Recollections of Louisa May Alcott by Maria S. Porter, longtime friend in later life

from "Recollections of Louisa May Alcott" by Maria S. Porter

from “Recollections of Louisa May Alcott” by Maria S. Porter

Louisa May Alcott had numerous friends and admirers. Being writers themselves (or children of famous writers such as Julian Hawthorne, see previous post), these friends and admirers provide us with what I think are the most colorful biographical sketches of Louisa. No scholar can truly capture what a contemporary (especially a friend) can reveal through their personal anecdotes. The “facts” they present are likely colored by the person’s great esteem for Louisa but if one reads between the lines, a lot of great information can be gleamed.

Girlfriends

Maria S. Porter, fellow abolitionist and feminist, was a close friend of Louisa’s in the last twenty years of her life (see Daniel Shealy’s excellent book, Alcott in Her Own Time). While she goes over Louisa’s history, citing in particular Louisa’s experience going out to service at eighteen (which inspired “How I Went Out to Service”, see previous post), Fruitlands and Louisa’s feelings about her parents, I found the most interesting parts to be specific recollections from Porter about Louisa.

Shades of Jo March

from "Recollections of Louisa May Alcott" by Maria S. Porter

from “Recollections of Louisa May Alcott” by Maria S. Porter

This story, told by Louisa as the two “floated down the Concord River” on a moonlit summer evening sets the stage for a classic Jo moment in Little Women:

“ ‘When I was a girl of eighteen or thereabouts,” she said, ‘I had very fine dark brown hair, thick and long, almost touching the floor as I stood. At a time when the family needs were great, and discouragement weighed heavily upon us, I went to a barber, let down my hair, and asked him how much money he would give me for it. When he told me the sum, it seemed so large to me that I then and there determined I would part with my most precious possession if during the next week the clouds did not lift.’” (“Recollections of Louisa May Alcott,” pg. 9; from Recollections of Louisa May Alcott, John Greenleaf Whittier and Robert Browning by Maria S. Porter)

The clouds did indeed lift with financial help coming from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

A time of service

Louisa’s eighteenth year was an eventful one. It was the year she went out to service.  Louisa’s family (especially the well-to-do members) was up in arms over her taking this position. She recalled to Porter,

“ ‘I don’t care. Every kind of work that is paid for is service. It is rather a downfall to give up trying to be a Siddons or a Fanny Kemble, and become a servant at the beck and call of people; but what of it?” “All my highly respectable relatives,’ said Louisa, ‘held up their hands in holy horror when I left the paternal roof to go to my place of servitude, as they called it, and said, ‘Louisa Alcott will disgrace her name by what she is doing.’ But despite the lamentations and laughter of my sisters, I got my small wardrobe ready, and after embracing the family, with firmness started for my new home.’” (Ibid, pg. 12)

Porter commented that the experience was so painful that Louisa rarely discussed it and when she did, “it was with heightened color and tearful eyes.”

Aided by humor

Another painful family experience, Fruitlands, was taken more in stride. Here Louisa’s wonderful sense of humor prevailed with the writing of Transcendental Wild Oats. Porter wrote how “Louisa’s eyes would twinkle as she described the strange methods at Fruitlands!” Humor would provide Louisa with a port in the storm through her often tumultuous life.

Love of acting

Porter went on at length about Louisa’s love for Dickens, citing a particular character favorite, Mrs. Jarley whom Louisa often impersonated.  Porter, aware of Louisa’s lifelong love of the theater writes,

“I was so fortunate as to persuade her to take the part of Mrs. Jarley in the waxwork show. It was a famous show, never to be forgotten. People came from all parts of New England to see Louisa Alcott’s Mrs. Jarley, for she had for years been famous in the part whenever a deserving charity was to be helped in that way. Shouts of delight and peals of laughter greeted her original and witty descriptions of the ‘figgers’ at each performance, and it was repeated every evening for a week.” (Ibid, pg. 20)

Gossip!

Porter admired Louisa’s keen insight into character, commenting that was “almost ruthless in her denunciation of society.” I love imagining Louisa making this comment:

“Society in New York and in Boston, as we have seen it to-night, is corrupt. Such immodest dressing, such flirtations of some of these married women with young men whose mothers they might be, so far as age is concerned, such drinking of champagne – I loathe it all! If I can only live long enough I mean to write a book whose characters will be drawn from life. Mrs. — [naming a person present] shall be prominent as the society leader, and the fidelity of the picture shall leave no one in doubt as to the original.” (Ibid, pg. 22)

Those of you better versed in Louisa’s canon than I: did this scene make it into a story? Which one? And if so, I wonder if Mrs. – recognized herself?

