Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) walking into the Gibson House. Image courtesy of Sony Pictures.
Little Women at the Gibson House
In the fall of 2018, the Gibson House Museum served as a filming location for the Oscar-nominated movie Little Women (2019). Based on Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel of the same name, the film was directed by Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) and featured a star-studded cast, including Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, and Timothée Chalamet. The story follows the coming of age of the four nineteenth-century March sisters and is loosely based on Alcott’s own family.
Our popular specialty house tour, "The World of Little Women at the Gibson House," explores the similarities, and the many differences, in the lived experiences of the Gibson, March, and Alcott families. There is a shared nineteenth-century New England world amongst these real and imagined characters.
We’ve highlighted a few of those stories below, but we invite you to join us for the full tour, exploring these spaces and connections in more detail. The tour is also an opportunity to hear some behind-the-scenes gossip about our experiences on set!
The Boardinghouse Parlor (Gibson House Dining Room)
The Gibson House dining room decorated as the NYC boardinghouse parlor.
The dining room on the first floor of the Museum served as the parlor of Jo’s (Saorise Ronan’s) boardinghouse in the film. The Gibsons were wealthier and more cultured than either the Alcotts or the Marches, but the residences of all three share some similar decorative sensibilities, including dark wood furniture and trim, as seen in this room. (For the movie, some of the dining room’s fancier pieces were removed and replaced with simpler items by the set design department.)
The dining room is a place for families to connect and to share and cement family values. Think of the scene in Little Women when the girls decide to bring their Christmas breakfast to their neighbors, the Hummels. The Gibsons, too, felt a moral obligation to their less-well-off neighbors; the Gibson women were major supporters of Vincent Memorial Hospital, which focused on women’s health (and provided care for poor and immigrant women). Their philanthropic efforts, however, were also part of their social lives and had a strong performative element to them. The Marches helped in a much more personal, immediate way.
Jo’s Publisher’s Home (Gibson House Library)
Jo's publisher and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Dashwood (Tracy Letts and Adrianne Krstansky), in their home office (the Gibson House Library).
The Dashwood daughters and Director Greta Gerwig in the publisher's home office (the Gibson House Library).
In the movie, the library at the Museum serves as the home of Jo’s publisher. Books were important to the Gibson family, to Jo March, and of course, to Louisa May Alcott. Alcott was a woman who bucked tradition and chose a writerly life over marrying and having children. This was an unusual choice for a woman in the nineteenth-century. Indeed, Director Greta Gerwig suggests in the film that Jo marries at the end of Little Women only because Alcott’s publisher encouraged her to write such an ending; it wasn’t necessarily the ending Alcott envisioned for her character, nor the life she wanted for herself.
Charlie Gibson, too, chose to be a writer, instead of following his father into business. Although he did not achieve widespread success or recognition as a writer, he was able to maintain a gentleman’s lifestyle due to his family's wealth and status.
Jo’s Boardinghouse Bedroom
(Gibson House Servant Bedroom)
A fifth-floor servant bedroom decorated as Jo's boardinghouse bedroom.
The fifth floor of the Gibson House functioned as servants’ quarters, and in the film, this attic room was Jo’s bedroom—and her writing space—at the boardinghouse. This space is open to visitors during this specialty tour and for our "Upstairs, Downstairs" tour!
Since the servant bedroom is unfurnished, the set design department brought in all of the furniture you see in the film. (And the crew carried it up all four flights of stairs.) In Little Women, Hannah, an Irish immigrant, is the March family’s cook, and she is described in the book as a “member of the family.” The Gibsons typically employed four to six young, immigrant women as domestic servants. It is difficult to speculate about their relationships with the family, although we do know that Mary MacDonnald, the family’s nursemaid, stayed on at the house for over fifteen years, transitioning to a laundress when the children no longer needed her. The Alcotts never employed servants, although Louisa May Alcott’s mother Abigail, as depicted in one of Louisa’s short stories, notably said of the family’s Fruitlands utopian experiment that they had no beasts of burden, “Only one woman.”
Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel) looking up the stairwell from the fourth-floor landing.
Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel) and Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) in the boardinghouse entryway (the Gibson House front hall).
Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) in the Gibson House front hall.
The Gibson House kitchen decorated as the boardinghouse kitchen/laundry room.