Back to School with Doris Farrand

August is back-to-school month for students across America, much as it was in Isabella’s lifetime. As teenagers prepared to fill their days with classes and studies, they also prepared their wardrobes.

Young woman reads a thick book open on top of two other thick books. In her hand is a pencil.

Isabella knew what it was like for girls and their parents to shop for new wardrobes and school supplies. In the late 1800s/early 1900s, the right hat and a pair of new gloves were essential for a high school or college student. Luckily there were plenty of articles in newspapers and magazines to help students and their parents solve their back-to-school fashion dilemmas.

Article headline from a 1907 fashion magazine: The Department of Clothes. Beneath it is a subheading: Mr. Ralston's Chat about School Clothes. Beneath it are 3 illustrations; 2 featuring young girls wearing school clothes; 1 features drawings of teenage girls wearing different styles of school clothes.
From the Ladies Home Journal, August 1907.

Isabella began her novel Doris Farrand’s Vocation with one of those fashion dilemmas:

What should college student Doris Farrand wear to a school reception where she and her classmates were being honored?

Doris was indifferent to the problem, but her sister Athalie took on the task of updating her wardrobe, because …

“unless somebody else planned her clothes for her, [Doris] would go in rags.”

Thanks to Athalie’s efforts, Doris had a new hat to wear to the ceremony.

Drawings of "The Girl's Every-Day Hat from about 1908, featuring illustrations of eight different hat styles.

Like Doris, Miss Esther Randall (in Ester Ried’s Namesake) also struggled to stretch her college wardrobe, sometimes beyond its limits. She had a picnic to attend, and, perhaps, an evening at the theater, and she hadn’t a thing to wear. Isabella summed up Esther’s lament:

“Wherewithal shall she be clothed?”

Poor Esther’s wardrobe was so limited, she once wrote home to her parents:

I don’t think I shall accept any more social invitations. I haven’t time for them—nor gowns, for that matter. Sometimes I feel like a queer little nun in my one good dress that has to do duty on all occasions.

A teenager’s school dress, illustrated in The Ladies Home Journal, August 1907.

Unfortunately for Esther, it was the fashion for young women to wear white to their college graduation. As much as Esther dreamed of having a white dress like the ones her wealthy college friends would wear, she knew such a gown was out of reach; her missionary parents could never afford to buy her one.

Illustration of two young women wearing white gowns. The caption reads, "Pretty graduation gowns for school or college girls "to be made of sheer swiss or mull, trimmed with lace."

Like many of Isabella’s characters, Doris and Esther wore “made over” wardrobes. Doris’ sister Athalie could take an old shirtwaist, for example, and updated it with a new collar and cuffs she made herself.

Magazine illustrations of two young women; one wears a white shirtwaist; the other wears red. Displayed between them are different styles of collars and cuffs to go with either shirtwaist.

Women’s magazines of the time often gave instructions on how to accomplish it. Here’s one such article from a 1907 issue of The Ladies Home Journal:

Headline of a 1907 article in  The Ladies Home Journal titled "Last Year's Clothes in This Year's Styles."

And Esther’s mother—being a skilled needlewoman—could refresh an old skirt by adding a new band of fabric to the hem, in much the same way as The Ladies Home Journal recommended in a 1908 issue:

"A Fisherwoman's Hem." How can I lengthen a seven-gored dark blue serge skirt? Are hip yokes fashionable? [signed] Amateur.
It is not practicable to lengthen a skirt by adding a yoke. I should suggest that you add a "fisherwoman's hem" of dark blue chiffon broadcloth, if you cannot match your serge. 
The advice is accompanied by an illustration of a young woman dressed in shirtwaist and floor-length skirt standing before a full-length mirror.

But no amount of sewing or alterations could help Esther as graduation day neared. As much as she dreamed of graduating in a beautiful white gown, she knew she had only that one “good” dress to wear, which had already done faithful duty during two seasons.

Illustration of girl wearing graduation cap and gown over a long dress that reaches the floor. Her hair is styled about 1910. She holds an open book.

She knew how utterly impossible it would be to buy a new white dress—so impossible she never even considered praying about the matter. But someone else prayed on her behalf!

