Isabella’s Winters in California

Isabella was born and raised in upstate New York, so she was very familiar with east coast winters.

After she and Reverend Alden married, they served congregations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, and Washington D.C. where winter storms often brought snow, wind, and dangerous ice.

Fortunately, Isabella’s book sales allowed the Alden family to sometimes spend a portion of their winter months in sunny Florida; still, there were times Reverend Alden’s duties kept them in the cold and snowy north instead.

Old photo of two men and a woman standing beside a snow drift that is higher than their heads.

When the good reverend retired in 1910 the Aldens moved to California, where they built their dream house in Palo Alto (click here to read more about their house).

Never again did they have to deal with harsh winters, extreme cold, or deep drifts of snow that had to be cleared from walkways and roads.

Old postcard that reads "I'll eat oranges for you and you throw snowballs for me." On the left is a drawing of a woman and little girl picking oranges from trees above the caption "Winter in California." On the right is a drawing of a boy and girl building a snow man above the caption "Back East."
A postcard Isabella might have sent from California.

The Aldens found California winters delightful. Januarys were warm and mild; Februarys boasted average temperatures around 60 degrees. For them, snow banks and ice dams were things of the past.

1918 postcard. On the left is a drawing of two men and two women swimming in the ocean with sailboats in the background under a caption that reads "How we spend our winter in California." on the right is a boy in the snow at a water pump where the water has frozen as he tries to fill a bucket. Above is the caption "How we spend our winter in the east."
A 1918 postcard.

In her letters to old friends and relatives in the east, Isabella might have mentioned the perfect weather she enjoyed, free of “fierce storms and slushy spring thaws.”

And when she hadn’t time to write letters, she could send off a quick postcard that made her point for her about California winters.

"A Typical California Highway in Midwinter" shows a road with palm trees and flowers on one side, flowers and orange trees on the other side. In the background are mountains with snow on top.
Sunshine, Fruits, Flowers, and Snow.

Picture postcards made up a large portion of the California printing industry. They featured color photographs that depicted what it was like to spend a winter in that state.

Old photo of people in an open Model T car. The are on a driveway in front of a house covered with vines. Beside the driveway the grass is green.
Beautiful California. Automobiling in Winter, about 1909.

Some postcards featured images of flowers that bloomed in the winter months, like poppies and bougainvillea.  

A group of men and women pick wild poppies from a field. Behind them are green mountains.
Gathering poppies in midwinter in California.

Isabella loved flowers and often marveled over the varieties of roses that bloomed beside her porch in California:

“Red, cream, salmon, pure white, and every shade of pink. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them! The world seems made of roses!”

A little girl picks white roses in a garden. Behind her pink roses form a bower that is is taller than she is.
Gathering Roses in Mid-Winter, California

Other postcards showed people boating on lakes or swimming in the ocean in the middle of winter.

A group of people on the shore of a lake. One woman rides by on a bicycle. On the lake are boats and swimmers.
A winter’s day in Westlake Park about 1909.

Each postcard was like a little advertisement for the state of California, teasing and enticing people to come live the good life among the orange groves and poppy fields of the west coast.

Isabella was an ambassador for the state, as well, because California life certainly seemed to agree with her. One day in November she wrote to her niece, Grace Livingston Hill:

“Today is glorious sunshine, and the grass and trees glow in their freshly painted garments of green after the rain of yesterday.”

It sounds like Isabella was very happy in her California home!

2 thoughts on “Isabella’s Winters in California

    1. I do a lot of research! I started researching her life because Isabella’s books are so truthful and compelling for me, I wanted to know more about her and her life. Some of the research is easy. In The Pansy magazine Isabella wrote stories about her younger years in a semi-regular column. She gave quite a few newspaper interviews that described how she spent her days, or her writing habits and travel schedules. And she left behind a memoir called “Memories of Yesterdays” in which she shared some of her favorite memories of her life. It also helps that I love to read anything about the years 1880 to 1920, which is my favorite era of American history. 🙂 —Jenny

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