On November 29, 1832, Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) was born the second daughter of Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail "Abba" May in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Her father, Bronson Alcott was a teacher that believed children should enjoy learning, a controversial notion for the time and he moved the family to Boston, Massachusetts in 1844 where he established the Temple School and joined the Transcendentalist Club with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
Setbacks at the school forced the family to move several times, and in 1843-1844 they lived for a brief time at the experimental Utopian Fruitlands community. After the failure of that community they ended up in rented rooms and ultimately in a house in Concord that they purchased with the help of Emerson. She seems to have enjoyed her time in Concord and reportedly acted out plays that she had written with her sisters. Her primary educational instruction was received from her father, but she also received some instruction from family friends including Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thoreau and Margaret Fuller. While in Concord, the family harbored a fugitive slave for a week during 1847.
The family returned Boston in 1849 when her father was unable to find a steady income in Concord. Louisa began to take the odd jobs that she could find in order to contribute to the family's finances. With her older sister Anna she taught small children, mended clothes and washed laundry. In 1852 she published "Sunlight," her first poem under the pseudonym Flora Fairfield. In 1854 she published her first book, Flower Fables, originally written for Ralph Waldo Emerson's daughter Ellen. The beginning of a career that would end her financial worries and bring her great fame.
The family moved to Walpole, New Hampshire, while Louisa stayed in Boston to continue her fledgling literary career. But in 1856 her younger sister Lizzie contracted scarlet fever and ultimately passed away on March 14th in Concord, at Orchard House, the home that Emerson had purchased for the family. After the marriage of her older sister Anna, Louisa returned to Concord in 1857 to comfort her mother and help ease the loneliness she felt from the absence of two of her daughters.
In 1862 Louisa headed to Washington, DC to serve as a Civil War Nurse. During this time she contracted Typhoid fever and was treated with calomel, a mercury-laden drug used to treat the disease at the time. As a consequence, she suffered the effects of mercury poisoning for the remainder of her life. Her experiences as a nurse inspired her to write Hospital Sketches (1863). In 1864 she followed it with Moods. At this point in time, her publisher requested a "girl's story" and in two and a half months Alcott produced Little Women, a book that was largely based on her own experiences growing up with her tree sisters. Little Women, her most beloved work, was an instant success and the public demanded a second volume. The financial woes that had troubled the Alcott family were finally over as Little Women launched the author as a literary star.