A Letter from Chautauqua

Isabella’s novels about Chautauqua Institution inspired adults from across the country (and around the world) to attend the summer assembly in New York.

But children also dreamed of going. In 1883 Isabella received a letter from a twelve-year-old girl named Faith who made an unexpected trip to Chautauqua. Faith’s letter to Isabella was reprinted in an 1883 issue of The Pansy magazine. You can read Faith’s enthusiastic account of her summer below:

Chautauqua, Aug. 1, 1883.

DEAR READERS: A wonderful thing has happened to me! It will do to put in that long list of modern events that I had so much trouble remembering in my history lesson. I am quite sure I shall remember this one, though, as long as I live.

I wanted to go to Chautauqua, and here I am!

I talked about it, and dreamed about it, but all the time I thought it was of no use, for mamma said she didn’t know as we could ever afford to go. I put it among the things, though, that I meant to do some time, when I grew up. I thought it would be years and years first, but don’t you think, that very night, Uncle John and Auntie May came. They were on their way to Chautauqua. Almost the first thing Uncle John said to me was, “Come, Faithie, pack your trunk, we are going to carry you off with us.”

I thought it was only some of his jokes, but after tea, when we all sat on the piazza together, Uncle John began to coax mamma in real earnest to let me go. Mamma said that a little girl only twelve years old was too young to go away from her mother, but Auntie May said she would take the best possible care of me, and Uncle John said I would have a real good time, and it shouldn’t cost me a cent, and it was a pity if they couldn’t borrow a child once in a while, when they had none of their own.

Papa hadn’t spoken yet. He looked at me and he saw that my eyes were saying, “Please, please, do let me go!” Then he said to mamma, “Suppose we let her go. It will do the child good.”

Mamma said then that she would think about it, and decide by morning.

I almost knew before I went to bed that I was going, for mamma said two or three times, “If you go, you will do so and so.” Then she came into my room and looked my clothes over, and said, “If you go, you can take the smallest trunk. Let me see, there is your white dress, and your gingham, and your black and white check. The one you have on, with your brown hat and sack, will do nicely for travelling. You can put your best hat in the trunk.”

I had on my brown cashmere skirt, and white waist, and I thought myself I would look nice, with my brown sacque and hat, with a clean linen collar. I was glad I happened to have a brown hair ribbon, too.

I couldn’t get asleep very soon that night, and when I did I dreamed that Chautauqua was at the top of a high, steep hill, and I was trying to climb up, but every step I took I fell back two or three. It wasn’t true at all, though. Chautauqua is not on such a very high hill, and I did not have a hard time getting here.

Mamma said “yes” in the morning, without any ifs and ands, except that I had to promise to wear my rubbers when it was damp, and carry my umbrella when it looked like rain, and not go out on the lake, and do just as Auntie May told me.

The only bad thing about getting here was saying good-by. I didn’t think I would feel bad, going away for just a little while, but the minute I kissed mamma, I felt as if I were going to choke. I was determined not to cry, so I never said good-by at all. I was afraid after I got started mamma would think I did not care anything at all about leaving her.

Where shall I begin to tell you about this wonderful, beautiful place?

Chautauqua is just ten years old. Yes, ten years ago this was just like any other piece of woods on the shore of a lake. Now, it is a large, beautiful grove, the underbrush is all cleared away, and streets and avenues wind in and out among the tall old trees. There are pretty cottages—whole streets of them—and there are white tents sprinkled about, fixed out with red curtains, and lace curtains, and hanging-baskets, too pretty for anything.

A row of four tents set up in a clearing, with small houses in the background. A woman stands in the opening of the first tent; a wooden chair is beside her. Families pose at the openings of the other tents.
Chautauqua tents and cottages, 1910

A great, handsome hotel stands not far from the lake, and the lawn, sloping down to the water, looks as if it were covered with green velvet.

Hotel Athenaeum, 1908

The pretty blue lake is smuggled into green woodsey shores, and steamboats are coming and going all the time; then there are row boats and sail boats flitting about.

Row boats for rent on the shore of Lake Chautauqua, as a steamer docks at Chautauqua.

Whichever way you look you see people dodging here and there behind the trees. It looks as if all the grown folks were playing live. I like it. I wish they would do so always, and I don’t see why they can’t go on doing these pretty things when they get home. Life wouldn’t be half so dull if we could always get up, and go to bed, and go to dinner, at the sound of a chime of bells, and hear the grand organ every morning rolling through the air, and great burst of song coming through the trees. Why, it seems half the time as if I was one of the people in a lovely poem. Then, don’t you think the robins hop right about the door, great, lovely robins, and cunning little squirrels chase each other up and down the tree trunks.

A group of small children play in the grace near the lake shore. A couple sits on a wooden bench, looking about upon the lake, where there are sail boats, row boats and a steamer.

To think of my seeing robins and squirrels so near by! But I suppose you have met those delightful people scampering and flying about at your own house this summer, so I needn’t take up room telling you about them.

The people are not all playing, though it might look so. Almost everybody is studying something. There are classes in French, and German, and Latin, English literature, music, clay modeling, drawing, and ever so many other things.

