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Will the Real Russia Please Stand Up?

26 Sep

Karen, a long-time reader of this blog, asked a question about Isabella’s novel, Interrupted.

Twice in the book, Isabella used the term “real Russia.”

The first instance occurs when our heroine, Claire Benedict, and her Sunday school class take it upon themselves to renovate the church, and they turn their attention to fixing up the cast-iron stove that heats the sanctuary.

As the ladies try to decide what improvements to make next, one of the girls says:

“Look here! Don’t you think our very next thing, or, at least, one of the next, ought to be a furnace? I don’t like those stove pipes, if they are Russia. A furnace would heat more evenly, and with less dust.”

That’s the first mention of “Russia” in the book, referring to the pipes that vent the stove.

An 1899 newspaper ad for Siegel Cooper Department Store (New York) featuring Russia iron heating stoves.

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Later, Isabella used the same Russia reference in describing the stove after the ladies cleaned it up:

And really, the stove pipe, though it wandered about according to some wild freak that was considered necessary in order to “draw,” did not look so objectionable now that it was real Russia; and nothing could glow more brilliantly than the stove, which smoked no more.

No wonder Karen was curious! “Real Russia”—whatever that is—played a big role in the ladies’ efforts to beautify the sanctuary.

Men gathered around a cast iron heating stove in 1886.

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So, what was “real Russia”?

Isabella was referring to Russia iron. It was produced in Russia and was highly prized throughout the world for its ability to resist rusting and protect engines, boilers and stoves.

Another key feature that made Russia iron the wonder of its time was that it did not flake or lose any of its protective properties when it was bent, as American iron did.

For many years Russia iron could only be obtained from Russia. The manufacturing process was highly secretive, which kept demand high and prices even higher.

In the mid-1800s American engineers finally cracked the code for manufacturing Russia iron; and by the latter part of the century, American foundries were gearing up to produce their own version of the much-sought-after sheet iron.

Ad from Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania-Their Industries and Commerce, published in 1885 by the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce; found at Penn state Universities library.

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There was, after all, real money to be made from such a product. Sheet iron was used in the manufacture of many things, such as parlor stoves and cooking ranges.

An 1867 ad for Peerless kitchen stoves.

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In addition to stoves, consumers used iron pots and pans on their iron cooking ranges.

Portion of a Macy’s Department Store ad in the New York Journal, November 21, 1897

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Commercially, sheet iron was used to clad boilers and the engines on locomotives.

Even though American business was producing a creditable version of Russia iron by the 1880s, most consumers and industries were not fooled. They often referred to American iron products as “imitation Russia iron.”

A 1906 postcard showing a portion of the sprawling Carnegie Steel Works in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

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But as more and more American-made products began to be advertised as made of Russia iron, consumers had a difficult time distinguishing between “real Russia” and the imitation. In many cases, the only way to tell the difference between the genuine product and the American version was to find the tell-tale Cyrillic characters embossed on the original full sheets of iron. Click here to see a sample of those Russian characters.

It took many years for American industry to overcome the stigma of producing “imitation” Russia iron; but in 1885, when Interrupted was written, Russia iron was still the gold standard by which all other iron was measured.

So when Isabella wrote that the stove pipes in the church were made of “real Russia,” she was actually commenting on the high quality of the improvements Claire Benedict and her friends made to the church sanctuary.

Would you like to learn all the ways Claire and her friends beautified the church sanctuary in Interrupted? Click here to read the post.

You can also read about other unique terms Isabella used in her different novels. Just click on “Pansy’s Dictionary” under the Categories header on the right side of this page.

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iPhones and Isabella

20 Sep

Last week Apple unveiled its new iPhone with the latest innovations in communication technology. Its release came 130 years after Isabella Alden first mentioned the telephone in the plot of one of her novels.

As convenient and indispensable as phones have become in our modern age, the same could be said of telephones in Isabella’s time. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, telephones changed the way Americans lived.

