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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Louisa M. Alcott

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A dozen of us sat about the dinner-table at the Hotel Bellevue, Boston. One was the gifted wife of a gifted clergyman; one had written two or three novels; one was a journalist; one was on the eve of a long journey abroad; and one, whom we were all glad to honor, was the brilliant author of Little Women. She had a womanly face, bright, gray eyes, that looked full of merriment, and would not see the hard side of life, and an air of common sense that made all defer to her judgment. She told witty stories of the many who wrote her for advice or favors, and good-naturedly gave bits of her own personal experience. Nearly twenty years before, I had seen her, just after her Hospital Sketches were published, over which I, and thousands of others, had shed tears. Though but thirty years old then, Miss Alcott looked frail and tired. That was the day of her struggle with life. Now, at fifty, she looked happy and comfortable. The desire of her heart had been realized,--to do good to tens of thousands, and earn enough money to care for those whom she loved.

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Louisa Alcott's life, like that of so many famous women, has been full of obstacles. She was born in Germantown, Pa., Nov. 29, 1832, in the home of an extremely lovely mother and cultivated father, Amos Bronson Alcott. Beginning life poor, his desire for knowledge led him to obtain an education and become a teacher. In 1830 he married Miss May, a descendant of the well-known Sewells and Quincys, of Boston. Louise Chandler Moulton says, in her excellent sketch of Miss Alcott, "I have heard that the May family were strongly opposed to the union of their beautiful daughter with the penniless teacher and philosopher;" but he made a devoted husband, though poverty was long their guest.

For eleven years, mostly in Boston, he was the earnest and successful teacher. Margaret Fuller was one of his assistants. Everybody respected his purity of life and his scholarship. His kindness of heart made him opposed to corporal punishment, and in favor of self-government. The world had not come then to his high ideal, but has been creeping toward it ever since, until whipping, both in schools and homes, is fortunately becoming one of the lost arts.

He believed in making studies interesting to pupils; not the dull, old-fashioned method of learning by rote, whereby, when a hymn was taught, such as, "A Charge to keep I have," the children went home to repeat to their astonished mothers, "Eight yards to keep I have," having learned by ear, with no knowledge of the meaning of the words. He had friendly talks with his pupils on all great subjects; and some of these Miss Elizabeth Peabody, the sister of Mrs. Hawthorne, so greatly enjoyed, that she took notes, and compiled them in a book.

New England, always alive to any theological discussion, at once pronounced the book unorthodox. Emerson had been through the same kind of a storm, and bravely came to the defence of his friend. Another charge was laid at Mr. Alcott's door: he was willing to admit colored children to his school, and such a thing was not countenanced, except by a few fanatics(?) like Whittier, and Phillips, and Garrison. The heated newspaper discussion lessened the attendance at the school; and finally, in 1839, it was discontinued, and the Alcott family moved to Concord.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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