A great heart that was home for all.
~Louisa May Alcott
Abigail May Alcott was born on October 8, 1800. The youngest daughter of Colonel Joseph May and Dorothy Sewall, she was descended from the distinguished Quincy and Sewall families of New England. Her great aunt was Dorothy Quincy, the Revolutionary War belle who married John Hancock, the first governor of Massachusetts and signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Abigail, or "Abba" as she was called, had a passionate temperament, a fine mind, and a generous heart. She keenly felt the injustices of the world and worked energetically for various causes, especially those that helped the poor or furthered the causes of abolition, women’s rights, and temperance. Louisa said of her mother's time as a social worker in Boston that "... she always did what came to her in the way of duty and charity, and let pride, taste, and comfort suffer for love’s sake."
Abba May met Amos Bronson Alcott in Brooklyn, Connecticut at the home of her brother, Samuel Joseph May, the first Unitarian minister in the state. Throughout their long courtship, Mr. Alcott, "a shy lover," communicated his sentiments to Miss May by letting her read passages he wrote about her in his journal. Bronson and Abba were married in King’s Chapel in Boston on May 23, 1830.
Abba’s love for her visionary husband was a mainstay in calm and storm. Although frequently frustrated by his inability to support his family, Mrs. Alcott believed in her husband and his ideals -- even when it seemed that the rest of the world did not. She wrote in her journal that she could never live without him: "I think I can as easily learn to live without breath."
Abba May Alcott served as the beloved prototype for "Marmee" of Little Women. To her four daughters, both in fact and fiction, she was "the most splendid mother in world," who devoted herself to each one, encouraging their talents and giving them practical rules by which to live. One of her favorite inspirational quotes still fuels those who are affiliated with Orchard House today: "Hope, and keep busy."
When Mrs. Alcott died in November of 1877, Louisa wrote, "I never wish her back, but a great warmth seems gone out of life. . . . She was so loyal, tender, and true" and led "such a lovely, unselfish life."