Archive | About Isabella RSS feed for this section

Happy Birthday, Isabella!

6 Nov

Isabella was born on November 3, 1841 in Rochester, New York.

When she celebrated her 87th birthday in 1928 she was living in Palo Alto, California. A few days later, on November 6, a San Francisco newspaper ran a short article, describing Isabella’s birthday celebrations.

Mrs. Alden is confined to her room, which was filled today with flowers, gifts and birthday messages.

It’s nice to know Isabella received so many expressions of love on her special day!

Amazingly, Isabella was still writing, and the article mentions the last three books she worked on: Memories of Yesterday, The Fortunate Calamity, and An Interrupted Night.

You can read the entire news article below. Just click on this headline to see a large version.


You can read more about Isabella’s home in Palo Alto by clicking here.

Click here to read more about Isabella’s last book, An Interrupted Night.

 

 

 

Traveling America with Phoebe Snow

31 Oct

Isabella Alden was a great traveler. In her young adult years, she traveled all over the eastern part of the United States—from New York to Ohio, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C.—as her husband took charge of different Presbyterian churches.

When her writing career took off, so did Isabella’s travel schedule. From California to Florida and everyplace in between, Isabella spoke at churches, taught Sunday-school classes, and delivered lectures on a variety of topics before women’s groups.

Train station in a Boston suburb, 1903

At the time, train travel was the only transportation option available to her for traveling long distances.

But there was a problem with train travel: it was a dirty business.

An 1864 print.

Soot and smoke and dust from the steam engine’s exhaust permeated everything it touched; train stations, passengers, and luggage were all tainted.

A steam locomotive fills a valley with soot and smoke (from Wikipedia)

But all of that changed when the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (a Pennsylvania-based rail company) introduced a new power source for their train engines: Anthracite.

A Lackawanna Railroad ad from 1912.

While Anthracite is a coal, it has fewer impurities than common soft coal, and it burns cleaner. The Lackawanna Railroad company had almost exclusive access to America’s Anthracite source.

Realizing their clean-burning Anthracite-powered engines were an advantage for travelers, the Lackawanna Railroad came up with an ingenious marketing plan to highlight Anthracite’s advantages.

They launched an advertising campaign that featured a fictional character named Phoebe Snow.

Gowned in white, and wearing only a corsage of purple lilacs for a touch of color, Miss Phoebe Snow confidently traveled “The Road of Anthracite” and arrived at her destination as fresh and clean as when she first set out.

In addition to Phoebe’s image, each advertisement contained a short poem, written to mimic the cadence of a moving train.

The ad campaign was a hit. Soon Phoebe Snow’s image and the catchy railroad jingles began appeared in newspapers and magazines, and on postcards and posters.

As her popularity grew, so did Phoebe’s adventures.

She was spotted camping in the Rocky Mountains, and strolling along Broadway in New York City.

She even counseled mothers on the pleasures of traveling with children on “The Road of Anthracite.”

In 1903 Thomas Edison’s newly-formed motion picture company jumped on the Phoebe Snow band-wagon, and produced a short silent film about Phoebe and her railroad-riding adventures.

In the film, Phoebe’s travels include finding love and getting married to a fellow train rider dressed in (what else?) white.

Phoebe Snow’s adventures might have gone on forever, were it not for World War I. In 1917 the Lackawanna Railroad’s source of Anthracite was rerouted to help with the war effort, and Miss Phoebe Snow’s traveling days came to an end.

In her almost twenty-year career, fictional Phoebe inspired a generation of young women to travel. She was also the inspiration behind an entirely new genre of American advertising: the character-driven ad campaign, which we still see used in advertising today.

 

The Grace Livingston Hill Memorial School

10 Oct

Isabella Alden was particularly close to her niece, Grace Livingston Hill. Grace was a writer, too, and her books were incredibly popular and are still widely read today.

Grace Livingston Hill-Lutz, about 1912

But Grace wasn’t merely a best-selling authoress; Grace was also a teacher. She was dedicated to teaching Sunday-school classes at her church, and when her daughters Margaret and Ruth were old enough to attend school, Grace decided to teach them at home, just as her parents had taught her.

Grace’s desire to teach wasn’t limited to her family. For years Grace ran a Bible class for children at a nearby Presbyterian church. She was the guiding spirit in establishing a mission Sunday School for immigrant families, and she personally paid to send innumerable young people to Pinebrook School, a well-known Christian Bible conference in the Poconos.

Notice of class registration for Grace Livingston Hill Memorial School; from the Tampa Bay Times, May 20, 1954.

