Carolyn Davis is the generous donor of more than 300 items by and about Louisa May Alcott to the Marylandia and Rare Books Department of the University of Maryland Libraries. Mrs. Davis' lifelong love of books and libraries moved her to donate her collection so others could share her appreciation of the works of Louisa May Alcott.
Mrs. Davis was born in Keene, New Hampshire. As a child she was nicknamed "Jo" and aspired to write children's books much as Jo did in Little Women.
After graduating from Keene Teachers College, Ms. Davis taught for two years in Alstead, New Hampshire. She married Richard F. Davis and moved to Ithaca, New York where she worked in one of the Cornell University Libraries. Her husband accepted a position in the Dairy Science Department at the University of Maryland in 1954. The Davis family was an active participant in the campus community, attending athletic events, theatrical productions and Agriculture Days. Mrs. Davis also attended classes at the University of Maryland, completing her certification for school librarianship. She subsequently obtained a job at the High Point High School Library in Beltsville, Maryland where she worked for sixteen years.
Mrs. Davis began collecting Louis May Alcott books in the early 1980s after finding a first edition at a town fair in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years she continued to acquire books, visiting bookshops all over the east coast in her quest for the works of Alcott and her family. When Mrs. Davis decided to move to California in 1999, she found a new home for her collection in the University's Rare Books Collection where the books are available for others to enjoy the writings of Louisa May Alcott.
Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) is widely known as author of Little Women or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy and until the late twentieth century her literary reputation largely rested on this work. Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, to the transcendental philosopher Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail May, Louisa grew up in Concord, Massachusetts with her three sisters. The family often experienced severe poverty and Louisa's income became pivotal to the family survival. She worked as a nurse, seamstress and domestic servant until the publication of her first book Flower Fables in 1855 which netted the author thirty-two dollars. With the publication of Little Women in 1868 Alcott achieved critical and financial success. The characters of the novel were drawn from those of Alcott's sisters, and many of its episodes from those she and her family had experienced. Alcott's masterpiece was followed by a succession of wholesome domestic narratives, the so-called Little Women series.
Since Alcott's death her reputation has been reappraised as a result of the discovery of a large number of sensational "pot-boilers," written in secret and published anonymously or under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. These tales, written prior to the publication of Little Women , earned her between $25 and $100 each from periodical story papers. Beginning in 1975, republication of Alcott's sensation stories spurred interest in her long out-of-print adult novels. The discovery of these stories has led to a recognition of Alcott as a far more complex and prolific writer than was originally thought. As readers become more familiar with her sensation stories, and as Little Women and its offshoots are reread, it is becoming possible to see Alcott as a complex writer deeply engaged with the issue of being a woman in nineteenth-century America. No longer merely the author of Little Women, Alcott has taken her place as one of the foremost American authors of the nineteenth century.