit the Louisa May Alcott Society website as well — membership for one year is only $10 (best $10 I’ve spent in a long while!)

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Louisa May Alcott too?
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Air dates announced for Little Women on the BBC!

For all you lucky souls who get BBC One, the air dates have been announced for the three-part Little Women series! Continue reading