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140 years of Little Women

Wednesday, October 1, 2008 marks the 140th anniversary of the publication of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic, Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. The book was first published in Boston by the firm of Roberts Brothers and originally ended with chapter 23, “Aunt March Settles the Question.” The book was an immediate success with critics and readers; in fact, so many readers asked for a sequel that Alcott responded with Part Second. By the time the second volume was released in April 1869, Part I had sold 5,500 copies, and some 3,000 copies of Part II had been sold in advance.

Alcott’s sister May illustrated Part I of Little Women, including the frontispiece shown above. For Part II, illustrations were created by Hammatt Billings, a Boston artist who also produced the drawings for the first illustrated edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The two parts of Little Women were first published as a single volume by Roberts Brothers in 1880.

Special Collections owns a copy of the first editions of both parts of Little Women, as well as the first British edition (two volumes; London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, 1869) and the 1880 combined edition as part of the Louisa May Alcott Collection. These books, along with 140 years of editions of the novel in several languages, can all be accessed by researchers in our reading room.

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