Advice to Anxious Mothers of Daughters

How often have you thought—or heard someone say—“Our little girls are growing up too fast!”

We tend to think of it as a modern-day problem, but in 1897 mothers were coping with the very same concern. Isabella received so many letters on the topic, she dedicated one of her advice columns to “anxious mothers of daughters.”

Here’s what Isabella wrote:

I have a package of letters from anxious mothers. I hold them tenderly, for there are heart-throbs in every line. I study and pray over them and wish—Oh, so earnestly!—that I knew how to help. Instead, I have resolved to tell our girls what some mothers fear: That their daughters—their young, sweet daughters, whom they would guard with jealous care from every form of the world’s contamination—are having the bloom of their beautiful girlhood brushed away by too early friendships with young men, or, as they frankly put it, with “the boys.”

One mother writes that her fourteen-year-old daughter’s mind is in danger of being taken up with the thought of “beaux.” She lives in the country, and associates almost of necessity with those who talk much about “beaux” and about “keeping company” with this or that boy. Not only this, but she has for associates those who believe in “kissing games” and all such practices.

What can you do?

Ah, dear, I don’t know. Except this—the same thing that I have said before, only I want to say it more emphatically, if I can:

Will you not use every inch of influence you possess to help anxious mothers, and to protect young and oftentimes motherless girls from the sort of harm that comes from playing with ideas that should be held sacred?

Sometimes uncultured guests do harm in this way:

A merry-faced couple—girl and boy aged perhaps ten and twelve—were hurrying down the street side by side, swinging their book-bags and chatting and laughing.

“Hasn’t Alice come yet?” asked the mother in a home.

“Here she comes,” said a guest who was in the doorway. “Here she comes with her little beau. Dear me, Alice, why didn’t you kiss each other? When I was of your age, and had little beaux come home with me, I always kissed them good-by.”

The mother came forward swiftly, a spot of red glowing on each cheek. “Alice does not know even the meaning of the word beau,” she said, “and she keeps her kisses for her father and brothers.”

Oh, the infinite harm that coarse and careless tongues can do to these young buds before their time of blossoming! Remember how much influence older sisters have in these directions. Nor is their influence confined to the young people of their own homes, if they are wise-hearted Christian workers.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Have you ever seen someone tease a child about boyfriends, like the “coarse and careless guest” Isabella described?

You can read more of Isabella’s advice columns. Just type “advice” in the search box on the right.

I Like Him!

On May 30, 1866 Isabella Macdonald married Gustavus “Ross” Alden.

They met on Thanksgiving day 1863, and their courtship lasted a little more than two years. As their relationship blossomed, Isabella did what any young woman would do under similar circumstances: she told her best friend all about it.

Isabella and Theodosia Toll had been close friends since they met as students at the same boarding school. Through their school years together and after graduation, they remained devoted friends, and often visited each other’s homes.

Theodosia was staying with Isabella during the winter of 1864, when Isabella introduced her to Ross Alden. Luckily for us, Theodosia recorded her impressions of their meeting in her diary:  

January 1, 1864

Yesterday I came to Auburn to visit dear Belle. This has been a gloriously happy New Years day. We had a number of calls. During them one whose name I had heard before—Mr. Alden. I had gotten up considerable curiosity in regard to him. I sat reading, pressing a handkerchief to my aching head when the gentleman entered and was presented. And here I will state briefly my first impressions. Those were pleasant. A tall, grand looking man heavily bearded and mustached, a finely formed head and pleasant face, speaks very deliberately and very low. There you have him. I wonder if I shall be called upon to take him into my circle of friends, for her sake?

Two days later Theodosia got a chance to answer that question:

January 3d Sabbath.

Went with Belle to the Orphan Asylum Sabbath School at nine o’clock. Mr. Alden escorted us on our way to the Asylum and walked to and from that place with us. I like him!! If he and somebody should happen to fall in love with each other, I have not a word of remonstrance to offer. He seems an earnest worker from Christ, and that is worth so much.