Advice for the newest member of the school committee

Louisa was delighted when Porter was elected to the Melrose school committee in 1874. She of course, made a suggestion,

“I rejoice greatly thereat, and hope that the first thing that you and Mrs. Sewall  propose in your first meeting will be to reduce the salary of the head master of the High School, and increase the salary of the first woman assistant, whose work is quite as good as his, and even harder; to make the pay equal. I believe in the same pay for the same good work.” (Ibid, pg. 22)

I bet that went over well!

A last impression …

from "Recollections of Louisa May Alcott" by Maria S. Porter

from “Recollections of Louisa May Alcott” by Maria S. Porter

The last time that Porter would see Louisa was when her father was dying. Bronson, Anna and her family were living in the Louisburg Square home in a fashionable part of Boston but Louisa was living in Dunreath Place, a rest home run by good friend Dr. Rhoda Lawrence. Porter’s impression of Louisa’s appearance is telling,

“On Thursday morning, March 2, I chanced to be at the house, where I had gone to inquire for Mr. Alcott and Louisa. While talking with Mrs. Pratt, her sister, the door opened, and Louisa, who had come in from the Highlands to see her father, entered. I had not seen her for months, and the sight of her thin, wan face and sad look shocked me, and I felt for the first time that she was hopelessly ill. After a few affectionate words of greeting she passed through the open doors of the next room.” (Ibid, pgs. 27-28)

… and the last words

Porter was the recipient of the last letter ever written by Louisa. It was in response to a photograph of May that Porter had sent her. It was written likely on March 3:

“DEAR MRS. PORTER, Thanks for the picture. I am very glad to have it. No philosophy is needed for the impending event. I shall be very glad when the dear old man falls asleep after his long and innocent life. Sorrow has no place at such times, and death is never terrible when it comes as now in the likeness of a friend.

Yours truly,

L. M. A.

from "Recollections of Louisa May Alcott" by Maria S. Porter

from “Recollections of Louisa May Alcott” by Maria S. Porter

P. S. I have another year to stay in my ‘Saint’s Rest,’ [her name for Dunreath Place] and then I am promised twenty years of health. I don’t want so many, and I have no idea I shall see them. But as I don’t live for myself, I hold on for others, and shall find time to die some day, I hope.” (Ibid, pg. 28)

She got her wish sooner than she thought.

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Work: “Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor” – what could women do?

Illustration by Flora Smith, The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard

You’ve come of age and it’s time to strike out on your own.

How do you feel?

  • Excited?
  • Fearful?
  • Full of anticipation?

Will it be a grand adventure or a dismal failure?

In her mid-twenties, Louisa May Alcott was ready to strike out on her own, fueled by her obsessive desire to be a financial support to her habitually poor family.

What occupations could a twenty-something genteel woman aspire to?

In Work A Story of Experience, chapters 1-6 reveal through Christie Devon how such a woman could be gainfully employed:

  • Domestic servant
  • Actress
  • Governess
  • Companion
  • Seamstress

Throughout her twenties until she could make her writing pay, Louisa was employed in these various occupations. She pointedly left out two others: factory work and teaching, the former because she felt it was beneath her and the latter because she hated it.

As Louisa was fond of morality plays, Christie experiences a testing of her soul in each occupation:

Servant

As a domestic servant, Christy learns a lesson in humility from her co-worker, a runaway slave named Hepsey.

Lesson in perspective

When asked to blacken her master’s boots (deemed to be the lowliest of tasks), Christie protests, considering the task to be degrading. Hepsey, however, offers to do the job for Christie as she considers any job that paid worth doing if she could earn the money she needed to buy her mother out of slavery.

Christie immediately feels chastened as her small humiliation is put into perspective.

Real life connection

Louisa went out to service when she was seventeen and when she refused the overtures of her master, was given all the hard work plus the task of blackening his boots. She quit in a huff.

Chronicled in her short story, “How I Went Out to Service,” it proved to be one of the most humiliating experiences of her life. Usually able to dismiss such experiences with sarcastic humor, this was one time when her humor failed her.

Actress

Christie is cajoled by a friend to try acting. At first she resists the suggestion because acting is not considered a proper occupation for a genteel woman. Tales of glamor and glory and the adventure of it all persuade Christie to give it a whirl, and in the end, she makes a good living at it over the next three years.

