Louisa May Alcott: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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Louisa May Alcott is being celebrated with a Google Doodle on what would have been her 184th birthday. (Sophie Diao/Google)

Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, is being celebrated with a Google Doodle on what would have been her 184th birthday.

“Today’s Doodle portrays Beth, Jo, Amy, and Meg March, as well as Jo’s best friend Laurie, their neighbor,” Google says of the Doodle, drawn by Sophie Diao. “The March family of Little Women was based on Alcott’s own, and the coltish Jo was Louisa’s vision of herself: strewing manuscript pages in her wake, charging ahead with the courage of her convictions, and cherishing her family above all.”

Here’s what you need to know about Alcott:

1. Alcott Was Born in Pennsylvania & Raised in Massachusetts, Where She Received Training From Writers Like Thoreau, Emerson & Hawthorne

louisa may alcott

Louisa May Alcott. (Hulton Archive/Getty)

Louisa May Alcott was born November 29, 1832, in Germantown, Pennsylvania, which is now part of Philadelphia, according to her biography on the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association’s website.

She was the daughter of Amos Bronson Alcott, a transcendentalist and educator, and Abby May Alcott, a social worker. Alcott had three sisters, Anna Bronson Alcott, who was older than her, and two younger sisters, Elizabeth Sewall Alcott and Abigail May Alcott.

Her family would later serve as part of the inspiration for the Little Women novels.

Alcott and her family moved to Concord, Massachusetts, in 1840, where her training in writing included lessons from Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, according to the memorial association’s website.

She was a tomboy, like the character Jo March in Little Women, according to the biography.

“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,” she once said about her childhood.

2. Her Family’s House Was Part of the Underground Railroad & She Became an Abolitionist & Feminist as an Adult

AMERICAN MASTERS | Scene from Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind 'Little Women' | PBSpbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/louisa-may-alcott/the-woman-behind-little-women/1295/ Louisa May Alcott offers a glimpse of the elements of her life she wrote into her masterpiece. Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind 'Little Women' premieres Monday, December 28, 2009 on PBS (check local listings).2009-12-03T14:07:04.000Z

Alcott would become an abolitionist and feminist as a teenager and adult, and that was shaped by her experiences in her family’s home.

The Alcotts became station masters on the Underground Railroad, offering their home as a stop for escaped slaves as they made their way north to Canada, according to the New Boston Post.

Her father was an early member of the abolitionist movement.

The home, known as The Wayside, is now a National Historic Landmark, according to the National Parks Service website.

Alcott’s experiences as a young adult shaped her motivations for the rest of her life, according to the biography of her on the site dedicated to her memory.

“I will do something by and by,” Alcott wrote when she was 15. “Don’t care what, teach, sew, act, write, anything to help the family; and I’ll be rich and famous and happy before I die, see if I won’t!”

She would later become a suffragette, fighting for women’s right to vote.

3. She Was a Nurse During the Civil War, but Contracted Typhoid Fever & Nearly Died

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Louisa May Alcott. (Hulton Archive/Getty)

Alcott was a nurse during the Civil War, but only briefly, as she became ill with typhoid fever and nearly died, according to Deborah Durbin, of the University of Virginia.

She went to Washington, D.C., in 1862 and contracted typhoid soon after.

“Like many other nurses, Louisa contracted typhoid fever and although she recovered, she would suffer the poisoning effects of mercury (the doctors at the time had used calomel, a drug laden with mercury to cure typhoid) for the rest of her life,” Durbin wrote.

4. She Published the First Novel in the ‘Little Women’ Series in 1868

Louisa May AlcottA brief biography of Louisa May Alcott, American author of "Little Women"2009-04-18T18:01:19.000Z

Alcott began writing professionally in her early 20s, publishing her first book, Flower Fables, in 1854, and writing poems and short stories, including in the Atlantic Monthly.

She was inspired to write Hospital Sketches in 1863 about her time as a nurse in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War, according to the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association.

“It was a breakthrough because she wrote from what she knew,” Alcott scholar Harriett Reisen told NPR. “She had been writing flower fables, children stories and sentimental stories for story papers … Hospital Sketches was based on this dreadful but fascinating experience she had … in the aftermath of the bloody Battle of Fredericksburg.”

She published the first novel in the Little Women series in 1868. The second part of the novel, which was later combined with the first, known as Good Wives, was published a year later. A sequel, Little Men, was written in 1871, and a final book, Jo’s Boys and How They Turned Out, was published in 1886.

Alcott wrote more than 30 books and collections of stories during her life.

5. She Died at the Age of 55 in Boston After Suffering a Stroke

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Louisa May Alcott, circa 1870. (Hulton Archive/Getty)

Alcott died of a stroke at the age of 55 in Boston on March 6, 1888.

According to Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, Alcott visited her father not long before she died. He was nearly 100.

“Father,” she said to him, according to the documentary, “Here is your Louy. What are you thinking of as you lie there so happily?” Her father pointed and replied, “I am going up. Come with me.” To which she said, “Oh, I wish I could.”

Her father died on March 4, 1888, and Louisa died two days later.

“By her bedside were her pen – she was writing a story – and her needle, threaded in red, on a flannel dress she was making for a poor family’s baby,” according to the documentary.

She was never married and had no children, but raised her niece, Louisa May Nieriker, after her sister, May, died due to complications during childbirth, according to her biography.

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

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