The Pansy Society

12 Jan

One of the most interesting features of The Pansy magazine was the way it promoted The Pansy Society. Isabella Alden organized The Pansy Society as a children’s version of the Christian Endeavor program that had taken teens and young adults by storm in the 1880s.

Logo for The Pansy Society of Christian Endeavor

Logo for The Pansy Society of Christian Endeavor

Through stories and articles in The Pansy, Isabella encouraged young children to join The Pansy Society. Members of the Society had their own pledge:

Asking Jesus to help me, I promise to try to overcome the fault which oftenest tempts me to do wrong. This fault is _______.

Thousands of children filled in the blank for themselves, thereby pledging to harness their temper, obey their parents, be patient, read their Bible, or say only kind words.

Isabella encouraged children to use The Pansy Society “whisper motto” whenever they needed help controlling their fault:

I will do it for Jesus’ sake.

Thousands of children wrote to tell Isabella they whispered “For Jesus’ sake” regularly to keep them on the right path.

The Pansy Society membership badge. Found at Rollins College Archives

Pansy Society badge. (Rollins College Archives)

Every child who joined The Pansy Society received a membership card, personally signed by Isabella, and a badge to wear.

Isabella encouraged Pansy Society members (she often called them Pansies or Blossoms) to find other members in their neighborhood, and hold meetings to encourage each other in overcoming their faults and doing good for Jesus’ sake.

Isabella’s brother-in-law Charles Livingston (Grace Livingston Hill’s father) wrote a novel called The Poplar Street Pansy Society that told the story of the good accomplished by children who formed their own local Pansy Society.

A local Pansy Society band

A local Pansy Society band

Many children wrote to Isabella about their struggles to honor their Pansy Society pledge, and others wrote of their triumphs. She received hundreds of letters every month and answered every one. Many were published in The Pansy magazine, like these:

Dear Pansy:
I live in Winona, Minn., and I have heard little girls grumble because they don’t live in a big city, but that is not right. I give my old Pansy books to a poor little girl across the street. She is sick, and she is trying to be a Christian; I will help her all I can.
Eleanor Calvery

Dear Pansy:
We have a little sister younger than ourselves, and she gives away sometimes to fits of temper, and says little naughty words, but since she has seen our badges, and has been told that we are going to try to be good boys, she begs to wear a badge, and says she wants to be good, too. Mamma asked her to say the pledge after her this morning, and she said it so sweetly. “I will do all the dood I tan.” Won’t you please enroll her and send her a badge, too? Her name is Vivian Allen.
Harry L. A. Allen

Dear Pansy:
Your Pansy magazine has helped me to lead a Christian life. Mamma likes to have sister Ruthanna and me help her about the house, and I do not enjoy it very much, so I nearly always grumble and try to get out of it. So I will try to overcome this, with Jesus’ help, and do my work cheerfully.
Clara A. Simms.

Helping Mother

Helping Mother

Parents wrote letters, too, sharing stories of changes in their children’s behavior, all due to their child’s membership in The Pansy Society.

In return, Isabella wrote stories to help children remember their pledge, and to encourage them to take their troubles to Jesus. For example, “Polly’s Short Journey” appeared in an 1888 issue of The Pansy, and teaches children to appreciate what they have. You can read the story here:

Polly’s Short Journey

It was rather a sour-faced little maid who got on the train by herself at Glenburn station. She had on a brown suit, brown hat and gloves, and carried a brown basket. But she didn’t look half so pleased as you would expect a little brown sparrow of a girl to be when she was going on a journey in a nice plush-lined car, through a beautiful country.

The car was very full, and Polly Imboden flopped herself down in the first seat she came to, which was occupied by a sweet-looking old lady in Quaker bonnet and gown. The Friend eyed her with quiet amusement, and presently asked gently:

“Is thee going far today?”

“Only to Midvale,” answered the little traveler shortly.

“Then thee will not have time to grow tired; but I am going a thousand miles.”

“A thousand miles!” exclaimed Polly; and as soon as she forgot herself and began to be interested in somebody else, the ugly look took itself off somewhere, and you began to see that Polly had a sweet, bright face, and actually two dimples.

Her companion soon found out that Polly was pouting because her mother had gone to Philadelphia, and instead of taking her, had sent her to Midvale to stay with Aunt Mary. Mother did not seem to be to blame, as there was fear of scarlet fever in the square to which she was going, but that did not keep Polly from being cross about it.

“This is a patience lesson set thee, child,” said the old Friend. “There are many more for thee to learn, but if thee skip this one, the next will be harder.”

But Polly wasn’t listening to this little sermon. To her surprise there were rows upon rows of little boys and girls about her own age in the car.

“Is thee looking at my children?” said the old lady, smiling. “They are going with me on that long thousand miles to find homes in the West.”

“Aren’t they coming back to their fathers and mothers?” asked Polly, her lips beginning to tremble a little.

“They have no fathers and mothers on earth,” answered the friend, “but their Heavenly Father takes care of them.”

The tears were beginning to run down Polly’s cheeks at the thought of all that these little children had to do without.

The Friend laid her hand lightly on the little brown-gloved fingers. “Has thee ever seen a lesson-book?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” answered Polly, in surprise.

“What are the pictures for?”

“Why,” said Polly, still more surprised, “why, to show things.”

“Yes, that is it. Now, the great Teacher wants my little friend to be contented with her lot, to be so glad she has a dear mother and father and home, and friends to take care of her, but she wasn’t learning that lesson very fast, so he puts her on this train for a journey, and shows her all these little ones who have to do without these blessings. Will this picture make thee learn faster?”

Polly pulled out her handkerchief and scrubbed away at the tear drops. “I’d like to give one of them my basket. It’s got a lot of good things that mother put in it for me.”

“Thee will have to hurry, then,” said the Friend, well pleased, “for Midvale is in full sight.”

Hastily, Polly slipped off the plush seat, and picking out a pale, grave-looking child, she put the heavy basket in her hand, smiled a good-bye under the Quaker bonnet of the old lady, and here was Midvale.

And for a long time to come, when mother felt Polly’s arm close on her so tight that she could hardly breathe, she knew she was thinking about the old Friend, and her rows and rows of motherless children.


All of the black and white illustrations in this post came from original issues of The Pansy magazine.

Follow this link to Rollins College archives for an example of a note from Pansy.

You can read more about The Pansy Society. Click here to read a previous post.

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2 Responses to “The Pansy Society”

  1. Crystal Sypolt January 12, 2016 at 6:26 am #

    Thank you so much for this lovely newsletter. I cannot express how much it has brightened a morning of pain and fatigue that is mine.

    • Isabella Alden January 13, 2016 at 3:25 pm #

      You are so welcome, Crystal. I became a fan of Isabella’s books when I was going through some struggles of my own, and they helped me so much. I’m glad to hear Isabella’s stories bring some brightness to you, too. God bless you! —Susan

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