Pansy’s NaNoWriMo

If you’re a writer—or know someone who is—you’re probably aware that the month of November is all about novel writing.

Every November writers from around the world join on-line writing communities (like NaNoWriMo and The King’s Daughters’ Writing Camp) where they record their efforts to write a novel in thirty days. Participants encourage each other, write together, share lessons learned, and talk about the challenges they face.

The most common challenge writers share in their on-line posts is how hard it is to find time to write every day. Many writers have full-time jobs, or small children, or other pressures that make it difficult to write a few paragraphs in thirty days, to say nothing of writing a full-length novel.

Old black and white photo of a young woman about 1910 seated at a desk, her hands on the keys of a typewriter. Behind her a giant clock on the wall shows three o'clock.

Yet, that problem isn’t a new one for twenty-first century writers. In the nineteenth century Isabella Alden faced the very same difficulty as she juggled her writing career with speaking engagements, household tasks, church duties, editing deadlines, and demands from fans and acquaintances.

In 1906, when Isabella was writing Ruth Erskine’s Son, she described a typical writing day that will probably sound very familiar to writers everywhere:

She began her day at seven o’clock by dressing and performing her daily household chores; but even before she finished making beds and doing laundry, she was interrupted by a summons to morning prayers and breakfast.

Old black and white photo of a woman circa 1915, dressed in long-sleeved, high collar blouse and long skirt, seated at a table, typing on a typewriter. Beside her is an large wooden roll-top desk. Behind her is a tufted leather bench.

After that she cleared the breakfast table, put the dining room in order, and went back to bed-making, dusting, laundry, and other tasks.

Then the postman made his delivery, which included a long-awaited letter, so the entire family was summoned to hear Isabella read the letter aloud.

Other delivered letters included:

  • A request from a woman who wanted Isabella to read her manuscript,
  • A man asking permission to read one of Isabella’s stories in his church,
  • Another woman requesting Isabella speak at a temperance meeting,
  • A little girl wanting Isabella to spend an evening with her Sunday-school class,
  • And one from her editor asking her to please write her magazine columns a little faster!

By 11:00 Isabella was finally seated at her typewriter, “struggling with an unusually hard problem in the life of that much enduring woman, Ruth Erskine Burnham,” when she was interrupted yet again.

Her sister Julia (who was living with the Aldens at the time) was busy in the kitchen making a ginger cake and she wanted Isabella to taste it. Of course Isabella did not complain about such a delicious interruption!

Color illustration of a woman about 1915 seated at a wooden desk, typing on an old-style typewriter.

Back at her work once again, she heard the door bell ring with a delivery.

A few minutes later came a vendor at the door selling “choice spinach, some delicious cauliflower, some fine oranges, and some splendid green peas.”

After dealing with the vendor, she wrote: “I am seated again with Ruth Erskine only to hear, ‘Belle!’ from the front stairway.”

It was her sister Mary volunteering to “fix my scrap basket for me, if I will find the materials for her.”

Old hand-colored photograph of a woman about 1915 wearing a blue dress with long-sleeves, high neckline, and floor-length skirt. she is seated at a small table on which is a red tablecloth and a typewriter.

By the time Isabella returned to her typewriter, she realized the entire morning was gone and it was time for lunch.

After lunch it was time to clear the table, and on entering the kitchen, Isabella discovered Julia had made much more than a ginger cake. She had busily baked “mince pies and apple pies, and a million little ginger cakes in patty tins” as well as five loaves of “splendid bread.”

All of those delicious items resulted in a great number of dishes to wash. Isabella wrote:

“I wash, and wash, and WASH; and scour the sink and clear off shelves and refrigerator and empty more dishes, and sweep the floors, and wash seven dish towels.”

And just as she was hanging her dish towels to dry, “the clock strikes four!”

Determined to write, Isabella went back to her desk, only to be interrupted by the doorbell, then by her husband asking “What do I want from downtown?”

At five o’clock she had a long conversation with a college student who was “consumed with fear that she has not passed” a class of which Isabella’s son Dr. Raymond Alden was the professor. The student made a special request of Isabella:

“Will I, his mother—for whom, they say he will do anything in the world [according to the student]—intercede for her and explain to him how it was? And then for the eleventh time she proceeds to tell me how things were.”

