Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 63

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 63


This is the grave of Louisa May Alcott.


Born in 1832 in Philadelphia, Alcott and her family that included her father Bronson Alcott moved to the transcendentalist center of Boston in 1834. She grew up in that intellectually rich environment, having Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Nathaniel Hawthorne among others as her teachers. Her family’s home was a spot on the Underground Railroad and women’s rights was a passion of the family. But being a transcendentalist didn’t make anyone any money, the family was very poor, and Alcott went to work as a teenager, doing jobs ranging from seamstress to teacher. In 1857, unable to find work to help support the family, she considered suicide. She worked hard when she could find a job.

To deal with this, she found writing as an outlet. Her first writings were published in 1849 but it was during the Civil War she found success, first with her wonderful Hospital Sketches that detailed her time working in a hospital on the front lines, still a great thing to teach today. Her 1868 book Little Women made her famous and she followed it with a serious of novels that made her one of the leading literary lights of the early Gilded Age. Unfortunately, she also had some pretty severe health problems and was never really well in the last 20 years of her life. It is speculated that she suffered from lupus, but we will never really know. She died of a stroke in 1888 at the age of 55, 2 days after her father’s death.

Alcott’s books have been adapted to television and film many times. But she herself has been portrayed rarely. She was evidently never portrayed until this awful looking 1978 semi-documentary on near-death experiences when someone named Shelley Young played her. She has also been a character in a couple of TV movies, one about Mary Cassatt and the other called “Christmas and the Civil War,” which maybe we should all watch today.

Louisa May Alcott is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts.

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  • koolhand21

    Did she or her family copyright any of the books or were they in the public domain? Gilded Age but perhaps not for the Alcotts?

    • The Dark God of Time

      There was very weak enforcement of the existing laws. I came across a pirated book from that era a few years ago, the boilerplate “Entered according to act of Congress, in the yea18XX” was missing, which piqued my curiosity. Also, unless she had someone make a trip across the Atlantic to secure the British copyright, any publisher could issue any of her works and she would’ve been SOL.

      • mikeSchilling

        Mark Twain made considerable amounts of money [1] because he published and sold his own stuff.

        1. Every cent of which he threw away in bad investments, but that’s another story.

        • One of the very cool ways that Twain made money was in selling self glueing scrapbooks, with his name on them, that allowed people to clip his articles and stories from their local newspaper and glue them in. He didn’t get any extra pay for the often pirated stories but he did get some money from these proprietary scrapbook forms. The story is in the wonderful book Writing With Scissors.https://www.amazon.com/Writing-Scissors-American-Scrapbooks-Renaissance/dp/0199927693

  • XTPD

    Louisa May Alcott also wrote pulp fiction, and had to be forced by her publisher to write Little Women, as she considered that genre glurge.

    Also, OT: Around the same time Magary published his GQ piece, the Deadspin Concourse Gizmodo Media Staff published their “Least Important Writers of 2016” list, and I have to say: Magary’s list beats theirs worse than Butterbean did Bart Gunn. I don’t think this would be necessarily pointless even if one of their own employees’ list is easily much more popular – in fact I mostly like HamNo’s previous iterations of this list on Gawker – but quite a few of their choices** are both petty and more mean-spirited than funny; my impression is that this was published by the Deadspin Bernouts* as butthurt payback over their thrashing over their voting piece back in November.

    * I actually don’t think Nolan wrote this piece, despite this formerly being his column for Gawker. Yeah, I for the most part find him a dick…but the prose here doesn’t read like his work, and FWIW he wasn’t really whiny when explaining his vote for Clinton.
    ** And yes, as a Clinton supporter I thought Marcotte’s $hillbottery was near-unreadable during the primary. Still nowhere near the “least important” part of Salon, especially under Daley’s tenure (and the accusation of her attacking only other leftists is fucking rich, considering the writers).

    • The deadspin list reads like someone is airing their personal Twitter beefs.

      Also, the widespread misunderstanding of polls on the left does not bode well for our ability to draw the correct lesson from the election. Nate silver wasn’t wrong and neither were the polls. If porte can’t accept that basic fact, how are they going to work through actually difficult problems?

  • Keaaukane

    Did anyone else think of the Get Smart episode where Max keeps asking “Who wrote Little Women?”

    • DocAmazing

      “Lonely little men.”

  • Yankee

    I don’t think we’ve seen offerings like that otherwhere in this series. I wonder who is leaving them and what is the message? (… Julius Caesar still gets them. In his case, I can just imagine.)

    • Woodrowfan

      Julius Caesar still gets them…

      Salad dressing bottles?

    • Karen24

      Susan B. Anthony gets “I voted” stickers.

    • weirdnoise

      I wonder what she’d make of the anachronistic ballpoint pens… She might have used an early fountain pen but in all likelihood used a dip pen (still used by artists). Or a pencil, possibly from the pencil factory owned by Thoreau’s dad.

