Isabella, the Baby Bride

10 Dec

When Isabella Macdonald married Gustavus “Ross” Alden, she was 24 years old. She had been earning her own living as a teacher for years; and though she remained very close to her family—especially her sisters Marcia and Julia—she considered herself a very independent and grown-up young woman.

Young Isabella Alden in an undated photo

Young Isabella Alden in an undated photo

But when her relationship with Ross Alden began to blossom, so, too, did Isabella’s realization that many people thought she was too young to marry Ross. Isabella wrote:

“I was very sensitive about my age at that time. I seemed always to be guessed much younger than I really was.”

Even a friend of Isabella’s—a lady Isabella described as an intimate acquaintance—was surprised to find out that Isabella was only ten years younger than Ross. The friend would have guessed that Isabella was even younger than 24.

That ten year age difference never bothered Isabella; but it did bother her that people thought she was too young to marry Ross and too young to take on the responsibilities of a pastor’s wife.

“I certainly allowed it to worry me, perhaps because I had at that time nothing more important to worry over.”

It didn’t help matters when Isabella overheard a man and woman walking slowly down her street shortly after she and Ross settled into their first home together.

“Isn’t this where the Presbyterian minister is staying?” asked the woman.

“Yes,” said the man, “and I hear that he has brought back a baby for a wife!”

Reverend Gustavus Rossenberg Alden

Reverend Gustavus Rossenberg Alden

Isabella suffered yet “another thrust,” as she called it, a few days later. She had been with Ross in a book store, where a clerk helped them find a copy of a popular book on theology. Two days later, Isabella returned to the same store alone, where the same clerk came forward to wait on her. He bowed and very courteously asked if her father was pleased with the book on theology he had bought earlier in the week. Isabella recalled that she stood on her toes and replied in a voice of stunning dignity, “My husband was!”

Unlike Isabella, Ross took such encounters in stride. When he introduced Isabella to a middle-aged woman he knew, the woman stared at Isabella and said, “Your wife looks very young to take charge of a parish.”

Ross replied, philosophically, that Isabella “will be gaining on that youthfulness every day, you know.”

Isabella thought the woman would laugh; instead she just stared at Isabella, sighed and said, “Yes, that’s so.”

Years later, Isabella wrote in her memoirs:

“Even at this late day I feel almost ashamed to confess the dismay which this little word of criticism gave me.”

But she soon shook off that criticism when she realized that for every person who doubted her because of her youth, there were just as many who embraced her and welcomed her into their homes and hearts. Isabella worked hard to support her husband’s ministry and to silence her critics . . . and she succeeded.

Gustavus "Ross" Alden in later years (about 1912)

Gustavus “Ross” Alden in later years (about 1912)

In 1892, after 26 years of marriage, the Ladies’ Home Journal interviewed Isabella for an article they were running on women writers. The interview was conducted in the Alden home (they were living in Washington D.C. at the time) and the magazine’s writer had ample opportunity to observe Isabella and Ross together. When the article was published, he included this assessment of the Alden’s marriage:

“It would be difficult to find two people better suited to each other, more tenderly devoted, or more thoroughly one, in all their interests and aims.”

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