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Let’s Decorate!

19 Apr

When Isabella’s husband Gustavus “Ross” Alden retired from the Presbyterian ministry in 1906, they moved to California.

Isabella and Ross settled in Palo Alto, about three miles from Stanford University where their son Raymond was a professor of English.

They purchased two adjoining residential lots and began construction on a new home. They worked with renown Bay Area architect A. W. Smith, who helped them design the home of their dreams.

Ross and Isabella Alden with their son Raymond in 1916


When it was complete, the house measured over 5,000 square feet. It was a duplex, built in the shape of a U around a central entrance court. Flanking the courtyard were two almost identical homes. Isabella and Ross moved into one side of the duplex; Raymond and his wife Barbara and their children moved into the other.

The house at 425 and 427 Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto. In the middle of the photo you can see steps leading to the central courtyard. (From


At the bottom of the U-shaped structure was a large living room which served as the connection between the two sides of the house.

An aerial view of 425-427 Embarcadero Road, showing the U-shape of the house, as it appears today. (From Google Maps)


The side of the house occupied by Isabella and Ross had four bedrooms and two baths. Isabella’s sister Julia had a two-room suite to call her own. In later years, Isabella’s sister Mary also came to live in the house on Embarcadero after her husband passed away.

The house was designed in the Craftsman style, with a few Swiss Chalet touches under the eaves and on the balconies.

The house on Embarcadero Road showing the shingle detail and touches of Swiss Chalet trim work on the balcony and eaves.


An ivy-covered wall surrounded the property, creating a private, tranquil garden-like setting for the family.

A view of the Embarcadero Road house from the street.


After many years of moving from one minister’s manse to another, Isabella must have relished the idea of decorating her very own, brand new home. She would have been able to furnish her kitchen with the newest appliances available on the market.

And she would have been able to incorporate the latest design techniques in every room. One of the most popular decorating trends during the early 1900s was …


Linoleum was not a new product. In fact, it had been around for forty years; but in residential construction it was used almost exclusively in kitchens and bathrooms. Its attraction was that it was waterproof. It was also monochromatic, and its plain, utilitarian appearance (usually in a shade of deep brown) didn’t recommend it for use in any other room in the house.

Sample patterns from Armstrong’s 1922 designs for linoleum flooring.


Then, in 1906 linoleum manufacturers had a breakthrough; they invented a machine that allowed them to cut straight lines into linoleum, which made it possible to inlay other colors into linoleum sheets in simple designs.

A 1916 print ad for Congoleum. (From The Ladies Home Journal magazine)


Soon after, manufacturers developed methods to produce complex patterns in linoleum, and Americans took notice.

A Craftsman style living room, similar to the style that would have been in Isabella’s house; depicted in a 1921 Armstrong Linoleum print ad.


Linoleum cost only a fraction of the price of hardwood floors; and with its durability, beautiful patterns, and low prices, Linoleum soon became America’s favorite flooring.

A portion of a 1922 print ad for Congoleum, Inc., manufacturers of linoleum flooring.


By 1919 linoleum manufacturers were enjoying brisk sales, and Americans were installing linoleum at record rates.

A dining room featuring Armstrong linoleum (from a 1922 ad in The Ladies’ Home Journal).


Linoleum came in every color of the rainbow, and in patterns ranging from florals to geometrics and everything in between.

A 1922 print ad for Blabon linoleum.


It even mimicked throw rugs, wall-to-wall carpeting and hardwood floors.

With so many patterns and colors to choose from, Americans could lay linoleum in their parlors and dining rooms, bedrooms and entry halls.


Professional decorators loved it, too. Here’s a bit of decorating advice on how to use linoleum in a sun room; it first appeared as part of an article in a 1922 issue of The Ladies’ Home Journal magazine:

And here’s the illustration that accompanied it.


Housewives also appreciated linoleum because it was virtually maintenance free. It was easy to clean and required none of the regular waxing and polishing regimens needed for hardwood floors.

A 1921 ad for Blabon “Art Rugs” made of linoleum. The company often highlighted their product’s easy maintenance.


And unlike traditional wool rugs, linoleum rugs didn’t have to be taken outside and beaten in order to keep them clean.

Part of a 1922 Armstrong linoleum ad.


Isabella loved the house on Embarcadero. She had a dedicated room for writing, where she had her desk and typewriter. In that room she continued to produce stories and books until the late 1920s. She died in the house on August 5, 1930.

A 1922 print ad featuring Armstrong’s wood-look linoleum


The house remained in the Alden family after her death; Isabella’s daughter-in-law Barbara lived there until the 1950s. The property was sold in 1966.

This Congoleum ad ran with the caption, “Sorry I called you extravagant, Sally. This new rug is a beauty for $16.20.”


What kind of decorating style do you think Isabella used in her new house? Do you think she would have furnished her dream home with linoleum, the new wonder flooring product?

Or do you think she was more conservative when it came to decorating, and would have utilized traditional hardwood floors and wool carpets and rugs?

Here are some more ads for linoleum flooring products from the early 1920s (you can click on any of the images in this post to see a larger version):









Brothers and Sisters, Husbands and Wives

11 Apr

Here’s some little-known trivia about Isabella’s family, beginning with Isabella’s mother, Myra Spafford.

Myra was close to her sister Julia; they were born only a year apart in Canaan, near Johnstown, New York.

Myra and Julia’s father (Isabella’s grandfather) was Horatio Spafford. Horatio was a teacher, inventor, author, and—for a few years—a newspaper publisher.

Julia’s husband Duncan Macdonald in an undated photo


When she was still a teenager, younger sister Julia married Duncan Macdonald, who also grew up in Johnstown, not far from the Spaffords.

Like his new father-in-law, Duncan was a newspaperman. He was famous for his work as a journalist; and his newspaper, The Schoharie Free Press, was well-known throughout the state of New York.

A brief obituary of Duncan Macdonald, which appeared in the Plattsburgh New York Sentinel on September 9, 1887.


A few years after Julia’s marriage to Duncan Macdonald, Myra married Duncan’s brother, Isaac.

Myra and Isaac went on to have seven children—the sixth of which was Isabella Macdonald Alden.