Isabella was 35 years old when Alexander Graham Bell patented his version of the telephone in 1876; but that first model had very limited capabilities.

Inventor Alexander Graham Bell

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Although the early Bell telephones certainly transmitted sound, they only worked between two locations that were hard-wired to each other.

An illustration of Bell demonstrating his invention in 1877

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Then, in 1878, a man named George Coy invented the telephone exchange and immediately turned the telephone into a much more practical invention.

Instead of telephone lines being strung between two locations as Bell had envisioned, Coy’s exchanges linked any number of telephones to a single point: a switchboard.

An 1890 illustration of women working a switchboard at a telephone exchange.

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At the exchange, legions of trained switchboard operators used a series of cords and sliding keys to connect and reroute incoming calls to other telephones linked to the exchange.

An early telephone exchange, about 1898

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Thanks to those exchanges, telephone line construction exploded with growth over the next few years. By 1880, there were 47,900 telephones across America. By 1881, telephone service between Boston and Providence was established. By 1892, a telephone line had been constructed between New York and Chicago; and two years later New York and Boston were connected.

Switchboard operators at the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company near Washington, D.C.

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Another benefit of those exchanges: jobs. As telephone service expanded, more and more trained switchboard operators were needed to connect calls; and the majority of the operators hired were women.

A 1911 photograph of a switchboard telephone operator.

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When Isabella published her novel Eighty-Seven, she included a character who worked as a switchboard operator. Her name was Fanny Porter, and she worked in the Dunbar Street Telephone Office. Another character in the story described Fanny as …

… a bright, pretty girl, young, and quite alone here. She lives in a dreary boarding-house, and used to have some of the most desolate evenings which could be imagined.

Switchboard operators in 1914

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Fortunately, not all switchboard operators lived and worked under such conditions. While the majority of switchboard jobs required working for a Bell Telephone Company, there were other positions available. For example, some large businesses that required multiple telephone extensions were equipped with their own exchanges and hired operators to run them.

Switchboard operators in an office, about 1910.

In fact, businesses were the foremost users of the telephone in the late 1890s. That’s because, in general, phones were too expensive for individual homeowners to install and maintain; but Mr. Mackenzie, the wealthy businessman in Isabella’s novel Wanted, could afford to have a telephone in his home.

In fact, the telephone plays a small but pivotal role in the story. When Rebecca Meredith, the novel’s heroine, first meets Mr. Mackenzie, she thinks he’s hateful and selfish, until she mentions one evening that his young daughter is a little hoarse. To her surprise, Mr. Mackenzie immediately telephones the doctor and …

… administered with his own hand the medicine ordered. Even after the doctor had made light of fears and gone his way, the father sat with his finger on Lilian’s small wrist and counted the beats skillfully and anxiously.

After witnessing his tenderness for his daughter, Rebecca begins to change her opinion about Mr. Mackenzie.

In her 1892 book, John Remington, Martyr, Aleck Palmer was also a young man of great fortune; he, too, had a telephone in his home and business, which caused Mrs. Remington some concern. You see, she was intent on playing matchmaker between Aleck Palmer and her friend Elsie Chilton and invited the unsuspecting couple to dinner without letting either know the other had been invited. As Mrs. Remington explained to her husband:

Elsie is getting to be such a simpleton that I am afraid she would run home if I should let her know he was coming; and as for him, he is developing such idiotic qualities in connection with her, that I feel by no means certain he would not get up a telephone message or something of the sort to call him immediately to the office, if he should know before the dinner bell rang that Elsie was in the house.

But by the time the 20th Century dawned, the demographics and cost of telephone usage changed dramatically. Telephone companies had connected most major cities and strung sufficient telephone lines across the country to bring costs down, and phone company executives began to set their sights on a new goal: providing service to residential customers.

At first, advertising to consumers stressed the obvious: keep in touch with friends and family.

