A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
JULY 15:

  • It’s the birth date of Clement C. Moore (1779-1863) The Night Before Christmas, and Walter Edmonds (1903-1998), Drums Along the Mohawk.
  • The artist Rembrandt (1606-1669) was also born on this day. Read What Makes a Rembrandt a Rembrandt? by Richard MĂĽhlberger.
  • In 1922, the first duck-billed platypus is publicly exhibited in the United States, at the New York Zoo. Read Platypus by Chris Riddell, Platypus! By Ginjer L. Clarke, illustrated by Paul Mirocha, and A Platypus, Probably by Sneed B. Collard III, illustrated by Andrew Plant.
  • It’s National Rabbit Week (July 15–21). Read Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson; Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Maurice Sendak; Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd; and the Max and Ruby series by Rosemary Wells.
  • It’s I Love Horses Day. Read The Black Stallion by Walter Farley and National Velvet by Enid Bagnold.
  • It’s Cow Appreciation Day. Read Cow by Jules Older, illustrated by Lyn Severance; Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin; Amazing Cows: Udder Absurdity for Children by Sandra Boynton; and Meow Said the Cow by Emma Dodd.

On July 15, 1868, an author who had been known for worthy adult writing—a novel called Moods and a Civil War memoir Hospital Sketches—finished the first half of a book that would secure her literary immortality. This was not an adult book but a girls’ story. Louisa May Alcott had actually bristled when her editor suggested she write such a manuscript; she had no interest in creating books for girls at all. In her diary she mentions that besides her three sisters she knew very little, if anything, about young women. In the end, however, every person has the authority to write for children because each of us has once been a child.

Always in desperate need of money to support her family, Alcott decided that she and her three sisters might, indeed, provide some intriguing subject matter for a children’s book. Beginning in May of 1868, she turned out the first half of Little Women in a mere ten weeks. In it she related the story of the four March girls—determined Jo, beautiful Meg, saintly Beth, and artistic Amy—who struggle with the Civil War, its aftermath, and their poverty. With a modest printing of two thousand copies, the first half of Little Women, which appeared in the fall of that year, became an immediate sensation. Alcott finished the rest of the manuscript a few months later, and it was published in March of 1869. The book we know today contains both volumes.

By the time she wrote the rest of the book, Alcott had already heard from enough of her readers to know they universally wanted—much as they often do today—Jo March to marry the wealthy Laurie, her best friend who loves her. But Alcott, who always claimed that she wanted to paddle her own canoe, had no patience for pat solutions for her beloved female character. Jo would take another, more unconventional, path.

Because of this artistic decision, Jo March may have inspired more women over the years—including Hilary Clinton and French philosopher Simone de Beauvior—than any other character in a children’s book. As actress Julianne Moore says in Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, “From Jo I learned that a woman could choose…that she has a choice about her career.”

Thank you, Louisa May Alcott for deciding to write that girls’ story. It is the longest in print American classic for children and has encouraged readers to think outside the box for over 140 years.

Here’s a passage from Little Women:

“What in the world are you going to do now, Jo?” asked Meg, one snowy afternoon as her sister came tramping down the hall, in rubber boots, old sack and hood, with a broom in one hand and a shovel in the other.

“Going out for exercise,” answered Jo, with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

“I should think two long walks this morning would have been enough! It’s cold and dull out; and I advise you to stay warm and dry, by the fire, as I do,” said Meg, with a shiver.

“Never take advice! Can’t keep still all day, and, not being a pussy-cat, I don’t like to doze by the fire. I like adventures, and I’m going to find some.”

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Originally posted July 15, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Civil War, Family, History
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Little Women
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COMMENTS

  1. Lisa says:

    It appears there is a bit of Louisa in Jo. It’s interesting to see how she turned away from convention in a time when marriage was not only one of very few options, but one that girls were raised to seek. She took Jo on a different path, and in a way, she played a role in paving a path for future generations of girls and women.

  2. suzi w. says:

    I remember receiving my very own copy of Little Women under the Christmas tree when I was in 2nd grade. I don’t know that I read it right away, but it has always been a beloved book.

    Thank you for showing up every day, Anita!

  3. Helen Frost says:

    National Rabbit Week? Don’t forget SHADRACH, by Meindert DeJong.
    (Anita, I’d love to know how you find all these “days” and “weeks”–thanks!)

  4. Tobin says:

    I have to admit, I never really could enjoy Little Women … Too much crushing of hopes … I was one of them girls who gnashed their teeth when Jo didn’t marry Laurie… (Why, oh, why?) I always felt that Louisa May Alcott, in real life, took an even braver course than Jo. (For one thing, she didn’t marry a creepy old German guy.) I love some of her “blood and thunder” tales — which often, in a more sensational and angry guise, take up the same issues of women and their hopes and dreams.

