Every Little Women Fan Should Read This

Equal marriage vs an economical proposition

Interpreting Little Women from our modern-day/fourth way of feminism can be problematic. The controversial concept of feminism is a relatively new term that began to be employed at the end of the 19th century and it is under debate still today what the term actually includes. To understand Louisa May Alcott´s views on marriage we need to be aware of her transcendentalist and women´s right movement ideas and laws regarding marriage and property. In Little Women 2019 adaptation Amy says that marriage is an economical proposition and she was right. Back in the 19th century, most marriages were made because of economical reasons, but what we often miss is that it was during Louisa May Alcott´s lifetime out of the women’s rights movement a growing sense of equality, an ideal of companionate marriage grew. Marriage no longer was a choice made by a person´s parents but an individual choice with love and courtship increasing their presence. Alcott rejects a marriage of convenience, calling it along with any other endeavour to love without the true feelings a mere “shadow”.

While studying Louisa´s life I have become more sceptical whether her relationship towards Little Women was really as spiteful as it has been framed to be. According to Alcott Scholar Susan Bailey Louisa was a natural-born storyteller who often exaggerated things. Here is a quote from Alcott Scholar Daniel Shealy, who has done some extensive research on Louisa´s views about egalitarian marriage.

“In her personal letters, Alcott often made fun of the marriages in part two of Little Women. She wrote to her friend Elizabeth Powell in March 1869 that “‘Jo’ should have remained a literary spinster.” However, despite her preferred ending, Alcott declared: “[P]ublishers won't [sic] let authors finish up as they like but insist on having people married off in a wholesale manner which much afflicts me.” In the same letter, she even claims that she expects “vials of wrath to be poured out upon my head” when she does not marry Jo to Laurie (Selected Letters 124–25). Did Alcott specifically craft her letter to Powell, believing that her friend would appreciate the more independent, self-reliant version of Jo March? Powell, nine years Alcott’s junior, was both a Quaker and, as early as age sixteen, an activist in abolition. Like Alcott, Powell had also taught school in the early 1860s. She then trained with Dr Dio Lewis, the physical culture advocate, who operated a school for girls in Lexington, Massachusetts in the mid-1860s.

In April 1864, she came to Concord to teach gymnastics, which Alcott and her older sister Anna joined (Journals 129). A year later, Powell became the gymnastics instructor at Vassar College, founded in 1861 as the first institution of higher education for women in the United States. In 1869, the year part two of Little Women appeared, Powell, unmarried at the time (she would later marry in 1872 and eventually, in 1890, becoming dean of women at Swarthmore College), was clearly the type of woman whom Alcott admired: a strong, independent activist and champion of woman’s rights and racial justice. Did Alcott think Powell would approve her insistence that Jo March not marry and that the author only acquiesced to her editor’s desires? No known letters among the Niles-Alcott correspondence suggest that the publisher had any say here. The marriage decision was all Alcott’s.”

I went to read more about Elizabeth Powell. Her life was surprisingly similar to the book Jo. She wasn´t a writer but there are parallels. Based on what I´v found her marriage with her lawyer husband was a happy one. She was devoted to the educational work and same way as Jo, promoted coeducation (both male and female students). She became a dean of the university, like Jo who becomes the matriarch of the Bhaer academy in Jo´s boys. Like Powell´s Jo and Friedrich had two sons together. This idea that Jo as a character is only based on Louisa, is not entirely true. Meg in Little Women gets often dismissed as being the least ambitious of the sisters. In real life, Anna Alcott started school, which is what Jo does in the book. There were many women who Louisa admired that she has inserted into Jo´s character, and many Alcott scholars believe that with Jo and Friedrich Louisa created her own ideal relationship.


​If Louisa was known for one thing that was her intense need to protect her reputation. Same way as she detached herself from her sensational stories, she destroyed and censored nearly all her diaries and family letters. We know that Louisa did fall in love and she captured the feeling into the pages of Little Women.

If you enjoy reading my content, consider subscribing to my feed. Also, if you are not a Medium member and you would like to gain unlimited access to the platform, consider using my referral link right here to sign up. It’s $5 a month and you get unlimited access to my articles and many others like mine. Thanks




Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store