Blowing kisses over the phone, 1908.

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Then, in 1910 the Bell Telephone Companies developed several strong marketing campaigns that offered different reasons why every home should have a telephone. One campaign was directed specifically at the lady of the house.

The ads had strong visual cues, like this one illustrating how a phone in the home meant a family could summon a doctor quickly:

The series of ads was printed in magazines and on postcards, showing how a Bell telephone …

… keeps travelers in touch with home …

… guards the home by night as well as by day …

… summons help during household emergencies …

… relieves anxieties over a loved one …

… and quickly helps arrange replacements when servants fail you.

The ad campaigns were extremely successful. People began to think of telephones as an essential tool for the home, instead of a mere convenience. Soon, telephone companies across the country were installing residential telephones at an astonishing pace.

This Bell Companies business card for the Philadelphia area cites the number of installations locally and nationally. The blank space was filled in by an installation or service subcontractor with his own contact information.

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And after each new installation was complete, telephone residential customers notified friends and family of their new phone number by sending out cards like these:

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Soon telephones became not only an essential device for the home, but a convenient tool for the lady of the house. In Ester Ried’s Namesake, published in 1906, Ester Randall worked as a cook in the home of the Victor family. And being a stylish family, the Victors, of course, had a telephone, which Mrs. Victor used regularly, as in this scene where she explained to Ester her plans for dinner:

We’ll make the dinner light and easy to manage; just a steak and some baked potatoes and canned corn. Did you say there was no corn? Oh, I remember, you told me yesterday, didn’t you? Well, just phone for it. Call up Streator’s, they are always prompt; tell them they must be. And we’ll just have sliced tomatoes with lettuce for salad; all easy things to manage, you see. As for dessert, make it cake and fruit—strawberries, or peaches, it doesn’t matter which. Why, dear me, that dinner will almost get itself, won’t it?

It’s amazing to think that Isabella Alden saw the development of one of the greatest inventions of the Twentieth Century. In her time the telephone was innovative and exciting. It opened new avenues of jobs for women and changed the way people interacted with each other; and Isabella reflected those changes in her novels and stories that we still read and appreciate today.


You can read more about Isabella’s novels mentioned in this post by clicking on the book covers below:

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Free Read: Mrs. Dunlap’s Commentary

12 Sep

Mrs. Dunlap’s Commentary

Mrs. Dunlap is a model wife, mother, and homemaker. She’s the perfect hostess when guests enter her home, and out of the goodness of her heart she has taken a poor neighbor girl under her wing. Why, Mrs. Dunlap even teaches a Sunday-school class and remembers to keep the Sabbath holy!

Given such stellar qualities, Mrs. Dunlap must surely be a model Christian; but one unusually trying Monday begins to reveal the truth of Mrs. Dunlap’s character.

Click on the book cover to begin reading.

Singing ‘Molly Bawn’

6 Sep

When Isabella wrote The King’s Daughter in 1873, she wrote a novel that was contemporary for her time. In the book, she referenced household items and songs that were popular in 1873.

For example, in chapter eight, Miss Dell Bronson tries to convince Sam Miller to attend a temperance meeting with her.

At first Sam—a man who described himself as having gone to wreck and ruin—is aghast at the idea, but Dell won’t take no for an answer.

Instead, she uses all her powers of persuasion to entice Sam to the temperance meeting:

“Go and try one. I don’t believe you have ever been. We are going to have singing. I know you are fond of music. I heard you singing ‘Molly Bawn’ this morning. I like your voice. I want you to come and help us sing.”

Of course, songs sung at a temperance meeting would not include Molly Bawn; but by mentioning the song in her book, Isabella referenced a popular song her readers would instantly recognize.

Oddly enough, there are many versions of the Molly Bawn song. An Irish version tells the story of Molly Bawn being shot by her lover when he mistakes her for a swan as she hides in the forest.

