L. M. Alcott: Signature of Reform / Edition 1

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Beloved juvenile fiction writer and author of sensational thrillers, Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) was also an ardent champion of reform movements in nineteenth-century America. Inspired by her parents' zeal for the reforms of their day and influenced by a network of other New Englanders determined to remedy the many ills in American society, the spinster Scheherazade from Concord, Massachusetts, was a firm and convincing advocate in advancing measures extending from domestic reform and alternative medicine, to education and communal society, to antislavery and egalitarianism, to feminism and suffrage.

This innovative compilation sheds new light on Alcott's commitment to ameliorating oppressive conditions of all kinds. Madeleine B. Stern pairs selections from the writings of reform leaders with excerpts from Alcott's letters, fiction, and nonfiction works to demonstrate that Alcott was aware of and often moved by the words of other reformers. Stern illuminates the connections between Alcott and the printed sources that filtered into her life and work, and shows how she wove reformist themes throughout her writings, prodding her readers to right the wrongs at home and in the nation.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Best known for Little Women and other juvenile works, Alcott also wrote frequently in support of the progressive movements of her day. Raised during the frenzy of reform that pervaded New England in the early 19th century, she promoted such efforts throughout her life. In this unique volume, Stern, the author of the standard Alcott biography and editor of several anthologies of her works, uses the author's own words to shed light on her less appreciated side. Each chapter is dedicated to a specific movement, from health reform to women's rights, and pairs Alcott's published and private writings with those by other activists of her day. An introductory essay provides biographical information and highlights the significance of these reform movements to Alcott's development. This unique work offers much to readers interested in Alcott's thought, principles, and reform activity and is recommended for larger academic libraries or those with a special interest in Alcott or 19th-century reform. Those interested in complete biographic information on Alcott should choose more strictly biographical works such as Stern's Louisa May Alcott: A Biography. Theresa R. McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
A collection of writings that collectively demonstrate the passion of Louisa May Alcott "for reforms of all kinds," as she once signed an 1879 letter to the . The writings are mostly by Alcott, but for every thematic section, selections preceding Alcott's words set her concerns in context of the controversies of the day. The writings include poems, diary entries, letters to friends and editors, and her submissions to periodicals. The writings are divided into sections focusing on domestic reform, health and alternative medicine, education, communal society, antislavery and abolition, women's economic role, sex and feminism, and suffrage. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555535124
  • Publisher: Northeastern University Press
  • Publication date: 5/9/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 226
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Madeleine B. Stern is partner in the firm of Rostenberg and Stern Rare Books. She is the editor of several collections of Alcott's works, including The Feminist Alcott: Stories of a Woman's Power and Louisa May Alcott Unmasked: Collected Thrillers, both published by Northeastern University Press. She is the author of Louisa May Alcott: From Blood & Thunder to Hearth & Home and Louisa May Alcott: A Biography, also published by Northeastern. She lives in New York City.
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Read an Excerpt

L.M. Alcott

Edited by Madeleine B. Stern


Copyright © 2002 Madeleine B. Stern.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 1555535127

Chapter One

The American Woman's Home

(1869; Revision of Catharine Beecher's
A Treatise on Domestic Economy, 1841)

The person who decides what shall be the food and drink of a family, and the modes of its preparation, is the one who decides, to a greater or less extent, what shall be the health of that family. It is the opinion of most medical men, that intemperance in eating is one of the most fruitful of all causes of disease and death. If this be so, the woman who wisely adapts the food and cooking of her family to the laws of health removes one of the greatest risks which threatens the lives of those under her care. But, unfortunately, there is no other duty that has been involved in more doubt and perplexity. Were one to believe all that is said and written on this subject, the conclusion probably would be, that there is not one solitary article of food on God's earth which it is healthful to eat. Happily, however, there are general principles on this subject which, if understood and applied, will prove a safe guide to any woman of common sense; and it is the object of the following chapter to set forth these principles....

Experiments on animals prove that fine flour alone, which is chiefly carbon, will not sustain life more than a month, while unbolted flour furnishes all that is needed for every part of the body. There are cases where persons can not use such coarse bread, on account of its irritating action on inflamed coats of the stomach. For such, a kind of wheaten grit is provided, containing all the kernel of the wheat, except the outside woody fibre....

The proper digestion of food depends on the wants of the body, and on its power of appropriating the aliment supplied. The best of food can not be properly digested when it is not needed. All that the system requires will be used, and the rest will be thrown out by the several excreting organs, which thus are frequently over-taxed, and vital forces are wasted. Even food of poor quality may digest well if the demands of the system are urgent. The way to increase digestive power is to increase the demand for food by pure air and exercise of the muscles, quickening the blood, and arousing the whole system to a more rapid and vigorous rate of life....