Soul searching

Christie enjoys the applause of the audience and the praise of her co-workers but finds herself changing into someone she no longer recognizes. Hard, shallow and vain, Christie takes a hard look at herself and decides to walk away:

“Others might lead that life of alternate excitement and hard work unharmed, but she could not. The very ardor and insight which gave power to the actress made that mimic life unsatisfactory to the woman …”

Louisa’s love of acting

I found this particular section quite revealing about Louisa. She of course aspired to be an actress, wanting to be famous like Fanny Kemble or Jenny Lind. She and older sister Anna immersed themselves in theatricals, from entertaining the family through hard times to performing with acting troupes in Walpole, NH and Concord. It was the only occupation apart from writing that held any allure.

Not the right career choice

Louisa was a good character actress and comedienne; it proved to be a great way to vent her creative energy. She eventually dismissed acting as a career choice, partially because it was not considered respectable. But it’s obvious a lot of soul-searching went on as evidenced by Christie’s self-examination; Louisa felt acting would lead to a life she could not abide by:

“After being on the stage & seeing more nearly the tinsel & brass of actor life (much as I should love to be a great star if I could), I have come to the conclusion that its not worth trying for at the expense of health & peace of mind.” (pg. 149 ebook, Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen)

The better moral choice

Having been schooled in morality relentlessly since her birth (and reminded over and over how selfish she could be), Louisa could not justify the vanity and self-absorption that came with the pleasure of acting. Writing was morally more acceptable.

cover of Louisa May: A Modern Biography of Louisa May Alcott by Martha Saxon

Ironies

It is ironic, however, that she could justify secretly indulging in lurid blood and thunder tales (using the name of A M Barnard) under the guise of making money.

Perhaps because the indulgence was temporary, ending with the story’s conclusion, she could do it without totally selling out her soul. With acting, Louisa feared losing herself entirely in the bargain.

In the next post, I will examine the other occupations, most especially the role of companion, for this chapter revealed a deep fear that haunted Louisa throughout her life.

Click here to read part one of this series on Work.

.
2012 Summer reading challenge hosted at www.inthebookcase.blogspot.comReading Work  by Louisa May Alcott is part of my Louisa May Alcott Summer Challenge – are you a part of this challenge and if so, how are you doing?


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Little Women on the stage – a Concord Players’ tradition

Julius and Nancy Gluck

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of seeing the Concord Players‘ historic production of Little Women with one of you! Nancy Gluck of the Silver Threads blog along with her lovely husband were spending the weekend in Concord (she is preparing a 5-part series on Louisa May Alcott for her adult education class). We thought it would be most appropriate to meet for the first time while seeing Little Women and we had a wonderful time kabitzing.

Louisa May Alcott and her sister Anna helped found the Concord Players (once known as the Concord Dramatic Union) in 1856; when introducing the play, Michael Govang (John Brooke) referred to Louisa as their “patron saint.”

Bronson Alcott Pratt portraying Mr. March in 1932 in Concord’s production of Little Women.

Since 1932, the Concord Players have staged Little Women every ten years (with the exception of 1942, because of the war). It began in 1932 as a way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Louisa’s birth. Two cast members were direct descendants of Anna – Louisa Alcott Kussin (Meg) and Bronson Alcott Pratt (Father).

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Orchard House as a museum, making this year’s production historic.

A direct descendant of the family was in the ensemble (Louisa Alcott Yamartino) who is co-owner of fritz & gigi, The Children’s Shop in Concord with her sister, Karen. According to the program, “the business is run by a third generation of the family and is celebrating 75 years in business this year.” Louisa is the great, great, granddaughter of Anna.

The play was written by a local, David Fielding Smith, and features Jo acting as both narrator and character. The quick pacing and energetic performances made this play a joy to watch.

Beth and Jo at the seashore.

Casting on the  most part was perfect. Nicole Dunn took the part of Jo and perfectly embodied Jo’s spirit. I truly could feel Jo’s love for her sisters, her buoyancy and joy for life and writing, and the desperation when Amy fell through the ice, and Beth caught scarlet fever. The scene between her and Beth at the seashore brought tears to my eyes.

It is interesting to note that Dunn had never read Little Women although she had seen the 1994 film (read an interview with her here). She was Jo and I will forever think of her whenever I read Little Women.

David N. Rogers took the part of Laurie. I wasn’t quite sure about him until the pivotal scene between Laurie and Jo when Jo tells her boy that she doesn’t love him. Here Rogers shown, exploding with deeply felt passion.

Marmee reads a letter from Father to the girls.