Isabella Alden in an undated photograph.


Myra and Isaac, Julia and Duncan, lived very near each other and raised their children together in Johnstown, New York.

A view of Main Street in Johnstown, New York, about 1905


And just as they lived their lives together, they also went to their final rest together. Myra and Isaac are buried near Julia and Duncan in the Johnstown Cemetery.

Isaac Macdonald’s grave marker.


Myra Spafford Macdonald’s grave marker


Julia Spafford Macdonald’s grave marker, Johnstown Cemetery in Johnstown, New York.


Duncan Macdonald’s grave marker, Johnstown Cemetery in Johnstown, New York.


A generation later, Isabella’s family welcomed another pair of siblings to the family. Isabella’s eldest sister Elizabeth married Hiram Titus in 1843. They set up house in Gloversville, not far from Isaac Macdonald’s box-making factory, and had eleven children.

Then, not long after, Isabella’s older brother James married Hiram’s sister Sarah, and they had five children.

In her memoirs, Isabella often mentioned how much her family meant to her, and how close they remained over the course of their lives. Her niece, Grace Livingston Hill, also wrote about their bond, and how they all spent time together as one family.

The days were one long dream. Hard work? Yes, but good fellowship. Everybody working together with a common aim, and joy in the work and the fellowship!

You can read more about Isabella’s family and her life in the Johnstown/Gloversville area in these posts:

A New Brother

BFFs at Oneida Seminary

Pansy’s Public Readings

Julia’s Occupation

Deerville, My Home Town



Sunday on the Street Cars

20 Mar

If you’ve read any of Isabella’s books, chances are you’ve noticed that her Christian characters refused to travel on Sundays.

Day of Rest, an engraving by Currier and Ives, 1869 (from Library of Congress)


While others in the story may have planned a carriage ride to a pleasure garden, or a train ride to the next town to hear a famous minister preach, good Christians in Isabella’s stories didn’t go anywhere on Sunday unless they could get there on foot.

Walking to Church in Charleston, 1864.


That was true of Ruth Burnham in Judge Burnham’s Daughters. Here’s an exchange between Ruth and her young son:

“Mamma, what makes it wicked to ride in the steam cars on Sunday?”

“My darling, don’t you remember mamma told you how the poor men who have to make the cars go cannot have any Sunday—any time to go to church, and read the Bible, and learn about God and heaven?”

“I know, mamma; but the cars go all the same, and the men have to work, and so why can’t we ride on them? They wouldn’t have to work any harder because we went along.”

A motorman on a street-car, about 1930 (from Library of Congress).


Ruth’s son voiced an argument that wasn’t new. Isabella had heard it herself many times; but she believed in the sanctity of the day of rest, and she followed her church’s direction on the proper way to observe Sundays.

A busy street-car in 1909 (from the Library of Congress).


When Isabella was growing up in New York, it was much easier to observe the Sabbath because there were laws on the books that enforced Sabbath rules and eliminated personal choice:


There were similar laws in most other states. Having been raised in such an environment, Isabella’s strict observance of the Sabbath rules became second-nature to her.

A cartoon from an 1895 issue of Puck Magazine, showing New York legislators dressed as Puritans. On the left are businessmen and women in stocks and pillories with signs of their crimes: serving guests wine on Sunday, shaving on Sunday, delivering ice on Sunday, selling a glass of beer on Sunday, and blacking shoes on Sunday. A notice states “Behold the Punishment of the Wicked Sabbath Breaker. Let All Evil Doers Beware”.


In the early days of street-cars, many cities barred cars from operating on Sundays. Here’s a record of a driver who was arrested in 1859 for violating the law:


It wasn’t just street-cars that fell afoul of the fourth commandment. When the Postmaster General of the United States proposed delivering mail on Sunday to aid in its efficient flow, conservative Christians took swift action, circulating a petition to stop the plan:


But by the end of the 19th century, the average American’s perception of Sunday had shifted. No more was Sunday a traditional day of rest; it had morphed into a day of liberty. After a long, six-day work week, people wanted to do something or go somewhere, and trains and street-cars made it possible.

With street-cars, pleasure gardens and museums were only a short ride away. And a day at the sea shore was possible, thanks to an intricate network of train tracks and passenger cars that whisked people away from the hot, humid city twice a day on Sunday, and returned them safe and sound to the city in the early evening.

Sunday, the Day of Rest. A cartoon in a 1918 edition of Puck magazine (from the Library of Congress).


Cities and states soon saw the commercial benefits of allowing restaurants, theaters and other businesses to open on Sundays; and they began to quietly repeal the old Sabbath laws.

Like many Christians, Isabella viewed the changes with concern. After all, America was a country founded on Christian principles. But as more and more Sabbath observances fell by the wayside, many Christians saw the change as a symptom of a bigger issue: Christianity was losing its grip as the leading religion of the country.

A street-car in Washington DC, 1890 (from the Library of Congress).


But Christians didn’t take the changes lying down. They organized and petitioned, wrote their congressmen, and fought for new laws and ordinances to protect the Sabbath, to no avail.

The newspapers and magazines caught wind of their efforts and labeled them Sabbatarian Fanatics.

When Christians protested plans to open the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York on a Sunday, Puck magazine spoofed their efforts with this cover illustration:

A female figure labeled “Enlightenment” pushes open the doors of the Pan-American Exposition on a Sunday, knocking out of the way an old woman labeled “Sabbatarian Fanatic” and a man labeled “Sabbatarian Bigot” who tried to prevent the opening. (from Library of Congress)


Isabella knew all about the “fanatic” label. She probably had heard it used in regard to herself; and since she often used her own life experiences in her books, she wrote about it in Judge Burnham’s Daughters. When Ruth refused to entertain unexpected callers on a Sunday, the town gossips said:

What a pity it was that so fine a woman as Mrs. Burnham should be so completely under the control of fanatical ideas!

Even Ruth’s husband applied the word to her:

I do not quite understand how you came to be such a slave to fanaticism, Ruth; it does not seem like you. Your father had a touch of it, to be sure, but I think he must have caught it from you, since you go so far beyond him.