If you’ve read Esther Randall’s story, then you already know whether or not she ever received her heart’s desire and got to wear that coveted white dress. If you have not yet read Ester Ried’s Namesake or Doris Farrand’s Vocation, you can click on the book covers below to learn more:

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.

Isabella’s “Little Card” Giveaway!

If you’ve read many of Isabella’s stories, you’ve probably noticed how often she wrote about a character’s life being changed by a Bible verse written on a little card.

Often, one character would give the card to another for encouragement or to serve as a reminder of God’s love and promises to protect and guide those who follow Him.

More often than not, those “little bits of cardboard” had a big impact on characters who faced challenges or were going through difficult times.

Photo of card with Bible verse: "I will give you peace, at all times and in every situation." 2 Thessalonians 3:16

In real life, Isabella also handed out small cards on which she wrote a meaningful Bible verse chosen especially for the recipient. Here’s one of her handwritten cards:

Small card written in ink by Isabella Alden reads: "Either for or against Christ, every life must be, whether we will it, or not." Four Girls at Chautauqua. Yours truly. Isabella M. Alden. Pansy.

The Giveaway!

You can follow Isabella’s example! We’re giving away sets of “little cards” to four U.S. readers of Isabella’s blog!

Photo of small box labeled "bloom Prayer Cards." The end of the box slides open like a drawer, where you can see a portion of a card inside.

Each card set holds 30 cards. On the front is a beautifully illustrated Bible verse of promise, much like the ones Teenie Burnside might have created in Isabella’s short story “The Little Card.”

Photo of a woman holding three sample cards, one of which reads "I am full of mercy and grace, and I will overflow with love for you." Psalms 103:8.

The back of each card is blank, so you can add your own personalized message of love or encouragement for the recipient, just as Isabella did.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment below no later than midnight (EDT) on Sunday, May 24. (Unfortunately, we can only mail card sets to readers who live in the United States.)

We’ll announce the four winners on Tuesday, May 25. Good luck!

If you haven’t yet read “The Little Card,” you can read it for free! Just click here to go to BookFunnel.com and choose the reading option you like best:

  • You can read the story on your computer, phone, iPad, Kindle or other electronic device. Just choose the your preferred reading format.
  • Or you can choose the “My Computer” option to read a PDF version, which you can also print and share with friends.

Let Them Eat Cake!

Isabella Macdonald married Gustavus Rossenberg “Ross” Alden on May 30, 1866 in her home town of Gloversville, New York. They were married fifty-seven years. Isabella described her husband as unfailingly courteous, good-natured, patient, and principled. As a minister, those traits must have served him well.

Almost immediately after their marriage ceremony, Ross and Isabella boarded a train bound for the tiny town of Almond, New York, where Ross was given his first church after receiving his ordination.

Image of a slice of yellow cake with chocolate icing on a plate with a fork. in the background are a cup of coffee, a cream pitcher, and a sugar bowl filled with sugar cubes.

Isabella had very fond memories of that first church. Not all the parishes to which Ross was assigned, she said, “were as kind and considerate as the choice souls in that first beloved one.”

She had plenty of tales to tell about some of the congregations her husband led over the years, and she often included those tales in her novels. If you’ve read Aunt Hannah and Martha and John, you might remember one of the congregants gave Martha a perfectly ugly bonnet as a gift, leaving poor Martha undecided about whether to wear the bonnet to church. That “bonnet dilemma” was a true story that actually happened to Isabella!

Image of a three-tier chocolate cake with white icing.

In other novels, Isabella wrote about congregations that did not want to pay their ministers living wages, and decided to make up for the short-falls with fairs and bazaars to raise money for the minister and his family. That, too, was something Isabella and Ross had to deal with far more often that they would have liked.

In one particular parish, the people decided that instead of meeting Reverend Alden’s salary requirements, they would pay him less, but supplement the short-fall with food donations. The only problem was that nearly every woman in the church decided to make her contribution a marble cake.

Photo of a chocolate-iced marble cake on an ornate silver serving stand.

Isabella wrote about her growing dismay every time another marble cake was delivered.

“Marble cake! I don’t believe some families in this village can have anything else to live on, they make so much of it.” 

Photo of a marble cake sliced open to show the marble pattern

Before long Isabella’s pantry shelves were filled with cake. She wrote there was …

…enough marble cake to pave a walk from the kitchen door to the barn door.