A group of about thirty girls sit on the grass. Each girl weaves a holds a length of straw or small
A girl’s class in basket making at Chautauqua.

Uncle John says I may take drawing lessons.

Lectures and concerts are going on in the great amphitheatre nearly all the time. The amphitheatre is such a place as you never saw in your life. Let me see if I can make you understand just how it is. It is just as if the water was all dipped out of Simmon’s pond, a floor laid in the bottom, making a room as large is three or four churches, in one. Then imagine the sides of the pond, made hard and smooth, sloping down to this floor and filled with seats beginning low and going, one above another, up, up to the very top. There are aisles every little way from top to bottom (it’s the greatest fun to scud down them when all the people are away.)

Photo of the inside of the amphitheatre, a large wood structure with a stage at one end with about 12 rows of raised seating behind. The floor and 3 remaining sides of the theatre are filled with rows of wooden benches.

At one end of the great room is a high platform for speakers, and back of it and higher up still, is the orchestra with a beautiful organ.

Photo of the amphitheatre stage. In the middle is an elevated platform for the organist and three large banks of organ pipes.
The Massey Memorial Organ, 1908.

This alone is large enough to hold a thousand people. It is a great sight to sit up there evenings, when the electric light makes it all as light as day and lighter, too—and see the audience. Every seat filled; six or seven thousand people making a huge half circle about the platform; then the red and blue and pink and green and white and black dresses, and shawls and ribbons and feathers and fans is just wonderful; it all looks like a very big bouquet—at least, that is the way it looked to me; but I am beginning to think that people see everything with different eyes. I heard Auntie May ask Uncle John if it did not make him think of that verse in Revelations, xx. “So a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and kindreds and people, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb.” And Uncle John said he wondered if God saw the seal in the foreheads of all this company.

A view of the Amphitheatre from the stage in 1937.

It certainly seems as if we had got somewhere away from this world, at night, when the electric light streams far out and lights up the trees and cottages so beautifully.

I saw a lovely picture when I came home last night, only it was not painted and hung up, it was a live picture. It was a cunning little white tent with a light like sunshine on it. The red curtain was parted in front, the shadows of the leaves danced over it, and on the porch sat two pretty ladies, leaning back in their rocking-chairs resting.

It’s queer about things, isn’t it? If a great artist were to paint that and put it in a gallery how all the people would run to see it. Why don’t they gather round and wonder over pretty pictures before they are made up is what I would like to know.

Here I have written a long letter, and I have not told you yet how Chautauqua came to be. The man who thought it out and got it up, is Dr. Vincent. He and some of his friends came here one summer to study the Bible together in quiet. They thought it was a nice place, so they decided to hold a Sabbath-school assembly here the next year; from that it grew and grew to this great grand Chautauqua, where for six weeks in summer you can study anything, I think, from cooking up to all the ‘ologies and philosophies and dead languages and live languages that ever were heard of in the world, though the Bible is the chief book studied, by some of the people at least. Such grand lectures as I have been to!— not dry a bit. All the great orators speak in Chautauqua. Then the concerts, with all sorts of instruments and beautiful choruses and lovely solos. Oh, I tell you,  I’m having a good time!

The Chautauqua Regional Chorus performs at the Amphitheatre.

Uncle John says Dr. Vincent is a genius, and that the day will come when this will be a great university open the year round.

If you have any patience left after you read this, write to me, and if you want to hear more about Chautauqua I will write it, for there are whole books-full left.

Your loving friend,

Faith.

Pansy Approved Bicycles

Did you know Chautauqua Institution had its own commercial printing office? It produced brochures, maps of the grounds, programmes, daily schedules, and a newspaper called The Chautauqua Assembly Herald.

Published six days a week, The Chautauqua Assembly Herald filled eight to ten pages of every issue with news about Chautauqua, including the comings and goings of some of its residents and visitors.

On July 24, 1895 one of the newspaper’s reporters spotted Isabella’s familiar face at a concert in Chautauqua’s amphitheater:

Pansy’s placid, pleasant face was seen in the veritable sea of faces at the concert in Chautauqua’s amphitheater Wednesday. From her very looks one would judge Mrs. Alden as a woman who loves little people, even if one had never heard of the famous Pansy books.

Naturally, the reporter sought Isabella out as soon as the concert was over, and asked about her summer plans and whether she was writing anything special. Isabella confirmed she was indeed working on a story, and added:

“All of my stories, you know, are published in serial form in my magazine before they are put out in book form. My magazine work occupies most of my time.”

“For the past 19 years we have spent every summer at Chautauqua. We have our summer home here, but for many years past I have had to give up my Assembly work. I am much interested, however, in the Woman’s Club here.”

Knowing the Woman’s Club was to meet the next day, the reporter asked Isabella if she was going to read a new, unpublished story to club members.

“It is a story which not only has not been published, but which is not yet all written,” replied Pansy smiling.

Their conversation drifted into other topics, including an observation about the new phenomenon of women using bicycles as a means of getting around Chautauqua.

Studio photograph from late 1890s of young woman posed beside her bicycle. She is wearing a long dark dress with long sleeves and a high collar, and a bonnet.

Progressive-thinking Isabella had no problem with the new “wheelwomen” (as lady cyclists were called in 1895):

“I think the bicycle must offer a pleasant, healthful form of recreation to women, but I do like to see them dress inconspicuously and neatly when riding, and I do not like to see them wear bloomers.”

Photograph dated 1912 of woman standing beside her bicycle. She is wearing a long skirt, long-sleeved shirt with high collar, and a bonnet.

Any guesses which story Isabella was writing and publishing as a serial in The Pansy magazine during the summer of 1895?

It was Reuben’s Hindrances! Chapter eight of Reuben’s Hindrances appeared in the July 1895 issue of The Pansy; monthly installments continued into 1896 until all twenty-four chapters appeared in the magazine.

Grace’s Chautauqua Delights, Part 5

This is the fifth and final installment of Grace Livingston Hill’s 1894 article about Chautauqua. If you missed them, you can read Part 1 here. Read Part 2 here. Read Part 3 here. Read Part 4 here.

Recreations at Chautauqua

The Chautauqua Christian Endeavour Society should not be forgotten as a helpful influence in bringing not only the young, but all classes of people together, and making them acquainted. This society not only includes all members of the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavour who visit at Chautauqua, but also members of any denominational societies doing similar work.

A Christian Endeavor group, 1905

Here, in the white-pillared Hall of Philosophy, they meet for an hour just at early evening, every week, and hold their prayer-meeting; and the voice of prayer and song or words of cheer, of comfort, of consecration, come from many. One other hour each week is also given to a conference, where the members compare notes on the best ways of working in various lines.

In 1892 Grace was president of the Chautauqua Endeavor Society.

Last summer the plan was enlarged and a Working Committee formed. The grounds were divided into districts, and each Member of the Executive Committee became responsible for the work in one district; putting a topic card and notices in every cottage on the grounds, and giving to all strangers invitations to Meetings and Socials of the Society. Much good work was accomplished, and many strange young people made to feel at home.

The banner on the wall reads, “You are invited to attend the Y.P.S.C.E. meeting this evening.”

There was also a room used as Headquarters, where were books and other literature relative to young people’s Christian work, and where could be found stationery and a quiet place to write or read. The registry book showed that a goodly number of young people availed themselves of this privilege.

A quiet place to read.

This Society held an Autograph Social during the season in the parlours of the hotel, which was a great success.

The Athenaeum Hotel, about 1915

Here and there you might have seen some favourite professor backed up against the wall with a double semicircle of his devoted students about him, eagerly holding their cards up, and he writing as if for dear life. But it was everywhere noticeable with what heartiness each one entered into the spirit of the hour, and demanded a name on his own card in return for every one he gave.

A collection of autographs from the early 1900s.

From this gathering it was difficult to send the people home, even after the solemn night-bell had rung; and the small boy who collected the pencils was very sleepy when the last couples left the parlour, smiling and chatting of the pleasant evening spent.

And the chimes make a beautiful ending to a day at Chautauqua. Whether you are wandering by the lake shore, or through the lovely avenues, it matters not; they are sweet. Sweeter, perhaps, just a little, as they ring out over the water, calling you in from a moonlight row or yacht ride. “Bonnie Doon,” “Blue Bells of Scotland,” “Robin Adair,” “Long, Long Ago,” all the old airs, and by-and-bye growing more serious— “Softly Now the Light of Day,” “Silently the Shades of Evening,” “Glory to Thee, my God, this Night,” and the “Vesper” hymn for good-night.

The Miller Bell Tower.

In 1894, when Grace wrote this article, collecting autographs was a popular way to preserve memories of an event. It wasn’t until 1900 when Kodak introduced their Brownie box camera that the average American could commemorate travels, celebrations, and other events with photos they took themselves.

Did you enjoy this tour of Chautauqua through Grace’s eyes?

Hopefully, her words gave you a sense of what it must have been like to visit Chautauqua 127 years ago!

Grace’s Chautauqua Delights, Part 4

This post is Part 4 of an article Grace Livingston Hill wrote about the delightful offerings for young women at Chautauqua Institution. The article was published in an 1894 issue of the YWCA newspaper.

If you missed them, you can read Part 1 here. Read Part 2 here. Read Part 3 here.

Recreations at Chautauqua

Chautauqua has attractions and social possibilities all her own. There are innumerable receptions and class gatherings, where one meets not only one’s own associates, teachers and leaders, but also many distinguished men and women from all parts of the land.

The gymnasium holds its annual reception generally with some entertainment.

The choir, under Dr. Palmer, has a reception.

Occasionally a class in botany or geology takes a day off and goes in a body to Panama, or some other interesting place, for a good time with a little study mixed in.

A Natural Science class trip, 1906.

There are receptions of all sorts and descriptions. Two years ago, one was given in honour of several returned missionaries.

To the members of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle—and there are many—there is no more interesting night on the whole programme than the one given up to their class receptions.

CLSC Class of 1913 and grads of earlier years in the Hall of Philosophy, 1913.

One of the latest developments of this place of many new ideas is the Girls’ Outlook Club.