But the American version—which is probably the version Isabella had in mind—is about a young man hoping to rendezvous with the girl he loves: Molly Bawn.

This sheet music, published in 1881, gives the lyrics to Molly Bawn:

The sheet music for Molly Bawn. Click on the image to see the music and lyrics.

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Molly Bawn was an incredibly popular song that captured and held America’s imagination. The melody was easy; the lyrics were romantic; and if you happened to have the singing voice of an Irish tenor—which may have been true of Sam Miller—the song was practically written for you.

In 1878 a writer named Margaret Wolfe Hamilton (who published under the pseudonym Mrs. Hungerford) wrote a novel loosely based on the song.

The 1904 paperback version of the novel Molly Bawn.

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The book version of Molly Bawn was an instant success in America. In fact, one of the novel’s characters utters for the first time in print, a phrase we still repeat today:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Hamilton’s novel was so popular, it remained in print for decades.

Artist Charles Dana Gibson—famed for his illustrations of The Gibson Girl—was so inspired by the story, he created his own depictions of Molly Bawn:

“Molly Bawn” by Charles Dana Gibson, 1911.

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In 1916 a movie of the Molly Bawn story hit theaters. It starred silent film actress Alma Taylor in the lead role.

Film actress Alma Taylor in a scene from the 1924 silent film Shadow of Egypt. She played Molly Bawn in a 1916 film adaptation of the novel by Margaret Wolfe Hamilton (aka Mrs. Hungerford).

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Clever Isabella! When she dropped the name of the song ‘Molly Bawn’ in chapter eight of The King’s Daughter, she knew she was giving her readers a reference they—and subsequent generations—would readily understand.

Would you like to hear a 1911 recording of the American song Molly Bawn? Click here to go to the Library of Congress website to hear the song.

And you can click here to learn more about Isabella’s novel, The King’s Daughter.

Postcards from Chautauqua: Saturday in the Park with Pansy

8 Aug

A Sunset service at Palestine Park

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“Nevertheless, she suffered herself to be persuaded to go for a walk, provided Eurie would go to Palestine….Flossy explained to her that she had a consuming desire to wander along the banks of the Jordan and view those ancient cities, historic now.” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)

Sometimes, I really, really wish I could take the Way Back Machine and latch onto Pansy’s group as they enjoyed the apparently mesmerizing lectures by a flamboyant Middle Eastern-born tour guide named Augustus Oscar Van Lennep. Not content to introduce the lakeside miniature Holy Lands that are a relic of Chautauqua’s Sunday School Assembly days, this enterprising, creative fellow dolled up in “Oriental” costume to give his lectures. That’s our man below, lounging in Rajah-like style, while his indulgent friends retain their upright Victorian postures.

Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives.

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Gus must have had an equally fun set of folks who joined him—witness his jolly crew of costumed believers at Palestine Park in 1875/6-ish. Can you imagine??? Oh, how much fun must that have been!

Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives.

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Alas, today the Park is largely neglected and used more as a family playground than an instructional living map.

I’ve been studying a 1920’s Bible Atlas by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut (Chautauqua lecturer, founding father, and big-time booster) to gain a working knowledge of the Holy Lands. As Dr. Vincent believed, I think understanding the topography and layout, relative distances and terrain of Palestine environs is extremely helpful when reading Scripture. I mean, when you see how far Gideon and his 300 brave soldiers had to track the Philistines, you really do understand why he was so angered when the locals wouldn’t give them any foods to keep their strength up!

According the Pansy’s many charming references to the Palestine Park, students were treated to not only the basic layout, but tiny townscapes and identifying plaques dotted the carefully crafted map. Bible verses connecting each significant stop provided context—and reasserted the importance of the location for the Christ-following traveler.

Today, in an effort to keep the residual charm of the place, small cast iron plaques are embedded along the landscape—they’re kept painted and somewhat landscaped. I understand there’s a “tour” each Sunday night and I hope to attend it someday.

