Louisa May Alcott: Little Woman, Big Pen


Flower Fables
(New York: Hurst & Co., 1900)

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Among the most popular literature of the 19th century, Louisa May Alcott’s work is timeless. Some of her classic books never have gone out of print, and much of her work only recently has been discovered. Alcott’s writing not only informs readers about the period in which she wrote, but it also reveals volumes about her life and family.

Likewise, the covers that graced her books in the 19th and early 20th centuries offer an education regarding trends in book binding at the time. The PBO database currently has seventy-five editions of Alcott's books. More will be added.

Although born in Pennsylvania (29 November 1832), Alcott spent most of her life in Boston and Concord, Massachusetts. Educated at home, Alcott and her sisters received from their parents a wealth of knowledge and a sense of moral responsibility.

Amos Bronson Alcott was not only a teacher but also a philosopher and prominent Transcendentalist. The reform-minded Abigail May was involved in the abolitionist and suffrage movements.

Little Women
(Roberts Bros., 1880)

As a child, Alcott spent a great deal of time with her father’s friends, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Perhaps drawing inspiration from these notable figures, Alcott began writing when she was young. Her stories first found a public venue as plays that she and her sisters acted out for friends. She began publishing poetry and short stories in magazines in 1852, when “Sunlight” appeared in Peterson’s Magazine under the pseudonym Flora Fairfield. Her first book, a collection of stories called Flower Fables, was published in 1854.

However, writing was not her only occupation. Because her family was poor, Alcott began working at the age of fifteen to help support her parents and sisters. She found any job that would hire a woman, working as a teacher, seamstress, governess, and household servant, among other things.

Alcott’s real life fed her writing in many ways. In 1863, she published Hospital Sketches, based on the letters she had written home from Washington, D.C., where she served as a nurse during the Civil War. The book was not the only product of Alcott’s stay in the nation’s capital. She unfortunately contracted typhoid fever, and although she recovered from the illness, the mercury treatment doctors gave her would plague her for the rest of her life.


A Modern Mephistopheles
(Roberts Bros., 1889)

Alcott’s childhood informed her most famous book, Little Women. Alcott was working as editor for the magazine Merry’s Museum when book publisher Thomas Niles asked her to write a story for girls. She drew inspiration for the main characters from her family, basing tomboy Jo on herself. Written in less than three months, the book was an instant success. She immediately penned a second volume, Good Wives, which was published in 1869. The two volumes thereafter have been published as one volume, known only as Little Women. The sequels Little Men and Jo’s Boys were equally popular.

Although the Little Women series and many of Alcott’s other works were essentially written for children, Alcott had another side. She penned a number of sensational, adult-oriented stories anonymously and under the pen names A. M. Barnard, Aunt Weedy, Flora Fairfield, Oranthy Bluggage, and Minerva Moody. The Gothic thrillers she authored as Barnard were particularly lucrative.

Lulu's Library
(Roberts Bros., 1886)

The financial success of Alcott’s books yanked her family from poverty, but her home life still was fraught with tragedy. Her sister Elizabeth died of scarlet fever prior to the publishing of Little Women, a blow from which Alcott’s mother never recovered. In 1877, Abigail May died as well. Two years later, Alcott’s youngest sister, May, died from complications after childbirth. May lived long enough to name her daughter Louisa May, and she asked Alcott to raise her namesake.

Alcott took care of young Lulu for eight years, while her own health rapidly declined from the mercury poisoning. She fell into a coma while caring for her ailing father, who died in March of 1888. Alcott followed two days later. She was buried across the feet of her parents and sister Elizabeth.

Alcott remained busy during the twenty years between the publication of Little Women and her death at the age of fifty-six. Following in her mother’s footsteps, she took up the cause of suffrage, writing for The Woman’s Journal and canvassing to encourage women to register to vote after Massachusetts granted women suffrage for school, tax, and bond issues. Alcott became the first woman in Concord to register, voting in the village’s school committee election in 1879.

The Alcott legacy lives on in her writing, as well as in the films that have been made of her books. Although more than thirty volumes appeared during her lifetime, she was more prolific than most of her contemporaries ever knew. Much of her work has been found in her papers and published in the century since her death.

Bibliography (full text available for hyperlinked titles)
NOTE: Only books Louisa May Alcott published under her own name are listed. Most of the stories written anonymously and under pseudonyms were republished in collections that are listed under her posthumous work below.

Flower Fables, 1854
Hospital Sketches, 1863 (revised, 1869)
The Rose Family: A Fairy Tale, 1864
On Picket Duty, and Other Tales, 1864
Nelly’s Hospital, 1865
Moods, 1865 (revised, 1882)
Morning-Glories and Other Stories, 1867
The Mysterious Key & What It Opened, 1867
Three Proverb Stories, 1868
Will's Wonder Book, 1868

Little Women, 1868
Good Wives, 1869 (part 2 of Little Women)
Camp and Fireside Stories, 1869
An Old Fashioned Girl, 1870
Little Men, 1871
Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag, vol. 1(My Boys), 1871
Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag, vol. 2 (Shawl Straps), 1872

Work: A Story of Experience, 1873
Something to Do, 1873
Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag, vol. 3 (Cupid and Chow Chow), 1874
Beginning Again, Being a Continuation of Work, 1875

