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A Nice Oyster Supper

25 Apr

There’s a recurring theme in many of Isabella’s books you may have noticed:

Whenever a group of characters needed to raise money for their church or favorite cause, their first inclination was to earn the money through a social event.

Ad from a 1918 North Carolina newspaper.

Isabella’s characters held fairs and festivals, old folk’s suppers and young folk’s concerts, character parties and tableaux, strawberry soirees and ice cream socials—all in the name of raising money for their church or charity.

Announcement in Fort Mill Times (South Carolina), November 17, 1910.

Carrie Spafford in The Pocket Measure didn’t see the sense of it. She asked:

“Why do you suppose we always think of devices of this kind whenever we talk about money for the cause of Christ?”

Carrie asked a good question. Whenever there was money to be earned, Isabella’s characters—much like the people in churches Isabella observed first hand—spent long hours and lots of money to stage events by which they hoped to receive donations for their cause.

The Camden (Tennessee) Chronicle, February 9, 1912.

The most popular method Isabella’s characters turned to for raising money was the oyster supper.

That’s what happened in Isabella’s short story, “Circulating Decimals.” As soon as the ladies of the Penn Avenue Church realized the church library was in need of new books, they decided to take action.

Up rose the women, the respectable, middle-aged, matronly women. The library must be replenished, the money must be raised. They—the matrons—would do this thing speedily and quietly. They would have an oyster supper on a large scale, make preparation for a great many guests, furnish oysters in every possible style, and with them such coffee as only they could make, to say nothing of the inevitable cake and cream, and side dishes for those who did not relish oysters. So they went to work quietly, skillfully, expeditiously. Baking, broiling, frying, stewing!

A portion of a comic appearing in the Washington DC Evening Star, January 1, 1911.

Oysters were also the go-to choice when Isabella’s characters entertained guests in their home.

Preparing an oyster supper; and 1873 print.

Flossie Roberts served oysters with jellies and sauces to the rough boys in her Sunday-school class in Ester Ried Yet Speaking.

Oysters with Lemon, a painting by Otto Scholderer, 1891.

And when the impoverished Cameron family in What They Couldn’t struggled to find a way to entertain their society friends with little money, they decided to invite their discerning friends to a simple lunch:

Their ideas of simplicity would have bewildered some people. A lunch without salads was not to be thought of, of course; and chicken salads were the best. No matter if chicken was very expensive just now, it did not take a great deal for a salad. Then oysters were just getting nice, and, after the long summer, seemed so new; raw oysters were the very thing with which to begin a lunch. Served on the half-shell and properly garnished, there was no simple dish which looked more inviting.

A plate of oyster patties from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Cookery, 1907.

In these stories, and many others, Isabella was sharing a very real circumstance of life in late 19th and early 20th century America:

America loved oysters and ate them in abundance.

Business card for an oyster dealer, 1880.

Fresh oysters were prized, but thanks to advancements in canning methods, oysters could be shipped inland to Midwest cities that previously had no means for buying and consuming seafood.

And new techniques for harvesting oysters made them so abundantly available, their cost was half as much as beef, per pound. They were inexpensive and popular, and Americans couldn’t get enough of them.

A plate of grilled oysters, from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Cookery, 1907.

Cook books of the time had recipes for stewed oysters, fried oysters, broiled oysters, and pickled oysters.

A 1915 cookbook published by the Oyster Growers and Dealers Association of North America. You can click on the cover to see the entire cookbook.

Americans served oyster patties, oyster pies, and soups. They added oysters to their meats, stuffed them in turkeys, and scrambled them with eggs.

For those who didn’t want to prepare oysters themselves, they could find oysters on the menu of most restaurants and public houses.

The Union Oyster House in Boston, Massachusetts was founded in 1826 and is still in business today.

Most major towns in America could boast an oyster parlor or oyster saloon.

A 1903 newspaper ad for a Louisiana oyster saloon offering a ladies’ private parlor.

Many such establishments had private dining rooms for ladies, where they could eat oysters in an environment that did not offend their delicate sensibilities.

An 1881 ad for an oyster saloon in Astoria, Oregon.

Americans’ love for oysters spawned an entirely new industry of serving plates and utensils designed specifically for oysters.

An oyster plate from the late 1800s. With six oyster wells, it is decorated in the Chinoiserie style popular at the time.

It’s no wonder, then, that when Isabella’s characters planned a dinner or a party, they naturally thought to put oysters on the menu. They were inexpensive, easy to prepare, and almost everyone liked them.

A silver oyster fork from Tiffany & Company, dated 1872

But cooking and selling oysters didn’t guarantee that a fund-raising event would be successful. Though festivals and dinners and other fund-raisers were very stylish, Isabella believed that more money and effort were spent on putting the events together than the organizers ever made from donations.

When talk turned to having a fund-raising festival of some kind in The Pocket Measure, Callie Spafford stated Isabella’s opinion plainly:

“Haven’t you often seen gentlemen eat fifty cents worth of oysters and cake and cream and fruit and celery, and I don’t know what else, and pay twenty-five cents for it all, and think they were being benevolent?”

Despite the questionable economics, oyster suppers remained a favorite form of charity fundraisers in America . . . and in Isabella’s novels.

 

Pay as You Go

18 Apr

When Isabella wrote Interrupted in 1881 she was forty years old and had lived through one of the greatest financial disasters in American history.

It was a troubling time for the country, and Isabella reflected that trouble in her story. The main character, Claire Benedict, is a young woman raised in the lap of luxury, who suddenly finds herself—along with her mother and sister—virtually penniless when her father dies unexpectedly.

Isabella wrote:

How do such things occur? I cannot tell. Yet how many times in your life have you personally known of them—families who are millionaires today, and beggars tomorrow? It was just that sort of blow which came to the Benedicts.

