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A New Free Read: Dr. Deane’s Way

17 Sep

This week’s free read is “Dr. Deane’s Way,” a short story written by “Faye Huntington.” That’s the pen name adopted by Isabella’s dear friend Theodosia Toll Foster.

Isabella first met Theodosia when they were teens at Oneida Seminary in New York. It was Theodosia who launched Isabella’s writing career by secretly submitting one of Isabella’s stories to a writing contest. Isabella didn’t discover what Theodosia had done until she received a letter informing her that her story won first prize in the contest!

In return, Isabella sparked Theodosia’s career as an author. In 1872, Theodosia was 34 years old and pregnant with her second child when her husband James died unexpectedly. With a farm to run, and a toddler and newborn baby to support, Theodosia needed a reliable income. Isabella asked her to collaborate on one of her books, and Theodosia’s career as an author was born.

Isabella and Theodosia wrote more than half a dozen books together, including From Different Standpoints.

Theodosia also wrote Echoing and Re-echoing, book five in Isabella’s Ester Ried series.

Theodosia’s story “Dr. Deane’s Way” was written in 1875. Here’s the description:

When it comes to managing his family, Dr. Deane firmly believes his way is best. He methodically doles out chores to his children and rules the kitchen by ensuring his wife cooks only the blandest food for their diets. And when two of his children accept Christ as their Saviour, Dr. Deane believes he has the right to interfere with that, too.

But when Dr. Deane’s daughter Lois rebels against his rigid rules, Dr. Deane must seek help from an unexpected source if he is to cure Lois of her hoydenish ways.

You can read this story on your phone, ipad, Kindle, or other electronic device.

Or you can read it as a PDF document on your computer screen. You can also print the story to share with friends.

Click on the book cover to choose your preferred format from BookFunnel.com:

You can read more about Isabella’s friendship with Theodosia in these previous posts:

BFFs at Oneida Seminary

Locust Shade and a New Free Read

Free Read: The Book that Started it All

Docia’s First Book

A Real Judge Burnham’s Daughter

Searching for Pansy’s Daughter

13 Sep

There was a person in Isabella’s life whom she loved dearly, but rarely talked about. Her name was Frances Alden.

In 1892 Isabella and her husband Gustavus “Ross” Alden were living in Washington, D.C. Ross was the minister of the local Presbyterian Church; their son Raymond was 19 years old and studying not far away at the University of Pennsylvania.

Through one means or another Isabella—at the age of 52—became a mother again. She and Ross adopted a baby girl, whom they named Frances.

Isabella plunged into her second motherhood with the same energy and thoughtfulness that marked all her endeavors. She and Ross took Frances with them everywhere. She was always nearby when Isabella gave a speech or lecture. This news clipping documents one time when Isabella had to cancel a speech because Frances was ill:

From the Evening Star (Washington, DC) April 5, 1895

By the time she was three years old, Frances had wintered in Florida, spent summers at Chautauqua, and traveled across the country from coast to coast, all in the company of her adopted mother and father.

From The Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, January 1, 1901.

Perhaps Isabella’s speeches and magazine articles on the topic of rearing children offered fresh new perspectives because of her experience with Frances.

From the Sacramento Daily Union, October 25, 1897.

When their son Raymond secured a teaching position at Stanford University, Isabella and Ross moved their little family to California. They built a beautiful home on Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto (read more about their home here) and enrolled Frances in the local public school. They cheered her accomplishments large and small, including her promotion from third to fourth grade:

Palo Alto Press, May 21, 1902.

Thanks to Isabella’s successful writing career, she and Ross could afford to give Frances every advantage. When they realized Frances had been blessed with a talent for music, they ensure Frances had the best music and voice teachers.

By the time Frances entered her teen years, she was an accomplished singer and musician, and often performed in school and at church.

The Daily Palo Alto Times, March 9, 1907.

She was also acquiring a reputation as a notable beauty; and Isabella and Ross were determined to protect their daughter from flatterers.

When Frances was fifteen, they enrolled her at Park College, a small Christian school in Missouri.

The Daily Palo Alto Times on August 20, 1907.

There are no records to account for Frances’ time at Park College; but by the time she turned 18 in 1911, Frances was once again living at home with Isabella and Ross.

And she had changed quite a bit. Frances had become either rebellious or something of a prankster; either way her actions resulted in her having to appear in juvenile court at least once. The more Isabella and Ross tried to curb her behavior, the more Frances resisted.

In desperation, Isabella and Ross sent her to the Florence Crittenden Home, which was a nationwide network of residential homes that specialized in treating and caring for delinquent teens and unmarried pregnant women. Frances remained at Crittenden for four months.

When she returned to the Alden home, Frances decided to enroll at Stanford University, where her brother Raymond was a Professor of English. Her willingness to pursue her education must have been encouraging for Isabella and Ross.