By the time that conversation ended, it was six o’clock and time for dinner. At eight o’clock Isabella wrote:

“I am seated again, not with Ruth Erskine, but giving heart and brain to that explanatory letter which is to move the hard heart of Professor Alden.”

“That being done, Satan enters into me, and instead of working, I write a letter to my beloved sister Marcia three thousand miles away—and then, good night, I’m gone to bed!”

These were—as Isabella called them—“the snares which lie across my path” when she was supposed to be writing.

Does Isabella’s account sound familiar to you?

Have you ever pledged to write—or read, or craft, or exercise—only to be interrupted or have competing priorities intrude on your time?

By the way, Isabella did finish writing Ruth Erskine’s Son, and it was published the following year. You can get your copy of Ruth Erskine’s Son by clicking on the book cover below:

At Home Friday Evening

Busy Isabella! Even after her husband retired from the ministry and Isabella retired from teaching, they both remained active in the Presbyterian church.

They moved to Palo Alto, California (you can read more about their new home here) and quickly joined their local congregation.

And since Isabella was a long-time member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, she also joined that organization’s local chapter.

Black and white photograph from 1910 of women, men , and one little girl posing outdoors for photograph. Five women are seated; two of whom hold a banner that reads "W. C. T. U." Behind them stand eight men and women. The little girl sits on the ground in front and also holds a small banner that reads "WCTU."
Woman’s Christian Temperance Union chapter members about 1910

On Friday, November 20, 1908 Isabella hosted an “At Home” for her fellow W.C.T.U. members.

The event was a new spin on an old point of etiquette. For generations society ladies typically designated one afternoon a week where they were “at home” to receive callers.

Illustration from about 1908 of two ladies dressed in bonnets and gloves with parasols seated in a parlor, conversing with a third woman in a gown from the same period.
Paying Calls.

Some ladies even had cards printed up which they handed out to acquaintances or left at the homes of other women to let them know what day they were invited to call.

A printed card (about the size of a modern business card) that reads: At Home Thursdays, May eleventh and eighteenth, from three until six and from eight until ten, 38 Sumner Street, Dorchester.
An undated “At Home” card. Credit: Boston Public Library.

For this event Isabella did the same thing, but instead of inviting people to drop by for an hour or so of conversation, she devised an entire program of meaningful entertainment that lasted well into the evening hours.

There were vocal solos and talks by ministers on the subject of temperance. Isabella’s son Raymond read a selection of popular poems by William Henry Drummond.

Side by side black and white photographs of Raymond Alden and William Henry Drummond

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Isabella gave a talk, and several of the San Francisco Bay area’s leading citizens and ministers also provided entertainment and food for thought.

Illustration of a white, four-layer cake with white icing on a plate with one slice removed. On a smaller plate is the slice. Both plates rest on a white embroidered doily on a dark-colored table top.

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After the program, Isabella served “dainty refreshments.”

Illustration of various desserts on plates on a table, including a slice of cake with strawberries on top, a square piece of cake with whipped cream and fruit, and a molded gelatin with slices of pineapple and cherries arranged on the surface.

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And it was all reported the following week in one of the local newspapers:

Newspaper article: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Palo Alto gave an At Home Friday evening at the residence of Mrs. R. G. Alden, 425 Embarcadero road, the guests of honor being the pastors of the city, the School Trustees and teachers. An interesting program was given as follows: Irish selections, Miss Ruth Lakin; vocal solo, Miss Adele Gilbert; Drummond's poems, Professor R. M. Alden; poem of Robert Burns, Rev. Mr. Moody; and talks by Mrs. Alden, J. C. Templeton, Mrs. E. G. Greene, W. E. Vail, and Rev. H. W. Davis. Mrs. J. C. Templeton presided. Dainty refreshments were served late in the evening.
San Jose Mercury News, November 23, 1908.

Busy Isabella certainly knew how to throw a party, didn’t she?

Does Isabella’s “At Home” sound like something you’d like to attend?

Which part of the evening entertainment do you think you would enjoy the most?

A New Luxury

Isabella was always interested in new inventions that came her way. When typewriters first came on the market, she began using one to write her stores. She even featured a typewriter in one of her novels (you can read more about that here).

And when her fingers tired from typing, she used dictation equipment and hired a stenographer to transcribe her spoken words into typed pages.

