“Bloom where you are planted” is a popular phrase that Isabella Alden took to heart. Many of her books—such as The King’s Daughter and Interrupted—feature characters who use small acts of kindness as a way to witness for Christ under trying circumstances.
A New Graft on the Family Tree is another example. In the book Louise Morgan and her new husband move in with his difficult parents, who do not hide their disappointment in their new daughter-in-law.
If you’ve read the book, you know how Louise responds. No matter how much her mother-in-law complains or gives her menial tasks to do, Louise does everything asked of her with a cheerful spirit, because she believes that in serving her mother-in-law, she is also serving the Lord.
What do you think of Louise’s method for dealing with her in-laws?
Have you ever had to deal with a difficult person? What method did you use?
Isabella loved her niece Grace Livingston, and she was very proud of Grace’s talent for writing.
When Grace was only twelve years old she wrote her first book, The Esselstynes. It was a story about the life changes a brother and sister experience when they are adopted by a Christian couple. Isabella was so impressed by the story, she had it printed and bound as a book, and she encouraged Grace to write more.
Grace obliged and wrote poems, as well as stories. She wrote the poem below, which Isabella published in an issue The Pansy magazine in April 1881—just in time for Grace’s 16th birthday!
Here’s how the poem appeared in the magazine:
And here’s a transcript of the poem:
THE EVENING STAR
You beautiful star,
Above the depths of sin,
Unbar the door
Of the heavenly floor,
And give me one glimpse in.
Into the bright
And golden light,
In the presence of the King,
Where the angels play
Night and day,
And the choirs forever sing.
The streets of gold,
The glories untold,
Oh, how I long to see!
Star, if you could,
Bright star! if you would
Show those glories to me!
What do you think of Grace’s poem?
When you were young, did you have a relative, teacher or friend in your life who encouraged you to develop a talent?
Isabella wrote a popular advice column for a Christian magazine. Some topics she addressed may sound very familiar to today’s readers, like this one from 1897:
“What can be said to someone who says he can get as much good from reading sermons at home, or communing with nature, as in going to church to hear, perhaps, a poor sermon?”
Here is Isabella’s answer:
I infer from your letter that the person who takes this position is a professing Christian. To that person should come, first, a reminder of this direct command: The church we believe to be a divine institution, and careful study of the Bible shows that the Lord has promised to be in a special sense “in the midst” with those who gather in His name. To argue, then, that as much good can be secured in other ways is to set one’s self in opposition to the Lord’s wisdom, and to thwart His plans of grace for us.
Moreover, the first object in attending church is not to hear a sermon—good or poor—but to worship God in united prayer and song. He has planned that we shall gather in companies to do this, in order to be helpful to one another, as well as to ourselves. There is always that question of influence over others to be remembered. The habit of church-going is an unquestioned safeguard to thousands of people who have no deep-seated Christian principle in regard to it; and whatever I can do to confirm and increase this habit I am bound—by the rules that govern good society—to do. So that (leaving myself out of consideration altogether) for the sake of others I should be regular at church; but God has planned so wisely for us that in helping others we are, as it were, compelled to help ourselves.
These are some of the reasons for habitual church-going that appear on the surface. But the best remedy for one not inclined to regularity in this matter is to ask the Master who “went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day,” “as his custom was,” what He thinks.
Have you ever heard someone say they believe reading their bible or communing with nature is just as good as attending church?
Isabella often wrote stories about what happens when someone chooses to do the right thing, even at the cost of personal sacrifice. This month’s free read is a short story that reflects that theme.
It’s New Year’s Day and Stephen Watson plans to spend it with a friend—until his employer insists Stephen work instead. Poor Stephen can barely contain his disappointment; and when he tells a stranger his troubles, he learns a valuable lesson in charity.
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In 1889 Isabella wrote this charming recollection from her childhood of a very special New Year’s Day:
I close my eyes and go back in fancy to that morning long, long ago. New Year’s morning when I was eight years old.
Cold! Oh, how cold it was! Great icicles hanging from the eaves, frost covering the window-panes, snow festooning the trees and hiding the ground, and the whole air a-tingle with the music of sleigh bells. How beautiful it all was.
