This revealing collection of Abigail May Alcott’s writings provides previously unknown details of the life of a 19th-century daughter, sister, wife and mother who associated with transcendental luminaries, suppressed her own dreams to provide for her family, inspired her famous daughter Louisa, and remained an ardent reformer for abolition and women’s rights.
Until now, little has been known of Abigail’s life, since many of her private papers were destroyed after her death. While writing the dual biography, Marmee & Louisa (2012), LaPlante uncovered surviving, untapped pages of Abigail’s journals and letters in archival and private collections, as well as a newly discovered cache of letters detailing May and Alcott family life from the 1830s to the 1870s. In compiling, editing and annotating a sampling of these private letters, poems, journal entries, miscellaneous papers, recipes and remedies, LaPlante, a descendant of the May family, sought to convey the spirit of Abigail’s writings. Organized chronologically, the writings are grouped by early years, courtship and marriage, motherhood, early middle life, employment, late middle age and old age. They trace Abigail’s evolution from a sickly, youngest child of seven, to a serious young scholar eschewing marriage, to a struggling wife and mother forced to support her family for decades, to a middle-age social worker and early advocate of women’s suffrage, to an aging grandmother. Abigail’s diaries and letters disclose an intelligent, self-sacrificing, tender woman whose moral conviction and strong character kept her engaged in social issues despite her tragic marriage. Each document includes the date and place of composition as well as footnotes for references unfamiliar to contemporary readers. Helpful annotations and a chronology provide further contextual detail.
A compelling documentary portrait of the real Marmee, whose life provided the impetus for Little Women and who emerges here as a noteworthy woman in her own right.