The Alcott house in Concord is a few blocks from a friend’s home and we’ve driven past it at least once a year for eight years now but always got our timing wrong. It’s been closed for repairs or just about to shut for the day – I made it as far as the gift shop once. This visit we finally got inside. They don’t allow photography so I offer instead glimpses through windows.
The March family – Marmee, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – were based on the Alcotts – Marmee, Ann, Louisa, Lizzie and May. Apparently Louisa was already twenty-six when the family moved to Orchard House but she used it as the setting for Little Women. She figured it would be too confusing for readers if the March family moved about as the Alcott family had – they had lived in over twenty houses.
The interior of the house felt wonderfully familiar to me. Between the books and films it was impossible not to see the March/Alcott girls doing chores in the small kitchen and staging Jo/Louisa’s plays in the dining-room/parlour.
Beth/Lizzie’s pianoforte stands just below the back stairs, though Lizzie never lived in this house, having died after a bout of Scarlet Fever, as Beth does in Little Women.
Marmee’s china sits in the cabinet, Amy/May’s paintings adorn the walls. There is the window beside which Meg/Ann married John.
There is the mood cushion, a red rectangle, used as a signal to the family that Louisa was in good humour (cushion upright) or bad (cushion flat). Did Jo have a mood cushion? I certainly remember her quick temper and her struggles to control it. The paper membership badges of the Pickwick Club are in a case on the sideboard.
And upstairs, in Amy/May’s bedroom, there is the trunk of clothes the sisters used for their theatricals, and there is the bedroom where Louisa wrote Little Women/Good Wives, on the table her father fashioned for her. The room is full of drawings, paintings and statues of owls – Louisa’s favourite animal.
Listening to our guide as we walked around the house the Alcott parents come across as dramatically ahead of their time. Marmee was one of the first paid social workers in Massachusetts. One of Amos Bronson Alcott’s many schools closed down when he attempted to enrol an African American child and his other students were all withdrawn. The Alcotts were part of the Transcendentalist movement, along with their neighbours Thoreau, Emmerson and Hawthorne. They encouraged Louisa to write in a time when writing was viewed as man’s work/unsuitable for a woman; they encouraged May to draw, paint and sculpt. They tried to be self-sufficient and grow all their own food. Biggest little surprise of all? The family were vegetarians.
If you are near Concord MA on your travels, be sure to visit the Alcott House (times/days). All above information was provided by the excellent guide on our tour. They allow you plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere.