Alcott's family suffered from financial difficulties, and while she worked to help support the family from an early age, she also sought an outlet in writing. She began to receive critical success for her writing in the 1860s. Early in her career, she sometimes used pen names such as A. M. Barnard, under which she wrote lurid short stories and sensation novels for adults that focused on passion and revenge.
Alcott was an abolitionist and a feminist and remained unmarried throughout her life. All her life she was active in such reform movements as temperance and women's suffrage. She died from a stroke, two days after her father, in Boston on March 6, 1888.