But Isabella—like Ruth—held fast to her fundamental belief that the Sabbath should remain holy. Despite the name-calling and the opposition around her, she held to her belief that the Lord’s Day should be spent in Divine activities that celebrated her relationship with God. And that was something Isabella knew she couldn’t accomplish on a street-car.

Street-car traffic in Washington DC in 1918 (from the Library of Congress).


In the early 1900s Reverend R. A. Torrey compiled the works of different conservative writers into an article titled, “Why Save the Lord’s Day?” You can click here to read the complete article.

Many thanks to Marie Peters who inspired this post! If you have a question about Isabella or a related topic you’d like to see explored on this blog, leave a comment here or on Facebook!

Tableaux: Bringing Pictures to Life

28 Feb

Long before last year’s mannequin challenge went viral on social media, Isabella Alden and her contemporaries struck poses like statues. Tableaux vivant (which means, literally, “living pictures”) was a very popular form of entertainment in late 19th century America.

The premise was simple. People donned costumes and recreated famous scenes from literature, art, and historic events.

A 1903 photo of a woman posing as Margaret in Faust.

A 1903 photo of a woman posing as Margaret in Faust.


On a small scale, people performed tableaux in parlors. They selected a famous scene from history or literature, donned make-shift costumes, and struck poses while other guests observed.

Isabella Alden was very familiar with tableaux. In Julia Ried Isabella described how guests at a party …

made very free use of the wraps in the dressing-room for our impromptu charades and tableaux, and shawls, cloaks, hoods and rubbers were in inextricable confusion.

Woman in Elizabethan costume, 1903.

Woman in Elizabethan costume, 1903.


On a large scale, churches, women’s clubs and fraternal organizations staged more elaborate tableaux on stages with scenery and props.

There were many books available to help performers turn out their best statue-like performances.

School and Parlour Tableaux by Sarah L. Stocking gave step-by-step instructions for young performers.

From School and Parlour Tableaux by Sarah Stocking

From School and Parlour Tableaux by Sarah Stocking


While The Book of Tableaux and Shadow Pantomimes by Sarah Annie Frost featured performances with themes more suitable for adults.

Part of the table of contents for The Book of Tableaux and Pantomimes, with detailed instructions for enacting each tableau

Part of the table of contents for The Book of Tableaux and Pantomimes, with detailed instructions for enacting each tableau


In his book, Parlor Tableaux and Amateur Theatricals, William Gill promoted tableaux as “a simple and elegant amusement,” and “a favorite entertainment of persons with taste.” He recommended that music—vocal or instrumental—be played between representations so the audience would not grow restless and to help heighten the suspense as the audience waited for the curtain to rise on the next scene.

Isabella wrote often enough about tableaux to indicate she was very familiar with the pastime. In her novel A Dozen of Them, young Joseph participated in a simple New Year’s Eve tableau party where he …

… dressed in an extraordinary manner—like a youthful musician of the olden time. Mrs. Calland had managed—nobody but she knew how—to arrange for him a most remarkable wig of soft curling hair. The mustache part was easy; a little burnt cork settled that.

Cover_Julia RiedOn a larger scale, Julia Ried (heroine in the book of the same name) helped put together a grand tableau of several re-enactments that required weeks of preparation:

I remember an animated discussion that ensued concerning the getting up of tableaux for a certain festival, which was to be held about Christmas time. Mrs. Tyndall gave minute descriptions of the style of dress needed to personate certain characters, and I suddenly became an object of importance, because I had not only seen, but participated in one of the tableaux mentioned, and could give accurate information as to whether the young lady who personated religion should dress in white or black.

Hand-painted 1905 photo of a woman in Old Testament costume

Hand-painted 1905 photo of a woman in Old Testament costume for a religious tableau.


Rehearsals and sewing costumes consumed Julia’s days. She helped make costumes for characters portraying Religion, Queen Vashti, Quakers, and a Turkish sultan. Some of the elaborate scenes challenged Julia, because she was convinced they weren’t suitable for Christian women to enact.

Society ladies and a gentleman perform as Bacchantes, 1909.

Society ladies and a gentleman perform as Bacchantes, 1909.


Some of the most common themes for tableaux were religious and patriotic scenes. The scenes below, performed by a church in 1920, depict the story of Jesus’s life, from the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary through his early childhood:












Tableaux featuring Greek aesthetics were also popular, because the draped costumes and classical poses were considered to be the epitome of grace and beauty.

A woman in a classic Greek pose, 1903.

A woman in a classic Greek pose, 1903.


If you’ve ever seen The Music Man you’ll remember that the mayor’s wife was devoted to performing Greek tableaux.

Even the famous Mrs. Astor, leader of New York Society, staged an evening of tableaux for charity in 1909.



Women attending Mrs. Astor's society tableau in 1908.

Women attending Mrs. Astor’s society tableau in 1908.


National organizations also dove into the tableau craze. To publicize their organization, the Red Cross staged tableaux on the south front of the Treasury Building in Washington DC in 1917:






It’s possible that Isabella participated in a few tableaux herself. She was certainly able to describe the entertainment with some affection and a good deal of detail in several of her books and stories.

A tableau for women's suffrage on the front steps of the Treasury Building in Washington DC, 1913.

A tableau for women’s suffrage on the front steps of the Treasury Building in Washington DC, 1913.


Did you know there are still organizations practicing the art of tableaux vivant today? One such organization is the New Orleans Tableaux Vivant Society. Click here to visit their site, where you’ll find news of upcoming performances and photos of past events.

If you know of any other tableau events coming up, please share by posting a comment below.

The idea for this post was suggested by Karen, a regular reader of this blog. If you have any questions about Isabella Alden or would like to learn more about something you read in one of her books, please leave a comment below.

Shopping with Isabella

22 Feb

When you read Isabella’s books, you might notice that the women in her stories were often ruled by “days.”

There was laundry day, and baking day. There was gardening day and canning day, when all the fruits and vegetables gathered from the garden were preserved.

Every week, women devoted entire days to certain tasks because they were time consuming and involved a great deal of physical labor.

Shopping in the dry goods district of New York City, 1886

Shopping in the dry goods district of New York City, 1886; from the Library of Congress


Marketing day took women out of the house from early morning to late afternoon. Unlike shoppers today who simply visit their local grocery store, Isabella’s contemporaries went from one specialty shop to another.

An 1872 trade card for a butcher's shop

An 1872 trade card for a butcher’s shop


They visited the green grocer and the baker.

A Boston bakery, 1917

A Boston bakery, 1917; from the Library of Congress


They stood in line at the confectionery and dry goods store.

Customers shopping for canned goods at a grocery in the early 1920s

Customers shopping for canned goods at a grocery in the early 1920s; from the Library of Congress


And then there were the specialty stores to visit, like the cobbler’s shop, where they purchased new shoes or repaired older shoes; and the drugstore where they shopped for lotions, salves, beauty and grooming products, and medicinal cures.

A cobbler with a customer, 1896, from Library of Congress

A cobbler with a customer, 1896, from Library of Congress


At each location they had to wait their turn for a store clerk to assist them in picking out the item they desired. With all the waiting and traveling from store to store, women spent hours shopping, even if their shopping list contained only a few items.

Kellogg's magazine ad, 1915

Kellogg’s magazine ad, 1915


But by 1900 a shift in shopping habits occurred, brought on by new products that gained a foothold in women’s buying habits. As the new century dawned, women began to buy more products designed to make their lives easier.

For example, women still visited the confectioners for fancy baked goods to serve their guests, but they were more willing to buy pre-made cookies and breads for their every-day table.

Magazine ad for Nabisco Wafers, about 1910

Magazine ad for Nabisco Wafers, about 1910


And though they still cooked a good breakfast for their families most mornings, they also knew serving cold cereal to their children once or twice a week was a time saver.

A 1919 magazine ad for Toasted Corn Flakes

A 1919 magazine ad for Toasted Corn Flakes


Another time saver: serving canned soup to their families instead of spending hours preparing soup in their own kitchens.

Campbell's soup print ad from about 1920

Campbell’s soup print ad from about 1920; from the Library of Congress


In the early years of the century, many products hit the market that proved to be convenient time-savers for women, and women began to trust the quality of pre-made products.

Trade Card for J. A. Dahn and Son Baking Company, from about 1900.

Trade Card for J. A. Dahn and Son Baking Company, from about 1900; from the Library of Congress


The more women employed pre-made products, the more time they saved for pursuits they enjoyed.

Some products that were introduced around the turn of the last century proved so popular, they are still on the market today.

Trade card for Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, 1900.

Trade card for Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, 1900; from the Library of Congress


Print ad for Ivory Soap, 1898

Print ad for Ivory Soap, 1898; from the Library of Congress


Over the years, some products were re-purposed, such as Listerine, which was initially marketed as a topical antiseptic.

Magazine ad for Listerine, 1917.

Magazine ad for Listerine, 1917.


Other products, like Wesson Oil and Jell-O are still popular and might even be in your kitchen cabinet today.

Print ad for Wesson Oil from the Ladies Home Journal, 1919

Print ad for Wesson Oil from the Ladies Home Journal, 1919


Print ad for Jell-O, early 1920s

Print ad for Jell-O, early 1920s


But the biggest change to women’s shopping habits occurred in 1916, when Piggly Wiggly opened its first grocery store in Memphis Tennessee. The store introduced a revolutionary concept: self-service.


The entrance to the first Piggly Wiggly store in Memphis, Tennessee, with baskets on the left and cashier on the right; from the Library of Congress


Women no longer had to stand at a counter and wait for a clerk to assist them; they simply picked up a carrying basket on their way into the store, and browsed the aisles for goods to purchase.

Neat, well-stocked shelves in the Memphis Piggly Wiggly, 1917

Neat, well-stocked shelves in the Memphis Piggly Wiggly, 1917; from the Library of Congress


The store’s concept proved to be an immense time-saver for women. With the success of their Memphis store, Piggly Wiggly expanded to hundreds of locations and became the model for today’s modern grocery store.

Sunkist oranges on display in the window of a Piggly Wiggly, 1917

Sunkist oranges on display in the window of a Piggly Wiggly, 1917; from the Library of Congress


Piggly Wiggly stores led the way in many modern innovations. You can click here to see the various ways Piggly Wiggly revolutionized the grocery industry.


A Sunday School Lesson and a Free Read

4 Jan

Though we often think of her as a writer of Christian fiction, Isabella Alden had another demanding career: she was an acknowledged expert in developing Sunday-school lessons for children. In her years growing up in a Christian home and, later, as a minister’s wife, she had plenty of opportunities to judge the effectiveness of Sunday-school programs.


She knew that many Sunday-school teachers had no training at all.

She had seen teachers who didn’t know what the Sunday-school lesson was until Sunday morning when they sat down in front of their class to teach.

She had also seen teachers who didn’t even know the Bible verse on which the Sunday lesson was based.

Isabella knew there was a better way to teach young children the lessons of the Bible in a way they could understand; so she developed a program of education for Sunday-school teachers of young children, in which she gave teachers step-by-step instructions, telling them everything they needed to know … from what to write on the chalkboard, to when to have the children stand and sit.

Undated photo of a teacher and her class.

Undated photo of a teacher and her class.

She shared her program at the Chautauqua summer assemblies, and she spoke at churches about the method. Her Sunday-school lessons were published in regular weekly columns in Christian magazines, such as The Sabbath School Monthly and The National Sunday-School Teacher.


Click on this link to see an excerpt from an 1877 issue of Sabbath School Monthly with one of Pansy’s lessons.

Isabella was convinced that children should be shown that the Bible had meaning for them. She believed children were not too young to learn that the Bible could be a help to them in their day-to-day lives.

cover_hedge-fenceIt was that premise that inspired her to write three of her most popular children’s books. In Frank Hudson’s Hedge Fence, Frank (a boy of about ten or twelve years old) is constantly getting into trouble. One day an acquaintance convinces him that learning a Bible verse a month will help guide him through the temptations he faces and help him make wise decisions. The story tracks Frank’s progress for several months as he learns the Bible really can help him make good choices in his life.

cover_we-twelve-girls-05We Twelve Girls is similar to Frank Hudson’s Hedge Fence. In this story, twelve young teenaged girls, all close friends at boarding school, are separated over the summer months; but they each pledge to learn a new verse every week and find a way to apply the verse to their lives. Over the course of the book, each young lady learns what it means to live a God-centered life according to the Bible.

