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Visit the home of 'Little Women'

Nestled in the comfortable curve of a low hill, the brown two-story Orchard House museum that was once the home of world-famous author Louisa May Alcott shelters a fascinating history of a forward-thinking family. Alcott is best known for her perennially popular book “Little Women,” released over 150 years ago, and continuously in print ever since. Her family home has been open to the public for over a century.

Ahead of Her Time

In 1857, educator Amos Bronson Alcott purchased 12 woodland acres on Concord’s historic Lexington Road in Massachusetts, some 20 miles west of Boston, and an area rich in Revolutionary War history. He connected an existing 1690 manor house and 1720 tenant building to create the new home for his wife and four daughters, where innovative thought and (at the time) controversial attitudes were cultivated and encouraged. 

Her close-knit family’s life and home served as the foundation for many elements in Louisa’s books. Eldest sister Anna was Meg, Louisa was Jo’, Elizabeth was Beth, and Abigail was Amy. Yet only some of the family’s attributes were portrayed in the story. The Alcotts were in fact strong abolitionists who participated in the Underground Railroad, as well as suffragists, women’s rights advocates, and reformers of education, dress, diet, and child welfare. Louisa even signed some letters, “Yours for Reforms of All Kinds, L. M. Alcott.”

Louisa was an early feminist before that word was in common use. From being an author to her decision not to marry to ensure that the income her books produced would remain hers with which to support her family, and not become a husband’s, she was truly a women pioneer. She was proud to be a “literary spinster,” who could control her own fate, or as she put it, “paddle my own canoe.”  

Our guide noted that things women in particular take for granted today were considered unacceptable at the time – such as a woman having her own desk. She pointed out the special little desk Amos built in Louisa’s room on which she penned “Little Women.” Writing was considered improper and said to be dangerous to female health because it was “brain work,” which had been “proven” by certain doctors of the era to ruin female health.

Women Preserving History

“Little Women” is considered one of those rare books that changed the course of American literature, and a visit to Orchard House adds so much depth to understanding Alcott’s writings, and the environment which influenced them. 

But Orchard House nearly didn’t survive. In 1910, it was for sale but in terrible condition and likely to be demolished. Even though the dilapidated house was empty, visitors still came clutching copies of “Little Women,” and as they peeked in windows they would asked neighbors, “Did Louisa May Alcott really live here?  Did she actually write ‘Little Women’ in this house?”

Neighbor Harriett Lothrup, working with like-minded women in Concord, rescued the home, forming the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association in 1911 to raise money to buy the house and make the most urgent repairs to it. Donations came from far and wide, including pennies from girl scouts and lunch money from schoolchildren. Within a year, they raised $8,000 and Orchard House was officially opened as a museum in 1912.

‘America’s Home’

Orchard House was so-named because of the 40 apples trees that once surrounded it. From the moment you enter, the words “gracious” and “welcoming” come to mind, both in the house itself and the knowledgeable tour guides. Approximately 80% of the artifacts and furnishings actually belonged to the Alcotts, while the rest are of their time period, and are placed exactly where they were at the time the family lived there, thanks to descendants who had visited many times. 

Closed during the Pandemic, Orchard House reopened in 2021, adding new features to the tour. The “School of Philosophy” allow visitors to begin their tours with an informational video shown in an evocative 1880 building. The video provides a great deal of historical and biographical detail about the family, the books that Miss Alcott wrote, and social reform movements the family members were involved with.  The guided tour then focuses on creating meaningful connections for visitors based off of the information presented in the video, allowing for a more time looking at artifacts, hearing interesting anecdotes, and discussing questions of special interest with our Guides.

Great care has been given to create a welcoming personalized experience, to make it feel more like a home versus a museum. Instead of barriers such as ropes and glass, visitors enter the rooms just as the Alcotts and their friends did. Some have called it “America’s home.”

Each room comes is alive with history. Now protected under glass, “Amy,” an artist in both the book and real life, was encouraged by her parents to draw right on the walls. The cozy sun-filled parlor has the old horsehair couch on which “Jo” liked to lay. Roderigo’s leather boots along with other items often used in the many plays in “Little Women” hang out of an old chest. 

Orchard House has attracted literally millions of visitors from all over the world, including Katharine Hepburn, Paul Newman, Japan’s Empress Michiko and Emperor Akihito, photographer Annie Leibovitz, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and countless devoted “Little Women” fans, history enthusiasts, and preservation-minded individuals. 

However in May of this year, Orchard House was listed among several other sites in the historic Concord area – including Minute Man National Historical Park and Walden Pond – to be declared one of America’s “11 Most Endangered Places” by The National Trust for Historic Preservation. You can learn more about this important designation here: 

Open year ‘round, for those who want to learn more, the Orchard House website features an Emmy-Winning documentary and important FAQs when planning your visit.