Isabella had seen real-life examples of wealthy businessmen turned into paupers overnight. Just eight years before Interrupted was published, America suffered through The Panic of 1873.

The Collapse of a Bank by Vladimir Egorovic Makovsky. Note the despair of the man in the center of the painting, compared to the bank manager on the right, pocketing cash as he heads for the exit.

The Panic was caused by many factors, but the fatal spark came from Jay Cooke & Co., an American banking house that borrowed heavily to finance railroad expansion in the U.S.

Newspaper illustration showing crowds gathered outside Jay Cooke & Co. banking house in September, 1873.

Cooke was caught using a number of deceptive business practices, including shell companies to hide costs from investors, a scheme discovered in 1872. The revelation damaged investor confidence, and Cooke’s bank suffered heavy losses until, in 1873, Cooke was forced to suspend all deposits and payments, and closed the bank’s doors.

A run on the Fourth National Bank, New York City, 1873. From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

That announcement sent shock-waves through Wall Street, and led to a panic of bank runs and bank failures throughout the country.

The extent of the economic crash was so great, the New York Stock Exchange closed two days later and stayed closed for ten days.

Crowds on Broad Street near the Stock Exchange on September 20 after the closing of the Exchange doors.

Those banks that survived the initial crash immediately called in their debts, which caused an alarming number of foreclosures and bankruptcies throughout the country.

The Panic of 1873 commenced on September 18; by and the end of the year . . .

  • One in every eight Americans was unemployed
  • Employers that were still in business cut wages, on average by 25%
  • Construction of businesses and homes came to a standstill
  • The value of land dropped and profits crashed
  • Tens of thousands of workers—many Civil War veterans—became homeless transients, making “tramp” a commonplace American term

Retailers did their best to keep their doors open. Many abandoned attempts to make a profit and had to be content to merely break even.

Advertisement in a Philadelphia newspaper.

It was a desperate time in America; and the economic depression that followed the crash lasted almost seven years.

As the economy began a slow recovery, the average Americans found the financial rules had changed.

The cover of Harper’s Weekly magazine on October 18, 1873.

For starters, there was a lopsided disparity of wealth distribution. Rich industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller, who survived the Long Depression intact, now owned over 71% of the nation’s wealth.

A merchant’s sign proclaiming their cash-only policy.

The average American found banks no longer wanted their business. J. P. Morgan’s banking house required a minimum personal value before they allowed a new customer to even walk in their door.

The J. P. Morgan Bank building at the corner of Broad and Wall Streets, New York, as it appeared in 1914.

So Americans had no choice but to turn to cash.

It was a natural reaction, since most Americans were aware that buying on credit and shady financing deals had caused the Panic of 1873 in the first place. They came to distrust credit and lending institutions, and developed their own barter systems and cash-only policies.

A cartoon illustrating America’s altered attitude toward credit.

Isabella wrote about it in The Pocket Measure.

In that story, Mrs. Spafford suggests to a group of girls from church that they earn money by starting a business selling hand-made items.

“Where would we get our material?”

“We would need a buying committee—someone whose duty it would be to purchase material.”

“Suppose she hadn’t money enough for the purchases?”

“Then we should manifestly have to do without the material until such time as we could afford to enlarge our business.”

“Couldn’t we buy on credit?”

Both Mrs. Spafford and Addie Stowell shook their heads emphatically at this, and Addie said:

“No, ma’am! You don’t catch me launching out in any enterprise that hasn’t a solid cash foundation. I should expect my father to disown me forthwith. If there is anything he hates, it is the credit system.”

This rebus proclaims “Fork over what you owe.”

Almost all of Isabella’s novels reflect that sentiment. From David Ransom’s Watch to Ester Ried’s Namesake, Isabella made certain her characters earned the money they needed. They didn’t buy anything “on credit.”

A merchant’s broadside from 1875.

Her characters saved up for years to purchase a train ticket or a new dress.

Another example of a merchant’s broadside.

They counted pennies and survived on johnny cakes and molasses.

In fact, most of Isabella’s stories feature characters who live in poverty—the sort of poverty Isabella witnessed first-hand in the years following the 1873 crash.

What do you think?

Do you have a favorite Isabella Alden book that features characters who were poor or insisted on earning the money for the things they wanted to buy? Share your favorite Isabella book by commenting in the Leave a Reply box below.


You can learn more about the Financial Panic of 1873 by watching this short video about the Panic’s impact on the citizens of Illinois:

And you can click on any book cover to find out more about Isabella’s novels mentioned in this post.

 

A Stranger in New York

28 Mar

If you’ve read Isabella’s novel Ester Ried’s Namesake, you probably remember Esther Ried Randall’s reaction when handsome Professor Langham invited her to join a party he was organizing.

His plan was to drive a group of friends to the city to spend the day, then treat everyone to an evening show at the theater.

A 1908 theater poster for Guiseppe Verdi’s opera, “Aida.”

Poor Esther! She wanted so much to drive to town and spend a day shopping and seeing the sights; but her loving Christian parents had taught her that good Christians did not attend theater performances.

“Beverly” was a popular play in 1904. It was based on the best-selling novel of the same name by George Barr McCutcheon. Renowned artist Harrison Fisher created the poster artwork.

With her parents’ scruples in mind, Esther declined the professor’s invitation, saying:

“I may as well tell you plainly that I do not attend the theater.”

“Oh, is that all? As a rule I think I may be said not to do so myself. But isn’t it drawing the line rather closely, being in fact what might be called Puritanical, not to go at all?”

There was an amused smile on his face and a note of amused toleration in his voice. Still, Esther might have answered him quietly but for that word “Puritanical.” Over that she flamed.

Doris Farrand struggled with the same issue when her boyfriend Richard invited her to attend a play with “a splendid moral lesson” in the book Doris Farrand’s Vocation.

In 1898 “The Sorrows of Satan,” based on the best-selling novel by Marie Corelli, was a moralistic play with a Faustian theme.