Unfortunately, when Frances entered Stanford, she did so dressed in disguise. For three days she masqueraded as a male student on the campus and in the classroom. The discovery of her deceit caused a scandal, and probably caused Raymond quite a bit of embarrassment, as well.

Her prank was the last straw for Isabella and Ross. Once again they made the decision to send Frances away, but this time, they decided to send Frances to the Florence Crittenden Home in Los Angeles, 362 miles away.

Still rebellious, Frances arrived in Los Angeles, but instead of checking into the Crittenden Home, she went, instead, to the Home of the Good Shepherd, and tried to sign herself in under the name Vera Carter, which she declared to be her real name.

As bad as the entire experience was for Isabella, there were even more trying times to come.

Somehow, the newspapers caught wind of the situation. Isabella awoke one morning in January 1911 to find her troubles with Frances described in large print in newspapers across the country.

Reno Gazette Journal, January 18, 1911

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From the San Francisco Chronicle, January 16, 1911.

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Oakland Tribune, January 16, 1911.

How long Frances remained at the Home of the Good Shepherd is unknown, and once again, there are no records to help us understand what happened to Frances next. Records do show that she remained in Los Angeles.

In 1923, at the age of 31, she married a man named Bertram Minch. Bert worked for an oil company as a well operator in the oil fields, and later as an engineer for the city of Beverly Hills, California.

Frances and Bert remained married until his death in 1963. They never had children of their own.

There are no records or newspaper accounts to tell us if Frances and Isabella ever saw each other after Frances entered the Home of the Good Shepherd. It could be that Frances severed all ties with her mother, or perhaps it was Isabella who severed ties with Frances.

Either way, in her memoirs, Memories of Yesterdays, which she wrote in the last months of her life, Isabella did not mention Frances at all. And after Isabella was badly injured in a fall, it was her daughter-in-law Barbara Hitt Alden who took care of her, not Frances.

When Raymond Alden passed away in 1924, Frances’ name was not mentioned in his obituary as a surviving family member. The same was true when Isabella and Ross died; Frances’ name was not listed in their obituaries.

Isabella built her career and her reputation on her love for children and her desire to lead young lives to Christ. With this in mind, her experience with Frances had to be among the most difficult and painful events in her life.

Isabella always said:

“Whenever things went wrong, I went home and wrote a book to make them come out right.”

Perhaps, in one of Isabella’s books, there is a character like Frances with a mother like Isabella, whose stories end with a happily ever after.


This post is part of our Blogiversary Celebration! Leave a comment below or on Isabella’s Facebook page to be entered in a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card! We’ll announce the winner on Friday, September 14!

Inside Pansy’s Classroom

12 Sep

Isabella Alden taught Sunday school for decades. It was one of her favorite things to do, and she was widely considered to be an expert in the field of teaching very young children about the Bible.

A chapter heading from the book “How to Teach the Little Folks” by J. Bennet Tyler, 1875.

Her favorite age-group to teach was what she called the “infant class”—children who were not yet old enough to read, or were just beginning to read.

She wrote many articles and regularly conducted classes on how to teach children about the Bible and God’s promise of salvation through Christ.

From the book “Chautauqua: Historical and Descriptive,” 1884.

She once said:

“My ideal Sunday school classroom is bright, well ventilated, curtained, carpeted, with low, easy seats, flowers on the desk and in the windows, ornamental pictures on the walls, a good sized portable revolving blackboard in a central position, maps and charts and diagrams, and whatever else will help to illustrate Bible truths gathered into that pleasant spot.”

While that may have been her ideal Sunday school classroom, the truth was that Isabella often taught her little students over the vestibule of a dingy old church. Instead of ornamental pictures on the walls, more often than not she had to use pictures cut out of a Bible dictionary to help illustrate her lesson, and a broken slate for a blackboard.

But Isabella did not suffer those situations for very long. She knew how to brighten a dingy spot and make it attractive:

“Home pictures and flowers are cheap, and tact and patience can transform any sort of a place into something like beauty. I always have the best room I can get, and make it as attractive as possible.”

Once Isabella had the physical location of her Sunday school under control, she was free to concentrate on teaching her little ones.

The Kindergarten Class, by Max Lieberman, 1880.

When she was just starting out, she once had a class that began very badly. The wee ones were afraid to even whisper, and she could not coax them to repeat their verses no matter how hard she tried. When she tried to talk to each little scholar individually, they were so frightened, they began to cry. Clearly, there was no point in trying to coax them into singing a little hymn. So what did Isabella do?

Late for School, by Julius Johann Ferdinand Kronberg, 1872.

The next week she brought with her half a dozen little girls from her regular schoolroom where she was teaching during the week.

