“Nothing is impossible to the determined woman.”  Louisa May Alcott

1860 – Concord, Massachusetts: The Atlantic magazine editor, James Lowell had published a couple of short stories by 27-year-old schoolteacher Louisa May Alcott. He liked her writing. But a year later, when Alcott sent another story to The Atlantic, new editor James Fields turned it down. His rejection letter advised her, “Stick to your teaching, Miss Alcott. You can’t write.” Fields enclosed a $40 loan suggesting that Alcott use it for her classroom.

Alcott was furious. Her passion was writing. She despised teaching and only taught to help earn money for her family. She replied to the editor, “Mr. Fields, I won’t teach. I can write and I will prove it. One day, I shall write for The Atlantic.” Rather than discouraging her, Fields’ letter had only intensified Alcott’s desire to write. She sent her stories and poems to other weekly and monthly publications.

Born in 1832, Alcott spent her childhood in Boston and Concord, Massachusetts. Her father, Amos, was a leader of 19th Century Transcendentalism, a popular religious movement. Amos was considered a good teacher, a free thinker, but a poor provider for his wife and four daughters. The new transcendental school he started failed after two years, leaving his family virtually bankrupt.

The Alcotts were members of the Transcendental Club of New England, along with distinguished writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Emerson founded The Atlantic magazine in 1857 as a forum for bold, daring new ways of thinking. Thoreau influenced Alcott’s literary style, and she had the run of Emerson’s library, but she sometimes went hungry.

When the Civil War began in 1861, Alcott volunteered to serve as a nurse in the Union Army but was turned down. Two years later, she volunteered again. This time, she was deployed to Washington, D.C., where she was assigned to a makeshift hospital. She dressed wounds and tried to comfort soldiers when their limbs were amputated. When she wasn’t helping patients, she wrote poetry, fairy tales and gothic romances.

In 1863, The Boston Commonwealth, an abolitionist newspaper, published Alcott’s “Hospital Sketches,” a fictional account of her hospital experiences. It was enormously popular. James Fields at The Atlantic had a change of heart and told Alcott he would love to publish her writing. She wasn’t interested.

Meanwhile, other publications noticed her literary talents. Young readers clamored for her stories about fairies, pirates, princesses and damsels in distress. When the editor of Merry’s Museum, a children’s magazine in Boston, suggested she write a novel for girls, she did, in part because the family needed the money. Drawing on her experiences of growing up with three sisters, Alcott published Little Women in 1868. The book was an immediate success.

A few months after the publication of Little Women, Alcott sent James Fields a short note with $40 enclosed. “Dear Mr. Fields: Once upon a time, you lent me forty dollars, kindly saying that I might return it when I made a ‘pot of gold.’ As the miracle has been unexpectedly wrought, I wish to fulfill my part of the bargain and repay my debt with many thanks.” L.M. Alcott

Although Louisa May Alcott published more than 300 short stories, poems, essays and novels in her lifetime, she is best known for Little Women. The book is frequently found on the greatest books of all-time lists and has never been out of print since its publication more than 150 years ago. It has sold 10 million copies, been published in more than 50 languages and adapted numerous times for stage, film and television. Little Women cemented Alcott as one of the most beloved authors of the 19th Century.

After having been in poor health for years due to mercury poisoning sustained during the Civil War, Alcott died at age 56. She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord near Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

Although Louis May Alcott never worked directly for The Atlantic, she eventually reconciled her differences with the magazine. She published hundreds of stories in its pages during her lifetime and was selected as one of 25 writers who helped shape the magazine and the nation. In 1996, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.