When Doris declined his invitation, Richard couldn’t understand her reason; neither could Doris’s sister, Athalie, who told Doris:

“It seems narrow-minded to object to [theater-going] these days. Why, Doris, the very best people go to this particular play.”

“The Curse of Drink” was a 1904 temperance play that portrayed one man’s addiction to drink, and it’s affect on his family.

Doris’s boyfriend was a seminary student; he was studying to be a minister. Surely, he argued, he was a better judge of what was right and wrong; surely Doris should trust his judgment and go with him to the theater.

“Alice Sit by the Fire” was a sweet, wholesome play written by J. M. Barrie, the author of “Peter Pan” and “The Little Minister.” Actress Mary Shaw starred in the 1907 production.

But in the end, Doris stood firm in her decision to remain at home, which didn’t please Richard at all.

Esther Randall also stayed at home, and struggled with the idea of living by her parents’ “hated scruples.” She felt she was missing out on all the fun in life, merely because her mother and father had some old-fashioned ideas.

Esther’s best friend told her:

“You live in a little narrow space all hedged about with ‘Thou shalt nots’ or ‘I must nots,’ and that seems to be all there is of your religion.”

Esther couldn’t have agreed more!

In the book, Isabella describes Esther’s struggles in a very compelling way. Isabella understood what it was like to be young and want to go where her friends went and do that they did.

“The Shoemaker” was a heart-warming 1907 play that promised it’s audience “tears and laughter.”

But as a Christian, Isabella was very aware of the example she set for her family, friends, and acquaintances.

And because her husband was a minister, Isabella knew members of the congregation scrutinized her behavior—some did so to take inspiration, and others to find fault.

Whatever their reasons, Isabella knew people watched her, and she was careful to set what she hoped was a good and clear example of Christian living.

She often mentioned Romans 14:15-16 as her guide:

For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.

Therefore, do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.

Isabella knew those verses weren’t just about food; they applied to anything a Christian might do or say that could influence others.

This innocuous-looking ad for a new play, “A Stranger in New York” appeared in an 1890 Brooklyn, New York newspaper.

She knew that if a non-believer—or a new or struggling Christian—should see her entering a theater to see a morality play, that non-believer might assume that she went to other plays, as well, and that she considered any theater production to be acceptable.

This poster for “A Stranger in New York” may look innocent by today’s standards; but in 1890 it was quite risqué. Ladies did not lift their skirts to show their ankles; nor did they allow men to put their arms around them in a familiar manner.

Isabella didn’t want to run that risk, so she made it a rule in her life not to attend the theater for any reason.

Another poster for “A Stranger in New York.” The image includes every possible element that was contrary to Christian standards of the time: women wearing short skirts and scandalously revealing leotards, cigars, wine, and flirtatious behavior.

She wasn’t alone in setting that standard. In 1892 Methodist Bishop John Heyl Vincent (a co-founder of Chautauqua Institution) published a short book titled Better Not.

In his book Bishop Vincent explained why Christians should ask themselves hard questions about their actions, and whether those actions were harmful or helpful to a soul who may follow their lead.

Isabella agreed with Bishop Vincent’s position, and even mentioned his book Better Not in her story of Esther Ried Randall’s struggle with “scruples.”

She hoped that young Christian women who read Esther’s story would be inspired to keep those two verses in Romans foremost in their minds whenever they planned an evening entertainment with friends and family.


You can read Bishop Vincent’s book Better Not for free! Click here to find it on Google Books. Then click on the red “Ebook – Free” button to read it on your phone or table, or to download it as a pdf.

And you can click on the book cover to find out more about Ester Ried’s Namesake (Book 7 in the Ester Ried Series).

Pansy’s Impromptu Interview

30 Jan

In addition to writing stories and novels, editing a children’s magazine, and giving lectures on women’s topics that were dear to her heart, Isabella wrote Sunday-school lessons for children.

Photo of Isabella Alden about 1880 (age 39)

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Her published lessons were well-regarding and widely adopted by many denominations. Several publications printed her lessons each month, and dedicated Sunday-school teachers across the country employed them every Sunday morning.

Isabella had been trained as a teacher; that’s how she earned her living prior to her marriage to the Reverend Gustavus Alden.

An August 1861 ad in the Oneida (NY) Sachem for Oneida Seminary

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It’s little wonder, then that Isabella was regarded as an expert in her field, and often found herself giving impromptu talks about the proper methods of teaching Sunday-school, particularly for younger children (which were often called the “infant class”).

The May 1877 issue of Sabbath School Monthly magazine printed a letter submitted by a reader who had the pleasure of hearing Isabella give just such a talk. The reader had been at the Sabbath School Conference in Indianapolis earlier in the year, and was in the audience when Isabella was brought on stage to answer questions.

You can read the letter to the editor by clicking on the image below, or scroll down to read a transcript:

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LETTER FROM INDIANAPOLIS

Messrs. Editors:
Many in our city who have enjoyed the writings of your special contributor, Mrs. Alden—our dear “Pansy”—had the opportunity, last week, of seeing her and of hearing her talk.

After the urgent solicitation of Dr. Vincent, who conducted a Sunday-school Congress of the M. E. Church, she consented to reply to questions on infant-class teaching.

To the first, “Should the infant class be present at the opening of the school?” she answered: “They should feel that the Sunday-school, and all that pertains to it, belongs to them.”

“What if the opening exercises are too lengthy?” She said that there might be folding doors, so that the rooms could be thrown together—that she had shut her doors when she had enough.

“Should there be a division of the class, and a teacher for each division?” She replied that one of the many difficulties that would result from it would be the desire to go from one class to another. This question is answered conclusively in last week’s chapter of her serial.