Those frosted window panes, by the way, were a source of never-ending temptation to me. I wouldn’t like to have to try to recall the number of times my fingers had to be “snapped” for forgetting that I was on no account to indulge in my favorite amusement of making “thimble chains.” I don’t quite understand what the fascination was, or is, but to this day I find it almost impossible to pass a frosted window pane, with a thimble anywhere in sight, and not stop to make just a few of those magic chains in which my childhood delighted.
What a pity it seemed that the contact of my chubby fingers with the clear glass should soil it, and that my mother, whose artistic taste was not so highly cultivated as mine, would not permit the amusement.
On this particular New Year’s morning the frost was unusually thick, and my sister Mary’s thimble stood on the window-seat. It was father’s warning voice that saved me, just as I was about to make a marvelous chain, which should connect two lovely frost castles.
“Take care,” he said. “Think what a pity it would be if a certain stocking which I saw hanging in the chimney corner should have to hang there all day just because a little girl forgot.”
I set the thimble down with an exclamation of dismay. What if I had forgotten again? Mother had decreed that the stocking, which I longed to examine, should remain untouched until after breakfast, because at Christmas time I had been so “crazy” over my presents as to be unable to eat any breakfast. For a small moment I had forgotten the stocking, though it had been on my mind all the morning, and but for father the mischief would have been done.
I went over to him to express my joy in his having saved me, and to ask him privately whether he really believed that breakfast would ever be ready and eaten and prayers be over, so I could have my stocking.
He laughed, and asked me if I supposed I would ever learn patience. “I suppose,” he said gravely, “that time will travel fast enough for you one of these days. I can remember when a week used to seem longer to me than a whole year does now.”
I exclaimed over that. I said I thought a year was a very long time indeed; that I was really almost discouraged with time, it went so slowly. I said it seemed to me that I had been waiting half a lifetime for this day to come.
He laughed again, said I was at the impatient age; then, looking serious, he repeated these lines:
“Eighteen hundred and forty-eight is now forever past: Eighteen hundred and forty-nine will fly away as fast.”
“Oh, dear me!” I said. “If it doesn’t fly faster than this has, I don’t know what I shall do. It does seem too long to wait for Christmases and New Year’s; I wish we could have two of them in a year.”
Instead of laughing at my folly, father evidently decided to give me something else to think about. He was sitting near the door of the kitchen, where my mother was at work. The kitchen walls were painted. “Mother,” he said, “may we write on the walls, since we mustn’t on the windows?”
“I should not think that would be a very great improvement on window-writing,” my mother said, but she smiled as she spoke. It was evident that it made a great difference with my mother whose plan was to be carried out; she never interfered with anything that my father chose to do. He selected from the box nearby a lovely pine board as smooth as a slate, and handed it to me.
“You may use that, and I’ll use the wall,” he said, “and we’ll see which can write our verse the quickest.”
I had been writing for two years, and prided myself on the speed and neatness of my work, but long before I had finished the lines they appeared on the wall.
“Eighteen hundred and forty-eight is now forever past: Eighteen hundred and forty-nine will fly away as fast.”
“Yes,” said my mother, pausing in her swift movements to glance at the couplet, “that it will. It has begun already; the first morning is flying too fast for me. Come to breakfast.”
I am a long while in reaching that waiting stocking, but that is to correspond with the length of time I had to wait. It seemed longer to me then than it does to look back upon it. At last the treasure was in my arms. What do you think it contained? A lovely dollie about as long as my hand, beautifully dressed, not like a fashionable lady ready for a party, but like a dear little home baby, in a long white slip frilled at the neck, precisely as my own baby slips used to be—indeed I learned afterwards that it was made from a piece of one of them. I cannot possibly make you understand, I presume, how precious that little creature was to me.
I suppose you are imagining a wax doll with “real” hair, and lovely blue eyes and rosy cheeks? No, she was not made of anything so cold and hard as wax. She was a rag baby—limbs and face and all—made by my mother’s own dear hand, cut from a pattern which she herself had fashioned. What a work it must have been! I never realized it until a few years ago, when I tried to cut a pattern for a dollie for my little son.
