Celebrating the re-opening of The Wayside — a peak inside

After a three year renovation, the home of famous authors Louisa May Alcott, Nathanial Hawthorne and Margaret Sidney is finally open! I recently toured the house and was allowed to take pictures of each room, some of which I will share in this post.

The force behind the preservation of the home

the wayside home of authorsSidney (aka Harriet Lothrop of The Five Peppers series) is the mother of Margaret Lothrop, author of The Wayside: Home of Authors (which you can read online) originally published in 1940. After her mother passed away in 1924, Lothrop sought to preserve The Wayside which had housed such luminary authors. She opened the home to visitors and eventually sold the property to the National Park Service in 1965 after succeeding in 1963 in having the home declared a National Historic Landmark.

Voices of the Alcotts

The portion of The Wayside devoted to the Alcotts contains many passages from previously unpublished journal entries by Bronson and daughter Elizabeth; Lizzie had kept a detailed record, mentioning games, names of neighborhood children, duties performed and different little trips taken by the family to Walden and surrounding areas.

Houghton Library MS Am 1130.9:I. Letterbooks of Amos Bronson Alcott (24) Family letters and diaries from 1837 to 1850. Vol.I. Domestic -- diary of Elizabeth

Houghton Library MS Am 1130.9: I. Letterbooks of Amos Bronson Alcott (24) Family letters and diaries from 1837 to 1850. Vol. I. Domestic — diary of Elizabeth

Bronson as artist

Lothrop describes Bronson as a philosopher who loved the defenseless and believed that education “should fit the individual for the joy of independent thought.” She recalled Alcott’s failed attempt at Utopia with Charles Lane at Fruitlands and how the family came to acquire the old Cogswell house, dubbing it “Hillside.”

From The Wayside: Home of Authors by Margaret Lothrop

From The Wayside: Home of Authors by Margaret Lothrop

She went on to describe how Alcott beautified Hillside first through his vegetable and flower gardens, stone walls and terraces, and then through various structures such as the arbor or summer house, built on one of the terraces. Alcott loved creating beauty and function in and around his home (including shower/bathing system in one of the additions to the house that even young Elizabeth could use on her own, and the creation of a small reservoir in the field across the street complete with a “rustic structure, for Bathing, and an alcove for retreating from the summer heat and rains” – Bronson in his journal). His appreciation of beauty and his way of approaching these projects as future works of art demonstrate a link between him and his youngest daughter May’s artistic talent.

summerhouse longcamp.comEmerson was so taken with Alcott’s rustic structure that he commissioned Bronson to build a similar retreat for him on his property for a stipend of $50. Needless to say it was the subject of town gossip for months to come.

Father and daughter gardening together

Bronson took great pains with his gardening and wrote extensively on it in his journals. All of the children helped out with Elizabeth enjoying it the most. Recently I came across a journal passage from Bronson dated June 1, 1846 where he describes his pleasure in working side by side with Lizzie in the garden. Her love of gardening is expressed in her own journal. I have often thought that the communication between Bronson and Elizabeth was more non-verbal, expressing their affection for each other through their actions. Bronson’s warm pleasure in gardening with his daughter is evident in the short journal entry.

Houghton Library, Houghton Library, MS Am 1130.12: IV. Journals and diaries of Amos Bronson Alcott (15) Diary for 1846. Vol. XX. Concord, Mass. 123f.

Houghton Library, MS Am 1130.12: IV. Journals and diaries of Amos Bronson Alcott (15) Diary for 1846. Vol. XX. Concord, Mass. 123f.

The beloved room of her own

front with kitchen addition

Bathhouse addition (now serving as a kitchen)

Location of Louisa's room

Location of Louisa’s room

Bronson, with help from neighbors, expanded the size of the house by cutting a separate structure (the wheelwright’s shop) in half and adding it to either end of the house. The eastern end became the aforementioned bathhouse (with storage for wood) while the western end housed Bronson’s study where he did his reading and study, and educated his children. There were also two small rooms in the back providing Louisa and Anna with their cherished private rooms. Louisa’s room unfortunately no longer exists due to the addition of the tower by the Hawthorne’s but the window delineates the location of the room (where evidence of the door to the garden which Louisa wrote about, exists).

The Pilgrim’s Progress staircase

former front door -- across the way, the "Pilgrim's Progress" staircase

former front door — across the way, the “Pilgrim’s Progress” staircase

One of the biggest thrills was seeing the actual staircase where the Alcott girls played Pilgrim’s Progress, carrying their burdens on their backs up and down the narrow stairs, as mentioned in Little Women. Across from the stairs is a bay window which used to be the front door to the home. Lothrop writes,

“One of their diversions was to listen to a story, and then to enact what they had heard. Christian, in Pilgrim’s Progress, was a favorite character whose adventures they imitated. Louisa has described in Little Women the girls’ journeys on the terraces, through the house, and up to the flat roof – the ‘Celestial City,’ – where they ‘sang for joy in the sunshine.’”