Eight Cousins; or, The Aunt-Hill, 1875
Silver Pitchers, and Independence, 1876
Rose in Bloom: A Sequel to Eight Cousins, 1876
Horn of Plenty, 1876
Under the Lilacs, 1878
Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag
, vol. 4 (My Girls), 1878
Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag, vol. 5 (Jimmy's Cruise in the Pinafore), 1879
Meadow Blossoms
, 1879
Water Cresses, 1879
Sparkling for Bright Eyes, 1879
Jack and Jill: A Village Story, 1880
Christmas Plum Pudding Stories, 1882
Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag, vol. 6 (An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving), 1882
Spinning Wheel Stories, 1884
Jo's Boys and How They Turned Out: A Sequel to Little Men, 1886
Lulu's Library, vol. 1 (A Christmas Dream), 1886
Lulu's Library, vol. 2 (The Frost King), 1887
A Garland for Girls, 1888
Lulu's Library, vol. 3 (Recollections), 1889

The following volumes consist of work previously published in periodicals or under pseudonyms, as well as previously unpublished work discovered in the Alcott papers.

A Modern Mephistopheles, and A Whisper in the Dark, 1889
Life, Letters, and Journals, 1889
Comic Tragedies Written by "Jo" and "Meg" and Acted by the "Little Women," 1893
Becky's Christmas Dream, 1895
Marjorie’s Three Gifts, 1899
Doll's Journey, 1902
Letters from the House of Alcott, 1914
Three Unpublished Poems, 1919
A Round Dozen, 1963
Glimpses of Louisa: A Centennial Sampling of the Best Short Stories, 1968
Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers, 1975 Plots and Counterplots: More Unknown Thrillers, 1976
Trudel’s Siege, 1976
Diana and Persis, 1978
Transcendental Wild Oats, 1981
Works, 1983
Napoleon Bonaparte, 1984
Hidden Louisa May Alcott: A Collection of Her Unknown Thrillers, 1985
Selected Letters, 1987
Works of Louisa May Alcott, 1987
The Lay of a Golden Goose, 1987
Double Life: Newly Discovered Thrillers, 1988
Alternative Alcott, 1988

Journals, 1989
Freaks of Genius: Unknown Thrillers, 1991
Selected Fiction,
Fairy Tales and Fantasy Stories

From Jo March’s Attic, Stories of Intrigue and Suspense
Girlhood Diary,
A Long Fatal Love Chase
, 1995
Lost Stories, 1995
A Marble Woman, 1995
Modern Magic, 1995
Short Stories, 1996
The Feminist Alcott, 1996
The Inheritance, 1997
Intimate Anthology, 1997
Race, Sex, and Slavery, 1997
The Quiet Little Woman, 1999
Poems, 2000
Writings of a Young Author, 1843-1846, 2000
Early Stories, 1852-1860, 2000
A Little Princess, 2001
Three Fire-side Stories, 2001
Selected Fiction, 2001
Uncollected Works, 2001
Sketches, 2001
Christmas Treasury, 2002
Good Boy, 2003
Civil War, coming 2006

pbw00138       pbw00169       pbw00130       pba00741
Comic Tragedies
Sampson Low,1893


Aunt Jo's Scrap Bag
Little, Brown, 1903
The Mysterious Key
F. M. Lutton, 1902
Eights Cousins
Little, Brown, 1903

Search the PBO database for books by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott Teaching Resources based on Publishers' Bindings Online

Children's books by Louisa May Alcott, K-5 lesson plan: Word document or PDF file.

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, 6-8 lesson plan: Word document or PDF file.

Louisa May Alcott's hidden thrillers, 9-12 lesson plan: Word document or PDF file.

Women Writers of the 19th Century, 6-12 lesson plan: Word document or PDF file

Other Resources and Readings

Related Online Resources

Cairns Collection of American Women Writers, University of Wisconsin-Madison:

Carolyn Davis Collection of Louisa May Alcott, University of Maryland:

I Hear America Singing: Profiles, Poets/Writers, PBS:

Louisa May Alcott: Domestic Goddess, Women Writers:

Louisa May Alcott, National Women's Hall of Fame:

Orchard House: Home of the Alcotts, Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association:

Selected Readings

Delamar, Gloria T. Louisa May Alcott and "Little women": Biography, Critique, Publications, Poems, Songs, and Contemporary Relevance. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, 1990.

Elbert, Sarah. Hunger for Home: Louisa May Alcott's Place in American Culture. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987.

Johnston, Norma. Louisa May: The World and Works of Louisa May Alcott. New York : Four Winds Press, 1991.

Keyser, Elizabeth Lennox. Whispers in the dark: The Fiction of Louisa May Alcott. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.

Matteson, John. Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, W.W. Norton, 2007.

Meigs, Cornelia. Invicible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women. Boston: Little, Brown, 1968.

Saxton, Martha. Louisa May: A Modern Biography of Louisa May Alcott. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.

Stern, Madeleine B. Louisa May Alcott: From Blood & Thunder to Hearth & Home. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998.

Strickland, Charles. Victorian domesticity: Families in the Life and Art of Louisa May Alcott. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1985.


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