“These little ones were good readers, some of them, but with pretty childlike ways. They knew their lessons and were not afraid to say so, and they sang like birds. The consequence was that my timid ones soon caught their spirit, and my class of infants which bade fair to be a dismal failure became a success.”

What do you imagine it was like to be in Isabella’s Sunday-school class? She gave us some hints in one of the articles she wrote about teaching. Here’s the agenda she typically followed:

Roll call
Prayer
Collection
Singing
Five minutes talk about the hymn just sung
Distribution of cards for next Sabbath’s lesson
Reading those cards in concert
Singing
Distribution of papers
Recitation of verses

She liked to keep the opening prayer brief; just a few simple sentences which she had the children repeat after her. Then they would close with the Lord’s Prayer in concert.

The Sunday School, by Robert McInnes

If any of the children remembered to bring their pennies for the collection, Isabella taught them to repeat this little verse as they deposited them in the plate:

Small are the offerings we can make,
But thou hast taught us, Lord,
If given for the Savior’s sake,
They lose not their reward.

Since the majority of her students were too young to read, Isabella found ways to teach them Bible verses and poems to illustrate a short lesson. One of her favorites was a poem that many children still learn today:

Two little eyes to look to God,
Two little ears to hear his Word,
Two little feet to walk in his ways,
Two little lips to sing his praise,
Two little hands to do his will,
And one little heart to love him still.

And she taught them to “point to the different portions of their body indicated by the words they speak.”

She always selected a verse for the children to memorize. She read the verse with her students aloud and reread it until the bright ones could repeat it from memory; then she talked about the verse with her class, and stressed the importance of reciting the verse correctly. The following week, she used that verse as the foundation for her lesson.

“I like to cluster my talk [around] one personal practical thought that will make clear the fact that the story is for each little boy and girl who hears it. “

Her “talk” was, in reality, a story. She used illustrations from little ones’ home, school and playground experiences to build a relatable story. Then, when she reached the point of the story when the lesson was to be revealed, she let her class bring in the verse they had learned the week before.

“The delight which little children feel in discovering that what they have learned fits in with what their teacher is telling them a story about, can only be appreciated by those who see it.”

The school Walk by Albert Anker, 1872.

When it was time to close the lesson it was her preference that no books or pictures should be distributed.

“No outside matter should be allowed to come in between the pupils and the impression earnestly sought to be made.”

She did not even like to close with singing unless she found a hymn that had a clear connection with the lesson.

“I like better to close with a very brief prayer woven out of the words of the golden text, and so send the little ones away with a sweet and clear impression of the Bible lesson of the day.”

Isabella used the same method in crafting her stories for young people and adults. She chose a Bible verse and a lesson or theme she wanted to communicate about a specific verse, and wove a story around it. It was a process that served her well for the one-hundred-plus novels she wrote in her lifetime!


This post is part of our Blogiversary Celebration! Leave a comment below or on Isabella’s Facebook page to be entered in a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card! We’ll announce the winner on Friday, September 14!

Little Minie Heaton

6 Sep

Isabella often modeled the characters in her books after family members and friends. That was the case with “Little Minie” who appeared in more than a dozen of Isabella’s novels under the names “Minie” or sometimes “Minnie.”

In real life, “Little Minie” was Myra Heaton, but her family—including her adoring “Auntie Belle”—called her Minie.

Minie was born on May 30, 1861, and was named for her grandmother, Myra Spafford Macdonald (Isabella’s mother).

Minie’s mother was Isabella’s older sister Mary; her father was George Heaton, a newspaper publisher.

George Heaton’s advertisement for his newspapers in the 1870 Gloversville directory.

You may remember that it was George who published the first story Isabella wrote. Titled “Our Old Clock,” it appeared in his newspaper when Isabella was just a child. (You can read more about that here.)

George was a devout Christian, a temperance worker, and active in his church. This record from the First Presbyterian Church in Gloversville, New York shows George was elected as a Church Elder in 1864 and served in that capacity until his death in 1870.

Isabella was 23 years old and still living at home when Minie was born. Isabella called her “the special darling of our home.”

She forged a special bond with Minie, which was helped because Minie lived so close by. Isabella, her sister Julia and their parents lived in a large home in Gloversville. On adjoining lots were the homes of Isabella’s oldest sister, Elizabeth, who was married to Hiram Titus, and Mary, who was married to George Heaton.

Family members named in this post are highlighted in red boxes.

Family members passed between the three houses often and with ease, which was especially fortunate. As Isabella later wrote of her mother, “no one in our family ever could get ready to do anything without grandma’s help.” If there was a large meal to prepare, travel trunks to be packed, or big cleaning jobs to be done, Isabella’s mother—as well as members of all three extended families—had only to go “next door” to ask for or offer help.