Black and white illustration of a man wearing a business suit seated in a chair in front of a small table. On the table is a dictation machine, which has a speaking tube the man is holding up to his mouth. Near the feet of the table is a treadle, which the man operates with one foot.
An early wax cylinder phonograph for dictation, 1897 (from Wikicommons).

Add to her love of innovation the fact that she was also very social-minded and had a keen interest in bettering people’s lives, and you can understand her interest in a new trend in health and hygiene that began in the late 1890s.

During the majority of Isabella’s life, indoor plumbing was a luxury for most Americans. Only the wealthy could afford to install bathrooms in their homes.

Design for an 1888 bathroom. Credit: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

By contrast, poor residents in large cities lived in tenement buildings that often had only a single source of water; that meant residents had to carry water (sometimes up several flights of stairs) to their apartments in order to bathe or even wash their hands.

Color illustration of a woman seated in a wicker chair and wearing the dress and hairstyle of about 1910. Across her lap is a large towel and she is holding a baby over a wash tub on the floor in front of her. The baby kicks water onto a little girl seated on the floor near the wash tub. Another little girl standing behind the tub holds the baby's hand. A small dog scurries away from the water being splashed in his direction.
“Baby’s Bath” by Arthur J. Elsely

But in the 1890s that began to change. By that time most great cities of the world had implemented public baths. London, Paris, Vienna, and Rome had spacious and magnificent buildings devoted to the purpose of bathing. Isabella’s home state of New York took notice, and began devoting attention to the matter of making bathing facilities available to all citizens, especially the poor.

The New York Board of Health worked with New York City officials to develop plans for a public bath house to be opened in Manhattan. The design included waiting rooms for men and boys, and a separate waiting room for women.

An 1897 design illustration for a New York public bath house. The stone building is two stories tall with a colonnade on the first floor and a balcony on the second. Both floors have several floor-to-ceiling windows.

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More importantly, the design featured an entirely new concept: Rain-baths.

Isabella like this new idea so much, she wrote about it in her magazine, The Pansy, and described the concept to her readers:

One who wishes a bath can set the machinery in motion, and stand under a warm rain, rubbing himself as much as he pleases; using plenty of soap, at first, and then showering off without it.

The water thus used flows away through pipes prepared for it, and without having any bath tub to clean, or water to empty, the bather can dress himself and step out into the world fresh and clean, leaving the room in order for the next one. This has all been planned for the benefit of those who have not homes of their own, with bath rooms and all conveniences.

Black and white photograph of rows of shower stalls with doors.
Shower stalls in a Boston Public Bath House 1898.

Having seen for herself the tenements and slums in major American cities such as New York, Isabella was well aware that there were few opportunities, if any, for city residents to bathe on a regular basis.

1908 black and white photo of about thirty women and girls standing in line to enter a New York City bath house.
Women and girls in line at a New York City bath house, 1908.

She also knew—having taught homemaking classes at Chautauqua—the health benefits of maintaining a clean body and a clean home. It was natural, then, for her to embrace this new plan for showers in public baths, especially since the facilities would be offered for free to anyone who wanted to use them.

Old photograph of about thirty young boys waiting in a room. Some are seated on benches along the wall, while others are standing in a line taking direction from a porter who is pointing at them, while five boys leaving the waiting room climb a staircase to the the baths.

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She ended her article in The Pansy by reminding her readers about the blessing the new bath houses would be:

I wonder if any Pansy knows what a luxury a warm bath is, when one is tired and soiled with the wear of the day? I am actually acquainted with some Pansies who weep when they are called upon to come in and have their baths! I venture to say that [the children of New York] are more than willing to wait for their turn in the bath room.

[Credit for the two photos of Boston’s Public Baths: Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection.]

Sweet Travels with Pansy

In the late 1880s a woman named Martha Wood attended a women’s missionary convention and later wrote a newspaper article about her experience. The highlight of her trip was a chance encounter with Isabella Alden.

By that time Isabella was a best-selling author and her pen name “Pansy” was a household word. You can imagine Martha’s surprise to discover Isabella was not only attending the same convention, but was among the ladies traveling on the very same train!

Black and white photo about 1910 of a group of women in traveling clothes and bonnets standing together on the observation deck of a railroad car.

