For many years Isabella wrote a popular advice column for a Christian magazine. She used the column to answer readers’ questions on a variety of topics.
In 1916 a Sunday-school teacher wrote to Isabella about a unique problem.
Here is her letter:
I want to know if you think there is any use in a woman past thirty—who has never been in the habit of committing to memory—trying to learn Bible verses by heart? Our pastor wants the Sabbath-school children trained to commit their lessons to memory, or at least to commit a verse a day, and he wants the teachers to set them an example; but I find it very hard to do, never having been accustomed to it. Would you say you couldn’t?
Here is the advice Isabella gave her:
Indeed, I would not. There is every use in it, and there is no good reason why you should not conquer and be far richer in your own life, as well as being able to set a good example.
Nearly all Bible verses are capable of careful analysis, and the finding out exactly what they say goes a long way toward fixing the word on the memory. Let me illustrate by the verse I am memorizing this morning, Romans 1:5:
“Through whom we received grace and apostleship, unto obedience of faith among all the nations, for his name’s sake.”
Notice those four short words: “Through,” “unto,” “among,” “for.” They are pegs on which the thoughts hang. My attention once called to them, my mind naturally asks questions:
Through what? Unto what? Among whom? For what?
Getting those four statements fastened to their connecting word gave me the verse. And what an amazing verse it is! Well worth memorizing, and living by. Already this morning I have several times been reminded that my tardy and faulty obedience is due to my lack of faith in God’s assured word. I need to pray for the “obedience of faith.”
I must not take time to talk about my verses. This is only to illustrate how readily they can be picked to pieces in a way to aid the memory.
One thought I must add: Don’t fail to memorize chapter and verse. I have spent precious hours in looking for the whereabouts of verses with which I was perfectly familiar.
What do you think of the advice Pansy gave?
What tips or advice would you give someone who is just beginning to memorize Bible verses?
This month’s Free Read is “Her Opportunity,” a short story Isabella wrote about a young woman who was a member of the Christian Endeavor society.
Miss Emily Mason never passes up an opportunity to do a favor for someone; and if, while doing that favor, she has an opportunity to win a soul for Christ so much the better. But the latest recipient of Emily’s kindness may not be worthy of her efforts—at least, that’s what Emily’s friends say. How can Emily ever hope to know if the testimony she shared made a difference in the young woman’s life?
August is back-to-school month for students across America, much as it was in Isabella’s lifetime. As teenagers prepared to fill their days with classes and studies, they also prepared their wardrobes.
Isabella knew what it was like for girls and their parents to shop for new wardrobes and school supplies. In the late 1800s/early 1900s, the right hat and a pair of new gloves were essential for a high school or college student. Luckily there were plenty of articles in newspapers and magazines to help students and their parents solve their back-to-school fashion dilemmas.
Isabella began her novel Doris Farrand’s Vocation with one of those fashion dilemmas:
What should college student Doris Farrand wear to a school reception where she and her classmates were being honored?
Doris was indifferent to the problem, but her sister Athalie took on the task of updating her wardrobe, because …
“unless somebody else planned her clothes for her, [Doris] would go in rags.”
Thanks to Athalie’s efforts, Doris had a new hat to wear to the ceremony.
Like Doris, Miss Esther Randall (in Ester Ried’s Namesake) also struggled to stretch her college wardrobe, sometimes beyond its limits. She had a picnic to attend, and, perhaps, an evening at the theater, and she hadn’t a thing to wear. Isabella summed up Esther’s lament:
“Wherewithal shall she be clothed?”
Poor Esther’s wardrobe was so limited, she once wrote home to her parents:
I don’t think I shall accept any more social invitations. I haven’t time for them—nor gowns, for that matter. Sometimes I feel like a queer little nun in my one good dress that has to do duty on all occasions.
Unfortunately for Esther, it was the fashion for young women to wear white to their college graduation. As much as Esther dreamed of having a white dress like the ones her wealthy college friends would wear, she knew such a gown was out of reach; her missionary parents could never afford to buy her one.
