Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

Libraries selected for this project are required to present the five required humanities programs outlined in the application guidelines. Libraries are welcome to hold additional programs to supplement the required programs. Below please find program ideas and suggested resources to guide program development.

Program Ideas

  • A program comparing the lives of girls and women in the nineteenth-century and today. Concepts to explore include work outside the home, legal status, social attitudes, race, immigration, love, and marriage.

  • An inter-generational reading and discussion of Alcott works, including
    Little Women.

  • A program exploring the utopian ideals of the Transcendentalists and their contemporary counterparts.

  • Plan a hike or nature walk to explore, discuss, and document your area’s natural surroundings and connect to Transcendentalist philosophies of nature. Texts to consider include
    Walden, by Henry David Thoreau;
    Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson; and
    Thoreau’s Flute, a poem written by Louisa May Alcott for her friend, Henry David Thoreau.

  • Exploration of Louisa May Alcott’s Civil War nursing experience and nineteenth-century medical practices. Possible sub-themes include a discussion of exercise, bathing, and diet; the use of alternative medicines; and medical education for women. Consider exploring Louisa May Alcott’s journals and
    Hospital Sketches.

  • A program about nineteenth-century dress reform, including a discussion of Alcott’s
    Eight Cousins, a novel in which dress reform is addressed.

  • Exploration of the spectrum of attitudes towards slavery and abolition. In your area, how did people feel about slavery and abolition in the nineteenth-century?

  • A program about the Underground Railroad and the Alcott family’s participation.

  • A program focusing on Louisa May Alcott’s anti-slavery stories, including
    Brothers, or My Contraband;
    An Hour, and

  • Exploration of the Abolitionist movement as a precursor to the women’s suffrage movement, focusing on Louisa May Alcott as an advocate for both social reforms.

  • A program about Bronson Alcott’s contributions to educational philosophies, through his work as a teacher, his diaries of Louisa May Alcott’s childhood, and articles and books about his progressive teaching methods. Include a conversation about local education history and reform.

  • Writing workshops in the spirit of Louisa May Alcott and her family’s nineteenth-century community of authors, philosophers, and intellectuals. Just as Alcott responded to her changing world through her writing, encourage participants to write in response to Alcott’s writing or about contemporary social concerns. With permission, publish works online to encourage further dialogue.

  • A program in which libraries read texts written by Alcott’s contemporaries, to deepen an understanding of Alcott’s connection to the political, social, and intellectual movements of her time. Possible texts include:
    Experience by Ralph Waldo Emerson;
    A Plea for Captain John Brown by Henry David Thoreau;
    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave by Frederick Douglass.

  • A program exploring the role of women in printing and publishing during the nineteenth-century. What role did women in publishing play in the women’s suffrage movement?

  • A program comparing the concept and culture of family during the nineteenth-century and today.

Notable people in Alcott’s circle

Writers: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Henry James, Sr., William James, Henry James, William Ellery Channing, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Lydia Maria Child, Julia Ward Howe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rebecca Harding Davis, Dorothea Dix

Transcendentalist Philosophers:Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Peabody, Bronson Alcott

Abolitionists: William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Rev. Theodore Parker, Rev. Samuel May, John Brown


Louisa May Alcott


Official website for the documentary and biography,
Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. The site includes content about Louisa May Alcott’s life and works, lesson plans, and interactive features to allow exploration of topics in greater depth.




Works by Louisa May Alcott available online.


The Louisa May Alcott Society – an association of scholars devoted to the life and works of Louisa May Alcott.


The home page for the University of Virginia’s hypermedia presentation of
Little Women. The site provides browsers with an electronic version of the text along with other resources in an effort to further understand Louisa May Alcott and her novel.


Special events listings at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, the home of
Little Women.


A variety of education programs at Orchard House introduces learners of all ages to the Alcott family and their world.


Background information about Louisa May Alcott.

Nineteenth-century resources:


This Library of Congress site includes an online collection of books and periodicals published in the United States during the nineteenth-century.


Godey’s Lady’s Book was one of the most popular lady’s books of the nineteenth-century. Each issue contained poetry, beautiful engraving, and articles by some of the most well-known authors in America.


National Directory of Chautauqua Performers includes Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau.



Website devoted to American Transcendentalism, including authors, texts, background information about the movement, bibliographies, and more.


Online research and reference guide exploring American Transcendentalism.


Founded in 1941, The Thoreau Society, Inc. is the oldest and largest organization devoted to an American author.


The Ralph Waldo Emerson Society website provides background information about Emerson, links to his writings, and more.


Information about the workshop, “Concord, Massachusetts: A Center of Transcendentalism and Social Reform in the 19th Century,” sponsored by the Community College Humanities Association and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Civil War:


American women’s history of the Civil War era.


Duke University Libraries compiled a list of primary sources on the Internet directly related to women and the Civil War.


The American Civil War Homepage includes resources about Civil War battles, biographical information, images of wartime, state guides, bibliographies, and more.


The Civil War by Ken Burns includes maps of key battles, links to historic documents, and allows site visitors to experiment with storytelling by mixing archival images, narration, and music to create your own movie.


Resources for Civil War cooking and recipes.

Slavery and Abolition:


Website offering resources for the study the American Abolitionist movement.


