"We will have a home. Oh! Sacred word! Oh Holy spot!"
Abigail Alcott uttered these words when she became engaged to Bronson Alcott in 1828. However, for the next 15 years, they would move more than thirty times. Abigail wrote in her dairy, "The end I desire is to obtain a home for me and my family, a house and a few acres of land for us to occupy."
In 1843, at Fruitlands Farm in Harvard, Massachusetts, under the leadership of her husband Bronson, Abigail and her family and others experimented in communal living.When they nearly froze and starved, Abigail requested help from their neighbor who provided them shelter consisting of only three rooms, which housed the two adults and four girls ages 4 to 13.At the time, they only had $13.00 to their names.
In 1845, on the Alcott's 15th wedding anniversary, Abigail's brother Samuel May and her cousin Samuel Sewall presented her with a sum of $2,000, which was her share of her father's estate.Their friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson found a home for them in Concord close by his on the Lexington Road. Using her inheritance, they purchased the house for $850.00. Emerson added another $500.00 to purchase eight acres of meadow land across the street for them to use as farmland.
The family moved into the house on April 1, 1845, and Bronson named it "Hillside." They immediately began renovating and rehabilitating the house. A wheelwright shed was cut in two, with one section added to the west side of the house and the other to the east side. The front of the west addition became Bronson's study. The rear was divided into two bedrooms for Abigail's older daughters Anna and Louisa, making them very happy, as recorded by Louisa n her journal.
In 1845, Abigail's four daughters ranged in age from 4-14: Anna, age 14, Louisa, age 12, Elizabeth, age 9, and Abby May, age 4. Anna and Louisa wrote and produced plays, including "Norna;or the Witch's Curse," that they acted out in the barn, with all the sisters participating in full costume. The girls re-enacted "Pilgrim's Progress," where Christian climbed up the mountains to the Celestial City. For this, Abigail provided them with bags filled with rags which they pretended were back packs.These childhood dramas became part of daughter Louisa's writings, including Little Women.
In this house, the Alcotts sheltered at least one slave who was making his;/her way along the Underground Railroad to Canada. Listening to descriptions of life in slavery influenced the family. Almost twenty years later, when they lived next door at Orchard House, Abigail helped her daughter Louisa pack her clothes when she volunteered as a nurse during the Civil War.Louisa served in a Union hospital in Washington, D.C. until she became ill.Louisa never fully recovered, though she wrote of her experience in her book, Hospital Sketches.
Making a Living
The Alcotts enjoyed three years at Hillside, 1845-1848.To earn money during this time, Abigail rented rooms to people and taught students.However, it wasn't long before the family was in such financial debt that they were forced to move again.
The family went to Boston, where Abigail secured a position as a City Missionary or Social Worker.Anna and Louisa taught, sewed, and became companions to friends or invalids. Elizabeth became a housekeeper. Bronson gave conversations and lectured in the West, earning little money until Louisa became well known.
Years later, Abigail's daughters recalled that some of their happiest memories were at Hillside. Here, their mother and father read to them, they reenacted plays in the barn, and their father Bronson oversaw their education, encouraging them at an early age to keep daily journals and to share their thoughts with the family. This honed their writing, composition, and reading skills. They enjoyed the visits from Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne. Louisa often borrowed Emerson's books from his library.
Abigail provided the common sense and stability through the years, as her daughters would recall in later years.