Jan Turnquist, the executive director of Orchard House, revived her role as Marmee. Jan is such an integral part of Louisa’s continuing legacy that it seemed very fitting to have her there as Marmee.

Kimberly Rochette‘s Meg and Amelie Lasker‘s Beth were both perfect. My only disappointment was the choice for Amy (Molly Weinberg) as the portrayal was somewhat two-dimensional. I had a hard time accepting the actress especially when Amy became an adult. There was no chemistry between her and Laurie.

I wish the part of Professor Bhaer had been larger because the actor, Julio Gomez, was terrific. Michael Govang was very good as John Brooke and Marcella Fischer provided comic relief as Aunt March.

Knowing how connected the Concord Players is with town, Louisa’s ancestors and her history made this production extra special.

Nancy secured us seats in the third row giving me a perfect position to capture the play on film. Enjoy the slide show!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Concord Players also produced a promotional video with background and scenes:

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Louisa May Alcott’s summer retreat

A trip to a warehouse bookstore in the middle of nowhere produced a great find! I had just about given up the hope of finding something interesting until this book caught my eye:  Nonquitt A Summer Album, 1872-1985, edited by Anne M. Lyell.

What is so significant about Nonquitt? This is where Louisa May Alcott spent her summers in the last years of her life. This book was such a great find because of new pictures of Louisa, her nephews, the cottage she rented and the summer home she eventually purchased.

The book devoted a short chapter (chapter 9, pages 94-97 – all references come from these pages unless otherwise noted.) to Louisa with anecdotal stories of her summers in the southeastern Massachusetts seacoast town near New Bedford.

What brought Louisa May Alcott to Nonquitt?

Recollections from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian suggest that Louisa came to visit the family and fell in love with Nonquitt. He writes:

“I was spending a summer at Nonquitt and she came to visit a friend. I walked over to the cottage and sat an hour with her on the veranda. She was tall, rather rustic looking, dressed in black silk, her shoulders a little bent, her checks somewhat thin, her big, black eyes sparkling now and then with humor or irony.”

Louisa was in her late forties at the time, obviously showing the ravages of her constant battle with her health. Remembering how vibrant she once was, it is sad to read how much her poor health had aged her.

Renting the first cottage

Louisa rented a house in 1881, sharing it with her niece, then 2-year-old Lulu (daughter of younger sister May who had passed away soon after childbirth). Her older sister Anna also summered at the cottage with her two teenage sons, Fred and John.

Anna’s memories

Anna writes, “I went to Nonquit[t] where Louisa had a cottage, a lovely green paradise which offers everything one can wish. Here I rested, and for fun got up theatricals (as usual), charades, etc., and grew quite young and festive, and enjoyed my lark so much I didn’t not want to come home . . . we [Louisa and Anna] take turns and so keep our boys there eight or ten weeks.” (pg. 141, The Alcotts As I Knew Them by Clara Gowing, e-book version).

Still in love with the theatre

Louisa, Anna and sons Fred and John took active part in the summer theatricals (Fred and John are shown in the above picture). Having never outgrown her love of the theatre, Louisa wrote and rewrote scripts and took on the jobs of coach, scenery designer and stage manager.

Summer paradise

Louisa rarely did any serious writing while summering in Nonquit. Mostly she took great pleasure in watching her little niece, Lulu:

“My poppet is a picture of health, vigor and delightful naughtiness. She runs wild in this fine place with some twenty other children to play with – nice babies, well-bred, and with pleasant mammas for me to gossip with.” (from a letter to a friend, 1882)

The Pied Piper of Nonquitt

An anecdote from the New Bedford newspaper speaks of Louisa often out walking with her red parasol in hand, followed by a group of children (she was, of course the famous “Miss Alcott” by this time). The newspaper goes on to say:

“There seemed to be a certain magnetism about her that drew the little ones to her, and it was a familiar sight to see the famous writer seated on her porch, or on a rock on the beach, a dozen or more children grouped around her, while she told children’s stories to them . . . Then when a demand would be made for the retelling of some one particular story, she would purposely change some character or some situation in it. The children would immediately correct her, and tell to her in their own way, the stories she had previously related to them.”

Always writing . . .

Even though Louisa came to vacation in Nonquitt, she could never stop writing. She contributed several short stories to the local paper, the Nonquitt Breeze.

