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When Louisa May Alcott sat at her folding desk, on a sunny day in May, 1868, she was sorely in need of inspiration. Her publisher was insisting on a story “about girls”. As the only girls Alcott knew well were her own sisters, she decided to write about them.

Thus, the book we know as Little Women came to be,  based on Alcott’s sisters: Anna, Elizabeth, May and of course, Alcott herself, living in a house that closely resembled the one they lived in: Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts. The house was built on 12 acres and surrounded by 40 apple trees in an orchard, after which it was named.

Mr Alcott ran the Concord School of Philosophy, a co-educational summer school for adults, from his study, a room where, according to a visitor “it is always noon.”

The dining room doubled as a stage for the girls who often put up plays for visitors, just as the March sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy) do in Little Women.

The Alcotts were a progressive family and espoused many liberal causes including women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery and social reform; Orchard House served as a meeting place for like-minded people.

In keeping with the Alcott vision of social reform and women’s empowerment, Orchard House Museum offers a number of workshops and training programmes for school children that continue the Alcotts’ legacy. Orchard House holds the distinction of being one of the oldest and most authentically preserved house museums in the USA. A tour of the place, as one visitor described it, is “like a walk through Little Women.”

March 6 is Louisa May Alcott’s death anniversary, two days before  International Women’s Day. A fitting tribute indeed, to the writer who gave us one of our most beloved heroines: Jo March.

— Shagufta Naaz

First Published in the Adbuzzzz section of the DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 6, 2011

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