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Martha’s account does not mention who made the first overture, but at some point Martha and Isabella fell into conversation. When they arrived at their destination they were greeted by a member of the convention’s entertainment committee, who had been sent to escort Isabella to her hotel. Of course, the committee member was only too happy to include Martha in their party. But when it came time for them to take a cab from the train station to the hotel, they encountered a slight problem:

Amid the bustle of the station we were greeted by the Entertainment Committee, and, as we were assigned to places adjacent, were to occupy the same cab, when, lo! The cab had but one seat, and there were three of us! Quickly the happy thought found expression: Who would not think it an honor to ride in the same cab with Pansy? How much more, then, to ride with her on one’s knee, as she is so petite? Thus we rode to our destination.

Isabella was scheduled to address the convention, and Martha described her performance:

She was on the program, of course, and read one of her exquisitely appropriate stories to an interested audience; but the acoustic properties of the church were so bad that, with straining ears, we failed to hear it well, though it was a real pleasure even to see her, and to hear the silvery voice of one whom we had learned to love already, from her writings.

Later, Martha noticed some devoted Pansy fans were among the convention attendees:

She was constantly surrounded by a bevy of bright young girls, and it seemed quite the fitting thing, too, for had she not devoted herself to them and to their uplifting?

One of them gave her a lovely plaque of wild-wood violets marked as her “country cousins,” to which she laughingly referred as we journeyed homeward together. She was quite as entertaining as her stories, we found, full of a nameless gentle grace, betokening a lady.

On the journey home after the convention, Martha and Isabella traveled with a third woman. Martha never identified the woman by name, but described her as a “leading educator in the state.” The woman had also been a speaker at the convention on the topic of “All I Am, and All I Have, for the Lord.” Martha wrote:

Pansy was even then revolving in her mind a new story and she asked my friend if she could use her name as one of the characters.

Now, this friend was just a trifle old-fashioned in her ideas about story writing, and especially about young people spending their time in reading novels, so she hesitated.

Then Pansy told us how she had been oftentimes solicited to enter the arena of popular fiction, for mere fiction’s sake and pecuniary gain, but that she had always refused. Her solemn purpose was to devote herself entirely to the development of higher Christian character and life, and she had never yet yielded, had never been swerved, from her high resolves.

I wish I could paint the beautiful glow of her cheek, and the clear shining of her dark, glowing eyes, as she talked to us from her heart.

Deeply impressed, I turned to our friend and said, “Remember your subject, ‘All I Am, and All I Have, for Christ,’ and she only asks to use your name. He taught in parables most effectively, and she is only following His example by writing stories to develop true, higher Christian life.”

Of course, she then consented and the story was written, but I do not think I am quite at liberty to reveal all here.

Black and white photo of three women in coats and hats, standing on a train platform with their suitcases on the ground beside them.

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Martha’s story—as charming as it is—is full of tantalizing mysteries!

When and where was the missionary convention held? And who was the woman whose name Isabella wanted to use as a character in a story? What was the name of the story Isabella ultimately wrote?

We may never know the answers to these questions, but Martha’s encounter with Isabella sounds delightful!

Did Martha’s recollection give you any new insights into Isabella’s personality? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.

A Little Word Lost

In The Pansy magazine Isabella used stories, illustrations, and poems to teach young people what it meant to follow Jesus. The following poem was published in an 1893 issue of the magazine, and although it was written for children, it has meaning for adults, too!

I lost a very little word
    Only the other day;
A very naughty little word
    I had not meant to say.
If only it were really lost,
    I should not mind a bit;
I think I should deserve a prize
    For really losing it.
For if no one could ever find
    Again that little word,
So that no more from any lips
    Could it be ever heard,
I'm sure we all of us would say
    That it was something fine
With such completeness to have lost
    That naughty word of mine.
But then it wasn't really lost
    When from my lips it flew;
My little brother picked it up,
    And now he says it, too.
Mamma said that the worst would be
    I could not get it back;
But the worst of it now seems to me,
    I'm always on its track.
If it were only really lost!
    Oh, then I should be glad!
I let it fall so carelessly
    The day that I got mad.
Lose other things, you never seem
    To come upon their track;
But lose a naughty little word,
    It's always coming back.

While no author name was given when the poem was published, Isabella’s husband Ross and son Raymond were both talented poets, as was Isabella.

When she wrote stories about children losing their tempers, she wrote from experience. Isabella shared stories from her own life about how often her anger got her into trouble when she was young.