Like many of Isabella’s characters, Doris and Esther wore “made over” wardrobes. Doris’ sister Athalie could take an old shirtwaist, for example, and updated it with a new collar and cuffs she made herself.
Women’s magazines of the time often gave instructions on how to accomplish it. Here’s one such article from a 1907 issue of The Ladies Home Journal:
And Esther’s mother—being a skilled needlewoman—could refresh an old skirt by adding a new band of fabric to the hem, in much the same way as The Ladies Home Journal recommended in a 1908 issue:
But no amount of sewing or alterations could help Esther as graduation day neared. As much as she dreamed of graduating in a beautiful white gown, she knew she had only that one “good” dress to wear, which had already done faithful duty during two seasons.
She knew how utterly impossible it would be to buy a new white dress—so impossible she never even considered praying about the matter. But someone else prayed on her behalf!
If you’ve read Esther Randall’s story, then you already know whether or not she ever received her heart’s desire and got to wear that coveted white dress. If you have not yet read Ester Ried’s Namesake or Doris Farrand’s Vocation, you can click on the book covers below to learn more:
Isabella’s novels about Chautauqua Institution inspired adults from across the country (and around the world) to attend the summer assembly in New York.
But children also dreamed of going. In 1883 Isabella received a letter from a twelve-year-old girl named Faith who made an unexpected trip to Chautauqua. Faith’s letter to Isabella was reprinted in an 1883 issue of The Pansy magazine. You can read Faith’s enthusiastic account of her summer below:
Chautauqua, Aug. 1, 1883.
DEAR READERS: A wonderful thing has happened to me! It will do to put in that long list of modern events that I had so much trouble remembering in my history lesson. I am quite sure I shall remember this one, though, as long as I live.
I wanted to go to Chautauqua, and here I am!
I talked about it, and dreamed about it, but all the time I thought it was of no use, for mamma said she didn’t know as we could ever afford to go. I put it among the things, though, that I meant to do some time, when I grew up. I thought it would be years and years first, but don’t you think, that very night, Uncle John and Auntie May came. They were on their way to Chautauqua. Almost the first thing Uncle John said to me was, “Come, Faithie, pack your trunk, we are going to carry you off with us.”
I thought it was only some of his jokes, but after tea, when we all sat on the piazza together, Uncle John began to coax mamma in real earnest to let me go. Mamma said that a little girl only twelve years old was too young to go away from her mother, but Auntie May said she would take the best possible care of me, and Uncle John said I would have a real good time, and it shouldn’t cost me a cent, and it was a pity if they couldn’t borrow a child once in a while, when they had none of their own.
Papa hadn’t spoken yet. He looked at me and he saw that my eyes were saying, “Please, please, do let me go!” Then he said to mamma, “Suppose we let her go. It will do the child good.”
Mamma said then that she would think about it, and decide by morning.
I almost knew before I went to bed that I was going, for mamma said two or three times, “If you go, you will do so and so.” Then she came into my room and looked my clothes over, and said, “If you go, you can take the smallest trunk. Let me see, there is your white dress, and your gingham, and your black and white check. The one you have on, with your brown hat and sack, will do nicely for travelling. You can put your best hat in the trunk.”
I had on my brown cashmere skirt, and white waist, and I thought myself I would look nice, with my brown sacque and hat, with a clean linen collar. I was glad I happened to have a brown hair ribbon, too.
I couldn’t get asleep very soon that night, and when I did I dreamed that Chautauqua was at the top of a high, steep hill, and I was trying to climb up, but every step I took I fell back two or three. It wasn’t true at all, though. Chautauqua is not on such a very high hill, and I did not have a hard time getting here.
Mamma said “yes” in the morning, without any ifs and ands, except that I had to promise to wear my rubbers when it was damp, and carry my umbrella when it looked like rain, and not go out on the lake, and do just as Auntie May told me.