A pilgrimage

Lothrop’s write-up in The Wayside is sanitized, barely mentioning the financial trouble of the family, Abba’s anxieties and Bronson’s struggle back from the profound failure of Fruitlands. But it does paint a lovely portrait of the happiest times in Louisa’s life and that of her sisters. The presence of the family is palpable in the rambling old house – it is a pilgrimage to visit there.

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small graphic for sidebarp.s. Have you listened to the latest episode of Louisa May Alcott is My Passion: The Podcast! yet? Hear interviews from some of the leading Alcott scholars including Pulitzer prize-winning author John Matteson at the recent Summer Conversational Series on iTunes and also here.

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Those unconventional Alcotts left behind quite the mark

The Alcotts were an atypical Victorian family to be sure. Along with rather unconventional philosophic and religious ideas as to how to live, the family did not subscribe to typical Victorian role models.

alcott family horiz

Role reversal

Bronson at the School of Philosophy at Orchard House

Bronson at the School of Philosophy at Orchard House

To begin with, Bronson’s refusal or inability to work to support his family necessitated that his wife Abba take on the breadwinner role. When her health began to suffer, Louisa took over, spending the rest of her life keeping that “Alcott Sinking Fund” (as she dubbed it) afloat, sacrificing artistic growth, independence and her own health.

Career minded

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

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

The Alcott daughters were educated and well read. They were encouraged to think, to create, to pursue their dreams. Abba wanted to be sure her girls could support themselves. Both parents encouraged the girls in their career interests with the results being Louisa becoming a best selling author and youngest sister May realizing some success as accomplished painter before she died prematurely.

Run, jump, play!

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

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

Physical activity was very much the norm. The girls were allowed to play like boys, running and jumping, talking long hikes into the woods, playing into the mud and coming home dirty. Louisa writes about her many hair-raising escapades in “Poppy’s Pranks” from Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag Volume IV. Louisa and May, being the most physically robust of the sisters, continued with physical activity into their adulthood: Louisa took daily runs while May went rowing and horseback riding.

Romance and marriage

Unlike most Victorian parents, Bronson and Abba did not pressure their daughters to marry. Louisa, of course, never took the plunge nor did she consider it even though she had a romance with a man several years her junior in Europe known as Ladislas Wisniewski (although the nature of that romance is in question–see previous post). Despite herself, she did receive at least one marriage proposal.

alcotts as I knew them coverThere are few references even to romance when the sisters were of traditional marrying age. Anna appears to have had some sort of relationship while teaching in Syracuse but she was ultimately rejected. Louisa wrote a single cryptic line in her journal in 1853 about her seventeen-year-old sister Lizzie having a romance with “C.” Clara Gowing, in her book The Alcotts as I Knew Them described it as “A little affair of the heart about that time, which did not meet the approval of her parents …”  May, a flirtatious sort, was the one sister who had many flings, most notably with next door neighbor Julian Hawthorne.

Marriage as rebellion

Pratt-2528Only two of the daughters married and both rather late. Anna married John Pratt when she twenty-nine. In a sense, she rebelled against her family’s unconventional lifestyle, preferring to start a family of her own. She was happily married to John for ten years before he tragically died; they had two sons.

May the cougar?

courtesy of louisamay.livejournal.com

courtesy of louisamay.livejournal.com

May too, rebelled in a sense, opting to remain permanently in Europe rather than being near her family. Career was first and she had rightly determined that she could not become a great artist without living in Europe. She then married a man considerably younger than herself (and successfully lied about her age – the wrong age is on her death certificate since husband Ernest Nieriker provided the information.).

Motherhood

from alcott.net

from alcott.net

May died a few weeks after giving birth and bequeathed her daughter to older spinster sister Louisa. Thus Louisa became a single mother, raising Lulu as her own.

The right to vote

And one more tidbit from this most unusual family: Louisa was the first woman in Concord to register to vote. It had been a dream she had shared with her mother but sadly Abba did not live to vote herself or see her daughter cast it. She proudly cast it on March 29, 1880, adding “No bolt fell on our audacious heads, no earthquake shook the town.”

The Alcotts thus made their mark, through the vote, through literature, through art, and most especially, through their fascinating family history.

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Don’t miss the special exhibit of rare artifacts at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

On Thursday I toured Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. I was anxious to see the artifacts pictured in The Annotated Little Women, edited by John Matteson and took a vacation day to see them as November can get swallowed up in holiday preparations.

If you live anywhere near Concord and can get to this exhibit, do so. The artifacts are on display only through the month of November.