Isabella wrote that the Heaton home was “at the upper end of the garden” behind her house, so it was only a few easy steps to visit Minie, or gather her up to take her back to Isabella’s own home for a visit and some pampering.

Minie grew up loving Jesus and trusting God. When Minie’s parents had to take a week-long trip, Minie stayed with Isabella and “Auntie Belle’s” mother and father. As Isabella walked Minie through the garden to the Macdonald home to spend her first night there, wise little Minie gave Isabella this advice:

“Auntie Belle, you must say your prayers every night and morning, always, no matter if your mamma is away; because God isn’t away, you know—he never packs his trunk and goes on a journey.”

Isabella adored her Minie, and spent precious time with her every day.

When Isabella married the Reverend Gustavus “Ross” Alden in 1866, she chose Minie’s fourth birthday as her wedding day, and Minie enjoyed special privileges throughout the day. She even joined the bride and groom on their ride in a beautiful barouche to the train station after the ceremony and reception. Thereafter, Minie often visited Isabella and Ross, who lived not far away.

In 1870, when Minie was eight years old, Isabella’s father became ill, and it was clear to everyone in the family that he was dying.

Minie and Isabella spent most of their summer in Isaac Macdonald’s room, keeping him company and soothing him when needed. Isabella wrote:

It was her delight to fan him, to arrange the pillows for him, to read to him in her soft, gentle voice; to sing to him when he was restless and feverish.

Minie would recite many little pieces to him, but his favorite was:

Many kinds of darkness
In the world are found;
There’s sin, there’s want, there’s sorrow,
So we must shine.
You, in your little corner,
And I, in mine.

Isabella’s father died on July 26, 1870, not long after Minie finished singing one of his favorite hymns to him. The entire family grieved, but Minie cheered Isabella with this perspective:

“Oh, Auntie Belle, if he could only have taken us all right up to heaven with him, how sweet it would have been.”

By 1875, Minie was a vibrant, active fourteen-year-old; but in December of that year, she, too, fell ill. She was sick only a week, Isabella later wrote. Minie died on December 30.

A week later, Isabella wrote of the loss of her “special darling” in a letter to her Pansy Society, which she published in The Pansy magazine.

“Last Thursday at midnight the Lord Jesus called our darling Minie. He wanted her to come up to His beautiful home to live. She was not one bit afraid to go, for she knew and loved Jesus, and remembered His promise that she should come up there some day.

“Minie is resting today and forever with Him. But, oh—we miss her so!

“Still, we cannot help being glad that she will never be sick, or afraid, or unhappy anymore; and that we are all invited to come and live if we choose in that beautiful world, by and by. I choose. Do not you? I have promised to follow His directions. Have you? I am surely going, are you?”

As always, Isabella turned her heartbreak into an opportunity to talk to her young readers about God’s promise of salvation through Christ.

She received many replies from young members of her Pansy Society, and later said, “I like to think that dear Minie has already welcomed precious friends to that eternal home. It is a joy to me to linger over the memory of the earthly life of this young disciple who was not quite fifteen when God called her home.”

Now you know what inspired Isabella to create a “Minie” character in her Ester Ried books, in her novels Chrissy’s Endeavor, Only Ten Cents, and so many others. In each story, Isabella paid a small tribute to her “special darling,” little Minie Heaton.


This post is part of our Blogiversary Celebration! Leave a comment below or on Isabella’s Facebook page to be entered in a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card! We’ll announce the winner tomorrow!

Meet Myra Spafford … and a New Free Read!

3 Sep

This post is part of our blogiversary celebration! Leave a comment below or on Isabella’s Facebook page to be entered into Friday’s drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card!


Isabella Alden’s father Isaac Macdonald is often credited with instilling in her a love of writing. He gave her a journal when she was very young and—to teach her to pay attention in church—he encouraged her to take notes during Sunday sermons so they could discuss the minister’s message later in the day.

“A Writer” by William Adolphe Bouruereau, 1890.

But it was probably Isabella’s mother, Myra, who taught Isabella to be a great story-teller.

At a young age—even before she could write—Isabella’s mother encouraged her to make up little stories about things.

“Make a story out of it for mother,” she would say; and out of those beginnings, Isabella began to develop the writing skills that would serve her as an adult.

Myra was herself a story-teller, and often entertained her six children with stories of her own younger years.

Myra’s father was Horatio Gates Spafford, a well-respected author and New York newspaper editor, so she developed her own writing skills at a very early age.

Isabella credited her mother Myra with teaching her how to weave a story centered on a well-loved Bible verse. It was Myra’s habit to gather her children—and later, her grandchildren—around her in the evening to tell them stories that were entertaining and and helped make sense of a Bible verse or Sunday-school lesson.