Another example is A Dozen of Them. In this book, twelve-year-old Joseph has many challenges in his life; but he made a promise to his older sister he would read at least one Bible verse each month and make it a rule to live by. To Joseph it’s a silly promise—how can reading one Bible verse a month make any difference? But to his astonishment, Joseph begins to see changes in his own life and in the lives of those around him, all because of the verses he reads and memorizes.

Frank Hudson’s Hedge Fence and We Twelve Girls are both available as e-books on Amazon. A Dozen of Them was originally published in 1886 as a serial in The Pansy magazine, and we thought it would be nice to reproduce it on this blog, in the same serial format as the original.

Each week you can read a new chapter of A Dozen of Them here and here’s Chapter One:

A Dozen of Them

Chapter 1

And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.
I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive forevermore.


Young Joseph sat on the side of his bed, one boot on, the other still held by the strap, while he stared somewhat crossly at a small green paper-covered book which lay open beside him.

“A dozen of them!” he said at last. “Just to think of a fellow making such a silly promise as that! A verse a month, straight through a whole year. Got to pick ’em out, too. I’d rather have ’em picked out for me; less trouble.

“How did I happen to promise her I’d do it? I don’t know which verse to take. None of ’em fit me, nor have a single thing to do with a boy! Well, that’ll make it all the easier for me, I s’pose. I’ve got to hurry, anyhow, so here goes; I’ll take the shortest there is here.”

And while he drew on the other boot, and made haste to finish his toilet, he rattled off, many times over, the second verse at the head of this story.

The easiest way to make you understand about Joseph, is to give you a very brief account of his life.

He was twelve years old, and an orphan. The only near relative he had in the world was his sister Jean aged sixteen, who was learning millinery in an establishment in the city. The little family though very poor, had kept together until mother died in the early spring. Now it was November, and during the summer, Joseph had lived where he could; working a few days for his bread, first at one house, then at another; never because he was really needed, but just out of pity for his homelessness. Jean could earn her board where she was learning her trade, but not his; though she tried hard to bring this about.

At last, a home for the winter opened to Joseph. The Fowlers who lived on a farm and had in the large old farmhouse a private school for a dozen girls, spent a few weeks in the town where Joseph lived, and carried him away with them, to be errand boy in general, and study between times.

Poor, anxious Jean drew a few breaths of relief over the thought of her boy. That, at least, meant pure air, wholesome food, and a chance to learn something.

Now for his promise. Jean had studied over it a good deal before she claimed it. Should it be to read a few verses in mother’s Bible every day? No; because a boy always forgot to do so, for a week at a time, and then on Sunday afternoon rushed through three or four chapters as a salve to his conscience, not noticing a sentence in them. At last she determined on this: the little green book of golden texts, small enough to carry in his jacket pocket! Would he promise her to take—should she say each week’s text as a sort of rule to live by?

No; that wouldn’t do. Joseph would never make so close a promise as that. Well, how would a verse a month do, chosen by himself from the Golden Texts?

On this last she decided; and this, with some hesitancy, Joseph promised. So here he was, on Thanksgiving morning, picking out his first text. He had chosen the shortest, as you see; there was another reason for the choice. It pleased him to remember that he had no lambs to feed, and there was hardly a possibility that the verse could fit him in any way during the month. He was only bound by his promise to be guided by the verse if he happened to think of it, and if it suggested any line of action to him.

“It’s the jolliest kind of a verse,” he said, giving his hair a rapid brushing. “When there are no lambs around, and nothing to feed ’em, I’d as soon live by it for a month as not.”

Voices in the hall just outside his room: “I don’t know what to do with poor little Rettie today,” said Mrs. Calland, the married daughter who lived at home with her fatherless Rettie.

“The poor child will want everything on the table, and it won’t do for her to eat anything but her milk and toast. I am so sorry for her. You know she is weak from her long illness; and it is so hard for a child to exercise self control about eating. If I had anyone to leave her with I would keep her away from the table; but everyone is so busy.”

Then Miss Addie, one of the sisters: “How would it do to have our new Joseph stay with her?”

“Indeed!” said the new Joseph, puckering his lips into an indignant sniff and brushing his hair the wrong way, in his excitement; “I guess I won’t, though. Wait for the second table on Thanksgiving Day, when every scholar in the school is going to sit down to the first! That would be treating me exactly like one of the family with a caution! Just you try it, Miss Addie, and see how quick I’ll cut and run.”

But Mrs. Calland’s soft voice was replying: “Oh! I wouldn’t like to do that. Joseph is sensitive, and a stranger, and sitting down to the Thanksgiving feast in its glory, is a great event for him; it would hurt me to deprive him of it.”

“Better not,” muttered Joseph, but there was a curious lump in his throat, and a very tender feeling in his heart toward Mrs. Calland.

It was very strange, in fact it was absurd, but all the time Joseph was pumping water, and filling pitchers, and bringing wood and doing the hundred other things needing to be done this busy morning, that chosen verse sounded itself in his brain: “He saith unto him, feed my lambs.” More than that, it connected itself with frail little Rettie and the Thanksgiving feast.

In vain did Joseph say “Pho!” “Pshaw!” “Botheration!” or any of the other words with which boys express disgust. In vain did he tell himself that the verse didn’t mean any such thing; he guessed he wasn’t a born idiot. He even tried to make a joke out of it, and assure himself that this was exactly contrary to the verse; it was a plan by means of which the “lamb” should not get fed. It was all of no use. The verse and his promise, kept by him the whole morning, actually sent him at last to Mrs. Calland with the proposal that he should take little Rettie to the schoolroom and amuse her, while the grand dinner was being eaten.

