Louisa May Alcott: The woman behind “Little Women”

August 25th, 2011 | SMWC

Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott

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Louisa May Alcott is recognized around the world for her novel “Little Women,” but few know Alcott as the bold, compelling woman, who grew up in the innermost circle of the transcendentalist and antislavery movements, served as a Civil War army nurse and led a secret literary life writing pulp fiction.

Get to know her better this fall at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) during the “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman behind Little Women” presentation series. SMWC’s Rooney Library is one of 30 libraries nationwide selected to receive the “We the People” grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities to explore the life and writings of this timeless author.

Through her writing, Alcott passionately expressed her views on many of her era’s ideas for social reform, including women’s rights, racial integration and education. During her lifetime, she produced a large body of work, including sensational thrillers, satires, fairy tales, Gothic novels and works of domestic realism. And now, this life, partly described in the pages of “Little Women,” will be studied and appreciated by the Wabash Valley.

“We’re very pleased that our library was chosen to receive this grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities,” said SMWC’s Library Director Judy Tribble. “We have plans for a number of programs that will explore Louisa May Alcott’s life, work, and times.”

Tribble added, “Besides her best known children’s novel, Alcott authored many other stories for adult audiences. Our library is excited to explore these little-known works, which provide a unique perspective on American history. We look forward to sharing the documentary and biography with our community.”

To support “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman behind Little Women,” SMWC, in conjunction with Indiana State University and the Vigo County Public Library, will present seven weeks of programming beginning in September that will reintroduce audiences to Louisa May Alcott’s story.

“Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women” is a documentary film co-produced by Nancy Porter Productions, Inc. and Thirteen/WNET New York’s American Masters, and a biography of the same name written by Harriet Reisen. Louisa May Alcott programs in libraries are sponsored by the American Library Association Public Programs Office with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities to present fresh insights about Alcott and a new understanding of her place in American culture.

Additional sponsors include Arts Illiana, Indiana Arts Commission, Indiana Humanities Council, Indiana Landmarks, Library Consortium of Vigo County and the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more information on the SMWC Rooney Library’s Louisa May Alcott programs, contact Judy Tribble, library director at (812) 535-5255 or visit www.smwc.edu.

Full Schedule of Events

September 17, 2011

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
Conservatory of Music

Louisa May Alcott: Through Her Eyes
The family-festival will illuminate Alcott’s period in American history through a screening of film clips from the award-winning biography, "Louisa May Alcott: The Woman behind Little Women", live music of the period, artwork and textile displays, dramatic readings of works by Alcott and her contemporaries, folk art demonstration, historical re-enactors in period costume, architecture slideshow, games and activities of the period. View photos from the event.

1 p.m.

SMWC costumer, Jessica Becker, will show costumes of the mid-19th century and ask for audience participation (women) to wear them.

 2 p.m.

Architecture of Saint Mary-of-the Woods College
Tommy Kleckner, Indiana Landmarks

3 p.m.

Music and readings from Alcott’s lesser-known works with an introduction by Mandy Reid, Ph.D., Indiana State University

4:15 p.m.

Presentation by Civil War reenactors, Susan and Don Elmore, Somerset, Kentucky

Light refreshments will be served.


September 29, 2011

Indiana State University
Library Events Area
7 p.m.

“Louisa May Alcott: Literary Phenomenon and Social Reformer”
Mandy Reid, Ph.D., will present “Louisa May Alcott: Literary Phenomenon and Social Reformer.”  The program focuses on Alcott as a self-trained and successful professional writer and how she used her writings to address social reforms including abolition and women’s rights.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Vigo County Public Library
Brown Bag
12:10 p.m.

“Louisa May Alcott Wrote That?”
In addition to “Little Women,” Louisa May Alcott authored many stories for adult audiences, including:

  • “Transcendental Wild Oats,” a satire on her family’s life in a nineteenth-century Utopian community,
  • “Hospital Sketches,” an account of Alcott’s time spent as an army nurse during the Civil War,
  • “Behind A Mask, or a Woman’s Power,” one of the best of Alcott’s recently discovered thrillers, and
  • “Work: A Story of Experience,” a novel about women’s rights and responsibilities beyond the family.

Mandy Reid, Ph.D., will facilitate a discussion exploring these short works, which together help display the range of Alcott’s writing and exemplify her strong and dynamic connections to the culture in which she lived.

The materials are available online, free of charge at:

October 6-9, 2011

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
Conservatory of Music
Cecilian Auditorium

“Little Women”, a theatrical adaptation
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College presents “Little Women”, a theatrical adaptation of Alcott’s biography, adapted and directed by 2011 SMWC graduate Danielle O’Connor.

October 26, 2011

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
Conservatory of Music
Cecilian Auditorium
7 p.m.

Film Showing: "Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women"
Showing of PBS American Masters film, “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women,” with discussion led by Mandy Reid, Ph.D.  This documentary received recognition from the American Library Association (ALA) as one of the 2011 Notable Videos for Adults.

November 2, 2011

Vigo County Public Library
1:30 p.m.

Book Discussion
Vigo County Public Library Book Club will discuss the biography, “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women,” by Harriet Reisen. The book was voted by the Wall Street Journal as one of the 10 best books of 2009.

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