Her stories always contained a practical lesson in walking daily with Christ—a theme Isabella adopted and perfected in her own stories.

When Isabella’s father Isaac Macdonald died in 1870 Isabella and her husband Ross made certain Myra came to live with them. Although Ross’s career as a Presbyterian minister caused them to move regularly from one town to another, Myra made her home with the Aldens for the next fifteen years.

Myra’s entry in the 1880 Cincinnati directory shows she resided with the “Rev. G. R. Alden’s.”

They were living in Carbondale, Pennsylvania when Myra died at home in 1885. Isabella was 43 years old when her mother passed away, and she missed her terribly.

At that time Isabella was editing The Pansy magazine; and since she and her family members—including Ross, her son Raymond, her sister Marcia, and Marcia’s husband Charles—were all contributing articles and stories to the magazine, Isabella and Marcia found a way to pay tribute to their mother in the pages of The Pansy.

The cover of an 1891 issue of The Pansy.

They began publishing short stories for children in The Pansy under the pseudonym “Myra Spafford.” The stories were reminiscent of the kind of stories Myra told her children and grandchildren.

In 1887 Isabella published Grandma’s Miracles; Stories Told at Six O’clock in the Evening. The book is a fictionalized account of those tender and loving evening story-times Myra had with her children and grandchildren.

You can read Grandma’s Miracles for free!

Click on the book cover to read this story on your phone, ipad, Kindle, or other electronic device.

Or you can read, print and share it as a PDF document on your computer. Just click on the book cover to start reading now.

 

It’s Our Blogiversary!

29 Aug

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve been blogging about Isabella Alden and her books for five years!

And to thank you for your support and encouragement, we thought we’d throw a party . . . a party that lasts the entire month of September!

Please join us every weekday in September for fun and games, weekly Amazon gift card drawings, and plenty of Free Reads!

See you there!

Jenny, Nancy, and Susan

 

The Dangers of Soda Fountains

15 Aug

Today, a soda fountain—when you can find one—is a quaint relic of a by-gone era. Think of soda fountains and you may think of ladies wearing corsets and long skirts, or gentlemen who never leave home without a hat, tie, and pocket watch.

Soda fountains are such benign objects to us, it’s hard to imagine that they ever had the potential to cause harm. But in Isabella’s day, there were hidden dangers in every soda fountain, in every town in America.

An average American drugstore in 1900. A soda fountain is on the right side of the photo.]

Isabella Alden recognized those hidden dangers and wrote about them, because she knew the dangers were not inconsequential. There were pitifully few laws at the time that regulated the sale or distribution of products that could be bought at the time; and many products included alcohol and addictive ingredients.

Children could obtain alcoholic drinks in saloons. Doctors prescribed alcohol to patients young and old.

A pair of 1894 trade cards depicting “a big spender and his girl” at the soda fountain.

And commonly used tonics and medications often contained alcohol and opiates—sometimes at alarmingly high levels—and most did not disclose their contents on their labels.

In 1888 this cough syrup proudly listed its addictive ingredients—cannabis, morphine, alcohol, and chloroform—on its label. Since no laws required such disclosures, few manufacturers revealed their product contents.

Here’s an example: In 1885 a man named John Pemberton began marketing a beverage he invented. He called it “French Wine Cola—Ideal Nerve and Tonic Stimulant.”

In an 1880 drugstore in Washington DC, this soda fountain sold a beverage called Wine Coca for five cents a glass.

Why such a name? Because every 7 ounce glass contained 9 milligrams of cocaine and a walloping dose of caffeine extracted from the kola bean. Initially, sales were sluggish.

But the following year, when Pemberton renamed the drink “Coca-Cola,” sales picked up. By the 1890s, Coca-Cola was being sold in stores and soda fountains all over the country . . . and it still contained cocaine and caffeine. (Coca-Cola’s formula didn’t change until after 1903.)

An 1890s trade card for Coca-Cola, touting it as the “ideal brain food” for relieving mental and physical exhaustion.

That’s one example of the “hidden dangers” Isabella wrote about.

A 1905 magazine ad for Coca-Cola.

In her novel One Commonplace Day, several scenes take place in the town drug store, which Isabella describes this way:

[It was ] glittering with its show of colored glass and brilliant liquids, and arranged with that regard to lovely combinations of color which is common in first-class drug stores. There is at one end a handsome soda fountain, with all the various cooling syrups and elegant appliances of first-class establishments.

The design for a new soda dispensing unit, showing front and side views, with marble counters and inlays (circa 1900).

Charlie Lambert, one of the characters in the story, was a temperance man who took pride in the fact that he drank no liquor and had no temptation to drink any. But he often took his lunch at the soda fountain, where he drank a soda almost every day during the summer.