Education was something Grace was passionate about, and when she passed away in 1947 her daughter Ruth Hill Munce took steps to honor Grace’s teaching ministry.  Ruth purchased a 30-acre site in St. Petersburg, Florida and built a school, which she named after their mother.

An ad for Sunday services at Grace Livingston Memorial School chapel. From the Tampa Bay Times, October 22, 1955.

Grace Livingston Hill Memorial School had just four classrooms and 75 students when it officially opened in 1953, but the Christian day school grew with each passing year. Ruth served as the school principal for 15 years. Under her direction, she ensured that Christian education was at the core of every class, saying, “God would be the sum of the equation, the Bible a textbook.”

Grace Livingston Hill Memorial School graduates, class of 1961, from the Tampa Bay Times, June 7, 1961.

In 1962 the school changed its name to Keswick Christian School, and it’s still operating today under that name. But it had its roots as a tribute to Grace Livingston Hill, who loved God and used her talents for writing and teaching in order to serve Him.

You can read some of Grace’s short stories for free on this site. Just click on one of the images below to begin reading.

        

Artificial Flowers

4 Oct

During the late 1800s and early 1900s no true lady ever left home without being properly attired. Isabella Alden would have abided by that rule.

When paying calls or shopping, Isabella, like all women at the time, wore gloves as well as long sleeves and high collars to cover her arms and neck.

Even more importantly, ladies always wore bonnets.

The fashion in 1895: A black straw hat trimmed with artificial roses, lily of the valley, and violets. Courtesy of HistoricNewEngland.org.

Bonnets were de rigeur for any lady in the out of doors; and while styles of bonnets changed from year to year, one constant was decoration; with few exceptions, ladies’ hats were decorated with ribbons, netting, swashes of fabric and—most commonly—with artificial flowers.

Hat styles in 1914, depicted in The Ladies Home Journal.

Woman of the era loved artificial flowers. From small dainty buds to cabbage-sized blooms, women wore them not just on their bonnets, but in their hair and on their gowns, as well.

Artificial flowers were in heavy demand; companies that supplied them were constantly adjusting their prices to gain an upper hand over their competition.

Business card for a dealer in artificial flowers.

In Isabella’s lifetime, the American manufacturing industry was in its infancy; there were no machines that could make artificial flowers. So the flowers were constructed by human fingers, petal by individual petal.

It was tedious, painstaking work that was typically performed by women and children for paltry wages.

Artist Samuel Melton Fisher memorialized flower makers in his 1896 painting

Flower Makers by Samuel Melton Fisher, 1896.

But Mr. Fisher’s painting shows an idealized setting, with women and girls in crisp white aprons happily gluing the petals of flowers together or attaching blooms to stems.

The truth was that the majority of artificial flowers were made as piecework in women’s homes.

A mother and her children making artificial flowers in their home (1910).

In 1908 the city of New York conducted a study of people living in city tenements. As part of the study, they published this photograph depicting Frank, a fourteen-year-old, and his family, who lived in a tenement building:

The city used this caption for the photo:

Frank, 14, John, 11, and Lizzie, 4, work with their parents at home making artificial flowers. The father helps because his health is too poor to do other work. The boys work from Saturday afternoon and evening until 10 or 11 p.m. Lizzie separates petals. They make regularly from ten to twelve gross a week for which they are paid 6 cents a gross.

At 6 cents a gross, Frank’s family earned between 60 and 72 cents a week. To put that amount into perspective, a loaf of bread at the time cost 5 cents; a quarter of milk cost 6 cents, and a dozen eggs cost 22 cents. Given the amount Frank and his family earned, they were able to afford just enough food to survive.

Young women making artificial flowers.

The demand for artificial flowers remained high for decades. Some unscrupulous suppliers rounded up street children and locked them in rooms, forcing them to make flowers for 12 to 14 hours a day. The children were give little food and allowed minimal rest before they were made to begin work again.

Eleanor H. Porter, the popular author of the Pollyanna series of classic children’s novels, wrote about the plight of such children in her book, Cross Currents.

Although many of the children in Isabella’s novels had jobs or worked to help support their families, none of them assembled flowers; still, it was such a wide-spread cottage industry, Isabella was probably very aware of the practice.

There’s no available photograph of Isabella to tell us whether she liked artificial flowers on her bonnets; but in her memoirs, Isabella mentioned that when she was a young bride, she wore a hat that a woman at church felt was “too gay” for a minister’s wife to wear. The woman went so far as to send Isabella an incredibly ugly hat for her to wear instead.

Isabella even wrote about the incident in her novel Aunt Hannah and Martha and John. In the story (just as it happened in Isabella’s real life) an anonymous person sends newly-wed Martha Remington a very unattractive hat. Martha’s struggles in deciding whether to wear the horrid creation to church reflected the very same struggles Isabella endured in the very same situation!

