Louisa returned from Europe in 1866 to find the Alcotts again in debt, but found she was able now “to earn more from my pen than from my needle.” Finally in 1868, when she was 35, Louisa Alcott’s fortune changed forever with the publication of Little Women, a fictionalized account of her own childhood. An instant success, the book earned her lasting fame and fortune; never out of print, it has been translated into some 50 languages. She wrote the novel methodically in a few weeks, at the urging of a publisher, without the passionate surrender she brought to writing thrillers.
Producing what she disdainfully called “moral pap for the young” would be Alcott’s literary fate. Describing herself as “the goose that laid the golden egg,” time and again she sacrificed her artistic and personal wishes to her family’s emotional and monetary needs.
Literary acclaim did not deter the former nurse, known to sign letters “Yours for Reform of all Kinds,” from her efforts to heal the world. She campaigned for women’s suffrage, successfully petitioning door-to-door for the vote in the Concord school committee election of 1879. In protest, the townsmen withheld their ballots; Louisa was among 20 proud women who cast theirs.
Alcott was generous with her money as well as with her time. She funded a home for orphaned newsboys, and acting upon her belief in “the healing qualities of a simple tale,” told stories to prisoners at the Concord State Reformatory, to poor city children at Walden Pond, and to patients in the New England Hospital for Women and Children.
Louisa was pleased by the recognition that her fame brought to her long-unrecognized father. Bronson Alcott, gorgeously attired in a cape and high hat, at the age of 80 toured the country to sellout audiences as “The Father of the Little Women.” He reveled in the borrowed glory, and published several wordy books of philosophy. Louisa, on the other hand, loathed the limelight. When presumptuous fans knocked at the door of Orchard House, the most famous woman in America defended her privacy by posing as her own servant. She recorded a hundred uninvited visitors in a single month, and wrote a satiric poem about the transformation of Concord’s literati into sight-seeing destinations.