By Ben Welter
Author Louisa May Alcott’s death earned a single line of small type on the Minneapolis Tribune’s front page the next day, under a “Miscellaneous” label:
Louisa M. Alcott is dead.
Because newspapers had not yet invented “reefers” or “keys,” there was no mention of a pair of interesting related items inside. An editorial praised her as “the most successful writer of stories for girls who ever lived.” And an obituary, below, touched on the causes of her lingering ill health, now in dispute more than a century later. Was it spinal meningitis, mercury poisoning, typhoid, a cold, “nervous prostration” – or, as some 21st-century researchers suggest, lupus?
|Louisa May Alcott|
Miss Louisa M. Alcott.
BOSTON, Mass., March 6. – Miss Louisa M. Alcott died this morning. Coming so soon after the death of her father, the suddenly announced death of Louisa M. Alcott brings a double sorrow. For a long time Miss Alcott has been ill, suffering from nervous prostration. Last autumn she appeared to be improving and went to the highlands to reside with Dr. Rhoda A. Lawrence. While there she drove into town to visit her father, Thursday, the 1st, and caught a cold, which on Saturday settled on the based of the brain and developed spinal meningitis. She died at the highlands early this morning. Miss Alcott was born on an anniversary of her father’s birthday, and it is singular that she should have folled him so soon to the grave.
Miss Alcott was born in Germantown, Pa., Nov. 29, 1832, but the family soon went to Concord to live. At 16 Miss Alcott wrote her first book, which was afterwards published, but absolutely does not count. Her first full-grown story brought her just $5 from Gleason’s Pictorial when the writer was just 19. The next year she wrote the story of “The Rival Prima Donnas,” and mingled with its production and its success a very strong streak of dramatic longing.
In 1865 Miss Alcott went South to nurse in the Soldiers’ Hospital, and she did her work courageously and faithfully but was brought home herself stricken with fever and ill almost to dying.
In 1865 “Hospital Sketches” was published, and even before that “Moods,” a most tragic love story, since greatly revised. In 1868 Miss Alcott wrote “Little Women.” In six months or a little more Miss Alcott was famous and her hard work was over. Since then she has been abroad a number of times, has written much, has received probably $100,000 in money and an unlimited amount of recognition and honor.