Five mornings in a week last summer, the girls and young women gathered in a pleasant room and discussed things useful, ornamental, or nonsensical, about “Ourselves, Our Homes, and Our Neighbours.” There they compared notes on all sorts of hobbies, and carried away many helpful hints for life, the gaining of which had been but the pleasant passing of an hour together; their talk interspersed with music by some of their number, or bright, interesting speeches of a few minutes from different notable men and women.

This club filled a long-felt need in the heart of every girl who attended it. But this was not all. The entire membership was divided into small circles, with a leader at the head of each, and with some certain work for each to do. These circles were named from well-known women.

A girls’ club in 1911.

And this charming company did not keep all their good times to themselves. Once a week they had a social; a Colonial Tea, or a Cap and Gown Tea, or a Musical Tea, or a Tennis Tea, to which they invited all their friends, men and women. These were most delightful occasions. At the Cap and Gown Tea a number of college girls were attired in their caps and gowns, and were ranged in a row and called a library. The volumes were all named, and anyone in the room was allowed to draw a book and talk with her for five minutes, provided the theme of conversation was her college. Each girl had bits of ribbon in her college colours to give as souvenirs to the friends with whom she had conversed. Tiny paper caps were given as badges to all college people. The tea was voted a success.

None the less so were the entertainments which followed in the next few weeks. The Colonial Tea, where all the girls were transformed into ladies of that old-time period, with high powdered hair and short-waisted dresses, and where one circle had some mysterious symbolic puzzles arranged, was most charming.

A 1906 Colonial Tea, with guests dressed in period costume.

Indeed, both the young women and young men of Chautauqua were delighted with the Girls’ Club.

wasn’t it a clever idea to arrange college grads in a row like a library? what’s the most clever party idea you’ve ever encountered?
join us tomorrow for the final post in the series when Grace focuses on a subject dear to her heart: the young people’s society of Christian endeavor.

Grace’s Chautauqua Delights, Part 3

In 1894 Grace Livingston Hill wrote an article for the YWCA newspaper, in which she described Chautauqua’s many offerings for young women.

Today we present Part 3 of the article. If you missed them, you can read Part 1 here. Read Part 2 here.

Recreations at Chautauqua

Chautauqua has her Field Day now, when you can see wonders in high jumping, hurdling, sprinting and the like, owing to the fact that many of the college athletes spend much time here, some as teachers, some as pupils and one thing or another, and many as pleasure-seekers.

Watching a foot race on Field Day at Chautauqua

Then there is the baseball ground, and many an exciting game may be watched; for Chautauqua’s team is a good one and seldom beaten, partly because the players are picked college men, and partly because of the excellent training they have undergone.

A baseball game at Chautauqua, 1910.

Bicycles are numerous at Chautauqua now. There is a bicycle club, which makes long and short excursions around the country. Sometimes you see two or three wheelmen or wheelwomen taking their machines on board the steamers. They ride from one point to another, and when tired, or their time has given out, they take the next steamboat back home again.

There are horses on the grounds, and there is not a little horseback-riding, and driving also.

One of the pleasures which must be had as a matter of course every year is a trip to Panama Rocks, ten miles from the Assembly Grounds.

The people go in parties, large or small for the day. The drive is a most enjoyable one, with a good, hard road all the way. The village of Panama, not far from the Rocks, is a dainty, clean little place dropped down among the green hills, away from any railroad, and bearing that mark of restfulness and almost Sabbath peace which one reads about occasionally in ancient books, but seldom sees. There are some white houses set amid its green, with tiny window panes, green blinds, porches with straight benches on either side, and a high door knocker, where one expects to see ruffled dimity curtains at the windows, and a dear little old lady appearing at the door with white bordered cap and snowy kerchief crossed over her bosom; and surely there must be a spinning-wheel or two stowed away in those attics.

Buses transport visitors to nearby towns and attractions.

The rocks are intensely interesting to a geologist, and many go there to study their formation; but they are also attractive to the mere pleasure seeker, for there are lovely places to scramble up and down, or sit and talk; and many broad, flat rocks for dining-tables, with the trees and birds and squirrels for company.

“The Sinking Ship” formation at Panama Rocks.

It is also a pleasant drive to Hogsback Gulf, and further on to Westfield, and about the shore of Lake Erie, where one of the old lighthouses still stands.

Hogsback Gulf, near Chautauqua.

But the loveliest ride of all is to the brow of the hill beyond Mayville, just at early evening, when the sky is flushed with those soft sleepy tones, and the “night is wide and furnished scant, with but a single star.” There you can see both Lake Chautauqua and Lake Erie, held in the arms of the sky, with delicate etchings of farmhouses and haystacks standing in clear relief against it all.

Sunrise on Chautauqua Lake.

After all, such things can be had at almost any summer resort, though you ought to know that Chautauqua is as rich in them as is any other place in our beautiful land. But she has attractions and social possibilities all her own. There are innumerable receptions and class gatherings, where one meets not only one’s own associates, teachers and leaders, but also many distinguished men and women from all parts of the land.

in tomorrow’s post Grace talks about Chautauqua’s girls’ clubs and the different entertainments each club hosts.
what do you think of Grace’s descriptions so far of the many things to do in and around Chautauqua?

