Searching for Pansy’s Daughter

There was a person in Isabella’s life whom she loved dearly, but rarely talked about. Her name was Frances Alden.

In 1892 Isabella and her husband Gustavus “Ross” Alden were living in Washington, D.C. Ross was the minister of the local Presbyterian Church; their son Raymond was 19 years old and studying not far away at the University of Pennsylvania.

Through one means or another Isabella—at the age of 52—became a mother again. She and Ross adopted a baby girl, whom they named Frances.

Isabella plunged into her second motherhood with the same energy and thoughtfulness that marked all her endeavors. She and Ross took Frances with them everywhere. She was always nearby when Isabella gave a speech or lecture. This news clipping documents one time when Isabella had to cancel a speech because Frances was ill:

From the Evening Star (Washington, DC) April 5, 1895

By the time she was three years old, Frances had wintered in Florida, spent summers at Chautauqua, and traveled across the country from coast to coast, all in the company of her adopted mother and father.

From The Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, January 1, 1901.

Perhaps Isabella’s speeches and magazine articles on the topic of rearing children offered fresh new perspectives because of her experience with Frances.

From the Sacramento Daily Union, October 25, 1897.

When their son Raymond secured a teaching position at Stanford University, Isabella and Ross moved their little family to California. They built a beautiful home on Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto (read more about their home here) and enrolled Frances in the local public school. They cheered her accomplishments large and small, including her promotion from third to fourth grade:

Palo Alto Press, May 21, 1902.

Thanks to Isabella’s successful writing career, she and Ross could afford to give Frances every advantage. When they realized Frances had been blessed with a talent for music, they ensure Frances had the best music and voice teachers.

By the time Frances entered her teen years, she was an accomplished singer and musician, and often performed in school and at church.

The Daily Palo Alto Times, March 9, 1907.

She was also acquiring a reputation as a notable beauty; and Isabella and Ross were determined to protect their daughter from flatterers.

When Frances was fifteen, they enrolled her at Park College, a small Christian school in Missouri.

The Daily Palo Alto Times on August 20, 1907.

There are no records to account for Frances’ time at Park College; but by the time she turned 18 in 1911, Frances was once again living at home with Isabella and Ross.

And she had changed quite a bit. Frances had become either rebellious or something of a prankster; either way her actions resulted in her having to appear in juvenile court at least once. The more Isabella and Ross tried to curb her behavior, the more Frances resisted.

In desperation, Isabella and Ross sent her to the Florence Crittenden Home, which was a nationwide network of residential homes that specialized in treating and caring for delinquent teens and unmarried pregnant women. Frances remained at Crittenden for four months.

When she returned to the Alden home, Frances decided to enroll at Stanford University, where her brother Raymond was a Professor of English. Her willingness to pursue her education must have been encouraging for Isabella and Ross.

Unfortunately, when Frances entered Stanford, she did so dressed in disguise. For three days she masqueraded as a male student on the campus and in the classroom. The discovery of her deceit caused a scandal, and probably caused Raymond quite a bit of embarrassment, as well.

Her prank was the last straw for Isabella and Ross. Once again they made the decision to send Frances away, but this time, they decided to send Frances to the Florence Crittenden Home in Los Angeles, 362 miles away.

Still rebellious, Frances arrived in Los Angeles, but instead of checking into the Crittenden Home, she went, instead, to the Home of the Good Shepherd, and tried to sign herself in under the name Vera Carter, which she declared to be her real name.

As bad as the entire experience was for Isabella, there were even more trying times to come.

Somehow, the newspapers caught wind of the situation. Isabella awoke one morning in January 1911 to find her troubles with Frances described in large print in newspapers across the country.

Reno Gazette Journal, January 18, 1911


From the San Francisco Chronicle, January 16, 1911.


Oakland Tribune, January 16, 1911.

How long Frances remained at the Home of the Good Shepherd is unknown, and once again, there are no records to help us understand what happened to Frances next. Records do show that she remained in Los Angeles.

In 1923, at the age of 31, she married a man named Bertram Minch. Bert worked for an oil company as a well operator in the oil fields, and later as an engineer for the city of Beverly Hills, California.

Frances and Bert remained married until his death in 1963. They never had children of their own.