It was asked: “If I can not visit all my class, what can I do?” “You can send a messenger; some one who will make a pleasant and good impression, with a message of love, or a token of love, such as a flower.” She had been surprised to see how little things sent by a teacher were cherished by children.

She was desired to speak of blackboard teaching and we were convinced that her kind of object lessons would give a definite idea to the mind of a child. A heart on the blackboard, with a red crayon mark around it, and the word “clean” printed upon it, would indicate that it was washed in the blood of Christ.

As to memorizing verses, she told of the conductor’s punch that had been used by some teachers, making a round hole in the card for a perfect recitation, and a hole not round for an imperfect one, and how the child would work for that round hole.

Three different train conductor ticket punches and the hole shapes they make.

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To the question, “How shall I secure a regular attendance?” she replied, “Do the best you can.”

To the many that wish they could see Mrs. Alden, I would say that you would find in her a friend. She is a small lady; her face very bright, with delicate features; good teeth, rosy color; dark brown hair; very small hands. She dresses in good taste; very neatly. These items are not needed to add to the interest of her books, but they may satisfy some wonderings concerning their author.

Don’t you love the writer’s physical description of Isabella (she has “good teeth”!)?

When Isabella gave her impromptu talk in 1877 she was 35 years old, and a seasoned public speaker who seemed to make a very good impression on her audience.


You can read these previous posts about Isabella’s experiences as both a student and a teacher at Oneida Seminary:

BFFs at Oneida Seminary

The Accusation

Free Read: The Book That Started It All

Locust Shade … and a New Free Read!

18 Jan

January’s free read is Gertrude’s Diary, a novella first published in 1885.

Isabella wrote the book in the “diary style” she often used. In the story, twelve-year-old Gertrude and her friends are given a set of Bible verses for each month of the year, along with journals in which the girls are to record their experiences as they try to live by the verses.

Isabella often incorporated her own life experiences into her stories (see last week’s post for an example) and Gertrude’s Diary is no exception. Isabella was very candid about the fact that she had a temper that often got her in trouble when she was young. It isn’t hard to imagine as you read Gertrude’s Diary that some of Gertrude’s temper-induced predicaments might be based on episodes in Isabella’s own life.

In the final chapter of the book Isabella gives a very real nod to one of her favorite places on earth when she reveals that Gertrude’s home town is called Locust Shade.

Locust Shade was a place Isabella knew well; in “real life” it was the name of the Toll family farm in Verona, New York. Isabella’s best friend Theodosia Toll Foster was raised at Locust Shade and Isabella spent many wonderful weekends and school vacations at Locust Shade with Theodosia and her family. You can read more about their friendship and Locust Shade here.

Gertrude’s Diary is available to read for free. Just click on the cover to begin reading.

 

 

Won by a Sister’s Prayers

9 Jan

In Isabella Alden’s books she often includes a character who is a “sort of” Christian. In Mrs. Solomon Smith Looking On, Laura Leonard was just such a Christian.

Laura had been brought up in a good home by good, Christian parents. She went to church every Sunday and attended Sunday-school. Laura was kind and knew right from wrong, but she had never accepted Jesus Christ as her Saviour. To the contrary, Laura rebelled against the mere thought of taking such a step . . . until Mrs. Solomon Smith helped show Laura that being a Christian and loving the Lord was the only way Laura would find real and lasting happiness in her life.

When Isabella wrote about Laura Leonard, she wrote from experience. Like fictional Laura, Isabella had been raised by loving Christian parents. She, too, attended church every Sunday, and joined the family in home worship every evening.

Beginning at a young age Isabella was carefully taught what the Bible says about who will be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and that the only way to have eternal life is through Jesus Christ; yet Isabella never took the ultimate step of choosing to accept Christ as her Saviour.

Then the unthinkable happened. When Isabella was twelve years old, she fell seriously ill. For several days neither her parents nor the doctor believed she would live. But, miraculously, the crisis passed, and Isabella began to recover.

Her sister Marcia, who was nine years older than Isabella, had stayed by Isabella’s side throughout her illness. She had watched over Isabella, and slept in a chair by her bed, never leaving Isabella’s side for more than a few minutes.

When Isabella began to feel better, Marcia asked her one day:

“Would you have gone to live in heaven if God had called you when you were so ill?”

Isabella was genuinely surprised by the question, but Marcia said, “The thought of parting from you forever was one of unceasing agony to me; and my constant prayer during all those days and nights of illness was that you might be spared until you could choose Christ.”

These words made a lasting impression upon Isabella. They came to her with all the power and force of a sudden revelation: for though she had been carefully trained, and knew in a theoretical way the plan of salvation, she had never given the matter five minutes serious thought, until her sister appealed to her as she did.

Isabella tried to put the subject aside again, feeling that it darkened the day and made her uncomfortable; but the Holy Spirit had carried it home to her soul, and over and over again Marcia’s words rang in her ears.

Isabella could no longer deny the truth. She wrote, “It is not enough for me to believe in Christ as a Saviour, I must ‘choose’ Christ as my Saviour.”

Soon she began to feel that in a strange and wonderful way her sister’s earnest and loving prayer that she might be spared to “choose” had been answered. And with it came the conviction that she was compelled to make a definite choice.

Not long afterward, she did choose the Lord Jesus Christ as her personal Saviour.

What a blessed decision that was for the millions of readers of her books!

Isabella Alden at her writing desk.

In 1902 Isabella wrote:

“In a few more years it will be half a century since I chose Christ. I have had abundant reason to thank God for sparing my life at that time, and for giving me a faithful sister.”

Isabella and Marcia remained close, loving sisters for the rest of their lives.

And Isabella used her experience of being a “sort of” Christian as a device to show her fictional characters—and her readers—that believing in Christ wasn’t the same as choosing to make Christ the center of our lives.


Isabella originally shared her story of how she became a Christian in a 1901 edition Christian Herald newspaper.

