Family Mainstay

At fifteen Louisa had vowed to “be rich, and famous, and happy before I die.” She was gratified to see the Alcotts living in comfort, but in the pursuit of her own happiness Alcott encountered obstacle after obstacle. A succession of family deaths added to her self-imposed financial burden and prevented her from traveling as she had long wished. During her first trip to Europe as a wealthy woman Anna Alcott Pratt’s husband died, leaving two young children and little money. In her hotel room in Venice, Louisa wrote Little Men, assigning her nephews the royalties. She canceled plans for a subsequent voyage to stay in Concord at her dying mother’s bedside. For her widowed father Louisa built a public platform, the Concord School of Philosophy, where he promulgated Transcendentalism at summer conclaves. After he suffered a stroke, Louisa established Bronson in a handsome house in Boston’s elegant Louisburg Square, where she visited him nearly every day she was not in residence there.

Thanks to Louisa’s generosity, her sister May Alcott had studied art in Europe, where she had married happily, but too briefly, for she died soon after childbirth. May’s baby daughter, named Louisa after her generous aunt, was sent across the ocean to become a weighty but joyful family responsibility. “Lulu” called her aunt “Mother,” and lived with the Alcotts until Louisa’s death ten years later.

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