    What an amazing person she must have been!

    mta

  5. Nita says:

    As a young girl, I identified most closely with the tomboy in Jo March. Thank you for spotlighting this wonderful classic. Brings back such good memories.

  6. G.Perry says:

    “In the end, however, every person has the authority to write for children because each of us has once been a child.”

    This, is one of the most insightful and moving comments I’ve seen in the field of children’s literature, and it’s getting framed and placed above my writing desk.

  7. Anita says:

    Gordon: Thanks for the comment. I wish I could claim credit for the idea. But Ursula Nordstrom, Harper’s legendary editor, really should get your thanks. When grilled about her qualifications for her new children’s book editorial position, Nordstrom simply said, “I was once a child.”

  8. G.Perry says:

    No problem for me. You shall both have the credit then.

  9. Susan Bailey says:

    I’ve been reading about Louisa May Alcott all my life but finally got to Little Women last year! I’m actually glad I waited because I appreciate it so much more now than I ever could have when I was younger. Because Jo is a safer version of Louisa (and I love Louisa) I leaned more towards Amy. Amy is so obnoxious in the first half of the book (and Amy gets Laurie) that people often overlook her virtue of performing small kindnesses. Amy didn’t ‘luck into’ things like the trip to Europe – her gracious manner and little kindnesses got her here. Timeless lessons for the young (and not a bad reminder for adults too!).

    I journaled about Little Women last year on my blog about Louisa called Louisa May Alcott is My Passion. We had a nice discussion going if you want to read more http://louisamayalcottismypassion.wordpress.com.

  10. Barbara says:

    Just spent a wonderful weekend in Concord, Mass., discovering Louisa May Alcott anew by visiting two of her homes as well as the cemetery where she and the rest of her family are buried. What I admire so much about her is that she was a woman and a working writer, supporting her father and her older sister in her later years by sitting down to write day after day, walking the fine line between what the market wanted and what she herself considered worthy of writing and true to her values.

  11. Tess W. says:

    I think I’ve read this about six hundred times. I got it on audiobook (read by the incomparable Flo Gibson) and loaded it onto my iTunes and I listen to it literally every night before going to bed. I also have this beautiful copy with gold leaf that my mother finally got me when I was fifteen. I think she was worried about my excessive use of her copy, which was from the 50s and didn’t have the strong spine my obsessive rereadings required.

    I will never stop being grateful to Louisa May Alcott for writing this gem or its sequels.

    P.S. Barbara, I’ve been dying to go to Concord! I must get on that soon ^_^

  12. Merrilee Hindman says:

    Hi Anita,
    I just finished reading “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio. Have you read it or reviewed the book? It is a wonder!
    I highly recommend it to all.

  13. Anita says:

    Merrilee: If you go to April 12, or hunt for Palacio in the index, you can find the review of the book — probably my favorite title so far this year. Anita

  14. Erin Gale says:

    I have always loved Louisa May Alcott, not only “Little Women” and the rest of the series, but “Jack and Jill”, “Eight Cousins” and many others. Her characters were always inspiring to me. They certainly make mistakes, but then they resolve to learn from their mistake and become a better person. They are always striving to be better than they are. This good example motivated me towards self-improvement while growing up. I love how her characters are always helping each other with patient souls like Marmee to give good advice and sisters who encourage each other to give up their vices. Her books are still some of my favorite books to this day!

  15. Ann T says:

    As a young girl, I loved this book. I enjoyed the family relationships and how they handled conflict. I still love this book. It is a book that as an adult I can read over and over again, each time taking great pleasure in the story and characters. Thank you Louisa May Alcott!

  16. Liz Parker says:

    As a little girl, young woman and now adult woman, this has always been a favorite and a tear jerker, particularly when Beth dies. This book has made me love my sisters more. As girls we used to fight over who would be Jo (me) (my sister Laura was Beth and Christine was Amy) and we’d play “Little Women.” I appreciate the insight to why Jo didn’t marry Laurie, I never gnashed my teeth over the ending, but now I appreciate that other authors follow suit and don’t take the easy path to the end.

  17. Cathy Ogren says:

    I have a 1929 copy of this book that was given to my mother. It is falling apart, but I cherish this book and the wonderful story written on its pages.

  18. Lisa C says:

    I discovered Little Women in the 6th grade when a public library finally opened in my small town. After reading it three times, I harangued the poor librarian into finding copies of Little Men and Jo’s Boys. I was jealous of all those little orphans in the Bhaer household and wished I could live there. My favorite character in the Men and Boys books was Dan. He tugged at my heart, and I cried when he went to jail, told Jo about it, and then died later.

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