Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott is probably best known for her classic novel, “Little Women”. But it was the rash on her face in a 19th century portrait that intrigued Dr Ian Greaves of the University of Minnesota. Greaves suspected that it held the key to a medical mystery. He and a colleague think they finally diagnosed the problem, 119 years after Alcott’s death.

In a scientific paper, Greaves and Dr. Norbert Hirschhorn suggest Alcott had lupus when she wrote most of her books. The clues, they conclude, all seem to fit, down to the distinctive rash on her cheeks and nose. If true, the diagnosis would have come as a shock to Alcott, who thought that her varied aches and pains were due to mercury poisoning or, more poetically, that she was simply ‘suffering for her art’. Alcott died of a stroke in 1888 at age 55.Two months earlier, she wrote: “I look about 70, grey & wrinkled & bent & lame.