An 1890 newspaper ad for Coca-Cola aimed at temperance advocates, despite the drink’s ingredients.

Chances are, Charlie’s soda was laced with wine, cocaine, caffeine, or one of any number of additives that were not disclosed to unsuspecting consumers.

The soda fountain in a Peoples Drug Store, Washington D.C., 1909.

In the book Isabella advances the theory that people often become addicted to alcohol or drugs because they develop a taste for them as children.

A 1916 advertising broadside showing boys drinking a case of beer or liquor.

When you think of the number of children who sat on soda fountain stools, unconsciously swinging their dangling feet as they enjoyed a glass of Coca-Cola—all the while pumping nine milligrams of cocaine through their veins—Isabella’s theory begins to make sense.

A 1905 ad in Harpers’ magazine.

Advertising for Coca-Cola and similar beverages was everywhere. Ads showed happy, peppy, beautiful people sipping cocaine-laced drinks.

Coca-Cola calendar art, 1915.

And some soda fountains and saloons distributed tickets to people on the sidewalks, with a buy-one-drink, get-one-free offer.

By today’s standards, Isabella’s novels about temperance and the evils of alcohol may come across as strident and unreasonable. In reality, Isabella was fighting a very real problem in the best way she knew how; by writing stories people could relate to.

An iconic 1890s Coca-Cola advertisement.

And while One Commonplace Day is, on the surface, a story about the American temperance movement in the late 1880s, it carries a deeper message.

In the book, a group of prayerful Christians band together to help one of their neighbors overcome his addiction to alcohol. They formulate a plan to intercede in his life and help put him on the path to sobriety.

A crowded Coca-Cola soda fountain in 1910.

They pray for him, invite him to church, intercept him before he can enter a saloon or drug store, and do everything they can to help him kick his addiction.

Much has changed since Isabella wrote One Commonplace Day in 1886, but Americans still struggle with issues of alcoholism and addiction.

What do you think? In today’s world, is it possible for a group of prayerful Christians—like the people Isabella wrote about in One Commonplace Day—to band together to change the life of one person who struggles with addiction?


Coca-Cola wasn’t the only tonic that promised health benefits from questionable ingredients. You can read more about quack cures and patent medicines on these sites:

The Museum of Quackery.

Pilgrim Hall Museum.

And you can click here to learn more about Isabella’s novel, One Commonplace Day.

What About Croquet?

1 Aug

It’s the time of year when millions of Americans enjoy the out-of-doors. In Isabella’s novels, her characters spent summer days walking, hiking, and playing sports of all kinds.

A favorite pastime for Isabella’s characters was the game of croquet, and she may very well have played the game herself.

A romantic scene captured on the 1866 cover of a pamphlet on the rules of croquet.

Beginning in her early twenties, Isabella made several trips over the years to the Castille Sanitarium in New York, where she was treated for health concerns. The owner of the sanitarium encouraged all her patients to play croquet, and it’s possible Isabella followed the doctor’s orders.

Whether she played the game herself or not, she certainly appreciated the game. In her books, characters young and old played croquet, as did the rich and poor. No matter what their circumstances, croquet brought her characters together.

Children Playing Croquet – Little Playmates

In Cunning Workmen, Sunday-school teacher Mr. Hammond attends a young people’s party where he notices that Peter, one of his young charges, isn’t participating in any of the games.

“What about croquet?” he presently asked. “Miss Blake seems to be enjoying the game, and the boys are very patient in their teaching. Why haven’t you joined them?”

Peter’s honest face grew red and troubled.

“I don’t quite know about them,” he said, earnestly. “I was waiting for you to come so I could speak to you about it. Them red and yellow balls look nice, and I’m most sure I could strike them through those little wires, if that’s what they’re after; but …”

“Well?” his teacher said, in kindly inquiry.

“Why, they look so exactly like them billiard things that they play with down at the saloon. Tom Randolph took me in one day. He plays there a good deal, and if them things are wrong, why ain’t these?”

“But it isn’t the red and yellow balls that are at fault, you know. It is the associations. Billiard playing is generally done for money, and croquet is simply for pleasure and exercise. Isn’t there a difference?”

“Yes,” said Peter, slowly and thoughtfully, “there’s a difference. I see that.”

Leave it to Isabella to find a way to teach a lesson through a simple game of croquet!

Playing croquet in Cape May, New Jersey, 1875.

She also used the game to show readers the motivations and mindset of her characters. That was the case with the Reverend Mr. Tresevant in The King’s Daughter, when he decided to play croquet rather than attend a temperance meeting.

Later, in Wise and Otherwise, the next book in the series, Mr. Tresevant makes a fateful decision. When a little neighborhood boy is extremely ill and lay dying in his bed, the entire town, including Dr. Douglass, went in search of the Reverend Mr. Tresevant.

