Pansy’s Typical Day

26 Jan

In 1892 Isabella’s husband was made assistant pastor of a brand new church in Washington, D.C. The Eastern Presbyterian Church was only blocks from the nation’s Capitol, and the Capitol dome could be seen from the top of the church’s 130-foot bell tower.

Eastern Presbyterian Church, about 1920 (from the Library of Congress).

The Aldens moved into a house about four blocks away on Maryland Avenue.

A view of U. S. Capitol from Maryland Avenue, which was unpaved until about 1930 (from the Library of Congress).

It’s likely the Aldens lived in a single-family house, instead of one of the row houses that were erected on Maryland Avenue and on many other streets in the District in the early 1900s. The photo below—taken from the top of the Capitol Dome looking northeast—shows a view of the Alden’s neighborhood.

View from Capitol Dome looking northeast toward Maryland Avenue (from the Library of Congress).

In an 1893 interview, Isabella spoke about how much she “dearly loved” her D.C. home. It was “cheery” and “bright” and Isabella took great care “in all that pertains to its comfort and happiness.”

The Aldens—Isabella, her husband Ross, and their son Raymond—had a daily routine in their Maryland Avenue home. Early in the morning, the family gathered in the back parlour of the house before breakfast “to sing a few verses of praise, to read a chapter in the Bible, and to ask God’s help and blessing on the work to be done.”

After breakfast, Isabella went right to work in her study—a place that was off limits to visitors or interruptions (except in a case of emergency). For the remainder of the morning, Isabella was at her typewriter, typing stories, writing Sunday-school lessons, working on a chapter of her next novel, or answering the volumes of fan mail she received daily—some days quickly turning from one task to another.

An advertising card for a Smith Premier model typewriter from 1900.

Isabella once said that she didn’t have to “think” when she typed. Much of her thinking, plotting and composing was done in her head as she went about her household chores. Then, when she sat down to write, her thoughts were “drilled like a well-ordered army, ready to march at the word.”

A comfortable study, about 1910.

An interviewer once described Isabella’s workplace as “a pretty study, lined with books.” In the room were two typewriters—one for Isabella, and one for her husband; they often worked side by side.

Typewriters weren’t the only modern gadgets in her home. Isabella employed all kinds of appliances and machinery, and was always on the look-out for a new labor-saving device. One reason: from a young age Isabella suffered from constant headaches (you can read more about her condition and the treatments she sought for it here), and she was seldom able to use her typewriter more than a few hours a day.

But she found that she could instead use a stenograph machine (similar to the ones court reporters use today) because her eyes didn’t tire as they did when she used a typewriter.

She taught herself to use a stenograph, and was soon able to extend her working hours a little longer each day. When she was done with work in the early evening, she handed the machine’s cryptic shorthand to a secretary, who transcribed it on the typewriter.

Bartholomew Stenograph machine, 1882 (from Typewritercollector.com).

Dictation machines were another type of equipment that was just coming into use during the time Isabella lived in Washington D.C.

An early wax cylinder phonograph for dictation, 1897 (from Wikicommons).

The early machines were expensive, but effective; and, as she did with her stenograph machine, Isabella could employ a secretary to transcribe the recorded text for her.

A typist transcribing a stenography printout, 1904.

Isabella sometimes wove descriptions of new and innovative appliances into her stories. She wrote about early typewriters in her novel Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant (read a previous blog post about it here).

And in the sequel, Twenty Minutes Late, she described Caroline Bryant’s astonishment upon seeing an early dish washing machine.

An 1896 magazine ad for The Faultless Quaker Dish Washer.

After the work day was done, Isabella and her family gathered again in the back parlour of the house. If they did not have a special engagement to attend, the family spent the evening reading together. More often than not, Isabella read aloud to Ross and Raymond, and anyone else who happened to be a guest in the house.

Different newspaper accounts of her public readings describe Isabella as a charming reader, with a “sweet voice” and “perfect intonations” that must have been delightful to hear.

What do you suppose Isabella read aloud to her family in the evenings?

Are you surprised to learn Isabella used the latest technology to work efficiently and streamline her housekeeping tasks?

Which of our 21st Century devices or appliances do you think Isabella would be most likely to use?

4 Responses to “Pansy’s Typical Day”

  1. Kayla James January 26, 2021 at 11:41 am #

    She would have loved the tablet and the phone especially the iPad and the iPhone. She could’ve lowered the light so she wouldn’t have a headache, it wouldn’t make too much noise, she could carry one or the other around with her everywhere, and she could choose between dictating herself and typing. Plus she could hook up a Bluetooth keyboard to type two. I thought it was cool that she used so many different ways to write her books and I thought it was cute that she and her husband shared a study together and even had their desks together. When I hear of couples who also write books at the same time, has either work together or for the most part go into separate rooms or even separate parts of the house and right. I am an Aspiring writer and I would like to know how can writers sit from after breakfast early evening and write? How do they have the stamina to do it?

    Kayla James Writing to uplift

    >

    • Isabella Alden January 26, 2021 at 6:38 pm #

      I agree with you about the devices Isabella would have used, Kayla. And she definitely would have used one of the dictation programs that are on the market today. I don’t know how she was able to do such much in her day. As you said, she must have had a lot of stamina (and a really strong work ethic!). Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! —Jenny

  2. Marie January 27, 2021 at 12:10 pm #

    I really enjoy these Isabella Alden emails! I think Grace Livingston Hills books are my absolutely favorite reads! I think I have every book she has written. Purchased over the years from book racks and used books! I also have quite a few of Isabellas books. I enjoy those also!m

    • Isabella Alden January 28, 2021 at 8:51 pm #

      Isabella’s and Grace’s books are my favorites, too, Marie! I collected my Grace Livingston Hill books the same way you did, in used book stores and library sales. I’m still hunting for Isabella’s novels; I get so excited when I find a new one! Thank you for taking the time to comment! —Jenny

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Writer Jenny Berlin

Faith, romance, and a place to belong

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Britt Reads Fiction

Reviews and giveaways for Christian fiction and sweet, clean fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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