Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 - March 6, 1888), novelist, activist, and poet, is still famous enough today to be the subject of today's Google Doodle

She was born in Pennsylvania but the family moved to Massachusetts when she was two years old. Her father, Bronson Alcott, was a prominent intellectual of his day, associated with the Transcendentalist movement, but he was not particularly successful at supporting his family, and Louisa began writing to supplement the family income. Her first poem, Sunlight, was published in 1852, and her first book, Flower Fables, three years later.

Her earliest novels were published under a pseudonym because they were not written on "ladylike" subjects, and it was many years before her authorship was revealed. However, they had been financially successful, which was her goal.

Alcott supported several social causes such as abolition, womens' suffrage, and temperance. She knew several of the reformers of the time, including William Lloyd Garrison, Lucy Stone, and Theodore Parker. In 1875 she attended the Women's Congress in Syracuse, NY. She might have written more about these subjects, but following the great success of Little Women (1868) and its successor novels for children, she decided to continue writing what was most lucrative for her (and her family).

Alcott has been quoted in various places as saying that she only wrote one hymn, A little kingdom I possess, which first appeared in a songbook titled The Sunny Side (1875) and later in Alcott's novel Under the Lilacs. However, this quote is taken from a letter she wrote to Eva Munson Smith in 1883 when she gave permission for that text to be included in Smith's monumental Woman in Sacred Song (which was not actually published until 1888). One of the editors of The Sunny Side, Charles Wendte, later published another songbook titled The Carol (1886), in which today's hymn for children appeared. Alcott's name is prominently trumpeted on the book's title page and introduction, and this text appears to have been written at Wendte's request (also, its copyright date is the same as the book's). So, clearly, she did write more than one (and a few of her other poems were matched to tunes by later hymnal editors).

What shall little children bring
As a grateful offering
For the ever-watchful care
That surrounds us everywhere?

Gathered in this happy fold,
Safe from wintry want and cold,
Fed by hands that never tire;
Warmed at Love's unfailing fire.

Sheltered by protecting arms
From the great world's sins and harms,
While a Patience, wise and sweet,
Guides our little wand'ring feet.

Jesus! dearest name of all,
Bless your children great and small;
Faith and hope in God we bring,
These shall be our offering.

Louisa May Alcott, 1886; alt.
The Parish Choir, 1850;
harm. William Henry Monk, 1861

The postage stamp above was issued in 1940, representing Alcott as one of ten authors in the Famous Americans series of stamps.

Eight Years Ago: John Haynes Holmes

Six Years Ago: Louisa May Alcott

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