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

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

I made a complete list of the artifacts on display. I wish I could show you pictures but taking photos is prohibited at Orchard House; you will need to get a copy of The Annotated Little Women.

Here goes:

In the kitchen:

  • First editions of Hospital Sketches and Little Women
  • Original photos of the Hosmer cottage known as Dove Cote and Orchard House (the one with the unique fence built by Bronson).

In the dining room:

  • A quote from Louisa, handwritten, circa 1869
  • An autographed dance fan including the autographs of Louisa, May and Ellen Emerson.

In the parlor:

  • Three Pickwick Club badges
  • A display dedicated to Anna and John including the original marriage certificate and photographs

In Louisa’s room:

  • Louisa’s homeopathic medicine kit (including a list of ailments treated by the medicines)
  • A lock of Louisa’s hair
  • Sketches of Louisa by May, one familiar (“The Golden Goose”), one not (she has a cat at her feet)
  • A photo of Alf Whitman sitting on the half moon desk
  • Original versions of publicity photos of Louisa circa 1870, 1875, 1880, and two from 1887.
  • An ad for Little Men
  • A sculpture by Daniel Chester French of two owls cuddling–this artifact was acquired just three weeks ago.

In May’s room:

  • Tracings May did of drawings by John Flaxman circa 1857; she then copied the tracings around the moldings of the windows
  • Original watercolor of Ernest Nieriker by May in their Meuden salon – the color was especially brilliant.
  • Original photograph of Alice Bartlett and May.

In the hallway under Lulu’s portrait:

  • An original copy of Studying Art Abroad and How to Do It Cheaply by May Alcott Nieriker

In Bronson and Abba’s room:

  • Lizzie’s sewing kit, given to her by her father on her twenty-first birthday in 1856, It was surprisingly compact and featured a lovely inscription by Bronson.
  • A little book of Abba’s “Recipes and Simple Remedies” plus two original photos, one I had not seen before taken in 1850 but it is so small that it would be impossible to reproduce. The other was familiar, circa 1858.
  • Sketches of Frederick Pratt by May, one on a rocking horse and the other, playing Lizzie’s melodeon.
  • Small photos of John Pratt as a baby and toddler
  • Original photo of Lulu in the carriage

The best was saved for last–in Bronson’s study:

  • May’s original sketch of Bronson
  • Various original photos of Bronson
  • Original lithograph of the Temple School in Boston
  • And a display containing:
  • A lock of Lizzie’s hair with a tiny inscribed note in her perfect penmanship
  • Another lock of Lizzie’s combined with a lock of Bronson’s
  • Lizzie’s New Testament, an exquisite tiny book which originally belonged to Bronson–he gave it to Lizzie and then it was bequeathed to May.
  • Bronson’s copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress, also a tiny book (though a little bigger than the New Testament and a lot thicker) with beautiful engraving

I was grateful for being in a small group so that I could examine each artifact freely. My only wish is for the lighting to have been better as it was a cloudy day and I wanted to see every detail (how I wish I had had my super duper reading glasses!).

I must say that all the different artifacts belonging to Lizzie that were given to her by her father (and especially the two locks of hair entwined) told me much about the special relationship between Bronson and his Psyche.

Don’t miss this great exhibit!

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The Louisa May Alcott Society celebrates their tenth anniversary with a visit from “Louisa!”

On a cool and cloudy day a group of dedicated teachers, writers, academics and hard-core fans gathered together at ground zero to celebrate the love of an author who had, in one way or another, transformed their lives.

Thus was the gathering of the Louisa May Alcott Society as we celebrated ten years as an official organization.

columbine-640Greeted at the door of Orchard House by sweet lilacs and lovely columbines, the society entered the home where they encountered “Louisa May Alcott,” eager to take the group of 20+ on a special tour of her home.

In the parlor

We sat on the floor of the parlor as “Louisa” lovingly described her home and family, sharing delicious details of the wedding of Anna and John Pratt in that very parlor, the theatrics put on in the adjoining dining room (complete with mad dashes upstairs for quick costume changes) and her impressions of the George Healy portrait hanging there (“I looked like a relic from the Boston fire!” she bemoaned).

Leaning Orchard House

louisa and friends3-640“Louisa” described her father’s rather unique renovations and expansion of Orchard House (“which caused it to lean”) with the addition of the tenant house creating the dining room, kitchen and addition bed chamber above which housed May.

Moods

I enjoyed her description of the famous mood pillow, empathizing fully with “Louisa’s” desire not to be disturbed when lost in the vortex of creativity.

We gazed at May’s paintings in each of the rooms, sighed over Lizzie’s piano and appreciated Abba’s fine china before heading upstairs to the room where Little Women had been written.