You can read about some of those instances in these previous posts:

Joy Go with You

BFFs at Oneida Seminary

Locust Shade … and a New Free Read

Pansy Reads a Mystery Story

In 1895 Isabella and her family were living in May’s Landing, New Jersey, where her husband, Reverend Gustavus Alden, had charge of the Presbyterian Church.

While her husband was busy with his responsibilities, Isabella paid an early September visit to her hometown of Gloversville, New York.

Her son Raymond (age 22 at the time) and adopted daughter Frances (age 3) accompanied her.

The residents of Gloversville welcomed Isabella back with open arms, and—as they often did—they invited her to speak at one of their assemblies. The evening of Tuesday, September 17 was decided upon, and the local newspaper promoted the event:

Newspaper Clipping: "A Popular Author in Town."
Mrs. G. R. Alden, better known to most readers by her nom de plume "Pansy," is, with her son and daughter, visiting her cousin, Mrs. E. A. Spencer, at 38 First avenue. Mrs. Alden is the author of a large number of books, chiefly for the Sunday school, which have commanded a large sale and are very popular with both old and young. It is quite natural for the people of Gloversville to take a just pride in her success, as this was her former home and it was while she was a resident here that her first stories were written. At the request of the officers of the Presbyterian Home Mission society of this city, Mrs. Alden has written a new story suitable for a public reading and will read the same for the benefit of that society in the Presbyterian church next Tuesday evening the seventeenth. It is hoped Mrs. Alden will receive a heart reception from her old friends.

The evening began with musical selections, then Isabella took the stage to “an outburst of applause.” She read one her stories, which the newspaper reported was titled “Miss Hunter.”

You may already be familiar with “Miss Hunter.” The character of Miss Priscilla Hunter was one of Isabella’s favorites, and she appeared in four of Isabella’s stories:

Miss Priscilla Hunter

People Who Haven’t Time and Can’t Afford It

The Man of the House

One Commonplace Day

But each of these stories and novels were published well before 1895, and the newspaper reported that Isabella read a brand new story, written specifically for the occasion, that featured a character named Miss Hunter. The newspaper account of the evening noted that the story was “interesting and kept the close attention of the audience,” but gave no additional details about the story.

Newspaper clipping: "Pansy's" Reading
The Presbyterian church was filled last evening by an audience who had gathered to listen to the reading of an original missionary story by Mrs. G. R. Alden, who writes under the nom de plume of "Pansy." The exercises opened with an organ voluntary by Mrs. Whitney, after which Miss Clara Gardner rendered a solo. Mrs. Alden's appearance followed shortly and she was greeted with an outburst of applause. The story, which was entitled "Miss Hunter," was very interesting and kept the close attention of the audience throughout. The reading was given for the benefit of the Young Ladies' Missionary Society of the Presbyterian church, and the proceeds netted were very satisfactory.

On Thursday morning, September 19, Isabella left Gloversville and headed back to her home in New Jersey.

Newspaper clipping: Mrs. G. R. Alden, "Pansy," who has been visiting Mr. and Mrs. Edgar A. Spencer, returned to her home at May's Landing, N. J., this morning. She was accompanied by her son and daughter.

She also left us with questions: What was the story she read aloud to the audience at the Presbyterian church? Is there another Pansy story about “Miss Hunter” that has yet to be found?

Until the mystery can be solved, you can read more about the fictional character of Miss Priscilla Hunter—and the stories we she appeared in—by clicking here.

You can also click here to read about Isabella’s charming hometown of Gloversville, New York, and the business her father had there.

Read Along with the C.L.S.C.

Much like the on-line college degree courses we have now, The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (C.L.S.C.) was a method of self-education people could obtain in the privacy of their own homes. Isabella was a graduate of the C.L.S.C. program and actively promoted in articles and stories.

Every three months C.L.S.C. students received “The Chautauquan,” a 400-plus page “magazine of system in reading” with articles and lessons that covered various topics such as:

The Rehabilitation of the Democratic Party

Food, the Farmer, and the City

Polar Exploration and Moral Standards

Women in the Progress of Civilization

A Reading Journey through Egypt.

History and classic literature were also major components of the curriculum. Bishop John H. Vincent, Chancellor of the C.L.S.C. believed:

The study of classical literature, art, and philosophy supplies a training of the mind based upon models which have stood the test of time [and are] considered universal.”

