The Alcotts, Père and Fille: Lives “lavishly wealthy” and “perilously poor

From Harvard Magazine:

Alcott Bronson Alcott is known today—if he is known at all—as the father of Louisa May, the author of Little Women and more than a dozen other books written mainly for girls. But for a large part of the nineteenth century, he was the more famous of the pair. Born into a poor farming family in 1799, he rose to become a Transcendentalist philosopher, a groundbreaking educational theorist, and an influential friend of a number of eminent New Englanders, including Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne. He was also a grandiose dreamer and schemer whose unbending pursuit of his (at times bizarre) ideals led him to squander his meager savings, refuse most work, and nearly abandon his long-suffering wife, Abba.

Fans of Little Women and its sequels will remember that the four spirited March sisters were romantically impoverished: Amy struggled to scrounge up the spare coins for a treat of pickled limes, and Meg and Jo had to make do with old dresses and lemonade-stained gloves when they attended balls in the fancier parts of Concord. The four Alcott girls were not so lucky. Their father was fired from a series of teaching jobs because of his rigid insistence that children should not learn by rote, and the Alcott family was often indigent, forced to rely on charity from Bronson’s famous friends to help them through.

More here.