This work was beautifully done. Black eyes, my baby had, and black hair, both made carefully with pen and ink! Red checks, she had, too, and lovely rosy lips. Will you love her the less, I wonder, when I confess to you that these were made with beet juice?
Oh, but she was a darling! Much the most carefully made dollie I had ever owned. Heretofore I had been content with mother’s little shawl, or her long clean apron rolled up and pinned; now I had a dollie for which clothes had been made not only, but arms and feet; and actually her dress was not sewed on her, but unbuttoned and came off, and a neat little night-gown went on.
Never was I happier in my life than when I made this last crowning discovery.
I named her—you could not guess what, so I’ll tell you at once—Arathusa Angeline, and I thought the name was lovely.
“Take good care of her,” said my father, looking on with a smile of infinite sympathy, “there’s no telling what may happen to her, you know, before ‘eighteen hundred and forty-nine’ has flown away.”
Isabella’s brother-in-law Reverend Charles M. Livingston wrote several articles for The Pansy magazine in which he explained Bible verses that might seem confusing at first. Here’s one he wrote in 1888:
Bear ye one another’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2)
Every one shall bear his own burden. (Galatians 6:5)
Cast thy burden upon the Lord. (Psalms 4:22)
How do we reconcile these verses that conflict one with another? Think in this way:
One day Martha went over the way to the pump with a four-quart pail for some water, and soon returned to her mother with it.
An hour later she went with an eight-quart pail and, filling it, tried to carry it back, but could not. Her neighbor, Mark, happened to be there with his three-quart pail. He offered to carry hers and let her carry his, and so they did and got on nicely.
Some time after they were both at the pump again, each with an extra pail. They were soon filled, but when they tried to lift them all and go forward they could not. Just then their good friend Moses came along and, seeing their trouble and their pleading looks, came to them, and with his two strong arms took up the extra heavy pails of water and easily and cheerfully carried them to their homes, while they followed with their other pails.
Maybe this will aid you to see that those three texts are not so hard, after all; that they do not go against each other, but go rather hand in hand.
What do you think of Rev. Livingston’s explanation?
This month’s free read is a short story Isabella wrote in 1891 about the joy of giving at Christmas time:
It’s the worst Christmas ever for wealthy Adele Chester. Her mother and father are in Europe, and Adele has been left behind to stay with her Aunt Martha … on a farm! Her parents sent her money to spend, but where would she spend it? And on what? Then a little girl named Janey enters her life, and suddenly Adele’s Christmas takes on a whole new meaning.
If you’re a writer—or know someone who is—you’re probably aware that the month of November is all about novel writing.
Every November writers from around the world join on-line writing communities (like NaNoWriMo and The King’s Daughters’ Writing Camp) where they record their efforts to write a novel in thirty days. Participants encourage each other, write together, share lessons learned, and talk about the challenges they face.
The most common challenge writers share in their on-line posts is how hard it is to find time to write every day. Many writers have full-time jobs, or small children, or other pressures that make it difficult to write a few paragraphs in thirty days, to say nothing of writing a full-length novel.
Yet, that problem isn’t a new one for twenty-first century writers. In the nineteenth century Isabella Alden faced the very same difficulty as she juggled her writing career with speaking engagements, household tasks, church duties, editing deadlines, and demands from fans and acquaintances.
In 1906, when Isabella was writing Ruth Erskine’s Son, she described a typical writing day that will probably sound very familiar to writers everywhere:
She began her day at seven o’clock by dressing and performing her daily household chores; but even before she finished making beds and doing laundry, she was interrupted by a summons to morning prayers and breakfast.
After that she cleared the breakfast table, put the dining room in order, and went back to bed-making, dusting, laundry, and other tasks.
Then the postman made his delivery, which included a long-awaited letter, so the entire family was summoned to hear Isabella read the letter aloud.