She and Ross probably did their best to eat as much marble cake as they could, but days later it was becoming quite dry and stale, and Isabella wanted nothing more than to have “that obnoxious marble cake out of our sight!” But there seemed no way to get rid of it without hurting their parishioners’ feelings.

That’s when Ross came up with a plan. In the dark of night, with a spade and a lantern, he went behind the barn, dug a deep hole, and buried the remaining marble cakes. Isabella wrote:

“We have never cared for marble cake since!”


Click here to learn more about Isabella’s novel Aunt Hannah and Martha and John, which included fictionalized accounts of the “ugly bonnet” story, more about marble cake, and other anecdotes from Isabella’s life as the wife of a Presbyterian minister.

Fun on a Cold Winter Evening

Isabella didn’t have television or electronic devices during her lifetime (even radios weren’t common in homes until the 1930s). So on long cold winter days and evenings, when people had to stay indoors out of necessity, they had to come up with ways to entertain themselves.

Then, as now, board games like chess, checkers, and backgammon were popular; but they limited play to only two people. What was a family to do to pass the time?

Family members often read aloud to each other (click here to read more about Isabella’s skill at reading aloud) or joined together to sing hymns or popular songs.

Newspapers and magazines published word games, and families often joined together to solve riddles like this:

We are a curious family, Just five our numbers are. In every word you read or write one of us must be there; without the aid of one of us, not a single word you'll form; we're found in palace, cot and ship, and even in the storm!

Or this word scramble from a 1907 magazine:

I Dust Ned's Room. Re-arrange the letters in this sentence to make one word.

(Scroll to the bottom of this post to see the answers to these two puzzles.)

But when friends came to call, or neighbors got together, playing parlor games was the most common way for people to pass those cold winter evenings.

Children playing Blind Man’s Bluff.

The rules for most games were simple, and the games could accommodate any number of players, so they were ideal for entertaining children and adults. Here are a few parlor games that were in vogue during Isabella’s lifetime:

Blind Man’s Bluff:

Versions of Blind Man’s Bluff have been around since ancient Greece. The rules were simple; players were confined to a single room or space; one player was blindfolded and roamed the room/space freely, trying to catch one of the players. Once a player was caught, the “blind man” had to correctly identify him or her in order to win the round.

Savvy parents and alert chaperones usually limited this game to children, because teenagers and adults too often used it as a thin excuse to lay hands on each other.

Isabella hinted at Blind Man’s Bluff in her novel, As in a Mirror, when teenaged Elfrida Elliott snuck out of her parents’ house to join a group of friends for a night of games:

Very foolish games they seemed to be for the most part, having the merest shred of the intellectual to commend them, and that so skillfully managed that the merest child in intellect might have joined in them heartily. But the distinctly objectionable features seemed to be connected with the system of forfeits attached to each game. These, almost without exception, involved much kissing. Of course the participants in this entertainment were young ladies and gentlemen. There seemed to be a certain amount of discrimination exercised by the distributor of the forfeits, yet occasionally such guests as “Nannie” and “Rex” and others of their class would be drawn into the vortex, and seem to yield, as if to the inevitable, with what grace they could. [There was] a laughing scramble between the said Nannie and an awkward country boy, who could not have been over fifteen. He came off victorious, for she rubbed her cheek violently with her handkerchief, and looked annoyed, even while she tried to laugh.

Pass the Parcel:

A favourite game for all ages was Pass the Parcel. Here’s how it’s played: a small object is wrapped in multiple layers of paper or cloth, and passed around the circle to music. Each time the music stops, the person caught holding the parcel gets to remove one layer of wrapping. The win goes to the first person who can correctly identify the object before it is unwrapped; or to the person who ultimately removes the final wrap to reveal the object.

Wink Murder:

Another favorite was Wink Murder. To play, everyone sits in a circle and closes their eyes, while one person walks around the circle of players, choosing a murderer by tapping him or her once on the head. They then choose the detective by tapping a player twice on the head.

The players then open their eyes and engage in conversation, while the detective moves to the center of the circle and is allowed three tries to guess who the murderer is. Meanwhile, the murderer “kills” the other players by making eye contact and winking at them, trying not to be caught by the detective in the process.

