Novelist and campaigner Louisa May Alcott was born on 29 November, 1832 in Pennsylvania, the second of four girls. She is best remembered as the author of Little Women. As she makes a brief appearance in Wilde’s Women, I’ve posted an extract in her honour.
Oscar’s final engagement that evening was a reception hosted by English-born Jane Cunningham Croly in honour of author Louisa May Alcott, who was nearing the end of her career and her life. Croly, better known by her pen-name ‘Jennie June’, was an exceptionally useful supporter to cultivate. Credited with pioneering and syndicating the ‘woman’s column’, she ran the women’s department at the New York World for ten years and was chief staff writer at Mme. Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions, later renamed Demorest’s Monthly Magazine. As ‘Jennie June’, she wrote ‘Gossip with and for Women’ for the New York Dispatch and ‘Parlour and Sidewalk Gossip’ for Noah’s Sunday Times. The sole breadwinner in her family, she juggled the responsibilities of motherhood and journalism by spending mornings at home before heading into the office at noon and working steadily until after midnight. Sunday nights were reserved for entertaining New York’s intellectual and artistic elite.
A passionate believer in networking for women, Croly founded the Women’s Parliament in 1856. She responded to the exclusion of women journalists, herself included, from an honorary dinner organised for Charles Dickens by the New York Press Club by founding Sorosis, America’s first professional woman’s club. She also established the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the New York Women’s Press Club. The elite members of her own New York Women’s Club campaigned for education, improved working conditions and better healthcare for women. An uncompromising realist, she once wrote:
Girls are none the worse for being a little wild, a little startling to very proper norms, and much less likely, in that case, to spend their time gasping over sentimental novels, and imagining that every whiskered specimen they see is their hero.1
It was after eleven by the time Oscar arrived and immediately he ‘drew off part of the crowd which had formed around Miss Alcott’.2
1 Jane Croly as ‘Jennie June’ in Demorest’s Monthly Magazine, June 15, 1877 , quoted in Roy Morris Jr., Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America (Cambridge, Belknap Press, 2013), p.39
2 New York Tribune, 9 January 1882, p.5