When I was in elementary school, I had to do a project on my favorite historical figure. While one of the founding fathers or revolutionary war heroes we learned about in class might have seemed like a more obvious choice, I chose my personal hero, Louisa May Alcott. Sure, George Washington was our first president and all, but Louisa May Alcott gave us the March sisters. There was no contest.
In retrospect, I kind of want to give eleven-year-old me a pat on the back for choosing such a remarkable woman. Today, nearly two centuries after she was born, Louisa May Alcott’s novels remain as beautiful, relevant and heart-warming as ever to both adults and children. With Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy and, of course, the incredible Marmee, she gave us a pack of heroines so unforgettable that many of us can’t imagine our lives without them. Aside from everything she did for literature, Louisa was an abolitionist, suffragette, teacher, Civil War nurse, and the first woman in Concord to register to vote.
In short, she was pretty freaking awesome.
In honor of her birthday, here are a five ways we can celebrate the amazing LMA.
1. Re-read Little Women
If you haven’t read Little Women since you were a girl (or even if you have!), I highly recommend giving it another go. It’s the kind of book that grows with you, and like all great novels, you gain something new out of it every time you pick it up. Every time I read it, I have a new favorite March sister, and although Professor Bhaer is kind of hard for little girls to appreciate, for women he’s swoon-er-ific. If you haven’t read Little Women at all—what are you waiting for? Do it now!
2. Read her other works
Little Women may be her most famous novel, but Alcott wrote many others that are worth reading. Little Men and Jo’s Boys round out the March family saga, and Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, which follow the coming-of-age of an orphaned heiress, give us another cast of lovable characters that are impossible to forget. Focusing on a young woman’s search for a meaningful life, the 1872 novel Work feels far ahead of its time in its examination of female independence. When it comes to girl power, there has really never been anyone quite like Louisa May Alcott.
3. Visit Orchard House
Touring authors’ preserved homes is one of my favorite things to do, and Orchard House, if I had to say, is the best I’ve ever visited. Located in historic Concord, Massachusetts, the house is a true time capsule, and upon entering it, you can’t help but feel the Alcott family’s presence. Not only will you see Louisa’s hand-carved writing desk, but the yard where her sister Anna (inspiration for Meg) got married, and the sketches that her youngest sister May (Amy) drew on the walls. It’s a dream come true for Little Women fans. The tour guides are knowledgeable and passionate about the family home, and the gift shop might be the kind of place where you want to buy absolutely everything. (Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.)
For more information on Orchard House, visit louisamayalcott.org.
4. Read about the Alcotts
Louisa drew from personal experience when writing, but the real-life Alcott family is even more remarkable than their fictional counterparts. Her father, Bronson, was a philosopher and educator who was close friends with Emerson and Thoreau. Her mother, Abigail, was a suffragette and one of the first paid social workers in Boston. They were a family of activists, abolitionists and artists who did not just discuss their beliefs, but lived them. There are many great books written about the family, notably the Pulitzer Prize-winning Eden’s Outcasts by John Matteson and Marmee and Louisa, written by Alcott descendant Eve LaPlante, which dives into the inspiring lives of the author and her mother. There are also published volumes of Louisa’s letters and journals that give us a wonderful sense of the Alcotts, their friends, and the time in which they lived.
5. Watch the greatest movie ever
We should all be watching the 1994 adaptation of Little Women regularly because it is just that good, and with the holidays coming up, there’s no reason not to. From Winona Ryder’s Jo to Claire Danes’ Beth (have you ever seen anyone cry better on screen?), every inch of this movie is beyond perfection. Just be sure to have about five boxes of Kleenex on hand. I almost start sobbing thinking about it. (The rose petals over the dolls? I can’t. I just can’t.)
Happy Birthday, Louisa May Alcott! I know that so many of us wouldn’t be the little women we are today without you.