The life of Louisa May Alcott

She was a feminist, an abolitionist, and one of America's first female literary superstars. This is the story of Louisa May Alcott, the author of "Little Women."

The acclaimed, feminist author

Little Women has inspired generations of readers and girls around the world. But the author behind the book is just as inspiring. Feminist pioneer, abolitionist, and one of America's first female literary superstars, this is the story of Louisa May Alcott. She was born in 1832 in Pennsylvania and grew up in Massachusetts. She was the second of four sisters. From a young age, she saw how society limited women's independence. Her father was an eccentric philosopher who introduced his daughters to famous writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau. But he never earned money, and Louisa's mother scraped together a living by teaching, sewing, and cleaning houses. Louisa and her family moved more than 30 times while growing up. She rejected the games girls were expected to play. Alcott once revealed, "No boy could be my friend till I had beaten him in a race and no girl if she refused to climb trees, leap fences…"

A “girl’s story”

She started writing at age 8 and loved putting on plays with her sisters. When she was 15, she promised herself she would one day get her family out of poverty. In her 20s, to earn more money, she started publishing melodramatic stories under a pen name. When she was 25, her younger sister Elizabeth died of an unidentified illness.

A lifelong abolitionist, she signed up as a nurse during the Civil War and treated wounded soldiers from the Battle of Fredericksburg. She wrote about the experience in the book. When she was 35, a publisher asked her to write a "girls' story." She finished the book in 3 months, sometimes spending 14 hours a day at her desk. The result was "Little Women," one of the first books with independent, flawed, female main characters. The first edition sold out in 2 weeks. Fans demanded multiple sequels.

Destined for success

Her publisher didn't pay her up front for her work. Yet, she earned so much from the royalties that she could provide for her family and remain independent for the rest of her life. In 1879, her youngest sister, May, died, and Louisa took in May's daughter. In the 1870s and 1880s, she campaigned for women's rights. When Massachusetts passed a law allowing women to vote, she was the first in her town to register.

But she also experienced decades of chronic health problems, including headaches, vertigo, and rheumatism. In 1888 she suffered a stroke and died at age 55. She was buried in the same cemetery as the literary idols she grew up with.