I paced off various Bible place names made familiar by my Old Testament studies and was genuinely surprised to see how concentrated a radius these events encompassed. Here’s Jerusalem in relation to the Mount of Olives, only a stone’s throw from Bethany.

Mount Hermon in the distance provides the perfect “king of the hill” locale for the resort’s kiddie population. The impressive crevasse made me wonder if erosion hadn’t made the Jordan Valley a bit too deep?

“Here we are, on ‘Jordan’s stormy banks…I suppose there was never a more perfect geographical representation than this.” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)

Compared to the vintage postcards you’ll find in this blog’s archived Chautauqua posts (see the links at the conclusion of this post), I’d say the accuracy factor might be off a bit these days.

I found it charming that Jericho was in “ruins”—the flat-topped ancient buildings crumbled and scattered, like those of Hebron (though I’m not certain these ruins were intentional.)

Is someone is tending Jacob’s Well? Even on the dry day I visited, it was filled with water.

My favorite? The truly little town of Bethlehem.

I read the plaque as I exited the park, wistful at the thought of those tent-dwelling Sunday School teachers, nestling eagerly beside the “Mediterranean Sea” and along the shores of the Jordan, to understand more about the lands their spiritual ancestors walked.

What would they make of this rarely visited, gently poignant reminder of the Park’s original purpose? Today, no Bible markers or tablets grace the small stony stand-ins, no tiny replica buildings remain to represent scenes from the life of Jesus as they did in Pansy’s time. I turned my gaze to Chautauqua Lake, imagining the steamer pulling up to the nearby dock and unloading four lively 19th century girls, eager for fun, not knowing they would never be the same, thanks to their time in this beautiful place.

“Now, the actual fact is, that those three people wandered around that far-away land until the morning vanished … They went from Bethany to Bethel, and from Bethel to Shechem, and they even climbed Mount Hermon’s snowy peak and looked about on the lovely plain below. In every place there was Bible reading …” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)

Thanks for allowing me to share these mementos with you of my all-too-brief Chautauqua visit. My hope and prayer is to return soon to follow further in Isabella’s footsteps.

My fascination has led me to launch a tribute Chautauqua Literary & Science Circle reading plan—I’m pairing 19th century texts with contemporary works and next August, I hope to carry the Pansy Year banner in the Recognition Day parade. Interested readers can follow along with my literary journey at my blog, The Hall in the Grove.

Dusting off my sandals,
Karen

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If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:

Postcards from Chautauqua – Pansy-trod Pathways

Postcards from Chautauqua – On a Pilgrimage

Postcards from Chautauqua – Summer of 2017

A Tour of Chautauqua: Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua: Strolling the Grounds

A Tour of Chautauqua: Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

100 Years Ago at Chautauqua

Postcards from Chautauqua: Pansy-trod Pathways

2 Aug

“I was coming down the hill, away off, you know, by the post office…”
(Four Girls at Chautauqua)

A walk through Bestor Plaza, toward the fountain and the library beyond.

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“All the younger portion of the congregation seemed to be rushing back up the hill again…”
(Four Girls at Chautauqua)

On day two of my Chautauqua wanderings, I stopped for a breather in lovely Bestor Plaza (the perpetual hill-climbing here is murder!). This carefully tended, beautifully landscaped watering hole and gathering spot commemorates the life and contributions of Arthur Bestor, Chautauqua’s president from 1915 to until his death in 1944.

The keynotes of his presidency are struck in the centrally placed fountain, where monumental icons to Knowledge, Religion, Music, and Art dominate the waterworks.

While I cooled my heels and absorbed the view, I noticed a Post Office in one corner of the Plaza and followed my curiosity there.

The Chautauqua post office, as it appeared in the 1920s

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Hoping to find postcards, I instead found a delightful hybrid of contemporary governmental efficiency and mid-Victorian charm. No one was around to quiz about the dates and history, so I let my imagination wander as I snapped these personal postcards.