I will not say that he had not a lingering hope in his heart that Mrs. Calland would refuse his sacrifice. But his hope was vain. Instant relief and gratitude showed in the mother’s eyes and voice. And Joseph carried out his part so well that Rettie, gleeful and happy every minute of the long two hours, did not so much as think of the dinner.

“You are a good, kind boy,” said Mrs. Calland, heartily. “Now run right down to dinner; we saved some nice and warm for you.”

Yes, it was warm: but the great fruit pudding was spoiled of its beauty, and the fruit pyramid had fallen, and the workers were scraping dishes and hurrying away the remains of the feast, while he ate, and the girls were out on the lawn playing tennis and croquet, double sets at both, and no room for him, and the glory of everything had departed. The description of it all, which he had meant to write to Jean, would have to be so changed that there would be no pleasure in writing it. What had been the use of spoiling his own day? No one would ever know it, he couldn’t even tell Jean, because of course the verse didn’t mean any such thing.

“But I don’t see why it pitched into a fellow so, if it didn’t belong,” he said, rising from the table just as Ann, the dishwasher, snatched his plate, for which she had been waiting. “And, anyhow, I feel kind of glad I did it, whether it belonged or not.”

“He is a kind-hearted, unselfish boy,” said Mrs. Calland to her little daughter, that evening, “and you and mamma must see in how many ways we can be good to him.”

Next week: Chapter 2


Good-bye, Prohibition!

5 Dec

On this day in 1933 Prohibition ended in the United States. It had begun thirteen years earlier with passage of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution; that Amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors.

Sheet music for a popular temperance song in 1900.

Sheet music for a popular temperance song in 1900.

Isabella Alden was a staunch supporter of Prohibition, and her best friend, Theodosia Foster, dedicated her writings to the temperance movement by ensuring there was a strong anti-alcohol message in every story and novel she published.

An 1888 illustration of the principles of the prohibition party, showing Americans abandoning saloons, prisons, wineries, and insane asylums for a moral life centered around Sunday school and church.

An 1888 illustration of the principles of the prohibition party, showing Americans abandoning saloons, prisons, wineries, and insane asylums for a moral life centered around Sunday school and church.

Like Isabella and Theodosia, supporters of Prohibition believed that Prohibition was a “Noble Experiment” that would improve the nation’s moral and physical health, and curb the growing incidents of violence against women and children.


In many ways, the 18th Amendment achieved those goals, but there were some unintended consequences, too.

It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime.

Two men and a still.

Two men and a still.

The number of deaths from poisoning skyrocketed, as Americans resorted to improperly brewing their own alcohol or resorted to drinking industrial alcohol, with deadly consequences.

Perhaps most significant were the financial consequences. In cities like Milwaukee, Seattle, and St. Louis, thousands of people found themselves out of work when the breweries shut down. And many states, as well as the Federal government, became cash strapped when they could no longer collect liquor taxes. New York was especially hit hard; almost 75% of that state’s revenue was derived from liquor sales.


In the end, the “Noble Experiment” failed. The few benefits achieved by prohibition weren’t enough to offset the proliferation of organized crime and the hard financial consequences for average Americans. The 18th Amendment was repealed by passage of the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933.

There’s a great website you can visit to learn more about life in America during Prohibition. Click here.


Isabella’s Mystery Illness and the Water Cure

17 Nov

Not long after Isabella married Ross Alden she became ill. She never specifically named her ailment, but in her memoirs and in her auto-biographically-based stories, she often mentioned trouble with her eyes and that she suffered greatly from what we would today know as migraine headaches.


She wrote:

“It must be understood that although I was at times a great sufferer, I was by no means a helpless invalid. But the intervals between days of terrible pain might have been described as times of dull and wearisome inanity. I could read only a few minutes at a time, with long intervals between the minutes.”

A Victorian-era wheelchair (from Pinterest)

A Victorian-era wheelchair (from Pinterest)

She saw a number of physicians all over the New York area, all of whom agreed that, if she was ever to get well, Isabella should take a “water cure” from Dr. Greene at the Castile Sanitarium in New York. Ross encouraged her to follow the doctors’ instructions.

Illustration of a "water cure," circa 1860.

Illustration of a “water cure,” circa 1860.

But Isabella rebeled. She told Ross, “You needn’t think I’m going to stop and see Dr. Anybody! I’m going home!”

So Ross helped her from the doctor’s office and took her to the next departing train. He tucked her into heavy robes so she would be warm while they traveled, and urged her to nap on the train.

When Isabella awoke she found they had reached their destination: The sanitarium and the famous doctor!

The Castile Sanitarium in 1905.

The Castile Sanitarium in 1905.

Isabella demanded an explanation.

Kindly and quietly Ross answered, “We are going to spend the night here and seek this doctor’s advice. Could conscientious people do otherwise?”

Another view of the Castile Sanitarium, as it appeared in 1910.

Another view of the Castile Sanitarium, as it appeared in 1910.

When Isabella finally met the famous Dr. Greene she was probably very surprised—first, because the esteemed Dr. Greene was very young (only about thirty-five years of age), and second—Dr. Green was a female!

Dr. Cordelia Agnes Greene, in an undated photo.

Dr. Cordelia Agnes Greene, in an undated photo.

Female doctors were very uncommon in the late 1860s when Isabella first visited Castile Sanitarium. But Dr. Cordelia Greene was a very impressive young woman. At the age of sixteen she began supporting herself as a teacher in order to earn the money to put herself through medical school. She worked long hours in large sanitariums to gain experience; and she helped her father, also a physician, open a small “water cure” facility on property he purchased in Castile, New York.

When her father died, Dr. Cordelia Greene took over his enterprise, and used the sulphur springs on the property to expand the practice’s offerings. Under her management, the sanitarium became one of the premier facilities in the country.

The Sanitarium in an undated photo.

The Sanitarium in an undated photo.

Famous patients flocked to her doors, including Frances Willard, the founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union; Susan B. Anthony, the noted leader of the suffrage movement; and Dr. Clara Swain, who opened the first hospital for women on the continent of Asia.

From a 1938 edition of The Castilian, the local newspaper (before the days of patient privacy laws).

From a 1938 edition of The Castilian, the local newspaper (before the days of patient privacy laws).