To add to the fun, the victims “die” dramatically before they leave the circle. If the detective doesn’t identify the murderer in three attempts, he or she remains detective for the next round. If the detective guesses correctly, the murderer becomes the detective for the next round.

Have you played any of these parlor games before? What are your favorite games to play with your family, friends, or church group?

The answer to the word riddle is: Vowels

The answer to the word scramble is: Misunderstood

Pansy’s Typical Day

In 1892 Isabella’s husband was made assistant pastor of a brand new church in Washington, D.C. The Eastern Presbyterian Church was only blocks from the nation’s Capitol, and the Capitol dome could be seen from the top of the church’s 130-foot bell tower.

Eastern Presbyterian Church, about 1920 (from the Library of Congress).

The Aldens moved into a house about four blocks away on Maryland Avenue.

A view of U. S. Capitol from Maryland Avenue, which was unpaved until about 1930 (from the Library of Congress).

It’s likely the Aldens lived in a single-family house, instead of one of the row houses that were erected on Maryland Avenue and on many other streets in the District in the early 1900s. The photo below—taken from the top of the Capitol Dome looking northeast—shows a view of the Alden’s neighborhood.

View from Capitol Dome looking northeast toward Maryland Avenue (from the Library of Congress).

In an 1893 interview, Isabella spoke about how much she “dearly loved” her D.C. home. It was “cheery” and “bright” and Isabella took great care “in all that pertains to its comfort and happiness.”

The Aldens—Isabella, her husband Ross, and their son Raymond—had a daily routine in their Maryland Avenue home. Early in the morning, the family gathered in the back parlour of the house before breakfast “to sing a few verses of praise, to read a chapter in the Bible, and to ask God’s help and blessing on the work to be done.”

After breakfast, Isabella went right to work in her study—a place that was off limits to visitors or interruptions (except in a case of emergency). For the remainder of the morning, Isabella was at her typewriter, typing stories, writing Sunday-school lessons, working on a chapter of her next novel, or answering the volumes of fan mail she received daily—some days quickly turning from one task to another.

An advertising card for a Smith Premier model typewriter from 1900.

Isabella once said that she didn’t have to “think” when she typed. Much of her thinking, plotting and composing was done in her head as she went about her household chores. Then, when she sat down to write, her thoughts were “drilled like a well-ordered army, ready to march at the word.”

A comfortable study, about 1910.

An interviewer once described Isabella’s workplace as “a pretty study, lined with books.” In the room were two typewriters—one for Isabella, and one for her husband; they often worked side by side.

Typewriters weren’t the only modern gadgets in her home. Isabella employed all kinds of appliances and machinery, and was always on the look-out for a new labor-saving device. One reason: from a young age Isabella suffered from constant headaches (you can read more about her condition and the treatments she sought for it here), and she was seldom able to use her typewriter more than a few hours a day.

But she found that she could instead use a stenograph machine (similar to the ones court reporters use today) because her eyes didn’t tire as they did when she used a typewriter.

She taught herself to use a stenograph, and was soon able to extend her working hours a little longer each day. When she was done with work in the early evening, she handed the machine’s cryptic shorthand to a secretary, who transcribed it on the typewriter.

Bartholomew Stenograph machine, 1882 (from Typewritercollector.com).

Dictation machines were another type of equipment that was just coming into use during the time Isabella lived in Washington D.C.

An early wax cylinder phonograph for dictation, 1897 (from Wikicommons).

The early machines were expensive, but effective; and, as she did with her stenograph machine, Isabella could employ a secretary to transcribe the recorded text for her.

A typist transcribing a stenography printout, 1904.

Isabella sometimes wove descriptions of new and innovative appliances into her stories. She wrote about early typewriters in her novel Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant (read a previous blog post about it here).

And in the sequel, Twenty Minutes Late, she described Caroline Bryant’s astonishment upon seeing an early dish washing machine.

An 1896 magazine ad for The Faultless Quaker Dish Washer.

After the work day was done, Isabella and her family gathered again in the back parlour of the house. If they did not have a special engagement to attend, the family spent the evening reading together. More often than not, Isabella read aloud to Ross and Raymond, and anyone else who happened to be a guest in the house.

Different newspaper accounts of her public readings describe Isabella as a charming reader, with a “sweet voice” and “perfect intonations” that must have been delightful to hear.