Where Little Women was written

One can never enter that room without pausing over the small desk where the inkstand (a lovely glass holder with quill pen positioned over it) and pages from Little Women lay. Draped over the bed was Anna’s lovely gray wedding dress. Artifacts and tools of Louisa’s needlework were displayed on a table nearby.

May’s training

louisa and friends2-640May’s bed chamber produces the same level of awe. As we gazed at her drawings on the wall, “Louisa” described how her sister’s artistic training in Europe caused her to improve by leaps and bounds. Apparently in Europe May was exposed to training that would have been denied her in America, including the study of cadavers (which greatly improved her ability at portraiture). It was this level of training that transformed May into a serious artist. “Louisa” went on to brag how her sister was commissioned to copy the Turners which secured her position in the professional art world.

Special family heirlooms

Entering the master chamber, we were treated to a close-up view of the nursery where Johnny and Freddy Pratt had stayed after their father passed away. Here I found myself with a lump in my throat as I gazed at the dolly that Lizzie had made with the face painted by May. It took all of my strength not to touch that doll.

“Louisa” pointed out the quilt on the master bed made by her mother; that evoked a collective gasp of appreciation.

The magic never ends

We ended the tour in Bronson’s study and May’s art studio where “Louisa” noted with confusion the “chairs all set up” and the “strange device” (TV and DVD player) that filled the studio. What was May up to now?

Orchard House never fails to produce its magic and we all fell under the spell.

Happy anniversary!

The get-together culminated with champagne toasts, sweets, cheese and crackers and fresh fruit, stimulating conversation and vows to continue growing the society.

Judging from the attendance and the enthusiasm, I would say the Society is strong, growing and healthy. It is an honor to be a part of such a wonderful group.

LMA society2-640

Membership

Anyone serious about Louisa can join; dues are only $10 per year. We communicate by email on a regular basis and the website www.louisamayalcottsociety.org, provides resources.

To members of the society: you have helped me to better understand why I am so passionate about Louisa May Alcott. Even yesterday I discovered new reasons to continue my study and build my appreciation of this fascinating woman.

Come and join us!

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Part four of 4-part interview: Meet filmmaker and producer Justin King and hear his passion for Orchard House

In part three of this interview about Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, we meet the documentary’s producer and filmmaker, Justin King. Hear his motivation for making this film:

I wish to thank WCOM-FM for granting permission to rebroadcast this interview. It originally aired on October 1st on the “Courage Cocktail” hosted by Lee Anne McClymont.

KickstarterBanner-1 560

Host Lee Ann McClymont wrote a lovely sonnet to Louisa which I will close with. Thank you for your support of the campaign!

Louisa’s Dream

Kindred sister, in thy grace,
Help me birth a gentler race.
Place inside the meaning clear
Through our voice disband the fear.
Ford our way through wide and narrow
Guide our vision through bone and marrow
Still the noise and ply your craft
With sound and vision restore the draft
Till eventide the sea must rush
Let moonbeams sweetly whisper “hush.”
The end is near for family’s lost
In time suspended hope’s only cost
Restore the pledge to live in light
Godspeed your craft
With fortress might!

Sweetwood-Spring 2009
Hillsborough, North Carolina

Remember to #PledgeYourLove at
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/632439913/orchard-house

And please, share these posts with everyone you know who loves Little Women and Louisa May Alcott!

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Part three of 4-part interview: Jan Turnquist recounts a fascinating story of a pilgrimage to Orchard House

little women in koreanIn part three of this interview about Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, Executive Director Jan Turnquist shares a poignant story of a pilgrim visiting Orchard House from the other side of the world and how Little Women impacted this visitor:

I wish to thank WCOM-FM for granting permission to rebroadcast this interview. It originally aired on October 1st on the “Courage Cocktail” hosted by Lee Anne McClymont.

KickstarterBanner-1 560

Remember to #PledgeYourLove at
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/632439913/orchard-house

And please, share these posts with everyone you know who loves Little Women and Louisa May Alcott!

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Part two of 4-part interview: Jan Turnquist talks about Bronson’s education and the support Louisa received from her parents

" . . . I press thee to my heart, as Duty's faithful child."

” . . . I press thee to my heart, as Duty’s faithful child.”

In part two of this interview about Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, Executive Director Jan Turnquist reveals how Bronson Alcott received his education and how important his love of learning was to Louisa’s development as a writer:

I wish to thank WCOM-FM for granting permission to rebroadcast this interview. It originally aired on October 1st on the Courage Cocktail Radio Show, WCOM LP. 

KickstarterBanner-1 560

Remember to #PledgeYourLove at
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/632439913/orchard-house

And please, share these posts with everyone you know who loves Little Women and Louisa May Alcott!

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Subscribe to the email list and never miss a post!
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