You can read more about the books mentioned in this post by clicking on the book covers.

 

Isabella’s Last Novel

27 Sep

Much has been written about Isabella’s first book, Helen Lester, and how it came to be published.

Less has been written about her last novel, An Interrupted Night. Here’s an interesting fact about the book: in the same way her first novel Helen Lester was published with the help of her best friend, Theodosia Toll Foster, Isabella’s last novel was published with the help of her beloved niece, Grace Livingston Hill.

Isabella Alden

Here’s how it happened. In 1924 Isabella was 82 years old. During that year she suffered great loss: her dear sister Marcia, her husband Ross, and her son Raymond all died within months of each other. Isabella’s writing took a back seat as she made her way through that difficult time.

Ross and Isabella Alden with their son Raymond in 1916

Two years later, in 1926, Isabella was seriously injured in an automobile accident in Palo Alto, California, where she was residing. She lived with the pain of her injuries for years afterward.

Then, in 1929, due in part to those old automobile accident injuries, Isabella fell and broke several bones including her hip. From that point on, Isabella was confined to a wheelchair and in constant pain.

Still, despite everything she had been through, at the age of eighty-seven she had one more story to tell.

Between intervals of constant pain and visits from friends and well-wishers, Isabella began writing her last novel. But even with her best efforts, she struggled to complete the story because, as she said, her body . . .

. . . was unfit for the work that needed to be accomplished.

Finally, determined to get her promised manuscript into the hands of the publisher, Isabella called upon her niece Grace Livingston Hill for help.

Grace Livingston Hill, 1915.

By that time, Grace was a successful novelist in her own right. Still, Grace said of her aunt’s request:

I approach the work with a kind of awe upon me that I should be working on her story! If, long ago in my childhood, it had been told to me that I should ever be counted worthy to do this, I would not have believed it. Before her I shall always feel like the little worshipful child I used to be.

But Grace took up the task, and helped her Aunt Isabella — by then confined to her bed — finish the book.

The novel was titled An Interrupted Night. Isabella said the story was based on actual facts, told to her by one of the people characterized in the story as “Mrs. Dunlap.”

The cover for Isabella’s 1929 novel, An Interrupted Night.

The novel was published by J. B. Lippincott Company in 1929 and received very favorable reviews.

One particular review, found in the Fort Lauderdale News on July 12, 1929, begins with this this sentence:

Old readers must have gaped with surprise and thought that their glasses were at fault when they read that a new book by Pansy, Mrs. G. R Alden, will be published soon by Lippincott’s. Shades of sainted grandmothers and all the dear old ladies of the Presbyterian fold, who reveled and doted upon Pansy when they were little girls!

That’s quite a beginning to a book review, isn’t it? Although the review begins with a rather sarcastic tone, it ends on a more respectful note. You can read the entire review by clicking here or on the image below.

Because it’s still protected by copyright, we can’t make An Interrupted Night available to you, but copies of the book do surface in libraries and book stores on a fairly regular basis.

If you find a copy of An Interrupted Night, you’ll be treated to a marvelous story about Mrs. Dunlap and her efforts to convince a young woman to abandon her plans to elope with a man who seems, on the surface, to be her ideal mate.

It’s a Pansy story in the truest sense, with a wonderfully sweet ending, engaging dialog throughout, and important life lessons for her characters —and readers! — to learn along the way.


This is the last post in 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.

 

Welcome to Pansy’s House

26 Sep

Isabella Macdonald Alden was born the youngest child in a loving, and very tight-knit family.

She and her sisters were especially close, even though there was a vast difference in their ages.

For example, Isabella celebrated her first birthday the same year her eldest sister, Elizabeth, married and moved into a home of her own. But since Elizabeth’s new house was only a few steps from the Macdonald’s front door, Isabella and Elizabeth shared a close relationship.

The same was true of Mary, who was 14 years older than Isabella. When Mary wed and set up housekeeping, her home was built on property that abutted the Macdonald’s back garden. As a result, Isabella spent a lot of time with Mary and they, too, had a special bond.

Isabella’s sister, Mary Macdonald Williamson (age 87) with two of Isabella’s grandchildren in Palo Alto, California (1914).

It’s no wonder, then, that when Isabella married and began keeping a house of her own, she made certain the door was always open to family members. She wanted her sisters to feel the same welcoming spirit in her house as she had always felt in theirs.

When her son Raymond was young, Isabella and her husband Ross began taking him to Florida, hoping the southern climate would benefit Raymond’s health. To their relief, Raymond’s health did improve, so the Aldens decided to make Florida their winter home.