Not long after Theodosia’s visit to the orphan asylum with Isabella and Ross, she returned to her home in Verona, New York, which was about sixty miles away. But Isabella promised to visit her friend soon.

Two weeks later, Theodosia recorded this entry in her diary:

Jan 27th

In a few hours she will be here. Only two weeks since we parted, yet I think I have never looked forward to her coming with more eagerness. She says in her letter received last evening, “Queer things have happened.” How I wonder what those queer things are. I shall know soon but I keep wondering. There are some things that ought to happen to her that would make me both glad and sorry. Well, I’ll be patient for a few hours.

Could it be those “queer things” Isabella wanted to tell her were the latest details of her relationship with Ross? Perhaps Ross proposed marriage, and Isabella wanted her dearest friend Theodosia to be among the first to know!

Unfortunately, sudden illness prevented Isabella from traveling to see Theodosia, so discovering those “queer things” had to wait. But several months later, Isabella sent her friend a very thorough accounting of the state of her relationship with Ross. Here is Theodosia’s diary entry:

Thursday, Sept 22d 1864

I have been reading over Belle’s letter. It is a dear good letter, and I am so glad that she is happy at last, that the old restless feeling seems to have left her. I trust that he to whom she has given her heart is worthy of her love. Just go back eight months, Journal, and remember what I told you of my first impressions of the man. Oh, Belle, you have much to make you grateful and happy, and so have I! I thank Thee My God for the blessings that crowd my way, and of the coming joy of a woman’s life that has come to my Darling.

After several months—and many more visits and letters between them—Theodosia made this diary entry:

Jan 30th 1866

What a happy month this has been! But, oh, how lonely I am today! My dear Belle left me this morning. Her “Ross” came last Saturday and spent the Sabbath. He preached on Sabbath evening. I like him very much. I already find myself numbering him among my friends.

At last, Isabella and Ross set the date of their wedding. They planned to be married in Gloversville on May 30, 1866. Of course Theodosia was there. She spent the night with Isabella as she happily—and nervously—made ready for her wedding day.

Two weeks after the big day, Theodosia wrote this in her journal:

I had a letter from Belle this week dated at her new home in Almond [New York]. She is very happy and I do believe that God has given her the strong constant love of a Christian man as the crowning happiness of her life.

Special thanks to Susan Wadley, Theodosia’s great-granddaughter, for sharing her diaries and giving us this delightful glimpse into Theodosia’s friendship with Isabella.

You can read more about how Isabella and Ross met by clicking here.

Read more about Ross and Isabella’s early years of marriage by clicking here.

The Aldens had a long and loving marriage. Read about their Golden Wedding Anniversary by clicking here.

Like her friend Isabella, Theodosia Toll Foster was an author, too! You can read some of her stories for free by clicking here.

What is Love?

Isabella Alden’s son Raymond was fifteen years old when he wrote this sweet poem. It was published in The Pansy magazine in 1888.

(Written in answer to a child who asked what love was.)

Love is—well, what can anyone say?
Love is—Why, darling, think all day
Of all the words that we can say;
And think, and think, and tell me
What love is. Ah! I knew you could not.

Well, love is Jesus; and He is love.
Love is a message, so sweet, from above.
God is love, so the good Book says,
And true love is great and high, always.

What is the best definition given?
Love is a message, a breath from Heaven.
God’s message to lost ones—our Light, our Life.
Love makes all peace where once was strife.
Oh! Let me show you what love can do.

For God so loved the world that he gave
His only begotten Son to save—
Whom do you think? Why, sinners, whom
Justice for justice’s sake would doom!

But then, you look very wise, and say,
Why, God is love, you know, anyway!
Aye, my darling, that is true.
Now let me ask you—What cannot love do?

Lanterns to Light the Summer Night

Many of the characters in Isabella’s books looked forward to spring, when days got longer and temperatures warmed. They planned their days around being outdoors as much as possible, taking their meals outside and even taking long “tramps” through fields and parks.

When the sun went down, they remained outdoors, and lit their lawns and gardens with “oriental lanterns.”

Asian goods began to make their way into American homes as far back as the Civil War, but only in relatively exclusive areas, such as Boston and New York.

But in the 1880s, more common Japanese goods, such as paper parasols, fans, and lanterns became readily available in American markets.

Two young girls stand in a field of grasses, roses, and tall lillies. Each girl holds a paper lantern they are lighting. Around them hang lanterns that are already lit.
John Singer Sargent’s famous 1886 painting, “Carnation Lily, Lily Rose.”

One import firm, Vantine’s, offered a fairyland of Japanese items in their New York showroom.

A corner of the store displaying wicker chairs and tables, ceramic vases, framed Japanese prints, pagodas and colorful lanterns.
A partial display of summer home furnishings at Vantine’s New York showroom.

You could see paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling on every floor of  A.A. Vantine’s multi-story establishment. It wasn’t long before Vantine’s was shipping paper lanterns to stores all over the eastern states.

Postcard showing a variety of lanterns, lamps, and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Beneath are display cases with smaller items for sale.
Vantine’s of New York. A View of the main floor showroom from the balcony.

That’s about the time that Isabella began mentioning paper lanterns in her books.

In Making Fate (published in 1895) Marjorie Edmonds visited the Schuyler Farm and spent a lovely evening with friends:

She was out with many others on the lawn, which was brilliantly and fantastically lighted with many Chinese lanterns. It formed a place of special attraction on this lovely May evening, which was almost as warm as an evening in midsummer.

Illustration from about 1900 showing a young woman outside near several rose bushes, hanging red paper lanters on a tree. Behind is a field with a house on the horizon.

In The Browns at Mount Hermon (1908), several characters where concerned about a group of boys who planned to sneak off into the countryside to light a bonfire and spend the night gambling and smoking. Then, John Brown offered this suggestion:  

What if we could give up this evening to pure fun? Have a gathering on the Zayante lawn, which is far more attractive than the redwood grove across the way; decorate the trees and the porches and all other available places with Chinese lanterns, plan for the finest bonfire that our splendid brush heaps suggest, and serve unlimited sandwiches, cake, coffee, and anything else that could be gathered in haste, and is calculated to tempt the appetite of the average boy. Then we could send a deputation to meet the train and kidnap the crowd as our honored guests, meeting their spirit of frolic and good time at least half-way.

Old photograph of a woman about 1910 on a balcony. Overhead she has strung some string and is hanging lanterns of different shapes and colors. On the balcony railing are a bunch of roses and more lanterns to be hung.

One of Isabella’s most charming descriptions of paper lanterns was in The Hall in the Grove (1882), when Mr. Masters escorted Caroline Raynor and the Fentons to the opening assembly at Chautauqua:

On they hurried, striking at last into Simpson Avenue. Caroline came to a sudden halt, and gave an exclamation of delight. Away down the avenue as far as her eye could reach, on either side was one blaze of light; illuminated mottoes, flags, Chinese lanterns, flowers, ribbons—anything that could lend a glow of color to the bright scene had been displayed, and the whole effect was such as she will remember all her life.

Painting of three young women laying on the grass of a sloping hill. One woman holds a paper fan. Behind them two lighted paper lanters hang from the branches of a tree. Beyond, the night sky is filled with stars.
Daydreaming Under the Stars by Jacques Wagrez.

Paper lanterns became so popular, they were regularly incorporated into greeting card design like this one:

Greeting card with illustration of woman gathering pink roses from a bush while a pink paper lantern hangs from a branch of the tree behind her.

And in illustrated calendars:

Portion of an 1899 calendar showing January through March; each month is printed against a backdrop of a paper lantern. "Hours of Brightness" is printed across the top.