No Simple Case of the Flu

14 Nov

It’s autumn in the United States, and for most Americans, that means shorter days and colder temperatures.

It also means the start of the flu season, when about 20% of the population can expect to suffer feeling feverish, achy and just plain crummy for about a week between now and April of 2018.

Influenza season was troublesome in Isabella’s time, too; especially because Americans didn’t have the advantage of the flu vaccines and anti-viral drugs we have today.

But in 1918, when Isabella was 77 years old and living in Palo Alto, California, Americans suffered through a terrifying epidemic of influenza known as the Spanish Flu.

United States Health Service flyer from 1918

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The first documented wave of Spanish Flu struck the U.S. with a vengeance in the fall of 1918. Americans quickly realized this strain of flu was not the usual variety that brought chills, fever and fatigue that lasted a few days.

This new strain of flu was highly contagious, and it proved particularly fatal to healthy young adults—an alarming complication. Previous strains of flu usually resulted in death for children and the elderly; and health officials were baffled by the fact that the healthiest segment of the population seemed to be the most vulnerable.

A nurse takes a flu patient’s pulse at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., 1918.

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Another terrible consequence was the speed with which the flu struck. Victims died within hours or days of their symptoms appearing. In fatal cases, the victims’ skin turned blue and their lungs filled with fluid; nothing could be done to save them.

The first wave of the epidemic struck the eastern part of the United States hard.

From the Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1918.

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Large cities, small towns, and rural areas suffered equally. One physician at an Army station in Massachusetts wrote:

“These men start with what appears to be an attack of la grippe or influenza, and when brought to the hospital they very rapidly develop the most viscous type of pneumonia that has ever been seen. Two hours after admission they have the mahogany spots over the cheek bones, and a few hours later you can begin to see the cyanosis extending from their ears and spreading all over the face, until it is hard to distinguish the coloured men from the white. It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes, and it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate.

“It is horrible. One can stand it to see one, two or twenty men die, but to see these poor devils dropping like flies sort of gets on your nerves. We have been averaging about 100 deaths per day, and still keeping it up. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a new mixed infection here, but what I don’t know.”

In very short order, hospitals were overrun with patients. Health officials had to commandeer meeting halls, golf courses, large private homes, and any other places that could be converted into temporary hospitals to house victims of the epidemic.

Make-shift hospital tents set up to hold influenza patients in 1919. From the Centers for Disease Control.

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In some towns officials shut down all public places, including schools and churches, and ordered citizens to wear masks at all times.

An ad printed in the October 18, 1918 edition of Illustrated Current News.

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The numbers of fatalities increased steadily. In some places entire families were wiped out. Physicians, nurses, and healthcare workers couldn’t keep up with the numbers of patients that needed their care, and they soon became patients themselves. By October 1918 New York City’s health department estimated that over 20% of the city’s nurses were sick.

Mortuaries were also overwhelmed; bodies piled up. Morticians and cemetery workers were struck down with the flu like everyone else, and some communities had to resort to disposing of bodies in mass graves. In other places, grieving family members had to dig graves for their own loved ones.

A family posing while wearing masks during the influenza epidemic.

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Entire cities came to a virtual halt; so many people were ill there was no one to deliver mail, collect garbage, or harvest crops. Businesses closed and government agencies shut down because there was no one well enough to report to work.

A New York City street sweeper on an almost-deserted street in 1918.

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Health officials and town leaders fought against the disease in the only ways they knew how. They told citizens to stop shaking hands. They ticketed anyone who coughed or sneezed or spat in public.

Health Department poster on the back of a trolley car.

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They closed theaters and barred libraries from circulating books.

They passed ordinances prohibiting people from gathering, hoping to stop the virus from spreading.

Headline in the October 7, 1918 edition of the Indianapolis News.

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Some cities required residents to wear masks any time they stepped outside the doors of their homes.

Meanwhile, residents in mid-west and west coast states of the country—such as in California, where Isabella was living at the time—could do little more than hope the deadly epidemic would remain confined to the east coast.

Students at Brigham Young University wear hygienic masks during a lecture in 1918.

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Their hopes were bolstered by uninformed health officials who, in an effort to keep the public calm, spread incorrect information about the deadly virus.

Misinformation printed in the Los Angeles Herald, September 27, 1918.

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But in truth, mid-west and west coast states could do little to halt the epidemic’s march toward their cities and towns.

Red Cross workers in St. Louis report for duty with their ambulances, October 1918.

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It didn’t take long before the first confirmed cases of Spanish Flu were reported in Northern California.

From the Los Angeles Herald, October 12, 1918.

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In the Santa Clara Valley, where Isabella lived with her husband and family, the first documented cases of Spanish Flu hit in November, 1918.

County officials and town leaders imposed quarantines and prohibited residents from congregating, hoping to stop the spread of the virus.

Like other places in the country, Isabella’s neighborhood hospitals were soon over-crowded with patients. Health officials cancelled all school classes and converted the newly-built San Jose Normal School into hospital wards.

Aerial view of San Jose Normal School, 1909.

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By the time the epidemic ran its course in the spring of 1919, fifteen residents of Isabella’s community had died, and over 300 had been infected.

Volunteers at San Jose Normal School prepare meals for patients and healthcare workers.

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The impact of the flu on the country was staggering. One out of every four Americans had been infected by the time the Spanish Flu epidemic ran its course in  1919. Over 550,000 Americans had died, and more than 50 million people worldwide were killed.

Isabella’s family was spared. While she and her family may have taken ill, no members of the Alden or MacDonald families died from the Spanish Flu. Still, it must have been a frightening and anxious time for Isabella, as it was for all Americans.

