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Rochester's Own Little Women

Louisa May Alcott series begins Sept. 18.

Lovers of history and literature alike are in for a treat this month when the and the present a program about the life and times of the beloved American writer, known for her most popular novel, Little Women.

The family-friendly event will include a presentation about the history of Rochester and what life was like in the community during the 19th century when Alcott lived, as well as musical entertainment by banjo player Tim Twiss and a special guest who will present Alcott in character and dress.

One of 30 libraries chosen

As noted in a press release issued by the library, the Sept. 18 program is the first in a series that will explore Alcott’s life. Based on the documentary film Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (co-produced by Nancy Porter Productions, Inc. and Thirteen/WNET New York’s American Masters) and a biography of the same name written by Harriet Reisen, the series will continue through November and feature several informative programs that promise to reveal a writer few of us will recognize.

Though widely known for writing beguiling children’s stories, including Little Women, which was first published in 1868, Alcott also wrote pulp fiction, lurid tales, thrillers and fantasies. Each program in the series will reveal a writer and a woman who was quite exceptional for her time.

Sponsored by the American Library Association Public Program Office, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Alcott series explores the many facets of the writer’s life, including:

  • Growing up in extreme poverty
  • Socializing with family friends Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller
  • Her family’s opposition to slavery and
  • Her work as a nurse during the Civil War at the Union Hotel Hospital in Georgetown.

The press release also notes that the Rochester Hills Public Library is one of only 30 libraries in the country chosen to receive a grant to present this special series. In addition to the museum, the library will also partner with to bring the Alcott series to the Rochester community.

Rochester’s Little Women

Alcott’s beloved novel centers on the life and times of the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, and their mother, Marmee, and takes place during the years of the American Civil War. The story is set in Alcott’s hometown of Concord, Mass., and is loosely based on her own life growing up with three sisters.

Though Little Women is a work of fiction, its characters and its author — a rather unconventional woman of her time, as the library series will show — have some notable similarities to four little women who came of age in Rochester during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Once referred to as our town’s “Little Women” by a former staff member of the Rochester Hills Museum, the Van Hoosen women, Sarah Van Hoosen, Alice Jones, Bertha Van Hoosen and Sara Van Hoosen Jones, were four independent and exceptional women of their time who lived together on the family farm in Stoney Creek Village.

Sarah Van Hoosen, like Marmee, was the matriarch. She bore two daughters, Alice and Bertha, during her marriage to Joshua, who was a successful farmer and, like Alcott’s father, Bronson, supported education, especially for his daughters.

Though widowed after 40 years of marriage, Sarah was an independent soul who remained on the Van Hoosen Farm in Stoney Creek Village watching her daughters and granddaughter grow and become remarkable women in their own right.

Bertha was born in 1863, during the height of the Civil War, and grew up on the family farm, which inspired her to pursue a career in medicine. Like Jo March who yearns to do something great, Bertha became a prominent female physician at a time few women were doctors and specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. During her successful career, Bertha developed several medical practices and techniques including the “buttonhole” appendectomy and the use of Twilight Sleep (scopolamine morphine) during childbirth. Like Alcott, Bertha never married and remained a devoted daughter, sister and aunt who provided well for her family.

Alice, a teacher, married Joseph Comstock Jones, a school superintendent, and had one daughter, Sarah, born in 1892. A tomboy, Sarah grew up to travel the world, earn a Master’s Degree in Animal Husbandry, raise prized Holstein cattle on the Van Hoosen Dairy Farm, and become one of the first women in America to be named Master Farmer in 1932. She, too, never married, and was a dedicated daughter, granddaughter and niece, carrying the family name into history and creating a lasting legacy for the Rochester community.

Program and series information

Registration is required for the 2 p.m. Sept. 18 program. To register online or for more information about the program and the series, visit http://www.rhpl.org/events/LMA, call the Rochester Hills Public Library at 248-650-7130, or send an email at adult@rhpl.org.

Tiffany Dziurman Stozicki September 06, 2011 at 06:21 PM
A list of programs in the Louisa May Alcott series (RHM = Rochester Hills Museum; RHPL = Rochester Hills Public Library; OU = Oakland University). Check the library web site for registration requirements. Louisa May Alcott: Through Her Eyes: Sept. 18 at 2 p.m., RHM Biography Book Discussion: Oct. 12 at 7 p.m., RHPL Film Screening with Director Nancy Porter: Oct. 19, OU Louisa May Alcott Wrote That?!: Nov. 9 at 7 p.m., RHPL Louisa May Alcott and 19th Century Social Reform: A Roundtable Discussion: Nov. 30 at 7 p.m., OU
Brendan McGaughey September 07, 2011 at 12:41 AM
Tiffany- Well done. Again. Way to make the rest of us look bad!
Marianne Donnelly September 08, 2011 at 08:34 AM
Living History touring show, "Beyond Little Women: Louisa May Alcott" by Marianne Donnelly, is an accurate, lively, performance, enjoyed by descendants of the Alcotts and thousands more. See YouTube clip at www.coraconnection.com/md (1-831-454-6333) Thank you for inviting me to Rochester, MI. for 18 September 2011,2:00 pm, Van Hoosen Museum special Library event. Appropriate for ages 10 and up.
Tiffany Dziurman Stozicki September 08, 2011 at 01:47 PM
Thank you for the information, Marianne. I look forward to your presentation as Louisa May Alcott on Sept. 18.

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