Dr. Cordelia believed in the importance of deep breathing, vigorous exercise, and proper hydration of the body. She started every day by visiting patients’ rooms and personally delivering a pitcher of water to ensure each patient drank a full glass of water before breakfast.

A view of the Sanitarium showing the pond and walking paths, about 1913.

A view of the Sanitarium showing the pond and walking paths, about 1913.

Dr. Cordelia made certain patients who were strong enough spent plenty of time out of doors. They gardened and played croquet, walked and swam, in between their scheduled hydrotherapy treatments.

The Maples, where the nursing staff lived on the Sanitarium grounds.

The Maples, where the nursing staff lived on the Sanitarium grounds.

One of the hydrotherapy treatments Dr. Cordelia prescribed for Isabella was a wet sheet pack. The purpose of the wet sheet pack was to draw toxins from the body and increase blood circulation.

A wet sheet pack is accomplished by wrapping the patient from head to toe in a wet (usually with cold water) sheet. The patient’s arms are straight at their sides, and the sheet is tightly wrapped around the patient like a cocoon.


Over this are wrapped several layers of woolen blankets, again from head to toe.


As the patient sweats, the secretions from her pores are trapped in the sheet, as the wool blankets prevent moisture from evaporating into the air.


Isabella wrote that she was glad to have gone to the sanitarium; and said that “the thing that seemed so hateful soon became pleasant.” She grew to love and greatly admire Dr. Greene, saying:

“She was the life and power and heart and soul of that great water cure—a doctor of wonderful skill, a woman whom everybody respected and loved and obeyed.”

Isabella stayed on at Castile Sanitarium for five months; and when she left, she rejoiced. She was cured!

“Never since that time have I had to bear for even a single hour that peculiar form of pain which had been my almost constant attendant for more than five years!”

You can learn more about Dr. Cordelia Greene and her accomplishments by following these links:

Grace Livingston Hill and the Very Bad Day

2 Nov

Isabella was very close to her niece, Grace Livingston. She was 24 years old when Grace was born, and she did her best to spend as much time with little Gracie as she possibly could.

Baby in Swing

She was especially fascinated with Gracie’s developing personality. When the child was only three years old, Isabella said that Grace was as “full of fun and frolic as a mortal child could be. Oh, the mischief that that morsel could get through in a day! It seemed to me that the little feet and hands and tongue must ache at night; but they were never quite ready to have night come—in fact, as it drew toward bedtime she seemed to have more to do than before, and many a nice plan was spoiled right in the best of it by the call to bed.”

Frances Brundage_Birthday Wishes

Many times Isabella and her sister Marcia (Grace’s mother) had long talks about Gracie’s willfulness and the odd way she had of looking at the world.

Isabella wrote that when Grace was about three years old, she developed the habit of waking in the morning and announcing her mood. “Gracie is a naughty baby this day.”


She seemed to think that this made everything all right, and nobody had a right to complain as long as she took the pains to explain to them what she meant to do up front.

Isabella wrote, “Sure enough, from morning until night everything went wrong. If she had planned everything that was to happen, with the direct aim of helping her to be a naughty girl, she could not have done it better; so that we grew to dread the days that were begun with that sentence, “Gracie is a naughty baby!” The worst thing about it was her serene unconsciousness of having done anything wrong. Hadn’t she told us that she meant to be naughty?”


The family looked forward to the days when Gracie would announce, “Gracie is a good girl today!” But those days sometimes seemed few and far between.

“Why can’t you always be such a sweet, pleasant little girl?” Isabella asked after one of Gracie’s sunshiny days.

“Why, Auntie Belle, this is my good day. I’m not a naughty baby today at all. But I can’t always be good, you know.”


Isabella wrote that on one of Gracie’s naughty days, she had got into a great deal of mischief, even burning her finger after getting hold of a candle she knew she was not supposed to touch. Marcia bandaged the injured finger in cotton, while Gracie wailed and cried; then mother and aunt took Gracie upstairs to get her ready for bed. Here, in Isabella’s own words, is what happened when it was time for Gracie to say her nightly prayers:


“Well,” Gracie said, looking into her mother’s face, and speaking slowly and solemnly, “I’ve got a good deal to say tonight, haven’t I? Mamma, which do you think is the baddest thing that I did today?”


“I don’t think I can tell,” Marcia said, with a sober, troubled face; “and that isn’t the thing that you are to think about, anyway. It makes no difference which is the worst thing; everything that you knew was wrong to do has made Jesus feel badly, and you want to ask him to forgive you for them all; besides, you want to ask for a new heart, so that you will be willing to try not to be so naughty.”

Making a wreath for baby's hat

There was never a time in her little life that Gracie wasn’t ready for an argument. She tried to get one up now.

“But, mamma, if I could find out which was the very baddest thing that I did, I could make up my mind that I certainly true would never do that again, and then I would be sure not to be so bad next time. Don’t you see?”


I shall have to confess that I felt very much like laughing. She was such a little bit of a mouse, and she was trying so hard to be wise. But her poor troubled mamma did not smile.

“I see that you don’t know what you are talking about,” she said. “I can only hope that when you are older you will be a great deal wiser.”


This was certainly hard for a little girl who thought she made a very sensible remark. She gave a little bit of a sigh, and then knelt down beside her mamma. Very slowly and reverently she went through the prayer that I think every little girl in the world must know, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” After the “Amen” she always added a little prayer that she said came right out of her own heart; and tonight it was, “Dear Jesus, please bless Gracie; make my heart not feel so bad; make me feel just as though I was a very good girl, and take away my naughty sins and give me some good sins.”


That was really the most that Gracie knew about it. There seemed to be no use in trying to make her understand that everything that wasn’t right was wrong, and that God thought so.

Isabella wrote that Marcia was troubled that her daughter might actually believe there was such a thing as “good sins.” But in her heart, Isabella wasn’t worried. When she looked at Gracie, she saw independence, the ability to reason things out for herself, and a true knowledge of what was right and wrong. She had no fear for Gracie’s future. She knew that Gracie’s parents—and all of the members of their tight-knit family—would raise Grace to be a woman of faith who followed Christ in her everyday life.


