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Orchard House June 1, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in History.
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I recently visited the Orchard House in Concord. This museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the Alcott family, who lived there for almost 20 years; during that time Louisa May Alcott wrote her most celebrated novel, Little Women.

Here are three nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. The Alcott family struggled financially for many years; this was primarily due to Bronson Alcott’s difficulties in getting people to accept his (radical for its time) educational philosophy. In particular, he tried to foster a discussion-oriented environment for studying subjects such as the arts and literature, and he championed integration of different races and religions in the classroom; unfortunately his views aroused widespread opposition – yet he remained true to his ideals. The Alcotts moved frequently as Bronson tried to land a stable position as an educator, and the daughters supported the family by working as teachers and governesses; they only gained financial stability when Louisa achieved literary fame with the publication of Little Women.

2. Louisa Alcott served as a nurse in the Civil War, and her wartime experiences inspired one of her earliest writings, Hospital Sketches; she would later pen several Gothic romance novels and lurid thrillers before publishing Little Women. While she served as a wartime nurse, she contracted typhoid fever, and she was treated with calomel which, unfortunately, contains mercury. The resulting mercury poisoning caused her to age rapidly and caused her premature death at the age of 55.

3. The “other” Alcott daughters are interesting in their own right. Anna, the oldest, was actually married in the Orchard House. Elizabeth was a talented pianist who died of scarlet fever at a young age, devastating Louisa for quite some time. May was a brilliant artist who, with the aid of the profits from the publication of Little Women, was able to develop her talents overseas. She moved to Paris with her husband, Ernest, and continued painting. Unfortunately she died six weeks after giving birth to her daughter Lulu, and Lulu was sent to Concord to be raised by her aunt Louisa.

The museum contained several interesting items, including the gray wedding dress of Anna Alcott, the small desk overlooking Lexington Road that Louisa used to compose Little Women, and a bust of Bronson Alcott by one of May Alcott’s students, Daniel Chester French – who is perhaps better known for sculpting the Lincoln Memorial. The tour guide was friendly and it was clear that she was a major fan of Little Women, which made the experience enjoyable.

I don’t have any quibbles at this time.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would definitely recommend it to fans of Little Women, followers of Transcendentalism and those with a general interest in U.S. history.

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