Dr. Douglass’ wife later asked if he ever found the minister:

“Did you tell him about Freddy, and how much they wanted to see him?”

“I did,” relaxing into gloom and laconic answers.

“What did he say?” Mrs. Douglass was entirely accustomed to cross-questioning her husband, and understood the process thoroughly.

“That he would go down there as soon as the game of croquet was concluded.”

The lady opposite him set down her cup that had nearly reached her lips and looked at her husband, while an expression of mingled doubt and dismay spread over her face.

“Dr. Douglass! Did you tell him the child was dying, and that they had been in search of him?” she asked in shocked tones.

“I explained the latter fact to him elaborately, and told him the boy was very sick, and that I feared he might not live until morning.”

For once the ever ready tongue opposite seemed to have not a word to utter. When she found voice again, it was to ask, in a very subdued way, “Do they know it at the house—know that you have found him, I mean? What do they think of it?”

“They know that I found him—and where—for they asked me both questions. I did not enlighten them as to his occupation, and said what I hoped and believed was true, that I thought he would be along very soon; but he had not arrived when I came away, a quarter of an hour ago. The game must have proved a complicated one.”

Now, the question is, was Mr. Tresevant’s heart so bound up in the game of croquet that he could not even leave it to answer a summons from the dying?

A tense moment in a game of croquet, 1918.

In the novel, Isabella does go on to explain the reasons Mr. Tresevant would not leave his croquet game to pray with the family of a dying child; and in doing so, she tells us much about the state of Mr. Tresevant’s heart and soul.

Students play croquet at girls school in Pennsylvania, 1901.

In all, Isabella mentioned the game of croquet in at least nine novels. Sometimes she used the game to introduce topics of right and wrong Christian behavior, as in the discussion above from Cunning Workmen.

Other times she simply used it as a way for her characters to enjoy each other’s company on a bright summer afternoon.

How about you? Have you ever played croquet? What do you like most about the game?


You can find out more about Isabella Alden’s stay at the Castille Sanitarium in New York. Click here to read the post.

And you can find out more about Isabella’s books mentioned in this post by clicking on any of these book covers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isabella’s Critic, Friend, and Helper

28 Jul

Isabella had a special bond with her father, Isaac Macdonald. She might even have been what we would call in today’s world a “daddy’s girl.” But the truth was that her father was undoubtedly the single most influential person in her life when she was growing up.

In his younger years Isaac Macdonald earned his living as a farmer, but with a wife and six children to support, he left farming and established a box-making business in Gloversville, New York.

Many years later, after Isabella became a best-selling author, a Gloversville newspaper wrote a brief article about her early years in that town. The writer of the article briefly mentioned her father:

Isaac was a box maker, and if his boxes are any index to his character, he was staunch and worthy. He lies in our pleasant cemetery, but there are boxes still in use made by his faithful hands.

It’s a brief paragraph, but with its use of the words character, worthy, and faithful, we get a glimpse of Isaac Macdonald’s reputation among his neighbors and friends.

In the many stories and anecdotes Isabella shared about her father, she paints a picture of a loving man of immense faith.

In his home circle, he ably fulfilled his role as provider, protector, leader and teacher. He was eternally patient with his children and grandchildren; and he instilled in them an unbreakable faith in God and His Word.

Most of all, Isaac valued honesty, a fact Isabella illustrated in a story that took place when she was an adult and her young niece Minie was staying at the family home.

Isabella’s sister Julia teasingly told little Minie that she was going to serve butterflies and caterpillars for tea, which greatly shocked and upset the little girl. Julia, however, thought Minie’s reaction was funny; she told the story to the family later that day “with many descriptions of Minie’s shocked tones and looks, and much laughter.”

Only Isaac looked grave. When the laughter was over he said to Julia:

“How many years do you suppose it will be before Minie will discover that you haven’t told her the truth?”

“The truth!” said Julia, in surprise. “Why, of course it wasn’t truth. It was only in fun, you know. Whoever supposed that the absurd little monkey would believe it?” and she laughed again at the thought.

“But, you see, she did believe it,” Isaac said. “She believed it because you told it to her. She has great faith in your word, you see. I would be very careful not to give that faith a shock if I were you.”

“Why, dear me!” Julia said, with puzzled face; “I never thought about its being anything serious. Don’t you think it is right to say anything in fun to a child?”

“I don’t think it is right to say anything but the truth to anyone,” Isaac said, emphatically; “least of all to a child.”

Isabella never forgot the lesson.

Isaac’s teachings with Isabella extended beyond those that would shape her character. In an interview with The Ladies Home Journal, Isabella said that it was her father who taught her to write at an early age.