There are no records or newspaper accounts to tell us if Frances and Isabella ever saw each other after Frances entered the Home of the Good Shepherd. It could be that Frances severed all ties with her mother, or perhaps it was Isabella who severed ties with Frances.

Either way, in her memoirs, Memories of Yesterdays, which she wrote in the last months of her life, Isabella did not mention Frances at all. And after Isabella was badly injured in a fall, it was her daughter-in-law Barbara Hitt Alden who took care of her, not Frances.

When Raymond Alden passed away in 1924, Frances’ name was not mentioned in his obituary as a surviving family member. The same was true when Isabella and Ross died; Frances’ name was not listed in their obituaries.

Isabella built her career and her reputation on her love for children and her desire to lead young lives to Christ. With this in mind, her experience with Frances had to be among the most difficult and painful events in her life.

Isabella always said:

“Whenever things went wrong, I went home and wrote a book to make them come out right.”

Perhaps, in one of Isabella’s books, there is a character like Frances with a mother like Isabella, whose stories end with a happily ever after.

This post is part of our Blogiversary Celebration! Leave a comment below or on Isabella’s Facebook page to be entered in a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card! We’ll announce the winner on Friday, September 14!

23 thoughts on “Searching for Pansy’s Daughter

  1. Oh, how painful this must have been for Isabella!!! And what an awful legacy to live with–as an adopted daughter myself (although far from incorrigible) I feel for both the parents and the child here. It’s fascinating that Frances was so willful from the get-go–it certainly stirs up the old controversy “nature vs nurture” doesn’t it? Poor Isabella! To have to resort to sending a child away rather than being able to deal with her herself–mortifying and made even worse by the press, who obviously had a field day! It reminds me of Grace Livingston Hill’s drama with her 2nd husband, who was equally ignored and not mentioned after he went back to his mama in disgrace. Somehow, I find this a bit comforting, knowing that Isabella and Grace understood how trying and sad and hopeless and helpless a woman can feel, how family drama can undermine happiness, and that even the strongest faith in our Lord Jesus will not always be able to overcome sorrow and pain of those who choose to rebel. Thank you for sharing this with us!

    1. You’re so right, Karen! All of this happened at time when young people were growing up in a more frivolous society than the era in which their parents were raised. One newspaper stated that Frances was very popular and “moved in the best set” of people. That instantly made me think of the characters in Grace’s novels who were caught up in “society” and the mischief it caused. —Jenny

  2. I think in her books those willful daughters got a deadly disease, found Christ and died thanking their mother for being so wonderful and sorry they had not realized it before.

    It’s too bad they couldn’t reconcile, taking each other as they were, but understandable too.

  3. I hadn’t known any of this before. So sad, yet so often we forget that each person has a choice. Isabella and her husband made a choice to love and raise a child not their own. She made a choice to go her own way and reject all she had been taught. That must have been so hard!

  4. It’s so hard to see a parent judged for the failure of their child this way. Of course, no parent can be perfect, but it’s not always the fault of the parent when the child rebels. Comments like those in the articles above only serve to magnify the hurt that’s already deep enough. So sad!

  5. Thank you for sharing this. She knew heartache. Sometimes we read things and believe the author never experienced the same trials we do.

  6. Hiya, Jenny! I found your blog through Rebekah Morris’ blog, and wow. Poor Isabella! That musta been really hard on her!
    And ooh, a giveaway! How does it work?
    I’m Jo. It’s nice to meet you!

    1. Welcome, Jo! We’re giving away a $25 Amazon gift card every Friday in September. To enter the drawing, just leave a comment (here or on Isabella’s Facebook page) on any post. Each comment you make earns you an entry in the drawing. Good luck! —Jenny

  7. Wow, this is the first time I’ve heard of her having a daughter! What a sad, sad situation. Of course, the newspapers are going to play it up as much as they can; who would be able to resist reading a story with a headline like that! And not many other sources to get news from, unlike today. It sounds like the daughter had a pretty good life growing up. Sometimes adversity develops qualities that better circumstances don’t. I hope that they are all reconciled in Heaven now.

  8. Truly devastating! A dear friend of ours had this experience very recently. It seems some things do not change. How very sad!! But comforting to realize God can make something good of all things. We cannot know how he works in the affairs of men! But He does!!!

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