Grace’s Chautauqua Delights, Part 2

In 1894 (at the age of twenty-nine) Grace Livingston Hill wrote an article for the YWCA newspaper, in which she described Chautauqua’s many offerings for young women.

Today we present Part 2 of the article. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

Recreations at Chautauqua

Quite near the bath-houses on the shore stands the gymnasium. You have heard all about that. That is where physical culture teachers go to be taught how to teach, and wear themselves out with listening to lectures on physiology, anatomy and orthopedics.

Coaches, athletes and teachers at the Chautauqua Gymnasium

But you have “come to rest, and want nothing of this kind”? Have you not learned that even the children take rest and pleasure here? If you do not know the delight of exercise in unison with others, in time to music, enter a class “just for fun,” and try it. You will surely gain health and strength, and probably be perfectly fascinated by the club-swinging or fencing, or the hoop drill, or the slow, graceful movements of the Delsarte. It is real pleasure to those initiated.

There are the inviting tennis courts, a goodly number, and in fine condition. By the lake or on the hill you may play to your heart’s content.

Tired of tennis? Would you like to walk? The new grove is a cool, delightful place in which to walk or sit and rest and talk a little. There are no houses there, and few people to interrupt the loveliness of nature. Even the tall trees bend and whisper when they wish to talk, and the birds and the breezes have it all to themselves.

Under the rustic bridge, 1907.

Off at one side you see the Hall of Philosophy, with its company of eager listeners at almost any hour in the day; on the other side a quiet ravine with the tiniest of brooks for picturesqueness; and beyond the high boundary fence and white road rise the blue and purple wooded hills.

The Hall of Philosophy

There are lovely walks outside the gates, too, when you care to take a long walk, with the most bewildering and charmingly old-fashioned, cool, dark woods, filled with ferns and mosses of all descriptions.

Among the beeches at Chautauqua. (From the New York Public Library)

A pleasant company one summer started out in the morning with lunch baskets and the usual picnic trappings, and spent the day in this beautiful retreat. They blazed the way with red and white strips of cloth embellished with poetry written by the entire company, for some of their party who were to follow later.

“Picnic” by Harold Slott-Moller

In sight of Chautauqua’s towers they were, with a good view of her lovely blue lake, and in sound of her hourly bells, but as utterly shut away from all the busy working place as if they had been in the heart of the North Woods.

The Miller Bell Tower at Chautauqua.

The day was one to be remembered by all, but they nevertheless were, every one, glad to get back to the grounds as evening drew on.

A walk by the lake, 1906.

There are walks by the lakes, up hill and down dale; by pleasant cottages, where you catch glimpses of the restful, or busy life, as the case may be, going on within.

A row of Chautauqua cottages, 1912.

Some groves and parks are hung thick with hammocks from the surrounding cottages. Oh, people have a good time at Chautauqua!

Fun at Chautauqua, 1906.

Occasionally, as you walk, you come upon a little group of photographers from the School of Photography, taking their first lessons in the art, perhaps; or here and there one more advanced in its mysteries is able to go by himself and pose with a black cloth over his head, trying to take a better view of the Amphitheatre than anyone else has yet succeeded in doing.

From a 1913 Kodak Camera print ad.
Grace was an excellent athlete and even taught sports and physical culture in her days at Rollins college. In tomorrow’s post, Grace describes the “wonders in high jumping, hurdling, sprinting and the like” at Chautauqua.
You can read more about Grace and the athletic classes she taught at Rollins College by clicking here.

Grace’s Chautauqua Delights, Part 1

We most often associate Chautauqua Institution with Isabella Alden because of the vivid way she brought the place to life in many of her novels.

But her niece, author Grace Livingston Hill, also loved Chautauqua. She famously wrote her novella A Chautauqua Idyl at the age of twenty-two to earn the money to go to Chautauqua when her family’s already tight budget could not stand the expense.

Like her aunt Isabella, Grace was an excellent ambassador for Chautauqua. In 1894 (at the age of twenty-nine) she wrote an article for the YWCA newspaper, in which she explained Chautauqua’s many offerings for young women.

Throughout the article you get a sense of Grace’s love for Chautauqua, as well as her thorough knowledge of the place.

It’s a rather lengthy article, so we’re going to break it down and share a portion of it every day this week. So, without further ado, here’s Part 1 of “Recreations at Chautauqua” by Grace Livingston Hill:

Recreations at Chautauqua

“Did you do nothing but study all last summer at Chautauqua?” asked one young woman of another a few days ago.

“I did nothing but have a good time this year. I was all tired out, and needed a frolic, so I had one,” was the reply.

“But,” said the first in a puzzled tone, “you always go there to study something. I thought Chautauqua was just a big school. You did not call it a frolic to attend lectures and classes all the time, surely?”

“Nothing of the kind,” said the other girl; and then she launched into such a glowing account of the attractions of the place as every true Chautauquan knows how, and well loves to give.