The only bad thing about getting here was saying good-by. I didn’t think I would feel bad, going away for just a little while, but the minute I kissed mamma, I felt as if I were going to choke. I was determined not to cry, so I never said good-by at all. I was afraid after I got started mamma would think I did not care anything at all about leaving her.
Where shall I begin to tell you about this wonderful, beautiful place?
Chautauqua is just ten years old. Yes, ten years ago this was just like any other piece of woods on the shore of a lake. Now, it is a large, beautiful grove, the underbrush is all cleared away, and streets and avenues wind in and out among the tall old trees. There are pretty cottages—whole streets of them—and there are white tents sprinkled about, fixed out with red curtains, and lace curtains, and hanging-baskets, too pretty for anything.
A great, handsome hotel stands not far from the lake, and the lawn, sloping down to the water, looks as if it were covered with green velvet.
The pretty blue lake is smuggled into green woodsey shores, and steamboats are coming and going all the time; then there are row boats and sail boats flitting about.
Whichever way you look you see people dodging here and there behind the trees. It looks as if all the grown folks were playing live. I like it. I wish they would do so always, and I don’t see why they can’t go on doing these pretty things when they get home. Life wouldn’t be half so dull if we could always get up, and go to bed, and go to dinner, at the sound of a chime of bells, and hear the grand organ every morning rolling through the air, and great burst of song coming through the trees. Why, it seems half the time as if I was one of the people in a lovely poem. Then, don’t you think the robins hop right about the door, great, lovely robins, and cunning little squirrels chase each other up and down the tree trunks.
To think of my seeing robins and squirrels so near by! But I suppose you have met those delightful people scampering and flying about at your own house this summer, so I needn’t take up room telling you about them.
The people are not all playing, though it might look so. Almost everybody is studying something. There are classes in French, and German, and Latin, English literature, music, clay modeling, drawing, and ever so many other things.
Uncle John says I may take drawing lessons.
Lectures and concerts are going on in the great amphitheatre nearly all the time. The amphitheatre is such a place as you never saw in your life. Let me see if I can make you understand just how it is. It is just as if the water was all dipped out of Simmon’s pond, a floor laid in the bottom, making a room as large is three or four churches, in one. Then imagine the sides of the pond, made hard and smooth, sloping down to this floor and filled with seats beginning low and going, one above another, up, up to the very top. There are aisles every little way from top to bottom (it’s the greatest fun to scud down them when all the people are away.)
At one end of the great room is a high platform for speakers, and back of it and higher up still, is the orchestra with a beautiful organ.
This alone is large enough to hold a thousand people. It is a great sight to sit up there evenings, when the electric light makes it all as light as day and lighter, too—and see the audience. Every seat filled; six or seven thousand people making a huge half circle about the platform; then the red and blue and pink and green and white and black dresses, and shawls and ribbons and feathers and fans is just wonderful; it all looks like a very big bouquet—at least, that is the way it looked to me; but I am beginning to think that people see everything with different eyes. I heard Auntie May ask Uncle John if it did not make him think of that verse in Revelations, xx. “So a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and kindreds and people, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb.” And Uncle John said he wondered if God saw the seal in the foreheads of all this company.
It certainly seems as if we had got somewhere away from this world, at night, when the electric light streams far out and lights up the trees and cottages so beautifully.
I saw a lovely picture when I came home last night, only it was not painted and hung up, it was a live picture. It was a cunning little white tent with a light like sunshine on it. The red curtain was parted in front, the shadows of the leaves danced over it, and on the porch sat two pretty ladies, leaning back in their rocking-chairs resting.
It’s queer about things, isn’t it? If a great artist were to paint that and put it in a gallery how all the people would run to see it. Why don’t they gather round and wonder over pretty pictures before they are made up is what I would like to know.
