Abigail Alcott (née May)
(October 8, 1800 – November 25, 1877) was the wife of Transcendentalist Amos Bronson Alcott
and mother of four daughters, including Civil War novelist Louisa May Alcott
. An activist for several causes, May was one of the first paid social workers
in the state of Massachusetts
Family life and education
Abigail May was of prominent New England stock, born into the families of Sewall and Quincy. Her father, Colonel Joseph May, was a lauded Unitarian layman; her mother, Dorothy Sewell, was the great-granddaughter of Samuel Sewall
, a presiding judge of the Salem witch trials
. As a child she did not regularly attend a formal school. Rather, she was educated in history, languages, and sciences by her tutor Abigail Allyn in Duxbury, Massachusetts
. She was introduced to her future husband, Amos Bronson Alcott in Brooklyn. Abigail May later applied for an assistant position in Alcott's school in Boston. They married in 1830 and collaborated on projects such as the failed utopian community Fruitlands
and the Temple School.
The death of Elizabeth Sewall, the model for Beth in Little Women,
on March 14, 1858, made Abby May depressed and sad. Nineteen years after Beth's death, Abby May herself died in November 1877. Louisa wrote in her journal: "I never wish her back, but a great warmth seems gone out of life... She was so loyal, tender, and true, life was hard for her and no one knew all she had to bear but her children." Abby May is buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord
alongside her husband and daughters.
and an activist for the temperance movement
, the poor, and the abolition
of slavery, May imbued strong values in her four children. According to her second daughter, author Louisa May Alcott, 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". Such humanitarian ideals extended beyond her household to the city of Boston
, where she accepted a full-time job as a social worker in 1848.