Here’s a brief video that explains the impact the Spanish Flu had on residents of South Carolina, especially its small communities, like Isabella’s:

And this video (from PBS’s American Experience series) includes interviews with Americans who survived the epidemic and give first-hand accounts of its impact on their families and neighborhoods:

 

 

iPhones and Isabella

20 Sep

Last week Apple unveiled its new iPhone with the latest innovations in communication technology. Its release came 130 years after Isabella Alden first mentioned the telephone in the plot of one of her novels.

As convenient and indispensable as phones have become in our modern age, the same could be said of telephones in Isabella’s time. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, telephones changed the way Americans lived.

Isabella was 35 years old when Alexander Graham Bell patented his version of the telephone in 1876; but that first model had very limited capabilities.

Inventor Alexander Graham Bell

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Although the early Bell telephones certainly transmitted sound, they only worked between two locations that were hard-wired to each other.

An illustration of Bell demonstrating his invention in 1877

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Then, in 1878, a man named George Coy invented the telephone exchange and immediately turned the telephone into a much more practical invention.

Instead of telephone lines being strung between two locations as Bell had envisioned, Coy’s exchanges linked any number of telephones to a single point: a switchboard.

An 1890 illustration of women working a switchboard at a telephone exchange.

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At the exchange, legions of trained switchboard operators used a series of cords and sliding keys to connect and reroute incoming calls to other telephones linked to the exchange.

An early telephone exchange, about 1898

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Thanks to those exchanges, telephone line construction exploded with growth over the next few years. By 1880, there were 47,900 telephones across America. By 1881, telephone service between Boston and Providence was established. By 1892, a telephone line had been constructed between New York and Chicago; and two years later New York and Boston were connected.

Switchboard operators at the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company near Washington, D.C.

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Another benefit of those exchanges: jobs. As telephone service expanded, more and more trained switchboard operators were needed to connect calls; and the majority of the operators hired were women.

A 1911 photograph of a switchboard telephone operator.

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When Isabella published her novel Eighty-Seven, she included a character who worked as a switchboard operator. Her name was Fanny Porter, and she worked in the Dunbar Street Telephone Office. Another character in the story described Fanny as …

… a bright, pretty girl, young, and quite alone here. She lives in a dreary boarding-house, and used to have some of the most desolate evenings which could be imagined.

Switchboard operators in 1914

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Fortunately, not all switchboard operators lived and worked under such conditions. While the majority of switchboard jobs required working for a Bell Telephone Company, there were other positions available. For example, some large businesses that required multiple telephone extensions were equipped with their own exchanges and hired operators to run them.

Switchboard operators in an office, about 1910.

In fact, businesses were the foremost users of the telephone in the late 1890s. That’s because, in general, phones were too expensive for individual homeowners to install and maintain; but Mr. Mackenzie, the wealthy businessman in Isabella’s novel Wanted, could afford to have a telephone in his home.

In fact, the telephone plays a small but pivotal role in the story. When Rebecca Meredith, the novel’s heroine, first meets Mr. Mackenzie, she thinks he’s hateful and selfish, until she mentions one evening that his young daughter is a little hoarse. To her surprise, Mr. Mackenzie immediately telephones the doctor and …

… administered with his own hand the medicine ordered. Even after the doctor had made light of fears and gone his way, the father sat with his finger on Lilian’s small wrist and counted the beats skillfully and anxiously.

After witnessing his tenderness for his daughter, Rebecca begins to change her opinion about Mr. Mackenzie.

In her 1892 book, John Remington, Martyr, Aleck Palmer was also a young man of great fortune; he, too, had a telephone in his home and business, which caused Mrs. Remington some concern. You see, she was intent on playing matchmaker between Aleck Palmer and her friend Elsie Chilton and invited the unsuspecting couple to dinner without letting either know the other had been invited. As Mrs. Remington explained to her husband:

Elsie is getting to be such a simpleton that I am afraid she would run home if I should let her know he was coming; and as for him, he is developing such idiotic qualities in connection with her, that I feel by no means certain he would not get up a telephone message or something of the sort to call him immediately to the office, if he should know before the dinner bell rang that Elsie was in the house.

But by the time the 20th Century dawned, the demographics and cost of telephone usage changed dramatically. Telephone companies had connected most major cities and strung sufficient telephone lines across the country to bring costs down, and phone company executives began to set their sights on a new goal: providing service to residential customers.

At first, advertising to consumers stressed the obvious: keep in touch with friends and family.

Blowing kisses over the phone, 1908.

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Then, in 1910 the Bell Telephone Companies developed several strong marketing campaigns that offered different reasons why every home should have a telephone. One campaign was directed specifically at the lady of the house.

The ads had strong visual cues, like this one illustrating how a phone in the home meant a family could summon a doctor quickly:

The series of ads was printed in magazines and on postcards, showing how a Bell telephone …

… keeps travelers in touch with home …

… guards the home by night as well as by day …

… summons help during household emergencies …

… relieves anxieties over a loved one …

… and quickly helps arrange replacements when servants fail you.

The ad campaigns were extremely successful. People began to think of telephones as an essential tool for the home, instead of a mere convenience. Soon, telephone companies across the country were installing residential telephones at an astonishing pace.

This Bell Companies business card for the Philadelphia area cites the number of installations locally and nationally. The blank space was filled in by an installation or service subcontractor with his own contact information.

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And after each new installation was complete, telephone residential customers notified friends and family of their new phone number by sending out cards like these:

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Soon telephones became not only an essential device for the home, but a convenient tool for the lady of the house. In Ester Ried’s Namesake, published in 1906, Ester Randall worked as a cook in the home of the Victor family. And being a stylish family, the Victors, of course, had a telephone, which Mrs. Victor used regularly, as in this scene where she explained to Ester her plans for dinner:

We’ll make the dinner light and easy to manage; just a steak and some baked potatoes and canned corn. Did you say there was no corn? Oh, I remember, you told me yesterday, didn’t you? Well, just phone for it. Call up Streator’s, they are always prompt; tell them they must be. And we’ll just have sliced tomatoes with lettuce for salad; all easy things to manage, you see. As for dessert, make it cake and fruit—strawberries, or peaches, it doesn’t matter which. Why, dear me, that dinner will almost get itself, won’t it?