Here I have written a long letter, and I have not told you yet how Chautauqua came to be. The man who thought it out and got it up, is Dr. Vincent. He and some of his friends came here one summer to study the Bible together in quiet. They thought it was a nice place, so they decided to hold a Sabbath-school assembly here the next year; from that it grew and grew to this great grand Chautauqua, where for six weeks in summer you can study anything, I think, from cooking up to all the ‘ologies and philosophies and dead languages and live languages that ever were heard of in the world, though the Bible is the chief book studied, by some of the people at least. Such grand lectures as I have been to!— not dry a bit. All the great orators speak in Chautauqua. Then the concerts, with all sorts of instruments and beautiful choruses and lovely solos. Oh, I tell you, I’m having a good time!
Uncle John says Dr. Vincent is a genius, and that the day will come when this will be a great university open the year round.
If you have any patience left after you read this, write to me, and if you want to hear more about Chautauqua I will write it, for there are whole books-full left.
Did you know Chautauqua Institution had its own commercial printing office? It produced brochures, maps of the grounds, programmes, daily schedules, and a newspaper called The Chautauqua Assembly Herald.
Published six days a week, The Chautauqua Assembly Herald filled eight to ten pages of every issue with news about Chautauqua, including the comings and goings of some of its residents and visitors.
On July 24, 1895 one of the newspaper’s reporters spotted Isabella’s familiar face at a concert in Chautauqua’s amphitheater:
Pansy’s placid, pleasant face was seen in the veritable sea of faces at the concert in Chautauqua’s amphitheater Wednesday. From her very looks one would judge Mrs. Alden as a woman who loves little people, even if one had never heard of the famous Pansy books.
Naturally, the reporter sought Isabella out as soon as the concert was over, and asked about her summer plans and whether she was writing anything special. Isabella confirmed she was indeed working on a story, and added:
“All of my stories, you know, are published in serial form in my magazine before they are put out in book form. My magazine work occupies most of my time.”
“For the past 19 years we have spent every summer at Chautauqua. We have our summer home here, but for many years past I have had to give up my Assembly work. I am much interested, however, in the Woman’s Club here.”
Knowing the Woman’s Club was to meet the next day, the reporter asked Isabella if she was going to read a new, unpublished story to club members.
“It is a story which not only has not been published, but which is not yet all written,” replied Pansy smiling.
Their conversation drifted into other topics, including an observation about the new phenomenon of women using bicycles as a means of getting around Chautauqua.
Progressive-thinking Isabella had no problem with the new “wheelwomen” (as lady cyclists were called in 1895):
“I think the bicycle must offer a pleasant, healthful form of recreation to women, but I do like to see them dress inconspicuously and neatly when riding, and I do not like to see them wear bloomers.”
Any guesses which story Isabella was writing and publishing as a serial in The Pansy magazine during the summer of 1895?
It was Reuben’s Hindrances! Chapter eight of Reuben’s Hindrances appeared in the July 1895 issue of The Pansy; monthly installments continued into 1896 until all twenty-four chapters appeared in the magazine.
For many years Isabella served as an editor and contributor to a Christian magazine in which she had a very popular advice column. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.
One letter came from a woman who was having trouble overcoming a very common problem: She was terrified of praying aloud in front of other people.
The writer described herself as a grown woman, “not very young” of age. She believed it was her duty to pray before others in Sunday-school class or at prayer meetings, but she found it “almost impossible” to do so. Even when she planned out what to say ahead of time, she would forget, and stammer and stutter; and she often ended her prayer feeling embarrassed and pledging never to pray before others again.
Here is the advice Isabella gave her:
First, let me assure you that your “name is Legion.” As a worker among those that are moving toward middle age, I have found this feeling a constant hindrance.
My friend, by all means persevere, no matter how much you stumble, nor how many carefully-thought-out sentences you “forget.” Stammering lips often carry a message straight to the throne of God, and it is to God that we speak when we pray.
Do not let Satan blind you with that specious argument of his that you cannot pray to “edification.” That is not the first object of prayer. Moreover, God often uses the stammering tongue for his glory. I remember and am helped to this day by the thought of the hesitating, sometimes broken, sentences of a dear father who thought that he could not pray aloud.