Aside from obtaining the books for reading, the only other tools required to complete the course were a pencil, some paper, and a good dictionary. 

But while the tools were basic, the coursework was not always easy. In 1909 students were required to read Homer’s Iliad. If you’ve ever tried to read this epic poem about the Trojan War, you know what a challenge it can be!

Illustration of two Trojan soldiers fighting. Both wear casques and capes,, and carry shields. Behind them is a portrait of Helen of Troy.

Not to worry; the C.L.S.C. published the following tips to help students successfully complete the required reading:

  • Think of this volume as a story book and read it for the sake of the stories.
  • Keep in mind the tales woven about Achilles and Odysseus are typical of the passionate rivalry of war and the steadfast love of country and family we identify with today.
  • Don’t make reading these stories hard. Relax yourself to the swing of them. Let them carry you along as if you were hearing them recited by a story teller.
  • These are tales of valiant deeds and daring adventure from beginning to end— “action stories”; and there is no easier reading in the world.
Illustration of Achilles and Paris in battle. Paris has a long spear and shield. Achilles holds a long knife while an arrow protrudes from his right heel. Behind them is the outline of a stone fortress over the top of which is the head of the Trojan horse.

Bishop Vincent knew the value of reading Homer’s Iliad, because he recognized the influence Greek history—and Homer’s epic poem, in particular—had on the formation of the United States and the development of our constitution.

Those influences are still visible today. A mural in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. depicts one of the stories in the Iliad after Achilles’ mother disguised him as a school girl and sent him to a distant court so he would not be enlisted in the Trojan War. Wily Ulysses set out to find Achilles; dressed as a peddler, he displayed his wares. The girls chose feminine trinkets, but Achilles was attracted to a man’s shield and casque, thereby revealing his identity.

Mural depicting Achilles disguised as a girl admiring a man's shield and casque. Behind him, Ulysses, watches as other girls sit and examine the trinkets displayed on the floor.

Greek history and mythology influence many murals, statues, and architectural design throughout the U.S. capital.

Have you read Homer’s Iliad? Did you find it difficult reading?

If you haven’t read Homer’s Iliad, you can get a taste for what this reading assignment was like. Click here to read an 1891 version of the epic poem, which would have been similar to the version Isabella and other C.L.S.C. students read.

Fantastic Cures for What Ails You

Isabella Alden was no stranger to illness. In her personal life she suffered from chronic health issues. In her novels, her characters fought a variety of ailments, from head colds and sore throats, to broken bones and crippling back injuries.

In her novel Jessie Wells Isabella wrote about a “molasses and ginger cure” to ward off cough and fever. It was suggested to Jessie by her father, a physician. (You can read more about it here.)

Vintage cartoon of a woman about 1910 carrying a baby in one arm and a large suitcase in her other hand. The suitcase is labeled "Medicine Chest. Soothing Syrup. Peppermint. Jamaica Ginger. Paregoric."

Although the molasses cure was based on an old folk medicine recipe, it was actually beneficial; the ginger helped suppress a cough and the molasses soothed the throat.

Like Dr. Wells, many physicians in those days treated patients with folk medicine cures for ailments ranging from the common cold to the universal finger wart.

Vintage illustration of a doctor visiting a little girl sick in bed. He holds her hand and speaks kindly to her.

Isabella availed herself of some of those folk remedies in her personal life. To cure her chronic headaches she underwent a “water cure.” Physicians wrapped her body in wet blankets and allowed them to dry in place. They believed the process would draw harmful toxins from her body, thereby curing her headaches. (You can read more about it here.)

Vintage illustration of man in bed. a woman in nursing cap and apron stands beside him, combing his hair from his forehead while holding a mirror out for him to see.

There were folk remedies for every possible ailment, including dry lips, rattlesnake bites, poison ivy, measles, diphtheria and sties.  Here are a few:

The lining of a chicken gizzard is good for stomach trouble.

A drop of skunk’s oil will cure a cold.

To treat a wart, squeeze the red juice from a freshly picked beet leaf on it every day.

A drop of turpentine on the tongue every day will keep all disease away.

Vintage illustration of a doctor wrapping a bandage around a woman's arm as she rests in a chair with a pillow behind her.

The remedies were handed down from mother to daughter, from doctor to patient. Some old-time cures persisted until the Twentieth Century; generations of American children wore a piece of flannel (usually red) around their throats after drinking home-made cough syrups. In some areas of the U.S. it was a common practice well into the 1950s.  