Other delivered letters included:
A request from a woman who wanted Isabella to read her manuscript,
A man asking permission to read one of Isabella’s stories in his church,
Another woman requesting Isabella speak at a temperance meeting,
A little girl wanting Isabella to spend an evening with her Sunday-school class,
And one from her editor asking her to please write her magazine columns a little faster!
By 11:00 Isabella was finally seated at her typewriter, “struggling with an unusually hard problem in the life of that much enduring woman, Ruth Erskine Burnham,” when she was interrupted yet again.
Her sister Julia (who was living with the Aldens at the time) was busy in the kitchen making a ginger cake and she wanted Isabella to taste it. Of course Isabella did not complain about such a delicious interruption!
Back at her work once again, she heard the door bell ring with a delivery.
A few minutes later came a vendor at the door selling “choice spinach, some delicious cauliflower, some fine oranges, and some splendid green peas.”
After dealing with the vendor, she wrote: “I am seated again with Ruth Erskine only to hear, ‘Belle!’ from the front stairway.”
It was her sister Mary volunteering to “fix my scrap basket for me, if I will find the materials for her.”
By the time Isabella returned to her typewriter, she realized the entire morning was gone and it was time for lunch.
After lunch it was time to clear the table, and on entering the kitchen, Isabella discovered Julia had made much more than a ginger cake. She had busily baked “mince pies and apple pies, and a million little ginger cakes in patty tins” as well as five loaves of “splendid bread.”
All of those delicious items resulted in a great number of dishes to wash. Isabella wrote:
“I wash, and wash, and WASH; and scour the sink and clear off shelves and refrigerator and empty more dishes, and sweep the floors, and wash seven dish towels.”
And just as she was hanging her dish towels to dry, “the clock strikes four!”
Determined to write, Isabella went back to her desk, only to be interrupted by the doorbell, then by her husband asking “What do I want from downtown?”
At five o’clock she had a long conversation with a college student who was “consumed with fear that she has not passed” a class of which Isabella’s son Dr. Raymond Alden was the professor. The student made a special request of Isabella:
“Will I, his mother—for whom, they say he will do anything in the world [according to the student]—intercede for her and explain to him how it was? And then for the eleventh time she proceeds to tell me how things were.”
By the time that conversation ended, it was six o’clock and time for dinner. At eight o’clock Isabella wrote:
“I am seated again, not with Ruth Erskine, but giving heart and brain to that explanatory letter which is to move the hard heart of Professor Alden.”
“That being done, Satan enters into me, and instead of working, I write a letter to my beloved sister Marcia three thousand miles away—and then, good night, I’m gone to bed!”
These were—as Isabella called them—“the snares which lie across my path” when she was supposed to be writing.
Does Isabella’s account sound familiar to you?
Have you ever pledged to write—or read, or craft, or exercise—only to be interrupted or have competing priorities intrude on your time?
By the way, Isabella did finish writing Ruth Erskine’s Son, and it was published the following year. You can get your copy of Ruth Erskine’s Son by clicking on the book cover below:
And since Isabella was a long-time member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, she also joined that organization’s local chapter.
On Friday, November 20, 1908 Isabella hosted an “At Home” for her fellow W.C.T.U. members.
The event was a new spin on an old point of etiquette. For generations society ladies typically designated one afternoon a week where they were “at home” to receive callers.
Some ladies even had cards printed up which they handed out to acquaintances or left at the homes of other women to let them know what day they were invited to call.
For this event Isabella did the same thing, but instead of inviting people to drop by for an hour or so of conversation, she devised an entire program of meaningful entertainment that lasted well into the evening hours.
There were vocal solos and talks by ministers on the subject of temperance. Isabella’s son Raymond read a selection of popular poems by William Henry Drummond.
Isabella gave a talk, and several of the San Francisco Bay area’s leading citizens and ministers also provided entertainment and food for thought.
After the program, Isabella served “dainty refreshments.”
And it was all reported the following week in one of the local newspapers:
Busy Isabella certainly knew how to throw a party, didn’t she?
Does Isabella’s “At Home” sound like something you’d like to attend?
Which part of the evening entertainment do you think you would enjoy the most?