When you read Isabella’s books, you can tell she enjoyed the beauty of a light-filled summer night, and her descriptions of paper lanterns still have the power to warm our imaginations.

What do you think of Isabella’s descriptions?

Have you ever been to an outdoor event that was lit with candles or paper lanterns?

The Wayside Game

It’s the time of year when families begin planning their summer vacations. If you’ve ever taken a driving trip with children, you know the first rule is to keep children occupied.

Isabella most certainly had experience in taking children on long trips, by automobile and by train. Her son Raymond and daughter Frances frequently accompanied her when she traveled to speaking engagements all over the country.

In 1883 Isabella published a brief article in The Pansy magazine about a new game for traveling with children.

The next time any of you Pansies go travelling, try the new funny little “Wayside Game” that has just been invented for children on a journey. They are to look out for four-footed animals, each of which counts 1. A white quadruped counts 5, a squirrel 25, and a cat sitting in the window of a house, 50.
Two little girls were thus relieving the tedium of a long trip the other day, and the elder was getting ahead, when the younger happened to spy fifteen little pigs, as white as snow, which gave her 75 at once. And soon after, she was lucky enough to see a cat in the window, which gave her 50, so that the little one made a score of 365 against 189 for her sister. Try it, all who want a gay little travelling time.

Does this game sound familiar to you?

When you take driving trips, do you play a similar game?

Hello, April!

Few people know that Isabella’s husband, the Reverend G. R. Alden, was an accomplished poet. He wrote several poems for The Pansy magazine, including this one that celebrates the coming of spring:


O, Spring is coming now, don’t you see?

The birds will be followed by the humble bee.

The frogs are singing their evening song,

The lambs are skipping with their dams along,

The buds are out on the pussy-willow tree,

On the bough of the birch sings the chickadee.

Drawing of a little girl and boy barefoot, standing on the bank of a pond. He is fishing while she watches.

The cows come lowing along the lane,

With suppers all ready for us again;

Old Speckle scratches for her chickens ten,

New piggies are squealing in their pen.

Drawing of a birth feeding her chicks in their nest.

From the top of the tree the robin calls,

From the top of the dam the water falls,

And everything to the eye or ear,

Tells to old and young that April is here.

G. R. Alden

Free Lecture about Faye Huntington!

Isabella Alden and her best friend Theodosia Toll Foster shared many things: a strong Christian faith; a belief in the values of honesty, kindness, and honor; and a true desire to make the world a better place for everyone. They also shared a talent for writing.

Old black and white photo of Theodosia Toll Foster dated about 1865.
Theodosia Toll Foster (about 1865)

Under the pen-name “Faye Huntington,” Theodosia published over forty books, as well as pamphlets, short stories, histories, and other articles for magazines and newspapers.

Title page of Dr. Deane's Way, and Other Stories by Faye Huntington and Pansy.

But perhaps her most beloved short stories appeared in The Pansy magazine, which Isabella edited. For over a decade they collaborated on the magazine’s contents.

You can meet Theodosia’s Great-granddaughter!

Susan Snow Wadley, Theodosia’s great-granddaughter, will be giving an on-line Zoom lecture on Theodosia’s life and writings.

Hosted by the Erie Canal Museum of New York, the lecture is scheduled for:

Date:  Thursday, March 24, 2022

Time: 12:00 noon (EST)

Cost: Free! (donations to the museum are welcome)

Click on the link below to register.

This is an excellent way to learn more about the times in which Isabella and Theodosia lived and the events that influenced their young lives.

See you on the 24th on Zoom!

p.s. Click here to read some of Theodosia’s stories for free!

What Does it Mean to be a Christian?

In 1891 a Christian weekly magazine mailed letters to America’s most prominent Christian authors and ministers asking one question:

What is it to be a Christian?