Now for a few hints that I have found helpful:
First: Cultivate the habit of praying in an audible voice when alone in your room. Perhaps no one thing will give you self-control more speedily than this. We are creatures of habit, and when we have grown accustomed to the daily sound of our own voices when on our knees, habit, after a little, asserts itself when we kneel before others. Because of habit, the kneeling posture is, I think, the most helpful one to assume, even in public prayer, wherever this is feasible.
Next,grow very familiar with Bible prayers, those terse sentences pregnant with meaning:
“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord.”
“In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust.”
“Be thou to me a strong rock.”
“Send out thy light and thy truth.”
The Bible is very rich as a prayer-book. If we linger much among such petitions, habit will again come to our aid, and the Bible words will rush in upon us when we pray before others. When I was a beginner in public prayer, I used to write out certain of these Bible prayers that voiced my desires, and spread them before me, lest my memory should prove treacherous. I found this a good crutch for a time.
For a like reason I used sometimes to write out my own form of prayer, carefully avoiding set phrases and sentences that I should never think of using if alone, going over and over the form to make it simple and direct, and to be sure that it expressed only what I really felt. This I would read aloud, with bowed head; and it helped me in overcoming timidity.
Let me close as I commenced, with an urgent appeal to you to overcome the temptation to shirk this duty; and to resolve to conquer in His name.
Isabella Alden was deeply involved in the Christian Endeavor movement that took root in America and swept around the world in the late 1800s. She regularly contributed to the Christian Endeavor newspaper; and she wrote about Christian Endeavor in of her novels Chrissy’s Endeavor, Her AssociateMembers, and others.
Isabella’s family was involved in Christian Endeavor, as well. Her niece, Grace Livingston Hill, served as president of a Christian Endeavor chapter. One of Grace’s early novellas was a Christian Endeavor story called “The Parkerstown Delegate;” and with her husband Grace published a guide for Christian Endeavor leaders that was widely used by C. E. chapters.
The Christian Endeavor Society held regular annual conventions in the U.S. that were very well attended by people from all over the country; but in 1896 the society held an international convention in Washington D.C. Thousands of Christians of all ages, nationalities, and denominations, descended upon the U.S. Capitol for five days of non-stop meetings, worship services, training classes, and Bible studies.
Isabella knew Washington, D.C. very well. She and her family lived there for three years when her husband served as assistant pastor of The Eastern Presbyterian Church, located just blocks from the Capitol building (read about her D.C. home here). In early 1896 the Aldens moved to New Jersey, just a short train ride away from Washington; so it’s entirely possible the Aldens attended all or part of the international convention that year.
The convention opened on Thursday, July 9 and ended the following Monday. Convention attendees were given a schedule of events and a map to help them travel from venue to venue, most commonly by foot.
Attendees braved the heat, the humidity, and the stifling crowds of fellow Endeavorers that thronged the mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol building.
On The Ellipse, located between The White House and the Washington Monument, enormous tents were erected where meetings and lectures were held.
Each tent was designed to hold hundreds of people, but some evening gatherings drew enormous crowds. At times there were so many people, and the interiors of the tents became so hot, the tent sides had to be raised to allow fresh air to circulate.
But of all the activities that took place over the five-day convention, there was one event that stood out and was talked about for months afterward.
On Saturday evening, July 9, a patriotic service was planned to take place on the east front of the Capitol Building.
The service was described as “a great song service” of patriotic songs and hymns led by a chorus of four thousand voices.
A photographer captured this image of the chorus assembling on the steps of the Capitol:
One newspaper enthusiastically wrote that the patriotic service was “grand music to listen to, and something to remember.”
At the conclusion of the service, the chorus, the Marine band, and the audience left the Capitol steps to march down the National Mall to the Ellipse, where they gathered at Tent Endeavor.
The song service was a tremendous success! While there was no official count, attendees believed there were just as many singers among the audience as there were on the Capitol steps.
If that’s true, there were over eight thousand people at the service, all raising their voices together in songs of praise!