It’s amazing to think that Isabella Alden saw the development of one of the greatest inventions of the Twentieth Century. In her time the telephone was innovative and exciting. It opened new avenues of jobs for women and changed the way people interacted with each other; and Isabella reflected those changes in her novels and stories that we still read and appreciate today.


You can read more about Isabella’s novels mentioned in this post by clicking on the book covers below:

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Singing ‘Molly Bawn’

6 Sep

When Isabella wrote The King’s Daughter in 1873, she wrote a novel that was contemporary for her time. In the book, she referenced household items and songs that were popular in 1873.

For example, in chapter eight, Miss Dell Bronson tries to convince Sam Miller to attend a temperance meeting with her.

At first Sam—a man who described himself as having gone to wreck and ruin—is aghast at the idea, but Dell won’t take no for an answer.

Instead, she uses all her powers of persuasion to entice Sam to the temperance meeting:

“Go and try one. I don’t believe you have ever been. We are going to have singing. I know you are fond of music. I heard you singing ‘Molly Bawn’ this morning. I like your voice. I want you to come and help us sing.”

Of course, songs sung at a temperance meeting would not include Molly Bawn; but by mentioning the song in her book, Isabella referenced a popular song her readers would instantly recognize.

Oddly enough, there are many versions of the Molly Bawn song. An Irish version tells the story of Molly Bawn being shot by her lover when he mistakes her for a swan as she hides in the forest.

But the American version—which is probably the version Isabella had in mind—is about a young man hoping to rendezvous with the girl he loves: Molly Bawn.

This sheet music, published in 1881, gives the lyrics to Molly Bawn:

The sheet music for Molly Bawn. Click on the image to see the music and lyrics.

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Molly Bawn was an incredibly popular song that captured and held America’s imagination. The melody was easy; the lyrics were romantic; and if you happened to have the singing voice of an Irish tenor—which may have been true of Sam Miller—the song was practically written for you.

In 1878 a writer named Margaret Wolfe Hamilton (who published under the pseudonym Mrs. Hungerford) wrote a novel loosely based on the song.

The 1904 paperback version of the novel Molly Bawn.

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The book version of Molly Bawn was an instant success in America. In fact, one of the novel’s characters utters for the first time in print, a phrase we still repeat today:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Hamilton’s novel was so popular, it remained in print for decades.

Artist Charles Dana Gibson—famed for his illustrations of The Gibson Girl—was so inspired by the story, he created his own depictions of Molly Bawn:

“Molly Bawn” by Charles Dana Gibson, 1911.

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In 1916 a movie of the Molly Bawn story hit theaters. It starred silent film actress Alma Taylor in the lead role.

Film actress Alma Taylor in a scene from the 1924 silent film Shadow of Egypt. She played Molly Bawn in a 1916 film adaptation of the novel by Margaret Wolfe Hamilton (aka Mrs. Hungerford).

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Clever Isabella! When she dropped the name of the song ‘Molly Bawn’ in chapter eight of The King’s Daughter, she knew she was giving her readers a reference they—and subsequent generations—would readily understand.

Would you like to hear a 1911 recording of the American song Molly Bawn? Click here to go to the Library of Congress website to hear the song.

And you can click here to learn more about Isabella’s novel, The King’s Daughter.

Horatio Spafford’s Second Chapter

28 Aug

This is the second in a two-part series about Isabella Alden’s uncle, Horatio Gates Spafford. If you missed part 1, you can read it here.

After the loss of their children in the wreck of the Ville du Havre in 1873, Horatio and Anna’s sorrow was immense. They returned to Chicago and tried to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Dwight Lyman Moody, circa 1900, from the Library of Congress

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Their dear friend, Reverend D. L. Moody, was their greatest support and comfort. He begged Horatio and Anna to stay busy, knowing that their silent, empty house would be a great and solemn reminder of the loss of their children.

“Annie, you must go into my work,” Rev. Moody said. “You must be so busy helping those who have gone into the depths of despair that you will overcome your own affliction by bringing comfort and salvation to others.”

Anna promised to follow his advice.

Two years after the tragedy, Anna gave birth to a son, Horatio, who died four years later from scarlet fever.

Horatio Goertner Spafford

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Then their daughter Bertha was born in 1878; two years later, in 1880, Grace was born. Both girls were healthy and hearty and brought them much joy.

Bertha (right) and Grace (left) Spafford

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But with Reverend Moody’s advice in mind, Horatio and Anna found themselves pulled in a new direction. For years they had been holding prayer meetings and Bible studies in their home at Lake View. In those meetings, they emphasized optimism and God’s blessings in their lives, despite the hardships they had endured.

With prayer and reflection, Anna became convinced that she survived the sinking of the Ville du Havre for a purpose.

Anna Spafford

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Horatio, too, began to search his life and his faith for an explanation of their loss. As a result, he felt increasingly drawn to a life of service to God, and he felt called to one special place in particular: Jerusalem.

Horatio Spafford

After all he had been through, Horatio wrote in a revealing letter:

“Jerusalem is where my Lord lived, suffered, and conquered, and I, too, wish to learn how to live, suffer and, especially, to conquer.”

After much prayer and thoughtfulness, Horatio and Anna decided to leave America. In 1881, when Grace was still an infant, they led a small group of like-minded American Christians to Jerusalem, where they established a Christian society known as the “American Colony.”

The original house of the American Colony

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They found a large house in the Muslim Quarter, near Herod’s Gate; it sat high on a hill and all around the house were Muslim, Jewish and Mohammedan slums. This, Horatio and Anna decided, was the house from which they would minister to the people of Jerusalem.