What do you suppose Isabella read aloud to her family in the evenings?

Are you surprised to learn Isabella used the latest technology to work efficiently and streamline her housekeeping tasks?

Which of our 21st Century devices or appliances do you think Isabella would be most likely to use?

Marking Ester’s Bible

Ester Ried owned a Bible—a “nice, proper-looking Bible” that she read from time to time when she remembered to do so.

If her Bible was at hand when Ester was ready to read, she used it. If not, she took her sister Sadie’s, or picked up “the old one on a shelf in the corner, with one cover and part of Revelation missing.

But when Ester traveled to New York to visit her cousin Abbie, she packed in such haste, she forgot to add her Bible to her suitcase—a circumstance Abbie immediately tried to correct.

“Oh, I am sorry—you will miss it so much! Do you have a thousand little private marks in your Bible that nobody else understands? I have a great habit of reading in that way. Well, I’ll bring you one from the library that you may mark just as much as you please.”

Mark in a Bible? That was an entirely new concept for Ester.

She had never learned that happy little habit of having a much-used, much-worn, much-loved Bible for her own personal and private use, full of pencil marks and sacred meanings, grown dear from association, and teeming with memories of precious communings.

Once Abbie delivered the Bible to her, Ester began to think the idea of marking certain verses was an excellent one. The only problem was, she didn’t know how to go about it and had only a pencil to at her disposal.

When Isabella wrote Ester Ried in 1870, there were no Bible journal kits, stickers or markers like the ones we can buy in stores today.

Colorful Bible tabs from Etsy.com

And she probably never imagined there would one day be Bibles specifically designed for readers to create their own artwork inspired by a verse on the page, like the one below:

From ScribblingGrace.com

So when Isabella wrote Ester Ried, she had her title character take a much more simple approach; she had Ester merely underline certain Bible verses that had meaning to her, which was a perfectly sensible method for a young lady who was new to regular Bible study. As Ester progressed in her Christian journey, so, too, did her ability to memorize and mark verses that held special meaning for her.

Reverend Dwight Lyman Moody was a friend of Isabella’s family, and a keen proponent of Christians marking their Bibles.

Dwight Lyman Moody

He rarely went anywhere without his Bible, which he called his “Old Sword.”

After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871—a disaster that caused so much loss for so many people—someone asked Rev. Moody what he had lost in the fire. Rev. Moody focused on what was important:

“I have not lost my Bible, or my reputation.”

Anyone who was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the pages of his Old Sword would have seen proof of Rev. Moody’s constant study.

“My Bible is worth a good deal to me because I have so many passages marked that, if I am called upon to speak at any time, I am ready.”

He often told people not to buy a Bible they were unwilling to mark up or write in; and he suggested using a Bible that was printed in a way that offered plenty of room for jotting notes and suggestions.

“Bible-marking should be made the servant of memory; a few words will recall a whole sermon. It sharpens the memory, instead of blunting it, if properly done, because it gives prominence to certain things that catch the eye, which by constant reading you get to learn by heart.”

So what method did Rev. Moody use to mark in his Bible? Below is a plate (unfortunately it’s a little fuzzy after being duplicated many times) that shows his Bible, open to the first chapter of Ephesians. (You can click on the image to see a larger version.)

In addition to notes and references to other verses, he utilized a series of underlines and diagonal lines, which he called “railways.” It may look like a jumble of lines and notes, but his system was really very simple.

In the first column in the page on the right you can see how he used railways to connect words of promise that had meaning to him:

Blessed
Chosen
Accepted
Redemption
Together
Inheritance
Sealed

In the second column he underlined words he identified as “together” words. Then, in the blank area on the page on the left, he cited additional “together” verses he found in Galatians, Colossians, Ephesians, Romans, and I Thessalonians.

Although this system worked for him, Rev. Moody encouraged everyone to find their own methods.

“There is a danger, however, of overdoing a system of marking, and of making your marks more prominent than the Scripture itself. If the system is complicated it becomes a burden, and you are liable to get confused. It is easier to remember the texts than the meaning of your marks.”

In 1884 Rev. Moody wrote an introduction to a book titled How to Mark Your Bible, which incorporated many of the methods he used in his own Bible markings.