He was the first to encourage her to keep a diary; and he also taught her to take notes during their minister’s sermons on Sunday morning. Together they would review her notes, and he encouraged her to use her own imagination to expand on them and weave stories from the lessons and bits of wisdom she had recorded.

That early discipline soon bore fruit. When she was about seven or eight years old Isabella wrote a story about the family clock (read more about her story here).

Her story was published in the local newspaper (coincidentally, the newspaper was owned by her sister Mary’s husband and little Minie’s father). Isaac insisted that the story be published under a pseudonym, saying:

“We don’t wish anyone to know that you wrote it, and so we will sign it, Pansy, for pansy means tender and pleasant thoughts, and you have given me some thoughts that are tender and pleasant.”

This incident, too, offers a glimpse into Isaac Macdonald’s character, and his desire to protect his daughter from public scrutiny and the hazards of fame.

Thereafter, Isabella was often writing or telling a story. Her books Four Girls at Chautauqua and Ester Ried made “Pansy” a household name around the world. It was while she was writing Ester Ried that her father became ill.

Isabella mentioned that when she was young, she always hoped she would never have to tend to anyone who was sick; she thought it would be “so dreadful to look at anybody knowing that he was soon to die.”

But she found it made a difference who the sick person was, and how he felt about death himself. Her father, she knew, wasn’t afraid of dying. He used to say to her:

“It is nice to have my children all about me, and it seems sad sometimes that I must go and leave them—sad for them, I mean. But what a blessed thing it will be when we all get up there where none of us will have to go away any more. It will be vacation there all the time, won’t it?”

When her father fell ill in the summer of 1870, Isabella spent as much time with him as she could, and often read to him from his Bible. She described it as a large-print Bible, all full of leaves turned down and verses marked.

She said there was no need to ask which verse was his favorite; he had left “marks of his love” all through the book.

One afternoon when Isabella was with him, she read verses here and there as her eye caught his different markings:

“And they shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads.

“And there shall be no night there.”

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with Songs, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.”

And there was this verse:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed thee. I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine.”

She knew that verse was among the dearest to her father in the entire Bible. (Read the story behind the verse here.)

During that summer of Isaac Macdonald’s illness, Isabella was writing Ester Ried.

An early cover for Ester Ried

Her father, as always, was interested in her writing progress; but he showed particular interest in the story of Ester Ried. He told Isabella that “he prayed that it might be a blessing to some young life.” Sadly, he passed away on July 26, 1870, before Isabella finished writing the novel.

Isabella later wrote:

“It was while the tears were gathering thick in my eyes as I looked out upon his grave that I wrote the last chapter of the book, feeling that my closest, strongest friend and critic, and wisest helper had gone from me.”

Isaac Macdonald’s grave marker.

Isaac Macdonald’s prayer for Ester Ried was answered over and over again. Ester Ried was a great success and proved to be a blessing to generations of girls and young women who read it.

Isabella’s love for her father was evidenced in the books she wrote. She used him as the model for many of her male characters who were wise in judgment and strong in faith.

You’ll catch glimpses of him in Dr. Deane in Wanted and in Dr. Everett in Workers Together; an Endless Chain.

You can read more about the special bond between Isabella and her father Isaac Macdonald in these posts:

Isabella’s Early Writings

A Teachable Moment

Julia’s Occupation

A Woman’s Voice

A New Brother

For Day-School Teachers

18 Jul

As a teacher of young children for over forty years, Isabella Alden knew the power and influence teachers had over the hearts and minds of their students.

Here’s a story Isabella told about that very topic, in a column she wrote for The Christian Endeavor World magazine in 1901:

There is a teacher of my acquaintance, a cultivated young woman, who would be shocked and offended if she knew that I did not like to invite her familiarly to my home lest my little daughter should learn objectionable speech from her.

In the schoolroom, I am told, she guards her speech with care, and is thoroughly alive to the indiscretions of her pupils. But she frequents a home where two of her scholars live, being the intimate friend of their grown-up sister. Here she indulges in “Goodness!” and “My gracious!” on occasion, speaks of her pupils as “the kids,” and talks about “swell” neighborhoods and people, or mentions certain persons whose peculiarities of speech or manner make her “tired,” and in various other ways offends against good taste and true refinement.

And the young people in that home, who admire their pretty and vivacious teacher, are steadily copying not her school-room elegance, but her offhand vulgarities. Is that too strong a word?

Keeping in mind the fact that words like “swell” and “kids” were considered ill-bred slang in Isabella’s time, how would you answer her question?

Do you think the young teacher should not have used vulgar words?

Do you think Isabella was being too critical of the young teacher for using such words in front of her impressionable students?

Do you think, in general, teachers should be careful of their conduct inside as well as outside the classroom?

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 and sweet, clean fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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