Many of the replies from ministers and church elders spoke about adhering to New Testament doctrines. Some replied that being a Christian meant following the example set by the Divine Master.

A famous Unitarian pastor answered that to be a Christian was “to do the will of my father who is in heaven.”

Of course, Isabella was one of the Christian authors who received the letter.

Photograph of Isabella Alden in profile.
Isabella Alden, about 1900.

Here is her answer, which was printed in newspapers across the country on Sunday, March 20, 1892:

“To be a Christian is to love the Lord Jesus Christ so much that I shall desire to have him reign supreme in my heart.”

What do you think of Isabella’s answer?

How would you answer the question?

Isabella, a Winter Snowbird

When Isabella wrote her short story “Their Day at the Beach” in 1909, she based her story on personal experience.

Cover for short story, Their Day at the Beach, by Isabella Alden.

It was common practice at the time for physicians to prescribe a change of climate for certain medical conditions, particularly ailments of the skin and respiratory system.

Isabella’s son Raymond suffered his entire life from a chronic condition that caused Isabella and her husband to consult numerous doctors in search of a cure. Ultimately their search took them to Florida, where they hoped the sunshine and moderate climate would benefit their son.

An 1897 map of Florida.

There’s a special reason they chose Florida over any other southern state: in 1885 a new Chautauqua Assembly opened on Florida’s gulf coast. Located in what is now Defuniak Springs, the Assembly was built around Lake De Funiak (as it was then called), a naturally circular-shaped lake about a mile in circumference.

A travel brochure advertising the new Florida Chautauqua.

The Aldens found the location very much to their liking. The climate was delightful; the temperature rarely rose above ninety degrees, fruit trees and forests grew in abundance, and a gentle gulf breeze meant the dry air always felt fresh and pure.

The Florida Chautauqua officially opened on February 18, 1885, and the Aldens were there!

The Florida Chautauqua is a success. Four months ago we had a dubious feeling that such an undertaking would fail of any real support in a clime which has always been so averse to adopting progressive ideas. Our health Chautauqua tree, we feared, would be enervated by tropical sunshine; but it has taken root with surprising readiness. And its growth is assured by the hearty northern support it is receiving. This support is a striking feature of Lake de Funiak. You see it in the pretty cottages that are being built about the grounds. They are generally owned by northerners. Wallace Bruce has a cottage there; Pansy is building one; Mrs. Harper, of Terre Haute, Ind., another; Dr. Hatfield, of Chicago, one, and Mrs. Emily Huntingdon Miller another. One delightful spot has been turned into an "Artist's Corner" by Joaquin Miller, Mr. Durkin, Harper Brothers' well known artist, and Mr. Gross, of Covington.
An announcement in The Chautauquan, May 1885.

As they did in New York, the Aldens built a small house on the Florida Chautauqua grounds and promptly named it Pansy Cottage.

A rendering of Pansy Cottage at Lake Defuniak in 1885.

Their cottage faced the lake and gave the Aldens a lovely view of the lake shore and the promenade.

This view of the lake from the porch of Hotel Walton is similar to the view Isabella would have had from her cottage.

With her usual energy, Isabella dove into the Florida Chautauqua experience. Many of the Chautauqua New York programs were duplicated here: A school of Greek, a kindergarten, a school of cookery, an art school, and  the C. L.S.C. all took root in the new Florida location. There was even an amphitheater and a Hall of Philosophy.

Hotel Chautauqua on Lake de Funiak, 1907.

The most marked difference between the two Chautauquas was duration. While the New York assembly remained open for three months every summer, the Florida Chautauqua packed as many speeches, studies and classes as possible into a thirty-day assembly.

When the first Florida assembly came to an end in March 1885, The Aldens began to entertain the idea of staying in Florida for the remainder of the winter months. Eventually, they decided to settle in Winter Park, not far from Orlando, where they built a large home they also named Pansy Cottage. (You can read more about her Winter Park home by clicking the link at the end of this post.)