Students who need food with little carbon, and women who live in the house, should always seek coarse bread; fruits, and lean meats, and avoid butter, oils, sugar, and molasses, and articles containing them.

    Many students and women using little exercise in the open air, grow thin and weak, because the vital powers are exhausted in throwing off excess of food, especially of the carbonaceous....

When too great a supply of food is put into the stomach, the gastric juice dissolves only that portion which the wants of the system demand. Much of the remainder is ejected, in an unprepared state.... Very often, intemperance in eating produces immediate results, such as colic, headaches, pains of indigestion, and vertigo....

The general rule, then, is, that three hours be given to the stomach for labor, and two for rest; and in obedience to this, five hours, at least, ought to elapse between every two regular meals. In cases where exercise produces a flow of perspiration, more food is needed to supply the loss; and strong laboring men may safely eat as often as they feel the want of food. So, young and healthy children, who gambol and exercise much and whose bodies grow fast, may have a more frequent supply of food. But, as a general rule, meals should be five hours apart, and eating between meals avoided. There is nothing more unsafe, and wearing to the constitution, than a habit of eating at any time merely to gratify the palate....

Those persons who keep their bodies in a state of health by sufficient exercise can always be guided by the calls of hunger. They can eat when they feel hungry, and stop when hunger ceases; and thus they will calculate exactly right. But the difficulty is, that a large part of the community, especially women, are so inactive in their habits that they seldom feel the calls of hunger. They habitually eat, merely to gratify the palate....

It is also found, by experience, that the lean part of animal food is more stimulating than vegetable. This is the reason why, in cases of fevers or inflammations, medical men forbid the use of meat. A person who lives chiefly on animal food is under a higher degree of stimulus than if his food was chiefly composed of vegetable substances. His blood will flow faster, and all the functions of his body will be quickened. This makes it important to secure a proper proportion of animal and vegetable diet. Some medical men suppose that an exclusively vegetable diet is proved, by the experience of many individuals, to be fully sufficient to nourish the body.... in America, far too large a portion of the diet consists of animal food.

In this country there are three forms in which the use of ... stimulants is common; namely alcoholic drinks, opium mixtures, and tobacco. These are all alike in the main peculiarity of imparting that extra stimulus to the system which tends to exhaust its powers.... When alcohol is taken into the stomach, ... it is always carried to the brain. The consequence is, that it affects that nature and action of the brain-cells, until a habit is formed which is automatic; that is, the mind loses the power of controlling the brain in its development of thoughts, feelings, and choices as it would in the natural state, and is itself controlled by the brain. In this condition a real disease of the brain is created, called vino-mania, (or wine-madness,) and the only remedy is total abstinence, and that for a long period, from the alcoholic poison....

It is allowed by all medical men that pure water is perfectly healthful and supplies all the liquid needed by the body; and also that by proper means, which ordinarily are in the reach of all, water can be made sufficiently pure.

    It is allowed by all that milk, and the juices of fruits, when taken into the stomach, furnish water that is always pure and that our bread and vegetable food also supply it in large quantities. There are besides a great variety of agreeable and healthful beverages, made from the juices of fruit, containing no alcohol, and agreeable drinks, such as milk, cocoa, and chocolate, that contain no stimulating principles, and which are nourishing and healthful.

    As one course, then, is perfectly safe and another involves great danger, it is wrong and sinful to choose the path of danger. There is no peril in drinking pure water, milk, the juices of fruits, and infusions that are nourishing and harmless. But there is great danger to the young, and to the commonwealth, in patronizing the sale and use of alcoholic drinks.... Tea has not one particle of nourishing properties; and what little exists in the coffee-berry is lost by roasting it in the usual mode. All that these articles do, is simply to stimulate without nourishing....

The use of opium, especially by women, is usually caused at first by medical prescriptions containing it. All that has been stated as to the effect of alcohol in the brain is true of opium; while, to break a habit thus induced is almost hopeless. Every woman who takes or who administers this drug, is dealing as with poisoned arrows, whose wounds are without cure.

The compression of the lower part of the waist is especially dangerous at the time young girls first enter society and are tempted to dress according to the fashion. Many a school-girl, whose waist was originally of a proper and healthful size, has gradually pressed the soft bones of youth until the lower ribs that should rise and fall with every breath, become entirely unused.... No stiff bone should be allowed to press in front, and the jacket should be so loose that a full breath can be inspired with ease, while in a sitting position....