Buying her piece of paradise

In 1883, Louisa purchased her own property,a cottage at the northeast corner of Narragansett and Central Avenue (presently called Old Wharf Road). She recorded in her journal on June 24:

“To Nonquitt with Lulu and K. and John (Pratt), Fixed my house, and enjoyed the rest and quiet immensely. Lulu wild with joy at the freedom . . .” In July she wrote, “Restful days in my little house, which is cool and quiet, and without the curse of a kitchen to spoil it . . .”

Louisa took her meals at the local hotel.

Failing health

By the end of 1885, Louisa was troubled by vertigo and rheumatism. It was then that she began to destroy letters and journals that she didn’t want prying eyes to see.

June of 1886 was her last visit to Nonquitt before poor health settled in. In a letter to Mary Mapes Dodge (friend, and editor of St. Nichoas Magazine where many of her books had been serialized), Louisa writes:

“Lu and I go to Nonquitt next week; and after a few days rest, I will fire up the old engine and see if it will run a short distance without a break-down.”

She fought against her ill health and finished her last book, Jo’s Boys.

The fate of Louisa’s cottage

In 1888, Louisa died and the nephew she adopted, John Pratt Alcott, inherited the Nonquitt house. In 1907 it was sold to John’s brother Fred who added on to the house.

In 1945 it was moved one block and is owned as of 1987 by Daniel Strohmeier.

The store where I found the book

So where did I find this book?

The store is known as the Book Bear in West Brookfield, MA. They are decidedly old-fashioned, not accepting credit cards and not doing email! They do have a website (click on the name) so you can get an idea of what they have.

I definitely will be visiting again soon!

Nonquitt A Summer Album, 1872-1985 is available online through Amazon and other outlets (the link leads to Amazon). I look forward to reading the rest of this fascinating book.


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Referrals in Louisa’s journal to Little Women

Following up on Jillian’s post, I thought it would be fun to look back on journal entries that Louisa made that directly correlate with Little Women. I found these in Little Women (Norton Critical Edition) edited by Gregory Eiselein and Anne K. Phillips; the page citations come from this book. Note the comments Louisa makes after some of the entries.

April 1855

I am in the garret with my papers round me, and a pile of apples to eat while I write my journal, plan stories, and enjoy the patter of rain on the roof, in peace and quiet.

[ Jo in the garret. — L.M.A.] p. 411

October 1856

Made plans to go to Boston for the winter, as there is nothing to do here, and there I can support myself and help the family. C. [William Warland Clapp, editor of the Saturday Evening Gazette – he paid Louisa ten dollars for “The Rival Prima Donnas” and published several other stories] offers 10 dollars a month, and perhaps more. L. W., M. S., and others, have plenty of sewing; the play may come out*, and Mrs. R. Will give me a sky-parlor for $3 a week, with fire and board. I can sew for her also.

from GRAPHIC CLASSICS, focusing on the work of Louisa May Alcott, edited by Tom Pomplun and published by Eureka Productions.

If I can get A. L. to governess I shall be all right.

I was born with a boy’s spirit under my bib and tucker. I can’t wait when I can work; so I took my little talent in my hand and forced the world again, braver than before and wiser for my failures.

[Jo in N. Y. — L. M. A.] p. 411
*Louisa was supposed to have a play produced for the stage in Boston (I believe it was “The Rival Prima Donnas” but the producer died suddenly).

May 1868

Father saw Mr. Niles about a fairy book. Mr. N. Wants a girls’ story, and I begin “Little Women.” Marmee, Anna, and May all approve my plan. So I plod away, though I don’t enjoy this sort of thing. Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters; but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it.

[Good joke. — L. M. A.] p. 413

August 1868

Roberts Bros. made an offer for the story, but at the same time advised me to keep the copyright; so I shall.

[An honest publisher and a lucky author, for the copyright made her fortune, and the “dull book” was the first golden egg ofnthe ugly duckling. 1885. — L. M. A.] p. 413

August 26, 1868

Proof of whole book came. It reads better than I expected. Not a bit sensational, but simple and true, for we really lived most of it; and if it succeeds that will be the reason for it. Mr. N. likes it better now, and says some girls who have read the manuscripts say it is “splendid!” As it is for them, they are the best critics, so I should be satisfied. p. 413


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Abba Alcott’s contribution – behind every great woman stands a mother

You know how they say that behind every great man is a great woman? How about behind every great woman? In studying the life of Abba Alcott through the reading of Marmee, the Mother of Little Womenby Sandford Meddick Salyer, there indeed was a great woman behind Louisa May Alcott. She was a mother whose vitality, intelligence, resourcefulness, support and example shaped one of the great authors of our time.