They took the house, along with some property next to it that would make a nice garden; and the entire group moved in and pooled their resources to live under one roof.

Herod’s Gate as it appeared in 1898

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It was Horatio and Anna’s vision of work to be done that gave the group direction. With the Spaffords as leaders, members of the American Colony devoted themselves to philanthropic work among the people of Jerusalem. Anyone who needed help received it, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Colony members did not preach or proselytize; instead, they first concentrated on building bridges to their new neighbors.

Members of the American Colony at the port city of Jaffa in 1902. Jaffa is famous for its association with the biblical stories of Jonah, Solomon, and Peter.

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The American Colony provided service to others in any way they could. They ran soup kitchens, hospitals, and orphanages. They soon became trusted friends among the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian residents of Jerusalem.

One of their greatest and most enduring accomplishments was the Spafford Children’s Center, which is still run today by descendants of Horatio and Anna Spafford.

AN ENDURING LEGACY

Horatio Spafford’s efforts in Jerusalem were a success. His love for the Lord transformed his personal suffering into a ministry that helped tens of thousands of men, women and children, and brought countless souls to Christ.

Life in Jerusalem was not without its challenges and hardships. One of the group’s greatest trials came from other American’s who distrusted their motives and spread horrible and sometimes ugly rumors about the group and, in particular, about Horatio and Anna. Some of those rumors persist to this day. Horatio and Anna responded to their critics in the only way they knew how: by following Christ’s instruction to turn the other cheek.

In 1888 Horatio developed a persistent fever he could not shake, and eventually the illness developed into a malignant malaria. For many days he was too weak to get out of bed; the disease sapped his strength and appetite.

Bertha was only ten years old, and Grace was eight, when Horatio, unconscious and emaciated, lay dying. Anna held his hand; and at one point, he opened his eyes and said to her:

“Annie, I have experienced a great joy; I have seen wonderful things.”

He tried to say more, but weakness overcame him, and he fell to sleep again.

He died in his sleep on October 16, 1888 at the age of 59.

Horatio Gates Spafford.

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Grief-stricken, Anna carried on, and sought comfort in her faith, just as she had on that horrible night at sea eight years before.

Bertha (top) and Grace (bottom) with their mother, Anna.

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She assumed leadership of the Colony. Under her guidance, the colony swelled from 18 members to over 150. In 1896 the Colony moved to larger quarters near the Tomb of Kings in East Jerusalem.

American Colony members at Tombs of Kings 1901.

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With Anna’s guidance, the American Colony expanded its ministries, as well. They sponsored an arts club, a drama club, and a literary society, at which everyone was welcome. They even formed a concert band, and gave music lessons.

The American Colony school in 1899

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They started the Moslem Girls School, which provided a basic education, as well as vocational training to young girls, in order to provide an alternative to their culture’s traditional early arranged marriages.

During World War I Colony residents worked in Jerusalem’s hospitals alongside Red Cross workers.

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They opened the doors of the house, taking in anyone who needed a place to stay, no matter their religion or ability to pay.

As Bertha Spafford, Anna’s eldest daughter, grew into womanhood, she began to play a greater role in the Colony.

Bertha Spafford, age 19, in 1896.

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Bertha worked beside Anna and later wrote:

My admiration for my mother was greater than all else.

In the spring of 1923 Anna was 80 years old, and her health began to fail. Bertha wrote:

The end came quietly. It was like a candle flickering and finally going out. We were determined that the only note sounded at her funeral should be one of praise for a useful life, which had been a blessing to many.

Hundreds attended her funeral service, while letters and telegrams poured in from all over the world.

Anna Spafford in the Colony courtyard about 1920.

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Years later Bertha recalled with clarity one of the prayers spoken at the service:

Life is eternal and love is immortal;
And death is only a horizon;
And a horizon is nothing,
Save the limit of our sight!

Bertha honored her mother’s memory by converting the original Colony residence into a children’s facility. Named the Anna Spafford Baby Nursing Home and Infant Welfare Center, it provided pediatric care and social services to children throughout Jerusalem.

The Anna Spafford Baby Home in Jerusalem.

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In later years, the name of the Center would be shortened to the Spafford Children’s Center, which still operates today.

Like her mother, Bertha had a remarkable ability to see a need in her community and then work diligently to fill that need. She started an industrial school for boys and men, and a lace-making school for women and girls. During World War I she established an orphanage and foster care system for girls who had lost one or both parents through war, poverty or illness.

Bertha Spafford, about age 60 in 1938.

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For over sixty years, the American Colony in Jerusalem continued the work Horatio and Anna Spafford began, and ministered to the people of Jerusalem.

Bertha led the way, always with her parents’ vision in mind. Through two world wars and many local armed conflicts, she never wavered in her work or in her selfless devotion to the inhabitants of the Holy City.

Today, the Spafford Children’s Center is still in operation, and provides medical treatment and outreach services for Arab children and their families in Jerusalem. You can read about their work on their website. Just click here.

Some of the residents of the American Colony in 1904.

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The house that served as the American Colony’s residence still stands with its doors open. It is a thriving hotel owned by the descendants of Horatio and Anna Spafford. It’s a favorite place for journalists, diplomats, and aid workers who visit the Holy City. Some famous guests include Sir Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), authors Saul Bellow and John Le Carre, actors Robert De Niro and Peter O’Toole, designer Giorgio Armani, and Soviet President Mikahil Gorbachev.

The hotel as it appears today from the garden.

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In 1950 Bertha Spafford published Our Jerusalem, a wonderful book detailing her parents’ lives. In the book, she tells the story, as Anna described it to her, of the sinking of the Ville du Havre. It also includes many wonderful accounts of the good work Horatio and Anna Spafford did in Jerusalem. Our Jerusalem is a remarkable story of faith and good works, all done in Jesus’ name. You can read the book for free. Just click on the image below to begin reading.

 

 

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. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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