There is a side to Chautauqua about which very little has been spoken or written. In that charmed spot, as nowhere else, can a summer of varied delights be spent. It is by no means all lectures and study and “deep” talk.

The crowd at an open air lecture.

In the first place, of course, there is the lake.  The waves that roll about this fair point are not so thoroughly impregnated with wisdom that the sunlight does not glance from them as merrily, or they do not carry the many boats as daintily, as the waters about many other points on the lake. Neither are the fish thereabouts too intellectual to bite, occasionally at least, for the benefit of an amateur.

There are some shy water lilies not too far away, which can be found if diligent search be made. And there is the cool, quiet inlet for days when the water is a little rough, or the sun warmer than is pleasant.

A still, quiet inlet on Chautauqua Lake.

Occasionally there is a bit of excitement in the way of a race between a ladies’ crew and a men’s crew which have been drilling under the eye of a skilled oarsman. Then, if you do not care for the rowboat or a sail, there are those delightful trips on the great steamers. Why, one may spend the whole day—in fact, the whole summer—on the lake if one chooses, and then not go to the end of its beauties.

You must see it early in the morning, when the white mist the night has spread over it is being removed, and the distant banks look like a pictured fairy land; or later, when the sun has kissed the waves into dancing brightness. See it when the day is drawing to its close, and perhaps you will hear the voices of Chautauqua’s great chorus in the distance.

Chautauqua Lake at Sunset

You must not forget to get in the lake some day, and join the merry bathers.

Bathing at Chautauqua.
In tomorrow’s post, Grace describes the “health and strength” to be gained by visiting Chautauqua.
If you haven’t yet read Grace’s charming book A Chautauqua Idyl, you can click on the excerpt below to read it for free.

Reverend Alden Opens Chautauqua

Since it first opened in 1874 Chautauqua Institution has been an important part of people’s lives, and that was true of the Alden family. We can’t know exactly when Isabella and Reverend Alden first became involved with Chautauqua, but we do know that within one year of the assembly’s opening, the Aldens owned a cottage on the grounds.

1875 photo of Isabella, her husband and son seated on a wooden porch of a house. Behind them are seated Isabella's mother, her sister Julia, and an unidentied woman.
Isabella, Ross, Raymond, and family on the steps of their Chautauqua cottage (1875).

For the next twenty years, Isabella and her husband dedicated their summers to Chautauqua, teaching classes, organizing events, and working to promote Chautauqua’s ideals.

Just two years after Chautauqua first opened, Isabella published Four Girls at Chautauqua. That popular novel inspired generations of readers to experience Chautauqua for themselves, and attendance numbers bloomed.

An early cloth binding book cover for Isabella's novel Four Girls at Chautauqua. the title and author name are stamped in gold on a green background.

Reverend Alden was also an active ambassador for Chautauqua. He was a member of the Minister’s Council and conducted training classes for his fellow ministers.

He worked where he was needed, which meant he sometimes taught classes or led Chautauquans in prayer at opening day ceremonies, as he did in 1894:

1876 Newspaper article titled The Chautauqua Assembly reads: The opening exercises of the Chautauqua Assembly season for 1894 were held in the Amphitheatre. The Rev. G. R. Alden, of Washington, read the Scripture lesson and announced the hymn. The annual address of welcome was delivered by Bishop John H. Vincent, Chancellor.

He also traveled with Rev. Jesse Hurlbut, one of Chautauqua’s founders. Together they visited smaller Chautauquas throughout the eastern United States to address attendees and reinforce Chautauqua’s guiding principles.

Today Chautauqua Institution is still thriving! The assembly will reopen on June 26 with a generous slate of classes, lectures, and events to fill summer days and evenings. You can click on the image below to learn more about his year’s schedule.

Reverend Alden and the Jubilee Singers

In 1883 Isabella was living in the small town of Carbondale, Pennsylvania.

Illustration of an aerial view of the city showing layout of streets, and a river that flows past one end of the town.
A bird’s eye view of Carbondale, Pennsylvania in 1875.

Her husband had become pastor of Carbondale’s Presbyterian Church the year before, and he was already making his imprint upon the congregation.

Illustration showing two churches side by side. The Presbyterian church is constructed in a Gothic style with a square bell tower.
The Presbyterian Church of Carbondale on the left (the Methodist church on the right), as it appeared in 1911. When the Alden’s attended, the church was smaller and had a “beautifully proportioned spire, tall, slender and tapering.”

Reverend Alden was pastor of the Carbondale church for only three years, but decades after his departure, members of his congregation still remembered him as a leader who encouraged his flock to immerse themselves in the Lord’s work.

One member of the church said:

“He brought the church up to a high state of activity.”

In 1883 Reverend Alden brought the great American evangelist Reverend A. B. Earle to Carbondale for a two-week-long revival meeting.

Illustration of A. B. Earle from about 1870.
American evangelist A. B. Earle.

It was a resounding success. Thousands of people attended and hundreds committed their lives to Christ.