If a school-girl dress without corsets and without tight belts could be established as a fashion, it would be one step gained in the right direction. Then if mothers could secure daily domestic exercise in chambers, eating-rooms and parlors in loose dresses, a still farther advance would be secured.

L.M. Alcott's Domestic Philosophy

(Merry's Museum, October 1869)

The "Old-Fashioned Girl" is not intended as a period model, but as a possible improvement upon the Girl of the Period, who seems sorrowfully ignorant or ashamed of the good old fashions which make woman truly beautiful and honored, and, through her, render home what it should be,—a happy place, where parents and children, brothers and sisters, learn to love and know and help one another.

L.M. Alcott on Food

(Eight Cousins, 1875)

When her uncle appeared at sound of the bell, he found her surveying with an anxious face a new dish that smoked upon the table.

    "Got a fresh trouble, Rosy?" he asked, stroking her smooth head.

    "Uncle, are you going to make me eat oatmeal?" asked Rose, in tragic tone.

    "Don't you like it?"

    "I de-test it!" answered Rose, with all the emphasis which a turned-up nose, a shudder, and a groan could give to the three words.

    "You are not a true Scotchwoman, if you don't like the 'parritch.' It's a pity, for I made it myself, and thought we'd have such a good time with all that cream to float in it. Well, never mind." And he sat down with a disappointed air.

    Rose had made up her mind to be obstinate about it, because she did heartily "detest" the dish, but as Uncle Alec did not attempt to make her obey, she suddenly changed her mind and thought she would.

    "I'll try to eat it to please you, uncle; but people are always saying how wholesome it is, and that makes me hate it," she said, half ashamed at her silly excuse.

    "I do want you to like it, because I wish my girl to be as well and strong as Jessie's boys, who are brought up on this in the good old fashion. No hot bread and fried stuff for them, and they are the biggest and bonniest lads of the lot."

    ... Phebe came out of the dining-room with a plate of brown bread, for Rose had been allowed no biscuit for tea.

    "... I'd rather you learned how to make good bread than the best pies ever baked. When you bring me a handsome, wholesome loaf, entirely made by yourself, I shall be more pleased than if you offered me a pair of slippers embroidered in the very latest style. I'll ... promise to eat every crumb of the loaf myself."

    It was some time before the perfect loaf appeared, for bread-making is an art not easily learned, ... so Rose studied yeast first, and ... came at last to the crowning glory of the "handsome, wholesome loaf."

[Dr. Alec] smiled ... as he said,— "This is part of the cure, Rose, and I put you here that you might take my three great remedies in the best and easiest way. Plenty of sun, fresh air, and cold water."

Phebe appeared with a cup of coffee.

    "Debby told me to bring this and help you get up," she said....

    "I'm all dressed, so I don't need any help. I hope that is good and strong," added Rose, eyeing the steaming cup with an eager look.

    But she did not get it, for a brown hand took possession of it as her uncle said quickly,—

    "Hold hard, my lass, and let me overhaul that close before you take it. Do you drink all this strong coffee every morning, Rose?"

    "Yes, sir, and I like it. Auntie says it 'tones' me up, and I always feel better after it."

    "This accounts for the sleepless nights, the flutter your heart gets into at the least start, and this is why that cheek of yours is pale yellow instead of rose red. No more coffee for you, my dear, and by and by you'll see that I am right. Any new milk downstairs, Phebe?"

    "Yes, sir, plenty—right in from the barn."

    "That's the drink for my patient. Go bring me a pitcherfull, and another cup; I want a draught myself."

L.M. Alcott on Drink

("Jimmy's Lecture," from The Union Signal;

"Jimmy, throw that jug into the pig-pen. Smash it first, and be sure you don't taste a drop of the vile stuff," said an anxious-looking woman as she handed her little son the brown jug which she had just found hidden in the shed.

    "Father won't like it," began the boy, eyeing the ugly thing with a look of fear and hate; for it made mother miserable, and father a brute.

    "I said I'd make way with it the next time I found it, and I will! It's full, and I don't feel as if I could live through another dreadful time like the last. If we put it out of sight, maybe father will keep sober for another month, Be quick, before he comes home." And the poor woman pushed the boy to the door as if she could not wait a minute till the curse of her life was destroyed.

    Glad to comfort her, and have the fun of smashing anything, Jimmy ran off, and giving the jug a good bang on the post, let the whiskey run where it would as he flung the pieces into the pig-pen, and went back to his work.

    He was only eleven; but he struggled manfully with the old saw, and the tough apple-tree boughs he had collected for fuel. It was father's work, but he neglected it, and Jimmy wouldn't see mother suffer from cold, so he trimmed the trees, and did his best to keep the fire going. He had to stop often to rest, and in these pauses he talked to himself, having no other company.