Isabella’s charming cottage in Defuniak Springs still stands today!

Pansy Cottage as it appears today (Courtesy

The city of Defuniak Springs has erected a plaque to commemorate its history. The plaque reads:

Pansy Cottage

People of all economic backgrounds enjoyed the Florida Chautauqua Assembly with a small daily entry fee or a week-long hotel stay. More affluent members built homes o n these once-gated resort/campus grounds, allowing them proximity to the activities of the Winter Assembly. Author Isabella MacDonald [sic] Alden, with the penname [sic] Pansy, was among these.

Alden wrote more than 100 Christian books during her lifetime. She worked with her husband, Rev. G.R. Alden, editing a children’s magazine—The Pansy. Several of her books, such as Ester Ried, were based on personal experiences; others, like Chautauqua Girls series were inspired by her interest in the Chautauqua movement. Her books were enormously popular during the late 19th century. In 1900, sales were estimated at around 100,000 copies annually. Some titles were translated into several languages, including French, German, Russian, and Japanese. (Alden was also the aunt of author Grace Livingston Hill.) Alden was intimately involved in the Chautauqua movement. She was a graduate of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, Class of 1887, which was appropriately named the Pansy Class. Alden was an instructor of primary teaching skills during the first years of the Florida Chautauqua.

Alden leased (and later purchased) this lot in her own name in 1885, unusual for a married woman at that time. The May 1885 Chautauquan makes reference to Pansy building as one of the pretty cottages around Lake DeFuniak. Due to her son’s ill health, the family made Winter Park, Florida their permanent home in 1886, building another house there also known as Pansy Cottage. The latter house was torn down in 1955, so Pansy Cottage in DeFuniak Springs is now the only Pansy Cottage.

The plaque that marks Isabella’s cottage at the Florida Chautauqua.

You can read Isabella’s Story “Their Day at the Beach” for free! Click here for details.

Welcome to Pansy’s House

Too Much of a Good Thing, and a New Free Read!

A Hard Text

For over twenty years Isabella Alden and her husband edited a children’s magazine called The Pansy. While their names were credited on the magazine’s cover, the entire endeavor was a family affair.

Cover of the December 1891 issue of The Pansy magazine.

Isabella’s son Raymond regularly contributed poems, short stories, and science-related articles.

Her sister Marcia wrote “Baby’s Corner,” a monthly column for the magazine’s youngest readers.

Marcia’s husband, the Reverend Charles M. Livingston, contributed stories, anecdotes, and news items.

Charles Livingston (from the Livingston Family Album, courtesy

Rev. Livingston had a talent for explaining the Bible’s most challenging verses in terms young people could understand. He told young readers:

When one thing in one part of the Bible seems to conflict with another part or say something which seems to be wrong, you are to conclude that a little better understanding will set it all to rights in your mind.

In 1888 Rev. Livingston wrote a brief article for The Pansy magazine about a certain Bible verse that young people—and adults—often found very confusing!

Here’s what he wrote:

A Hard Text?

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

A hard text? Some readers think it is. But suppose it read this way:

“If any man come to me and love not his family less than me … he cannot be my disciple.”

The other way is simply a strong way of saying this idea, that Christ must always be FIRST to His child. He must have our supreme love, and nothing must stand in the way. Do you get the idea?

Of course it does not teach one to hate anybody, much less a dear father, mother, brother, sister.

You know this same Jesus who spoke Luke 14:26 also said:

“Love,” even one’s enemies, and “Honor thy father and mother.”

Jesus cannot contradict Himself.

Readers of The Pansy enjoyed Rev. Livingston’s lesson so much, he wrote several more installments, and “The Hard Text” became a regular recurring column in The Pansy magazine!

Would you like to see more “The Hard Text” columns by Rev. Livingston?

What do you think? Did Rev. Livingston do a good job of explaining the meaning of this particular Bible verse?