Friday, November 29, 2013

Louisa


As girls for 145 years have done, I read Little Women with vigor as a child. I remember reading it, I remember the pink cover, I remember finding the story of a family of girls from a century ago fascinating and enthralling. I haven't read Little Women in years, but with Louisa May Alcott's birthday today, November 29th, I read a picture book to give me more of a sense of that powerful writer who changed so many lives.

Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott by Yona Zeldis McDonough, is gorgeously illustrated by Bethanne Andersen. The biography is a well-written (thought slightly long) account of Louisa's childhood growing up poor, her young adulthood serving as a nurse during the Civil War, and how her writing grew and finally allowed her to flourish in her life.
On the Literary Mama Blog today, I wrote a birthday post with many details about Louisa's life. What I learned about Louisa from researching that, and reading McDonough's book, was that she was a focused, determined, and empowered woman who wanted desperately to pull her family out of poverty. She spent much of her life working any job she could get to make a few dollars, and trying to help others who did not have enough. 

Life in the mid-1800's was much different than it is today, for sure. But this Thanksgiving weekend, I worry about the many poor people still don't have enough. The people fighting against poverty who don't have a turkey or Tofurky to stuff into their bellies. Louisa knew poverty and she worked her a$# off to support her family. It was not for lack of trying that her family was poor. In fact her father was a teacher who held many jobs. He lost those jobs repeatedly, not because he was a bad teacher, or he failed to teach his students anything. He lost those jobs because he thought girls should be educated, that slavery was wrong. When he shared those beliefs with his students, parents quickly withdrew their children and shut down his schools. 

I hold serious contention with the myth that poor people are lazy, that they don't want to work hard, or they are just trying to mooch the system. Most people in our society, whether in 1860 or in 2013, want to feel useful, valued, and that their work is doing good in the world. Poor people are not poor because they don't want to live the American Dream nor have a turkey to put on the table this weekend. They are poor because the capitalist system needs a lower class to do the labor so the middle class can keep buying stuff on Black Friday and the upper class can rake in the profits. I'd say that the men building the bridges and the women spending most hours of their day educating our children work a hell of a lot harder than the old men sitting in an office pushing money around in a made-up economic system on a computer screen. And yet... 

I am grateful today. I am grateful everyday that I have enough. I have too much really. I am grateful that Louisa worked and wrote and stood for what is right in the world. 145 years later she is still an inspiration to little women the world over, including me.

"Let my name stand among those who are willing to bear ridicule and reproach for the truth's sake, and so, earn some right to rejoice when the victory is won." -LMA

"Housekeeping ain't no joke." -LMA

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