The religious revival meetings, held day and night for the two weeks past, close today. There has been no abatement of the interest, and each of the meetings have been largely attended, some of those in the evening crowded to the utmost capacity of the Presbyterian church. About three hundred persons, many of them adults and heads of families, have professed their faith in Christ and given satisfactory evidence of a change of heart.
From The Carbondale Leader, March 16, 1883.

The following year Reverend Alden organized a temperance rally, where the featured speaker was evangelist and temperance advocate P. A. Burdick.

Black and white photograph of P. A. Burdick.
Temperance advocate and evangelist P. A. Burdick.

He, too, drew large crowds and had a profound effect on the community

We are pleased to state that Mr. Burdick will reach here tomorrow and commence his labors on Sabbath evening. The first meeting will be held in one of the churches, and it is hoped that all classes of temperance people will join in the good work. All circumstances promise to be favorable, and we shall be greatly disappointed if a great reformation in this line is not effected in our city.
From The Carbondale Leader, March 21, 1884.

Also in 1883 Reverend Alden organized an event of which he was extremely proud. The previous year, while at Chautauqua Institution, he had heard the Fisk Jubilee Singers perform; and he was so impressed by their performance, he immediately went to work to convince them to perform at his church in Carbondale.

Photo of the Fisk Singers, five women and four men.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1870.

The members of Fisk Jubilee Singers were all students at Fisk University in Nashville, a liberal arts university that opened in 1866. Some of the first students were newly freed or had family members that were freed slaves. To raise funds for the university, music professor George White organized a nine-member chorus to perform in concerts.

They introduced to the world the slave songs that “were sacred to our parents” and had never before been sung in public. The Jubilee Singers’ beautiful performances soon gained a following. They began to receive critical praise, and in 1872 they sang for President Ulysses S. Grant at the White House.

A year later a second company embarked on a tour of England, where they performed before Queen Victoria and Prime Minister William Gladstone.

Photo of the Fisk Singers, six women and three men.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1875.

At home they performed at Carnegie Hall, where Mark Twain was a member of the audience and remarked:

“It’s something I never heard before. I’d walk seven miles to hear them again.”

By 1883 there were different Jubilee troupes touring different parts of the country. One of those troupes performed at Chautauqua, where Reverend Alden heard them, and resolved to bring them to Carbondale.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers performed at the Presbyterian Church of Carbondale on June 12, 1883. You can feel Reverend Alden’s enthusiasm in the press release he wrote (co-authored with Isabella and her brother-in-law, Reverend Charles Livingstone) for the local newspaper:

“Carbondale may now make ready for one of the most enjoyable entertainments ever prepared for mortal ears. The Fisk Jubilee Singers are coming!”

Here’s the full text of that press release:

Carbondale may now make ready for one of the most enjoyable entertainments ever prepared for mortal ears. The Fisk Jubilee Singers are coming! That one sentence should set this city on fire of expectancy. These twelve sons and daughters of former bondsmen render the rarest, most touching, most inspiring most wonderful music, to which we have ever listened. They made a world-wide reputation years ago, and still before Kings and Queens and Presidents, and critics of the highest order, they "hold their high carnival of song," while the immense audience is bound by the strange spell of their voices, or become wild in rapturous applause. If you have read in all the leading papers the seemingly extravagant praise of these wonderful singers, you have only to come to Nealon's Opera House on the evening of June 12th, 1883, to learn that "the half was never told." [signed] Mr. and Mrs. G. R. Alden, Rev. C. N. Livingston
From The Carbondale Leader, June 1, 1883.

Would you like to hear The Fisk Jubilee Singers? Click here to listen to their 1909 recording of “Golden Slippers,” part of a Fisk Jubilee Singers collection at the Library of Congress.

You can learn more about the Fisk University and the history of the Jubilee Singers by clicking here to visit their website.

Isabella Goes West!

This is Part 2 of a story about Isabella’s farewell to Chautauqua in the Autumn of 1901. You can read Part 1 by clicking here.

When Isabella’s friend Frances Hawley wrote about the Aldens packing up their Chautauqua cottage, she ended her account by saying that the Aldens left for “a prolonged stay in the west.”

For Isabella and her family, “the west” meant California.

Their decision to make the journey had been in the works for some time. By autumn of 1901 the Aldens—Isabella, Ross, and their daughter Frances—were living in Philadelphia, and some key events had taken place in their lives:

  • Isabella’s husband Ross had retired from the ministry.
  • Isabella’s son Raymond had completed his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, and had already moved to Palo Alto, California
  • Isabella was beginning to feel the passage of time. She was about to turn 60 years old, and Ross was already 69.

Of her advancing age Isabella wrote:

I am really growing old very fast now, you know. It seems to me that I have changed a great deal lately. I cannot do anything as quickly as I once could and I tire very easily.

Their decision to retire to California was probably based on a number of things, the most important of which was that they had always been a tight-knit family; and with the exception of one or two short periods of time, they had always lived together as a family, too.

Since Raymond had already moved west, he might have written to them about California’s clean air and warm temperatures. And maybe he had written about the Presbyterian church he was attending and the welcome he received there. By November 1901 he was already teaching a Bible class at church.

From the Palo Alto Press, November 27, 1901.