What do you think it was like to sing hymns with thousands of other people?
Have you ever participated in an outdoor sing-a-long where your voices could be heard for blocks?
Talk about found treasure! This month’s Free Read is The Forman Family’s Sacrifice, a story Isabella published as a serial in a 1916 magazine.
Although it’s a full-length novel (fifteen chapters in all), The Forman Family’s Sacrifice was never published in book form. Luckily, all those magazine issues survived so we can put the story together and enjoy it today!
Here’s a brief synopsis:
“Aunt Elsie—coming here!”
Isn’t it enough that the Foreman family has fallen on hard times? They already have to count every penny; must they also take in an elderly aunt none of them remember and who is already making demands before she even arrives on their doorstep?
Of course the Formans will make the necessary sacrifices to do their Christian duty by Aunt Elsie, but that doesn’t mean they have to like it. And if Aunt Elsie happens to overhear their grumblings, maybe she’ll get the message and cut her stay short.
But Aunt Elsie overhears more than the family realizes; and she soon discovers a long-held secret she’s been keeping just might be the key to solving the Forman family’s troubles.
You can read The Forman Family’s Sacrifice for free!
Click here to go to BookFunnel.com where you can choose the reading option you like best:
You can read the story on your computer, phone, iPad, Kindle, or other electronic device. Just choose your preferred format from BookFunnel.com.
Or you can choose the “My Computer” option to read a PDF version, which you can also print and share with friends.
The Chautauqua Christian Endeavour Society should not be forgotten as a helpful influence in bringing not only the young, but all classes of people together, and making them acquainted. This society not only includes all members of the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavour who visit at Chautauqua, but also members of any denominational societies doing similar work.
Here, in the white-pillared Hall of Philosophy, they meet for an hour just at early evening, every week, and hold their prayer-meeting; and the voice of prayer and song or words of cheer, of comfort, of consecration, come from many. One other hour each week is also given to a conference, where the members compare notes on the best ways of working in various lines.
Last summer the plan was enlarged and a Working Committee formed. The grounds were divided into districts, and each Member of the Executive Committee became responsible for the work in one district; putting a topic card and notices in every cottage on the grounds, and giving to all strangers invitations to Meetings and Socials of the Society. Much good work was accomplished, and many strange young people made to feel at home.
There was also a room used as Headquarters, where were books and other literature relative to young people’s Christian work, and where could be found stationery and a quiet place to write or read. The registry book showed that a goodly number of young people availed themselves of this privilege.
This Society held an Autograph Social during the season in the parlours of the hotel, which was a great success.
Here and there you might have seen some favourite professor backed up against the wall with a double semicircle of his devoted students about him, eagerly holding their cards up, and he writing as if for dear life. But it was everywhere noticeable with what heartiness each one entered into the spirit of the hour, and demanded a name on his own card in return for every one he gave.
From this gathering it was difficult to send the people home, even after the solemn night-bell had rung; and the small boy who collected the pencils was very sleepy when the last couples left the parlour, smiling and chatting of the pleasant evening spent.
And the chimes make a beautiful ending to a day at Chautauqua. Whether you are wandering by the lake shore, or through the lovely avenues, it matters not; they are sweet. Sweeter, perhaps, just a little, as they ring out over the water, calling you in from a moonlight row or yacht ride. “Bonnie Doon,” “Blue Bells of Scotland,” “Robin Adair,” “Long, Long Ago,” all the old airs, and by-and-bye growing more serious— “Softly Now the Light of Day,” “Silently the Shades of Evening,” “Glory to Thee, my God, this Night,” and the “Vesper” hymn for good-night.
In 1894, when Grace wrote this article, collecting autographs was a popular way to preserve memories of an event. It wasn’t until 1900 when Kodak introduced their Brownie box camera that the average American could commemorate travels, celebrations, and other events with photos they took themselves.
Did you enjoy this tour of Chautauqua through Grace’s eyes?
Hopefully, her words gave you a sense of what it must have been like to visit Chautauqua 127 years ago!