Although the famous Massachusetts author Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) was never a member of King’s Chapel, many of her family members provide connections to this historic church, and she visited the church with her family on several occasions.
Louisa May Alcott is best known for her semi-autobiographical novel Little Women, which was first published in two parts in 1868 and 1869. Now considered an American classic, Little Women follows the lives of the March sisters, who are loosely based on Alcott and her own sisters. The recent movie release of Little Women, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, further revealing how Alcott’s novel continues to inspire readers and viewers today.
Louisa’s mother, Abigail or “Abba” May Alcott, served as the inspiration for Mrs. March, or Marmee, the mother in Little Women. In real life, Abba grew up attending King’s Chapel, where her father, Colonel Joseph May was a leader of the congregation. She gives this picture of King’s Chapel in her journal of 1859: “For 40 years my father was…Warden of Stone Chapel. Our family were baptized, married and buried from that Altar. I have many tender sweet memories with this Church and its functionaries…” Abba would later marry Amos Bronson Alcott at King’s Chapel.
Colonel Joseph May was Lousia’s inspiration for the March family’s neighbor, Mr. Laurence, also the grandfather of Laurie. He became a member of King’s Chapel following the American Revolution at the age of twenty-three. He, along with Dr. Thomas Bulfinch II, helped edit the church’s liturgy and ordain its first Unitarian minister, making this the first Unitarian church in America.
Colonel Joseph May is memorialized for his dedication to the church on a marble tablet on the burying ground-side of the chapel. Louisa May Alcott, visited the Chapel with her elderly parents in 1874 to see the newly-installed plaque for her grandfather and records this event in her journal, which can be read below.
Alcott returned to King’s Chapel for her mother’s funeral, which she described as “a simple, cheerful service, as she would have liked it.”
For more information about Louisa May Alcott’s connection to King’s Chapel and how her family inspired characters in Little Women, stay tuned for a blog post later this month!
Read Louisa May Alcott's writing:
Louisa May Alcott's reflection on visiting King's Chapel to view her grandfather's memorial: "A tablet to Grandfather May is put in Stone Chapel, and one Sunday a.m. we take Mother to see it. A pathetic sight to see Father walk up the broad aisle with the feeble old wife on his arm as they went to be married nearly fifty years ago. Mother sat alone in the old pew a little while and sung softly the old hymns; for it was early, and only the sexton there. He asked who she was and said his father was sexton in Grandfather's time. Several old ladies came in and knew Mother. She broke down thinking of the time when she and her mother and sisters and father and brothers all went to church together, and we took her home saying, ‘This isn't my Boston; all my friends are gone; I never want to see it any more.’ [She never did.–L. M. A.]"