A serene and stately presence
Sanctifies our troubled home
~from "Our Angel in the House"
Poem by Louisa May Alcott
Quiet and shy, Elizabeth Alcott (Beth, Betty, or Lizzie, as Louisa would variously call her) remains the most mysterious of the four Alcott girls. Her father spoke of how she was prone to "hiding her feelings in silence," while her neatly composed journals provide few clues to her inner life.
Perhaps the fullest portrait of Elizabeth is to be found within the pages of Little Women, where she was portrayed as the gentle "Beth March." To many, the book is a tribute to the sister Louisa called "my better self":
Elizabeth -- or Beth as everyone called her -- was a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression, which was seldom disturbed. Her father called her "Little Tranquillity" and the name suited her perfectly for she seemed to live in a happy world of her own, only venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted.
Elizabeth liked nothing better than to be at home with her family. She loved children and animals (especially kittens), enjoyed music (particularly playing the piano), and sewing.
Elizabeth contracted scarlet fever from a poor family after whom her mother had been caring. Like her fictional counterpart, Lizzie recovered, but died two years later of a "wasting illness" which she likely contracted in her weakened state. A month after Elizabeth's passing on March 14, 1858, Louisa wrote in her journal:
I don't miss her as I expected to do, for she seems nearer and dearer than before; and I am glad to know she is safe from pain and age in some world where her innocent soul must be happy.