A Library of Congress Resource Guide for abolition including anti-slavery publications, prominent abolitionists, and maps of slave and free states.


Podcasts featuring historians discussing slavery and abolition.


Library of Congress exhibit featuring resources about abolition, anti-slavery movements, and the rise of the sectional controversy.


Louisa May Alcott and the Underground Railroad

Education Reform and Women's Rights:


A website about Louisa May Alcott’s father, Amos Bronson Alcott – a reformer, philosopher, writer, visionary, teacher.


Timeline of the women’s suffrage movement.


A research and reference guide exploring the women’s rights movement


National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection at the Library of Congress.

Lesson Plans:


Lesson plans based on the documentary and biography are available on the official Louisa May Alcott website.


The lessons in this unit are dedicated to evoking a fresh appraisal of Louisa May Alcott, not only as a writer deeply invested in the issues of her times, but also as a compelling literary artist.


Objectives of this unit include: To encourage teachers and students to explore one of America’s favorite classic novels,
Little Women and at the same time, develop an interest in classics. Concurrently, students will learn about the author’s life and discover which elements of her family history she incorporates into her work.


Resources for interdisciplinary and place-based education in your classroom, using Thoreau and his study of Walden Woods as a model.


This lesson plan provides general background information about the primary groups involved in efforts to reform women’s dress in nineteenth-century America.


Works by Louisa May Alcott

Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott. Edited by Madeleine Stern. New York: William Morrow, 1975.

Eight Cousins. Boston: Little, Brown, 1995.

From Aunt Jo’s Attic: Stories of Intrigue and Suspense. Edited by Madeleine B. Stern and Daniel Shealy. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993.

Hospital Sketches. Boston: Applewood Books, 1986.

The Inheritance. Boston: Penguin, 1995.

Jack and Jill. Boston: Little, Brown, 1999.

The Journals of Louisa May Alcott. Edited by Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy. Madeleine Stern, associate editor. Boston: Little, Brown, 1989.

L. M. Alcott: Signature of Reform. Edited by Madeleine Stern. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2002.

The Lost Stories of Louisa May Alcott. Edited by Madeleine Stern and Daniel Shealy. New York: Citadel Press, 1993.

Louisa May Alcott: An Intimate Anthology: New York Public Library collectors’ edition. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Louisa May Alcott: Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys. Edited by Elaine Showalter. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 2005.

Louisa May Alcott on Race, Sex, and Slavery. Edited with an introduction by Sarah Elbert. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1997.

Louisa May Alcott: Selected Fiction. Edited by Daniel Shealy, Madeleine Stern, and Joel Myerson. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2001.

Moods. Edited by Sarah Elbert. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996.

An Old-Fashioned Girl. New York: Puffin Books, 1996.

The Poetry of Louisa May Alcott. Concord, MA: Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association, c. 1997.

Rose in Bloom. Boston: Little, Brown, 1995.

The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott. Edited by Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy. Madeleine Stern, associate editor. Boston: Little, Brown, 1987.

The Sketches of Louisa May Alcott. Introduction by Gregory Eiselein. New York: Ironweed Press, 2001.

Transcendental Wild Oats and Excerpts from the Fruitlands Diary. Introduction by W. H. Harrison. Boston: Harvard Common Press, 1981.

A Whisper in the Dark: Twelve Thrilling Tales by Louisa May Alcott. Edited by Stefan Dziemianowicz. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1996.

Work. A Story of Experience. New York: Penguin, 1994.

Critical Works

Alberghene, Janice M. and Beverly Lyon Clark.
Little Women and the Feminist Imagination: Criticism, Controversy, Personal Essays. New York: Garland, 1999.

Anthony, Katharine.
Louisa May Alcott. New York: Knopf, 1938.

Bedell, Marion.
The Alcotts: Biography of a Family. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1980.

Cheney, Edna.
Louisa May Alcott: Life, Letters and Journals. Boston: Little, Brown, 1928.

Clark, Beverly Lyon, ed.
Louisa May Alcott: The Contemporary Reviews. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Elbert, Sarah.
A Hunger for Home: Louisa May Alcott's Place in American Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987.

MacDonald, Ruth K.
Louisa May Alcott. Boston: Twayne, 1983.

Matteson, John.
Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father. New York: Norton, 2007.

Reisen, Harriet.
Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009

Saxton, Martha.
Louisa May Alcott: A Modern Biography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995.

Shealy, Daniel, ed.
Alcott in Her Own Time. Iowa City, IA: University Press, 2005.

Stern, Madeleine B.
Louisa May Alcott: A Biography. Rev. ed. New York: Random House, 1996.

Stern, Madeleine B. ed.
Critical Essays on Louisa May Alcott. Boston: Hall, 1984.

Stern, Madeleine B.
Louisa May Alcott: From Blood and Thunder to Hearth and Home. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998.

Worthington, Marjorie.
Miss Alcott of Concord. New York: Doubleday, 1958.


Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. Director, Nancy Porter. Writer, Harriet Reisen. 2009.

Little Women. Director, George Cukor. Performer, Katharine Hepburn. 1933.

Little Women. Director, Mervyn Leroy. 1949.

Little Women. Director, Gilliam Armstrong. Performers, Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon. 1994.

Little Men. Director, Norman Z. McLeod. 1940.

The Inheritance. Director, Bobby Roth. 1997.