The Aldens and the Livingstons in Florida. Front row left to right: Julia Macdonald (in white blouse), unidentified man, Margaret Hill, Ruth Hill, Grace Livingston Hill and her husband, Frank Hill. Second row (in light-colored dress) Marcia Macdonald Livingston and her husband Charles Livingston. Back row, third from left: Isabella Macdonald Alden, Raymond Alden, Ross Alden.

They bought a plot of land in the new town of Winter Park, and began building a house that would be big enough to accommodate plenty of family members.

Interlachen Avenue in the 1890s. Bicycles appear to be a favorite mode of transportation.

They built on an oversized lot on the corner of Lyman and Interlachen avenues, right across the street from All Saints Episcopal Church.

An 1888 photo of All Saints Episcopal Church. You can see the front half of Isabella’s new house peeking from the left side of the church.

The house was completed in 1888. Ross dubbed it “Pansy Cottage,” a name that stuck and was soon known all over town. This photo shows the size of the “cottage”:

The inviting home was three stories tall, with large yards in front and back, and a wrap-around porch that invited family, friends and neighbors to sit down and enjoy a cozy chat. It was the perfect place for the family to gather, far away from the cold New York winters.

In this photo you can see family members on the front steps and porch, in the yard, and even peeking out of the top-most windows. They look like they’re having fun!

Isabella and her family members spent many happy winters at the Pansy Cottage; and the Florida climate did improve Raymond’s health.

A side view of Pansy Cottage, with children riding their bicycles.

In 1906 Ross and Isabella began their preparations for retirement. They sold Pansy Cottage and moved to their new house in Palo Alto, California where, once again, everyone was welcome in Isabella’s new home.

In fact, she and Ross shared the California house with their son Raymond, and his wife and children, as well as Isabella’s sisters Julia and Mary.

Julia Macdonald (about 1875).

After Ross and Isabella sold Pansy Cottage, it was passed along to different owners. Eventually, it was turned into a rooming house; and in 1955 Pansy Cottage was demolished. But thanks to photos like these, we can still peek into Isabella’s world and imagine a bit of her life with those she loved in turn-of-the-century Florida.

Click here to read more about Isabella’s house in Palo Alto, California.


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 28.

The Pansy Tree

19 Sep

Publishing The Pansy magazine was a family affair. Every two weeks Isabella and her husband edited a new issue of the juvenile magazine. Each issue featured stories that were both instructive and entertaining, as well as articles about foreign lands and lessons on nature and science.

But perhaps the feature Isabella loved most was “The P. S. Corner.” In this column she printed letters she received from members of The Pansy Society. Children joined the society simply by pledging to overcome a fault (such as arguing with a sister, or shirking chores) with Jesus’ help.

Every month, hundreds of children wrote letters to The Pansy to tell of their pledges, their successes and their failures. Isabella treasured the letters, and called Pansy Society members her “blossoms.”

Even more importantly, Isabella answered all the letters! Sometimes she replied with congratulations, sometimes with encouragement and sympathy, as in this short note to Bessie from Nebraska:

Poor little blossom! It is very hard work to be unselfish, especially when so many grown people set us a bad example. Try hard, my dear.

Her “blossoms” adored her. So when an elementary school in Ravenna, Ohio planned an Arbor Day celebration in 1884, the children decided to plant a tree and name it Pansy, in honor of their favorite author.

Arbor Day at Fremont School, Santa Rosa, California; 1917

Isabella found out about it, and a few days after the Arbor Day ceremony, she sent the school a lovely letter.

Dear Young Blossoms:

How shall Pansy thank you for the sweet thought which made you choose out her from among all the people in this full world for the honor bestowed?

Oh, I hope the tree will grow, and grow, and spread out its branches, and cast its cool, restful shadows just as far as God meant it should, and do its own pleasant work in the world.

An Arbor Day ceremony at a small school in Massachusetts; 1915.

Later in the letter, Isabella reminded the young arborists that there was another tree—the tree of life—that was even more important:

Fair young blossoms, will you grow in beauty and bloom always for Jesus? Shall we gather, all of us, some day, under the branches of the tree of life, and talk the earth-story over?

She closed the letter to the children as she always did—with an earnest invitation to one day meet her in Heaven.

I do not know that I can ever stand under the shade of the green tree that you have so kindly named for me, but I feel sure of that other one. Will you all meet me there?

Your grateful friend,
Pansy

Her sweet letter to the children was printed in the local newspaper. You can read the entire letter by clicking on the image below.

Would you like to know more about the Pansy Society? Click here to read a previous post.

And you can click here to read a post about The Pansy magazine.


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 21!

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

.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, January 16, 1911.

.

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!

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.

%d bloggers like this: