Abstract: Child-rearing and Gender in Alcott’s Works

In 1869, Louisa May Alcott publishes her famous novel, Little Women. The book centers on the child-rearing practices of the March family and claims through the protagonist, a girl named Jo who struggles to tame her wild ways and must give up her dreams of becoming a writer in order to become a proper woman, that a woman’s salvation is marriage and her place in the house. However, Alcott’s next two books in the series, Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys (1886), advocate very different viewpoints regarding gender expectations, the role of women, and child-rearing practices. By the end of the trilogy, one of the characters, Nan Harding, is thriving as an unmarried doctor focused on building her career. This astonishing disparity prompts the question:  What happened between 1869 and 1886? For my research project, I will work through what child-rearing means in defining womanhood according to Louisa May Alcott. In order to do this, I will study cultural ideologies of child-rearing and womanhood, especially in terms of middle class wives and mothers, during this time period. I will also examine influences from her father, Bronson Alcott, a teacher and amateur philosopher, as well as from feminist writers Harriet Beecher Stowe and Margaret Fuller, both of whom Alcott knew personally.