You can read more about Isabella and her niece, Grace Livingston Hill, in these posts:

Isabella’s Christmas Tradition

The Pansy Magazine

Too Much of a Good Thing

New Grace Livingston Hill Book

New Free Read by Grace Livingston Hill





The Day New York Turned French

28 Oct

The year 1886 was a banner year for Isabella. In that year she had six books published, including Spun from Fact and One Commonplace Day.

1886 was a banner year for America, too. A wave of patriotism was surging through the country, thanks to the long-awaited unveiling of the Statue of Liberty on a small island in New York’s harbor.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper for June 27, 1885, chronicling the New York arrival of the French transport steamer, Isere, with the Statue of Liberty on board.

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper for June 27, 1885, chronicling the New York arrival of the French transport steamer, Isere, with the Statue of Liberty on board.

Newspapers and magazines were full of descriptions of the statue and of the pedestal that was being constructed for it on Bedloe Island in New York harbor. Americans were intrigued by the sheer size of the statue. They marveled over its engineering and wondered how the torch would remain lit.

An 1884 print illustrating the proposed location of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor.

An 1884 print illustrating the proposed location of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor.

The statue was the brainchild of French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. He originally envisioned presenting the statue to the United States on the one-hundred year anniversary of the signing of America’s Declaration of Independence, but he did not have enough of the statue completed by that deadline.

An 1882 photo of workmen constructing the Statue of Liberty in Bartholdi's Paris warehouse.

An 1882 photo of workmen constructing the Statue of Liberty in Bartholdi’s Paris warehouse.

Instead, he sent America pieces of the statue. For example, in 1876 he sent to America the hand holding the torch and one of the feet of the Statue of Liberty. Those pieces toured American cities as part of the centennial celebration, and helped raise the funds needed to erect the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty would ultimately stand.

The torch and part of the arm of the Statue of Liberty on display at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

The torch and part of the arm of the Statue of Liberty on display at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

Ten years later, the pedestal was in place. Bertholdi was finally able to assemble the statue on top, and America set the date for the unveiling for October 28, 1886.

That day dawned cold and misty. A light fog hung over the city; it had rained the day before, so areas that were not paved were muddy. But wet pavement and mud and chilly temperatures couldn’t dampen America’s enthusiasm.

"Up the Avenue from 34th Street" by Frederick Childe Hassam (1917)

“Up the Avenue from 34th Street” by Frederick Childe Hassam (1917)

Everywhere the city was decorated with buntings and flags. French flags flew from the tops of American households, and American flags fluttered from almost every window.

People came from all over the country to fill the New York streets. Businesses shut down and public schools closed as all New York joined in the celebration.

A New York parade, circa 1899

A New York parade, circa 1899

One visitor in the crowd later related that “every place that a person could get to see was occupied; the tops of lamp posts, telegraph poles, trees, and the housetops were all filled.”

The festivities began with a parade. Newspaper accounts estimated between 25,000 and 30,000 men paraded through the city. It took over two hours for the head of the parade to reach the Battery.

A New York Parade, about 1910.

A New York Parade, about 1910.

The parade featured canon and carriages filled with dignitaries, like President Cleveland and members of his cabinet. Civic organizations, military companies, police battalions and the Army Engineering Corps marched through the streets. Band after band paraded playing the “Marseillaise.”

Volunteer firemen’s associations, Knights of Pythias, federal judges, local mayors, and veterans of 1812 joined the ranks of marchers. They paraded down Fifth Avenue, past Central Park to Madison Square, then on to the review stands on Twenty-Fourth Street.

Undated photo of the Masons of Pyramid Temple on parade.

Undated photo of the Masons of Pyramid Temple on parade.

When President Cleveland stepped up on the stand, the crowd cheered; but then the people close enough to the stage caught sight of the sculptor, Monsieur Bartholdi, who was waiting to be introduced. The crowd instantly recognized him because his likeness appeared on the programmes and in illustrated newspapers.

A promotional image of French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, with the Statue of Liberty and a sculpture of a lion.

A promotional image of French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, with the Statue of Liberty and a sculpture of a lion.

Those nearest the stand began to chant his name, “Bartholdi, Bartholdi.” Crowds on the avenue up and down heard the name and passed it to the people in the park, and they passed it to the people on the side streets, until the air was “shaken with the roar of cheering” the sculptor’s name.

Monsieur Bartholdi accompanied President Cleveland aboard the steamship Dispatch, to make the short journey across the bay to Bedloe Island. As soon as the Dispatch got under way, over 100 vessels, decorated with flags and bunting, blasted their whistles and followed behind.

Undated photo of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, viewed from the north.

Undated photo of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, viewed from the north.

When they reached Bedloe Island the official unveiling ceremony took place. A large French flag had been placed over the head of the statue, but at the signal, the flag was pulled away, to the sound of a salute of gun fire by all the batteries in the harbor, afloat and ashore.

"Unveiling the Statue of Liberty," by Edward Percy Moran, 1886.

“Unveiling the Statue of Liberty,” by Edward Percy Moran, 1886.

President Cleveland formally accepted the statue on behalf of the United States, after which there followed an address by a representative of France, then music, and a benediction.

When the ceremony concluded there was a one-hundred-gun salute, and the steamers in the bay blew their whistles. The guns on Governor’s Island and other forts fired for a full half an hour.

By this time the rain had begun to fall, but the crowds did not disperse. Over a million people filled every available space from Wall Street to Pearl Street and to the Battery. They stood in the drenching rain and driving winds and cheered themselves hoarse.

A view of the "Statue of Liberty from Castle Garden," New York, by Andrew Melrose, 1887.

A view of the “Statue of Liberty from Castle Garden,” New York, by Andrew Melrose, 1887.

That rainy October day in 1886 was a great day for the city of New York and for the American people, who received a gift that would go on to epitomize the spirit of liberty and refuge for people all over the world.

This video provides more detail about the Statue of Liberty and how it came to reside on Bedloe Island.

Click here to read Isabella’s book Spun from Fact, published in 1886.

And click here for more information about Isabella’s 1886 novel, One Commonplace Day.

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