May Alcott Nieriker, Author and Advocate

May Alcott Nieriker, Author and Advocate

Travel Writing and Transformation in the Late Nineteenth Century

By Julia Dabbs

Anthem Studies in Travel

May Alcott Nieriker, Author and Advocate examines in-depth the travel writings by the youngest sister of famed novelist Louisa May Alcott. Her critical commentary on social and cultural concerns of the nineteenth century, such as gender and class discrimination, still resonate today.

Hardback, 232 Pages


March 2022

£80.00, $125.00

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About This Book

May Alcott Nierike, Author and Advocate examines in-depth the writings on art and travel by the youngest sister of famed novelist Louisa May Alcott. Like other American women in the later nineteenth century, May was unable to receive the advanced training and exhibition opportunities in the USA that she needed to become a notable professional painter due to her gender. An additional obstacle for Alcott Nieriker was her family’s insecure financial status, making it difficult to travel or study abroad for training. Fortunately, following Louisa’s early publishing success, May was able to make three trips to London and Paris to immerse herself more fully in the art world, and eventually attained the prestigious honor of having two paintings accepted into the Paris Salon. However, the book argues that Alcott Nieriker’s main contributions to cultural history were not necessarily her artistic creations, but rather her publications on travel and art—specifically, four articles for the Boston Evening Transcript and an 1879 guidebook, Studying Art Abroad and How To Do It Cheaply. 

The book examines the art and travel writings of May Alcott Nieriker from three distinct but interrelated perspectives: (1) how Alcott Nieriker’s writings both relate to and yet stand apart from standard travel writing of the later nineteenth century; (2) how Alcott Nieriker’s travel writings smartly interweave art criticism and social as well as cultural advocacy, including her concerns about the lack of access to free museums in the USA; and (3) how Alcott Nieriker’s writings critique the social and cultural norms of the day in respect to equal opportunity for women artists, and in turn seek to empower women of modest means to navigate these obstacles and pursue careers as professional artists. In addition, the book provides more insight in general to the fields of nineteenth-century American art and art criticism, travel writing, gender studies, and American cultural studies. In sum, May Alcott Nieriker’s writings, a number of which are republished here for the first time since the 1870s, deserve further attention and interpretation because her texts give voice to critical social and cultural concerns of the nineteenth century, such as gender and class discrimination, that still resonate today.


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Author Information

Julia K. Dabbs is a Distinguished University Teaching Professor of art history at the University of Minnesota, Morris. She has published widely on early modern women artists, as well as the nineteenth-century American artist, May Alcott Nieriker.


Anthem Studies in Travel

Table of Contents

List of Figures; Acknowledgments; Introduction; 1. The Transnational Artist; 2. The Travel Writer; 3. The Art Critic and Commentator; 4. The Social Justice Advocate; Conclusion: The Transformational Legacy of May Alcott Nieriker’s Travel Writings; Appendix A: May Alcott Nieriker’s Travel Writings; Bibliography; Index.


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