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Historical figures without children: Louisa May Alcott

By Victoria Fryer 

Louisa May AlcottA while back, I wrote a piece about Irish writer Maeve Binchy and the criticism that childless women could never understand the full range of women’s emotions. But one of the most famous female novelists from the 19th century—who wrote what I consider to be one of the most famous family novels ever written—was Louisa May Alcott (and I’m talking about Little Women, of course), who remained single and childless throughout her life.

Little Women, based on Alcott’s own experiences growing up with three sisters, has become one of the most cherished novels in classic literature, and the kind of novel that mothers pass on to their daughters. My own mother encouraged me to read it, and I’ve seen the same in other families around me.

Alcott herself had a pretty interesting life. Like one of the other historical childless figures I’ve written about, Susan B. Anthony, Alcott was very involved in the abolitionist and feminist movements. In addition, she served as a nurse during the American Civil War.

I would imagine it must have been exciting—and stressful—to live in such a time of change and upheaval in the world. And, with social mores so different than they are today, I can understand why women would often have to choose between having a family and pursuing the causes about which they are passionate. If there’s one thing I think we can all appreciate about contemporary life, it is the relative freedom to do both (though don’t get me started on the concept of “having it all”).

According to a blog post, Alcott remained single throughout much of her life by choice. She is reported to have said, in an 1883 interview with Louise Chandler Moulton, “I am more than half-persuaded that I am a man’s soul, put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body … because I have fallen in love in my life with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man.”

I mean, who of us have never felt that way? (Anybody? Anybody?) I certainly often feel a bit like a ‘freak of nature.’ I know part of what we’re trying to do here is normalize the choice to not have children, but I still have my moments of feeling like, ‘What is wrong with me, that I don’t want this thing that seemingly every other woman wants?’

Anyway, it’s comforting to know that other women, now and even back then, have gone through this—particularly such memorable and influential women as Alcott.

Here are some places you can read more about her and her life: an article at Biography.com and another at LouisaMayAlcott.org. And go read Little Women! It’s a classic.

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

Image: biography.com

Louisa May Alcott

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