      • Thom

        As an 8 year old child in 1962-63, I was living with my family in Oxford, England, and attending a state school. We had dip pens. We also sewed our own notebooks.

        • Ahuitzotl

          Working for a bank in NZ, in 1978, I was still required to use a dip pen to make out certain types of documents.

      • (((max)))

        They’re leaving her pencils. And a quill pen (stuck in the ground upright next to the ‘US Veteran’ sign).

        I can’t figure out what the pennies are for, or the nickle on the name stone.

        [‘Two tombstone for Sister Louisa.’]

        • weirdnoise

          And a quill pen

          Well, it’s a feather, anyway. But she probably used a pen with a steel nib.

          • Thom

            Oh yeah, ours in Oxford had steel nibs too. (No feather, though.)

  • jamesepowell

    Thanks for reminding me that I’ve been meaning to read Hospital Sketches. Got it on kindle just now.

    Last week I watched the entire Civil War & Reconstruction lectures from the Yale course by David Blight. He mentions Hospital Sketches, it may be one of the readings for the class.

    • I started listening to that a few years ago. It was very good. You are reminding me that I should go back to it.

  • BGinCHI

    “Hospital Sketches” is great reading alongside the Civil War section of Whitman’s “Specimen Days.”

  • Shantanu Saha

    George Michael is dead.

    • Denverite

      Because apparently 80s pop icons had gotten off easy in the whole “2016 will eat your children” debacle.

    • And of course he died on Christmas day, so it’s going to be doubly depressing to listen to “Last Christmas” from now on, the same way Lou Reed’s death on a Sunday morning makes “Sunday Morning” more difficult to listen to now.

      This whole year is garbage. I’d say I can’t wait for it to be over, but that would be a lie, because I know perfectly well what we’re likely to be in store for next year.

    • Dilan Esper

      My favorite singer from the 1980’s. Outstanding technical skill and a bunch of great records.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      six days to go

    • (((max)))

      You know what we need here? We need Erik to post a picture of a dead horse.

      [‘He stopped posting pictures of dead horses and BOOM! 2016 happens!’]

    • Colin Day

      I’m listening to Cowboys and Angels.


  • Nutella

    I remember reading in a biography of Alcott (sorry, don’t have the reference now) that when she was nursing during the Civil War mercury was considered a cure all. Some huge number of injured soldiers are believed to have been killed by their mercury treatments rather than their injuries. Alcott had some illness while she was nursing and it was treated with mercury, too. That’s what gave her lifelong health problems.

    • iliketurtles

      From patch.com

      Flags were placed on all veterans’ graves in Sleepy Hollow in preparation for Memorial Day. Louisa May qualifies because of her service as a nurse during the Civil War, treating wounded and dying troops at Union Hotel Hospital near Washington DC. (See her Hospital Sketches) For the typhoid fever and pneumonia she contracted during that experience, she was treated with a mercury derivative that damaged her nervous system and from which she never fully recovered.

  • MacK

    It’s worth noting that Alcott displayed some pretty extreme anti-Irish and anti catholic bigotry, which she actually characterized as an objection to the Irish as a “race” – I.e., she was in fact a rather nasty racist. The now rather infamous Article – “the Servant Girl Problem” is here, bottom right:


    • JonH

      So in other words very much a person of her time.

      • MacK

        The problem with that trite response is that segregationists, fascists, slave owners were also persons of their time – are you as understanding of them?

        • It’s possible to condemn someone for their negative traits while still recognising their positive contributions to society. Mikhail Bakunin was an anti-Semite, but that doesn’t make his contributions to anarchist theory any less valuable, and it doesn’t make his predictions about what would happen if authoritarian communism was tried any less correct. H.P. Lovecraft was a racist, but it doesn’t make his horror fiction any less compelling.

          I’m not saying we should overlook the faults of historical figures (indeed, doing so is outright dangerous; blind worship of the Founding Fathers in particular is responsible for a number of major problems in this country), but it’s also fine to recognise their contributions to culture while acknowledging that they weren’t perfect, and were products of their time.

          • MacK

            Your post presupposes value in anarchist theory and anarchism …

          • Ahuitzotl

            that doesn’t make his contributions to anarchist theory any less valuable risible,


        • witlesschum

          Understanding, yes. Whitewashing the past is far more objectionable than the fact that people thought terrible things then.

          My favorite moment in anti-Irish hysteria was early in the Republic when the Federalists objected to the Irish on the grounds that they were likely to be Jacobins if they weren’t Catholics and either way were likely to vote for the Jeffersonians. The United Irishmen fleeing after the fizzled rebellion in 1798 were a Federalist’s nightmare.

    • Hogan

      We all suck in our own way.

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