The book shares many examples of how to mark your Bible with railway connections and word groups in the same way Rev. Moody did.

You can read the book for free. Just click on the cover to get started.

Do you use markings, colors, stickers or tabs in your Bible?

What marking method works best for you?

New Year’s Day Calls in Pansy’s Books

“I have spent this New Year’s day in receiving calls,” wrote Miss Docia Myers (in Isabella’s novel Docia’s Journal). “The whole thing is a sham. I don’t believe in that sort of calls. If one could see only one’s good friends, and exchange greetings, it would be pleasant; but this passing compliments with people for whom one doesn’t care a pin, is utterly distasteful to me.”

Not everyone shared Docia’s opinion. In the mid-to-late 1800s, the tradition of paying New Year’s calls was one of the most entertaining—and least formal—of society conventions. Isabella was very familiar with the custom and wrote about it in several of her novels.

Here’s how New Year’s Day calls worked:

On New Year’s Day ladies—married and unmarried—remained at home to receive the calls of their gentlemen friends. The ladies dressed in their finest, and made their parlors as bright and cheerful as possible so as to welcome the gentlemen in from the cold.

Waiting for Calls on New Year’s Day by Winslow Homer.

Julia Ried (in Isabella’s novel of the same name) wore her very best for the occasion:

Didn’t I blossom out on New Year’s morning! Talk of Solomon arrayed in all his glory; it didn’t seem to me that he could have compared with me.

According to custom, ladies began receiving New Year’s calls beginning at 10:00 a.m. and had to be prepared to welcome and entertain any man who presented himself for the next twelve hours.

Gentlemen making New Year’s Day calls, from Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms (1888).

Gentlemen were responsible for calling upon every woman of their acquaintance. They could pay their calls alone, or they could join a group of friends and call upon the ladies together. The calling card below—printed especially for 1877 New Year’s calls—shows the names of six young men who made the rounds together.

The men went from house to house, their visits lasting only about ten or fifteen minutes before they were off to pay their next call. In some cases a gentleman’s visit was so short, he didn’t even take off his hat, coat, or gloves.

Julia Ried enjoyed the whirlwind, saying:

It was my first experience in that scene of the whisking in and out of half a dozen gentlemen at a time, so constantly followed by half a dozen more, that presently one lost one’s balance, and ceased to remember people as individuals, but as number forty-five or sixty-two, as the case might be, and, as the day whirled on, was dimly conscious of but one idea—an eager desire to reach a higher number than Mrs. Symonds or Miss Hervey, and Mrs. or Miss anybody else. I thought it delightful.

While the gentlemen discussed the weather, paid the ladies compliments, and wished them a prosperous new year, the ladies served refreshments.

Some women offered simple plates of fruits, cakes, and breads, with coffee and tea.

Fresh fruit, something of a rarity in winter, was also a welcome offering.

More ambitious hostesses set out full buffets, with a menu that might include turkey, oysters, ham, or roast beef, as well as hot side dishes.

The larger the menu, the more chances it included alcohol. Ale, wine, champagne, or a festive punch made with a whiskey base were regularly served by hostesses.

It’s not hard to imagine that if a gentleman was acquainted with thirty young women and visited each in quick succession on New Year’s Day, sampling food and drinking to the health of his hostess as he went along, there was a very good chance the gentleman might be a little tipsy by the time he finished his calls that evening.

Isabella recognized that danger. In Julia Ried she wrote about a young man named Norman Mulford who called upon Julia on New Year’s Day. Norman was “a bright, handsome boy of nineteen, fair-faced, except for a slightly unnatural flush. He was fresh from college honors, and seemed almost intoxicated with triumph and wine—just the sort of a boy to be led into all sorts of temptation.”

Unfortunately, Norman couldn’t resist the temptation of the “glittering glasses and sparkling liquid” offered him by every hostess at each stop along his way that day. Norman’s loving father was deeply aware of his struggle, saying, “I would have been thankful, I think, for almost anything that would have shielded him from the dangers and temptations of this day.”

But by the time Norman visited Julia, he was feeling defiant and resentful of his father’s efforts to keep him from drinking. When Julia and her friend, Mrs. Tyndall, explained to Norman that they promised his father they wouldn’t offer him any wine, Norman’s eyes took on a “stormy glare” and “his voice shook with suppressed passion as he spoke.”