A Cross-Country Trip

Whatever their reason for make a change, Isabella and Ross finished packing up their belongings at Chautauqua and immediately set out for California to join Raymond.

From the New York Daily Tribune, December 33, 1903.

The first leg of their journey was probably from New York to Chicago. If they took one of the many “express” or “limited” trains, they would have made the journey in about 24 hours. From there, they would have taken a train to California.

From the New York Tribune, December 8, 1903.

A “limited” train, like the one in the ad below, would have taken a direct route from Chicago to San Francisco, and would have made as few stops as possible, bypassing many of the towns on the route.

New York Tribune, April 24, 1902.

On a “limited” train, their journey across the country would have taken about 66 hours, or almost three days. By contrast, travel on a regular train, making all the stops along the way, would have doubled their travel time.

This 1895 map from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company shows the dizzying number of stops a regular train would have made en route from Chicago to San Francisco. Click on the map to see a larger version.

By Christmas 1901 the Aldens were in southern California, staying with their friends, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Johnson.

Isabella’s fame followed her there. A local newspaper, The Los Angeles Herald, caught wind of her visit and arranged to interview her.

In addition to asking Isabella the usual questions (e.g. “How did you get the name Pansy?”) the article listed all Isabella’s work, and noted that in addition to writing novels, Isabella was still:

  • Editor of the Herald and Presbyter
  • Associate editor of Christian Endeavor World
  • Wrote stories every month for The Sunbeam (the Y.W.C.A. Gazette published in London)
  • Wrote for the Junior Christian Endeavor World
  • Composed Sunday-school lessons for the Presbyterian church’s “intermediate quarterly”

It’s no wonder Isabella was beginning to feel tired!

The article ended with news that Isabella was going to do a reading the following week from “an unpublished story,” titled David Ransom’s Watch (which was eventually published in 1905).

The interviewer must have asked Isabella what her plans were for the future, because the article ended with this prophetic sentence: “It is probable that the Aldens will make California their home.”

The Aldens continued their stay with the Johnsons through at least the end of January of 1902. Their visit was reported in the Los Angeles Times society page:

From The Los Angeles Times, January 1, 1902.

A New Life in Palo Alto

Sometime in early 1902 the Aldens left Los Angeles and returned to Palo Alto, and they settled into their new life in the Palo Alto community.

They joined the same Presbyterian congregation that had welcomed their son Raymond. By April, Isabella was in San Francisco where she delivered a speech on one of her passions: Mission work at home and abroad.

Around that time the Aldens also began a search for a home large enough to accommodate their entire family and expected houseguests. In the end, they decided to build a custom home that would satisfy their many and unique needs. They purchased property in Palo Alto, hired an architect, and began designing their dream home.

A few years later Isabella and Ross joined other Christians in attending the Mount Hermon Christian Camp when it opened in 1905.

The rustic Mount Hermon train station, about 1910.

Mount Hermon was the first Christian camp west of the Mississippi, and it must have reminded Isabella and Ross of Chautauqua’s early days. Isabella fell in love with the place. She wrote:

I wish I could give you a picture of Mount Hermon, a blessed place where I have spent precious weeks living out under the great redwood trees. It was wild and quaint and beautiful. I have many happy memories connected with it.

For the next few years they made annual trips to Mount Hermon until health concerns prevented them from traveling there.

From Daily Palo Alto Times, 1907.

Through all these new experiences Isabella kept busy writing books. Between 1901 and 1908 she published eight books, most of which were written with her adult readers in mind:

Mag and Margaret: A Story for Girls (1901)
Mara (1902)
Unto the End (1902)
Doris Farrand’s Vocation (1904)
David Ransom’s Watch (1905)
Ester Ried’s Namesake (1906)
Ruth Erskine’s Son (1907)
The Browns at Mt. Hermon (1908)

Isabella Returns to Chautauqua

Isabella also found time to return to Chautauqua on probably two occasions, where she stayed with friends or relatives who had cottages there.

In May 1912 Isabella and Ross traveled to New York, where they first visited her dear friend Theodosia Toll Foster (who co-wrote a number of books with Isabella under the nom de plume Faye Huntington). It is very possible the Aldens went from there to Chautauqua in June when the 1912 season commenced.

from the Rome New York) Daily Sentinel, May 14, 1912.

In 1914 the Aldens were again at Chautauqua, where Isabella and her niece, Grace Livingston Hill were among the authors honored at a C.L.S.C. reception.

By August of that year they were back home in California, where they were “welcomed by many of their friends.”

The Palo Altan, August 21, 1914.

It’s possible Isabella visited Chautauqua again in the years following, but no record of those visits survives.

Whether Isabella visited Chautauqua again or not, her friends at Chautauqua and in New York certainly kept track of her as a favorite daughter. In 1916 the newspaper in Rome, New York (located near the town in which Isabella was born and raised) covered Isabella and Ross’s golden wedding anniversary celebration with this article:

The Rome Daily Sentinel, June 6, 1916.

The article’s mention of their prominent place in Palo Alto society is a testament to the loving friendships the Aldens formed in their new home in California.


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

You can read more about Isabella’s adopted daughter Frances by clicking here.