Some folk remedies had no legitimacy, yet they worked because the patients believed they would work.

Victorian era illustration of a sick man in bed. A woman wearing nursing cap and apron stands at the foot of the bed hear a table on which is a bowl and a medicine bottle.

Other cures sounded strange, but had a scientific basis, like this one:

To cure an abscess or infected cut, apply a poultice of moldy bread and water twice each day.

In this instance, the poultice probably worked because the moldy bread essentially served as a home-grown form of penicillin.

Victorian era illustration of a seated woman holding a little girl in her lap. Before them kneels a doctor who holds a cup to the child's lips. In the background stand worried family members.

In our twenty-first century America, many of the old home-grown medicines have gone by the wayside. Luckily, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. has a large collection of stories, letters, research essays, photos, and voice recordings about American folk medicine that helps us understand how Isabella, her family, neighbors and friends dealt with illness and injuries. You can visit the LOC’s website by clicking here.

Does your family have a story about folk medicine cures that did (or didn’t) work?

Do you have a favorite home remedy that has been handed down from generation to generation in your family?

Love’s Garden

Isabella was an avid reader, and often read aloud to her family. She enjoyed biographies, histories, and fiction; but she particularly enjoyed reading poetry. In fact, her husband Ross and her son Raymond were both published poets.

Isabella often shared poems she enjoyed with readers of The Pansy magazine. In an 1893 issue she printed this lovely poem:

Love’s Garden

There is a quiet garden
From the rude world set apart,
Where seeds for Christ are growing;
This is the loving heart.
The tiny roots are loving thoughts,
Sweet words, the fragrant flowers
Which blossom into loving deeds—
Ripe fruit for harvest hours.
Thus in our hearts the seeds of love
Are growing, year by year;
And we show our love for the Saviour,
By loving his children here.

Author Unknown

The Many Names of Jesus

Isabella had a wonderful way of using her own personal experiences to show people how relevant the Bible could be in their everyday lives. In 1895 she wrote this uplifting piece for a Christian magazine:


Have you ever noticed how many beautiful names Jesus has?

One of the pleasantest Sunday afternoons I remember was spent with my dear father, looking up some of them, and trying to find what they meant.

We began with that one in Zechariah 3:8, where it says:

“Behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch.”

Graphic with Bible verse: I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH. Zechariah 3:8

I suppose I was not old enough at the time to understand much of its meaning, but I liked the sound of the verse; and I like now to think of Jesus as a part of God, a branch from the divine one, broken off from the great tree and sent to earth for us.

Then we looked at Isaiah 9:6, and found that he was not only a branch from God, but that one of his names was “Everlasting Father.”

And Isaiah 7:14 called him “Emmanuel,” which means, God with us.

And Paul, in Romans 11:26 called him the Deliverer; and Peter called him the Corner-Stone, and John, the Good Shepherd, and the Lamb of God, and the Light, and the King, and the Word, and the Why. John has so many names for him!

Graphic with Bible verse: There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer. Romans 11:26

Take your Bible some day, and try and find out all the names of Jesus; if you have not thought about it before, you will be astonished at the number of them. I do not think you can imagine a great or helpful name which has not been given to him.

So many times he is called the Savior! Then he is the Mighty One, the Maker of all things; the Prince of Life, the Prince of Peace, the Morning Star, the Redeemer, the King of Kings.

I wonder if you will have a preference among these names? If some of them will seem to make him come nearer to you than others?

One day I was very much afraid of something which I feared was coming to me; I did not see how I could escape it, and I was glad to remember that Jesus was the Deliverer.

Graphic with Bible verse: The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer. II Samuel 22:2

Then, when my father died, and my heart felt as heavy as lead, and it seemed to me as though I could never be happy again, I found this name for Jesus in Revelation 1:5:

“The first-begotten of the dead.”

Graphic with Bible verse: Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead. Revelation 1:5

Then  I remembered that Jesus died, and was the first one to rise from the dead by his own power, and had promised to raise all others, and that my father would surely live again.

Oh, this is a beautiful thing to study about! Who will try it? See how many names you can find.

What do you think of Isabella’s idea for Bible study?

Do you have a favorite among the different names for Jesus? one that—as Isabella said—makes him feel nearer to you than others?