Excellent lineage

Abba, coming from May, Sewall and Quincy stocks, possessed great intelligence and a fighting spirit. She had a heart for others and their plights. These traits served her well through her difficult life.

Louisa of course, immortalized Abba as Marmee in Little Women and she was all those things. But Abba was also a pioneer in many ways, paving the way through her example of womanly autonomy and independence, all motivated by love.

Talent passed down

Louisa came by her writing talent honestly. Salyer describes Abba as a gifted wordsmith in her own right with a rich background of storytelling in her family:

“Abba was a born storyteller. She had once had aspirations to be a writer. Perhaps she should have been. It was her talent that Louisa inherited, her ingenuity, the vigor and dash of style which Abba could show at times but seldom did. It was certainly Abba’s suggestions and encouragement that helped make Louisa’s books. Alcott has told us that many of Louisa’s plots were suggested by her mother’s recital of incidents she recalled. Abba knew, too, many of Colonel May’s stories; and after her mother’s death Louisa sent Sam for her grandfather’s notebooks, from which she derived many more suggestions.” (page 75, Marmee, the Mother of Little Women).

Budding actress

Abba also had a flair for the dramatic and even nursed ideas of becoming an actress when she was a child (pg. 110). Anna and Louisa, of course, loved to stage plays and Abba fully supported them, knowing it was a good way to channel energy and imagination as well as stress. Undoubtedly, this proved to be an important coping mechanism through the difficult early years the family faced.

The May household was always filled with friends and neighbors eager to listen to Colonel May weave his stories. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

A mind for reform

A lesser known facet of Abba’s life is her pioneering work as a relief worker. With Bronson unable (or unwilling) to work for a living wage, she became one the first modern social workers out of necessity. Her family was often nearly as poor as the people she served. Salyer writes glowingly of  her work which showed a marked flair for organizing while caring for the poor from her heart. :

“For two years Abba continued her noble work. How noble it really was, only those could tell to whom she personally ministered. Her reports, vivid and vigorous as they are, cannot begin to show all she accomplished and all she learned. She came to know how true had been some of the portrayals of London slum life which she had before thought overdrawn and oversentimentalized. Louisa saw some of what to her mother had become familiar, and Abba later recalled scenes and incidents that Louisa used freely in her books, notably in Work[: A Story of Experience]” (pg. 148)

From mother to daughter

Louisa learned from her mother’s example and developed a passion for reform, seeking pragmatic rather than philosophical solutions. She worked for women’s suffrage both on a national stage and in her hometown of Concord (being one of the first women to vote). She would visit prisons and homes for orphans. She often signed her letters, “Yours for reform always.” And her writing, especially on the juvenile level, sought to expose young people to reformist ideas, especially about women (see post on An Old-Fashioned Girl).

These are just a few examples of the profound nature of Abba’s influence on Louisa.. She is the finest example of a mother who poured herself into her children and saw great results. Abba was very gifted and in today’s society could have enjoyed great success professionally. However, she used her gifts just as well, if not better, by pouring herself into her family.

Is there someone in your life who has stood behind you and made you great? “Great” has many definitions . . . think about it. 🙂


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Louisa the actress: meet her idol, Fanny Kemble

Kelly O’Connor McNees, author of  The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott (now available in paperback), wrote an article recently about Fanny Kemble, a 19th century actress whom Louisa May Alcott greatly admired. There’s a wonderful scene in Lost Summer where Louisa gets to perform in front of Kemble and I could just feel the thrill she would have felt.

Here’s an excerpt from McNees’ article, including a link to the rest of the article. If you leave a comment on the page, you could be chosen to receive a free copy of the paperback edition of Lost Summer.

Fanny Kemble, 19th Century Celebrity

in Women and Society

By Kelly O’Connor McNees

My historical novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, imagines a summer in Louisa’s life when she was just 22 and on the precipice of a remarkable life. In trying to understand Louisa, I investigated the books she loved and the people she admired. That’s how I learned about Fanny Kemble.

Fanny Kemble was born to a family that dominated the British stage for generations. She too was an actress a young age, and later met and married Pierce Butler while performing in the U.S. His family’s money came from cotton and rice plantations in Georgia. When he took Fanny home to the plantation, she was appalled by the realities of slavery. As a Brit, she had long opposed the institution, but seeing it with her own eyes hardened her resolve. To her husband’s great humiliation, she began to write about what she saw. The marriage dissolved, and later she published Journal of A Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839. It caused quite a stir. Read the rest of the article here.

You can read the interview I conducted with Kelly here.