“I am very grateful to my father, I assure you. I wouldn’t have you break your promise; but, I suppose you did not also promise that I should not help myself at your hospitable table?”
Whereupon he walked directly over to the refreshment table, and deliberately poured for himself a goblet of wine, drained the glass, and then immediately made his adieus.

Norman wasn’t alone in his struggles. Many young men found that as their social circles widened, the list of calls they had to make also grew, and the number of men who finished their New Year’s calls thoroughly intoxicated became a very real problem for society.

That may be one of the reasons the practice eventually fell out of favor. By the 1900s, the custom of paying New Year’s Day calls had been replaced by the New Year’s Eve celebrations we know today.

Christmas Shopping with Isabella

Julia Ried (in Isabella’s novel of the same name) had ten dollars with which to purchase Christmas gifts for her family and friends.

She knew exactly what she wanted to give her mother, sister Sadie and brother Alfred for Christmas; and since this would be her first Christmas away from home, she even thought out how she would ship the gifts to her family:

I had packed them in imagination in a neat little box, and written the accompanying letter scores of times.

In our modern world, ten dollars doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but in 1873, when Julia Ried was published, those ten dollars went much further than they do today.

For example, Julia could purchase a set of six handkerchiefs to give to Sadie at a cost of only thirty cents:

And since a lady could never have enough handkerchiefs, Julia might instead have opted to give Sadie a dozen of them (with fancy colored borders) at a cost of just 48 cents:

Or, Julia might have purchased for Sadie a knitted cap and scarf set, since such sets were just as popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s as they are now.

For Alfred, Julia might have purchased a new shirt to wear to his job as a store clerk (or even two shirts at these prices):

This full-page newspaper ad from 1912 illustrates other affordable gifts Julia might have chosen for Alfred, from a sturdy pair of gloves to a warm sweater to a new cap (click on the image to see a larger version):

When it came to selecting a gift for her mother, Julia knew no ordinary gift would do. She wrote:

Dear mother, she seemed to think that her first and greatest duty in life was to toil for and spare her children. Patient, faithful, tender mother! Tonight, as I recall her sweet, pale, tired face, I can think of no frown of impatience or anger that ever marred its sweetness. I can think of nothing left undone, that she could do, to smooth the path in which her children trod.

Clearly a special gift was in order for Mrs. Ried. A very pretty sewing box, covered in a sturdy but lovely patterned fabric (called “cretonne”) might have been the perfect gift:

Or she might have chosen for her mother a lovely ladies’ hat pin to add some sparkle to her life:

All of these would have been thoughtful gifts for Julia to send home to her family; but …

If you have read the book, you know that that Julia succumbed to an entirely different temptation when it came to spending her ten dollars—a temptation that left her with no money to buy gifts she wanted to give her family!

As the characters in Isabella’s novels so often did, Julia Ried had to learn many lessons about the dangers of peer pressure and placing trust in the wrong person—lessons that are just as relevant today as they were in 1873.

What do you think of the Christmas gifts in these ads from the late 1800s/early 1900s?

Which gifts would you purchase to give loved ones?

Pansy, the Enigma

In the nineteenth century, crossword puzzles had not yet been invented, nor had Sudoku and word search games that are popular today. Instead, “enigma” puzzles were in fashion. They were printed in newspapers and magazines for readers’ enjoyment, much like crossword puzzles are today.

Enigmas were puzzles within a puzzle. First, readers had to solve individual word clues that tested their knowledge and cleverness before they could solve the overall puzzle.

In 1882 Isabella Alden was the subject of an enigma puzzle that appeared in newspapers across the country.

Here’s how the puzzle appeared in the newspaper:

Think you can solve this enigma? It’s challenging!

First, solve each of the four riddles.

Then, using the letters from those four words, rearrange them to find the answer to the whole puzzle: a nineteen-letter title of one of Isabella’s books.

Need some help getting started? Click here for Hint #1

Click here for Hint #2

Click here for Hint #3

Good luck!

Click here to download a Word version of the puzzle to print and share with others.

Scroll down to see the answer to the whole puzzle, as it appeared in the newspaper the following week.

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If you solved the puzzle . . .