    Not long after the destruction of the jug, he heard a great commotion in the pen, and, looking in, saw the two pigs capering about in a curious way. Then ran up and down, squealed and skipped, and...


Excerpted from L.M. Alcott by Madeleine B. Stern. Copyright © 2002 by Madeleine B. Stern. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Domestic Reform: Food, Drink, Dress 19
The American Woman's Home 21
L. M. Alcott's Domestic Philosophy: Merry's Museum 26
L. M. Alcott on Food: Eight Cousins 27
L. M. Alcott on Drink: Eight Cousins 29
L. M. Alcott on Drink: "Jimmy's Lecture," The Press Leaflets 30
L. M. Alcott on Dress: An Old-Fashioned Girl 33
L. M. Alcott on Dress: Eight Cousins 35
2 Health and Alternative Medicine: Homeopathy, Phrenology, Mind Cure 37
Organon of the Healing Art 39
Synopsis of Phrenology and Physiology 41
Trust in the Infinite 44
L. M. Alcott on Homeopathy: Eight Cousins 46
L. M. Alcott: "Lines to a Good Physician, From a Grateful Patient" 47
Phrenological Examination of L. M. Alcott 48
L. M. Alcott: Poem to Her Sister Anna Pratt 49
Character Analysis of L. M. Alcott in Phrenological Journal 50
L. M. Alcott on Mind Cure: Letters to Maggie Lukens 51
L. M. Alcott on Mind Cure: Journal, 1885 53
"Miss Alcott on Mind-Cure": The Woman's Journal 54
3 Education: Moral, Intellectual, Physical 57
Record of Mr. Alcott's School 59
Reports of the School Committee, and Superintendent of the Schools 63
Catalogue and Circular of Dr. Dio Lewis's Family School for Young Ladies 66
L. M. Alcott's Pedagogical Credo: Little Men, An Old-Fashioned Girl, Eight Cousins, Jo's Boys 69
L. M. Alcott on the New Gymnastics: Letter to Louisa C. G. Bond 71
L. M. Alcott: "The King of Clubs and the Queen of Hearts," The Monitor 72
4 Communal Society: "The Newness" 75
A. Bronson Alcott to Junius Alcott 77
Bronson Alcott's Fruitlands 79
L. M. Alcott's Journal: Fruitlands 83
L. M. Alcott: "Transcendental Wild Oats," The Independent 87
5 Antislavery and Abolition 103
Vigilance Committee [Re: Anthony Burns], Americans, Freemen 105
George and Mary Mauzy of Harpers Ferry to James and Eugenia Burton 106
John Brown's Speech before the Court 108
Hannah Ropes, Civil War Nurse: The Diary and Letters of Hannah Ropes 110
Some Recollections of the Antislavery Conflict 113
L. M. Alcott: "With a Rose, That Bloomed on the Day of John Brown's Martyrdom," The Liberator 116
L. M. Alcott to Anna Alcott 116
L. M. Alcott to Anna Alcott Pratt 118
L. M. Alcott to Edward J. Bartlett and Garth Wilkinson James 120
L. M. Alcott to Alfred Whitman 121
L. M. Alcott to Mr. Rand 123
L. M. Alcott to Thomas Wentworth Higginson 123
Hospital Sketches 125
6 Woman's Economic Role: Egalitarianism 137
Woman in the Nineteenth Century 139
"Petition of Abby May Alcott and Others to the Citizens of Massachusetts," Una 141
A Practical Illustration of "Woman's Right to Labor"; or, A Letter from Marie E. Zakrzewska, M.D., ... 142
L. M. Alcott: "How I Went Out to Service," The Independent 144
L. M. Alcott to James Redpath 145
L. M. Alcott: "Happy Women," New York Ledger 146
L. M. Alcott: Work: A Story of Experience 150
L. M. Alcott to Maria S. Porter 152
Rose in Bloom: A Sequel to "Eight Cousins" 153
7 Sex and Feminism 155
The Young Wife 157
Woman in the Nineteenth Century 161
L. M. Alcott: "Taming a Tartar," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper 162
L. M. Alcott: "Woman's Part in the Concord Celebration," Woman's Journal 198
8 Suffrage 203
William Henry Channing to the Woman's Rights Convention 205
"Petition of Abby May Alcott and Others to the Citizens of Massachusetts," Una 209
L. M. Alcott to Lucy Stone 211
L. M. Alcott to The Woman's Journal 214
L. M. Alcott to the American Woman Suffrage Association 220
Jo's Boys 221
Index 223
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