May Alcott Nieriker
A maiden full of lofty dreams
Slender, fair, and tall
As all the goddesses she traced
Upon her chamber wall
~from "Our Madonna" (poem)
by Louisa May Alcott
Abigail May Alcott, the youngest of the Alcott daughters, was born in Concord, Massachusetts on
July 26, 1840.
Like "Amy March" in Little Women, May was a blue-eyed golden girl who possessed from
childhood an intense love of beauty and all things artistic and elegant. "She is so
graceful and pretty and loves beauty so much, it is hard for her to be poor and wear other
peoples ugly things," wrote Louisa to Anna in 1854. "I hope I shall live
to see the dear child in silk and lace with plenty of pictures and bottles of
cream, Europe, and all the things she longs for."
May had also long-exhibited a talent for drawing, painting, and artistic experimentation. She studied art in Boston, where her teachers were the highly influential Dr. William Rimmer and William Morris Hunt. She did dream of going
to Europe, and it was Louisas success with Little Women in 1868 that provided
that opportunity. She took three trips abroad to study art in London, Paris, and Rome.
Although unlike each other in many respects, May and Louisa shared an artistic
temperament which expressed itself in ambition, willfulness, and a certain competitive
spirit. When the 1877 Paris Salon accepted her still life, May wrote,
"Who would have imagined such good fortune and so strong proof that Lu does not
monopolize the Alcott talent. Ha! Ha!, sister, this is the first feather plucked from your
In 1878, May married a young Swiss businessman and musician, Ernest Nieriker. The
couple settled in Meudon, a Parisian suburb, leading what May called "an ideal life --
painting, music, and love ..."
In November 1879, May gave birth to a daughter she named Louisa May, in honor of her sister (and later nicknamed "Lulu"). Tragically, May died seven weeks after the baby was born, leaving her family utterly distraught. May had earlier stipulated that in the event of her death after childbirth, she desired Lulu to
be raised by her sister Louisa in Concord. May keenly felt that Louisa would love the child as if she were her own; providing her spinster sister with a child was also the greatest gift May could think to give in gratitude for all the love and support Louisa had given her.
Archival photographs of the family and objects in the collection are available for a fee.
All requests must be made in writing, allowing at least 2-3 weeks for processing.
Please click to email your photo request, or, write to
Orchard House, Attn: Photo Requests, PO Box 343, Concord, MA 01742-0343
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