Home Schooling of Louisa May Alcott. How Her Father and Her Mother Educated an American Writer

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Nominated for the Boston Authors Club 2012 Julia Ward Howe Book Award
The rapid industrialization of New England in the mid-nineteenth century gave rise to the "motherteacher" ideology, a cultural paradigm that profoundly shaped public discussions of child rearing practices and elementary education in the United States. This study explores the motherteaching practices of three nineteenth-century figures, Bronson, Abba May, and Louisa May Alcott. Using personal writing as their primary child rearing tool. the Alcotts promoted what literary historian Richard Brodhead terms "disciplinary intimacy" as a means of instructing youngsters in proper behavior and parentaly sanctioned values.

This study, which draws extensively on primary source materials, including family letters and journals, focuses on the potent relationship between literacy, maternal authority, and discipline in the private and public spaces of the Alcott home and Bronson's grammar school classrooms.

This study sheds new light on the Alcotts as educators whose educational philosophy and teaching experiences illuminate more fully the debate over education reform, as well as changing mores in family life at mid-century.


"[The author] opens a provocative investigation into pedagogical philosophies and practices of the Jacksonian era and afterward, a time when the democratic citizen - the "common man" - was catapulted onto center stage, and shows how Alcott believed that citizen might be, even should be , shaped and nurtured." -- Prof. Fred Erisman, Texas Christian University

"... [a] very thorough study of the revolutionary changes in education theory and practice among a group of educators who looked as a child in a very different way from previous teachers." -- Prof. Mary A. McCay, Loyola University, New Orleans

"[The author] also does an excellent job of situating the Alcotts within a deep understanding of nineteenth century culture and family life. The result is a scholarly work that helps us better understand and appreciate tbe educational contributions made by Bronson, Abba, and Louisa May Alcott." -- Prof. Lisa A. Cisco, Johnson & Wales University

"... addresses the often-overlooked life of Abigail Alcott, who has stood somewhat in the shadows of the Alcott family story, ... [The author]'s reconstruction of Mrs. Alcott as an important contributor to her family's education and more generally to the causes of reform in early- to mid-nineteenth century Massachusetts." -- Prof. John Matteson, John Jay College

"[The Author should be commended for her archival work and for her determination to value both Bronson's and Abba's parenting and pedagogical contributions." -- Prof. Anne K. Phillips, Kansas State University

Table of Contents

Foreword by Fred Erisman, PhD



Chapter I: "The Happy Mother of a Happy Child": Education and Child Rearing in New England, 1830-1860
Motherhood, Motherteachers
Nineteenth-Century Education Reform

Chapter II: "A Place Where They Might Delight to Assemble": The Education and Early Teaching Career of Bronson Alcott
"Make Things Interesting": The Cheshire School Experiment

Chapter III: "To Lead Them To Usefulness and Happiness": Disciplinary Intimacy and Writing in the Classrooms of Bronson Alcott
Disciplinary Intimacy and Bronson Alcott's Vision of the Teacher
"Every Thing Gose in to the Journal": Letter Writing and Journal Keeping in the Alcott Classroom

Chapter IV: "Influence is Better Than Precept": Abba May Alcott as Motherteacher
"... But Books Were Always Attractive": The Education of Abba Alcott
"Love is a Powerful Agent to Discipline Children With": Maternal Influence and the Journals of Abba and Louisa May Alcott

Chapter V: "Duty's Faithful Child": Motherteaching and the Writing LIfe of Louisa May Alcott
"To impress the lesson more deeply": Literacy and Maternal Influence in Little Women


Works Cited


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