“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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Living history – Marianne Donnelly as Louisa May Alcott

“What fun we had this evening when Louisa May Alcott came to visit her childhood home at Fruitlands!”

Facebook post from the Fruitlands Museum

It was indeed great fun taking in the living history performance by actress and historian Marianne Donnelly at the Fruitlands Museum Vistor’s Center. Her bigger-than-life portrayal of Louisa May Alcott was a sight to behold.

Donnelly beautifully captured the awesome life force of Alcott along with her flair for the dramatic and sharp sense of humor.  It was not hard to imagine her as Louisa with her rapid-fire delivery, engaging the audience at every turn.

Continue reading

A rare look at Louisa May Alcott’s life as an invalid and a patient

You never know what you will find out from a librarian. Or where research will lead you. That’s what makes it so addictive.

The Alcotts and Homeopathy

My research on Elizabeth Alcott has recently led me into the world of alternative medicine. The Alcotts were followers of Homeopathy, a popular alternative to traditional medicine in the nineteenth century founded by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician. Transcendentalists were among the earliest advocates of Homeopathy as opposed to Allopathy (traditional medicine). In her book, A Vital Force: Women in American Homeopathy, Anne Taylor Kirschmann writes,

“Many were attracted to Hahnemann’s metaphysical view of disease causality, his emphasis on the connection of mind and body in healing, and his insistence that only the spirit-like activity of mediinal substance (rather than the material drug) would influence a disordered spirit — the root cause of all disease.” (page 31)

Homeopathy, unlike Allopathy, was based on the premise that “like cures like.” Tiny doses of natural remedies first increase the symptoms but then cure the disease. The Alcotts turned to Hahnemann’s book, Organon of the Healing Art to treat small pox in 1850 and scarlet fever in 1856. Lizzie’s final physician, Dr. Christian Geist, was a homeopathic practitioner. Continue reading

“Poppy’s Pranks” reveals the childhood of Louisa May Alcott

I am listening for a second time to Harriet Reisen’s fine biography, Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women. In discussing Louisa’s childhood Reisen makes many references to a story Louisa wrote for her first children’s series, Morning-Glories and Other Stories. Having little experience with writing children’s stories, Louisa opted to learn by doing, thus preparing her for the job as editor of the children’s magazine, “Merry’s Museum.” As Madeline B. Stern put it, “Five hundred dollars a year would be welcome at Orchard House.” (Louisa May Alcott, A Biography, pg. 163).

This of course begins to set the stage for Alcott’s greatest triumph, Little Women. But back to Louisa’s own childhood …

The story which Reisen refers to is “Poppy’s Pranks.” Both Reisen and Stern note that Poppy’s experiences are Louisa’s.

Of Poppy Louisa writes that she was not necessarily a willful child “but very thoughtless and very curious. She wanted to see everything, do everything, and go everywhere: she feared nothing, and so was continually getting into scrapes.” After reading this story it is a wonder that Louisa’s mother Abba didn’t go completely gray with worry over her little hoiden; Poppy’s escapes are hair-raising!

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

From hanging out a third-story window with her head upside down, to jumping off of the highest beam in the barn at the dare of a friend (and spraining both ankles), to rubbing peppers in her eyes and eating tobacco only to be brought home deathly ill in a wheelbarrow … Poppy’s pranks were legendary. The prank that really got me came as a result of Poppy wishing to imitate country girls by going barefoot. Despite her mother forbidding her to do so, Poppy took off her shoes and proceeded to pierce her foot with a pitchfork. Ouch! Fearful that she would develop lock jaw, a potentially fatal outcome of her accident (suggested to her by her friend Cy), Poppy in dramatic style, prepares for death by bequeathing all her belongings. She is a bit disappointed when she fully recovers. She truly did want to experience everything!

Louisa mixes fact and fiction so skillfully that I am never totally sure what is true. It doesn’t matter. It’s obvious that she was Poppy and must have been a force to contend with in a household where peace was supposed to reign supreme. That force would evolve into the amazing quantity, quality and variety of her writing over her adult life.

We as readers are very fortunate that “Poppy” put her enormous life force to such good use.

You can download Morning-Glories and Other Stories from archive.org — just click on the title. “Poppy’s Pranks” are on page 89.

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Gossip from overseas: stories from “Little Women Abroad” by those mapcap Alcott sisters

I am pleased to present this guest post by Elizabeth Hilprecht, a regular reader whose insightful comments you have most likely read. We have been having a wonderful email chat back and forth about Daniel Shealy’s Little Women Abroad and I asked her if she would share some of the wonderful stories taken from letters to home written by Louisa May Alcott and her sister May describing their European exploits. She graciously accepted.

Little Women Abroad is a valuable book including a lengthy introduction, seventy one letters from Louisa and May (with fifty eight published for the first time) and many pages of drawings by May Alcott. Daniel Shealy’s scholarship is impeccable. Besides the colorful stories are letters about the death of John Pratt and the grief experienced by the sisters and business correspondences between “Jo” and “Tom” (Louisa and Thomas Niles, her publisher).

Little Women Abroad also provides a valuable look into the world of two independent and successful sisters (one already established and the other on the cusp) providing a bird’s eye view of Europe in the nineteenth century. We are indeed fortunate that the Alcott family so valued letter writing; Bronson in particular felt that letters should be saved and savored — he ended up transcribing all the letters sent to him and Abba during the daughters’ first year in Europe.

Here are some of Elizabeth’s initial thoughts. Continue reading

Coming attractions for 2017 (and a summing up of 2016)

Abby May Alcott's diaries from 1852 and 1863 - get to know the real Amy March.

courtesy of the Houghton Library, Louisa May Alcott additional papers, 1845-1944: MS Am 1817, folder 56

Abby May Alcott’s diaries from 1852 and 1863 —
getting to know the real Amy March.

May Alcott Nieriker's delightful foray into writing -- mentoring other women artists.

May Alcott Nieriker’s delightful foray into writing —
mentoring other women artists Continue reading