Did Isabella post a few notes to her friends from this window?

Did Pansy receive some of her fan mail via one of these charmingly designed post office boxes?

Did someone from the Alden household purchase stamps here?

Did Pansy send her niece Grace to claim a package here?

Did this busy hive of cubbies shelter a stirring new work by a favorite author for Pansy to read sitting on a lakeside rustic bench?

How many newspapers passed through here to enlighten and entertain the 19th century crowd?

Discovering artistically elaborate fittings like these for something as pedestrian as mailboxes confirms my belief that Chautauqua’s ongoing commitment to enriching every aspect of life is more than lip service. Their original ideals of glorifying each element of one’s life—dedicating it to the Lord and ennobling the humblest of tasks—is inspiring and convicting.

Take a close look at the door frame of the Postmaster’s office. See the totally unnecessary but utterly beautiful detail there? Maybe it’s time for us to imitate those who recognized that every moment of our days, no matter how mundane, can be an opportunity to worship the Creator Who made all things beautiful?

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Finding my roots (and leaves and blossoms)

“The museum was not; it had not yet been evolved. Neither had the lovely hall. Where it stands was a grove…I dreamed out many a flower-strewn path leading to it…”
(Eighty-Seven)

As I left the Post Office, I admired the plaza’s beautiful flower beds, brimming with summer’s prettiest blooms.

The flowers reminded me of yesterday’s pilgrimage to The Hall in the Grove and some touchingly innocent 19th century floral-themed mosaics that wreathed the speaker’s platform, celebrating the C.L.S.C.’s earliest classes. Can you even imagine a contemporary co-ed reading circle allowing themselves to be dubbed “The Pansy Class”? Hardly.

I loved all these timeless tributes, but one class year stopped me in my tracks. There they were, my spiritual, cultural, and literary “ancestors”—the C.L.S.C. Class of 1884: “Irrepressibles.” While I obviously feel a deep kinship with all things Pansy, I must admit everything in me said “Yes!” as I stood, motionless, before this joyful declaration of literary enthusiasm.

So, this day, while I enjoyed the blaze of seasonal glory, I nodded a special ‘hello” to my new favorite flower, the confident, courageous lily. The buoyant Class of 1884 couldn’t have a better floral representation than the trumpet-shaped blossom that symbolically celebrates Christ’s promise of eternal life.

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Irrepressibly His, Karen.

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In her final Postcards guest post, Karen guides us on a walk through Chautauqua’s miniature Holy Land.

If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:

Postcards from Chautauqua – On a Pilgrimage

Postcards from Chautauqua – Summer of 2017

A Tour of Chautauqua: Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua: Strolling the Grounds

A Tour of Chautauqua: Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

100 Years Ago at Chautauqua

Postcards from Chautauqua: On a Pilgrimage

26 Jul

Karen Noske joins us again to share photos and descriptions of the Chautauqua landmarks she explored this summer, with Isabella Alden’s novels in mind. Welcome back, Karen!


My next objective was the Hall of Christ, as there was an archival lecture to be given momentarily on one of the most influential early religious leaders at Chautauqua, the renowned Shailer Mathews.

I imagined how Isabella might have felt, sitting in this arena, listening to contemporary reflections on the man whose influence changed the course of the Institute in so many ways.

The Hall of Christ, as it appears today.

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“The Hall of the Christ, is first of all, to stand in the center of Chautauqua to represent Christ as the center of all learning and all true living; the Key to the true and eternal wisdom…a Hall where Jesus Christ is enthroned; where only his story is allowed; told in print and picture and sculpture and the human voice. Isn’t it grand!”

(Four Mothers at Chautauqua)

The workmanlike interior of the unprepossessing Hall of Christ makes me wonder if there haven’t been many changes to it over the years.

The Hall of Christ as it appeared in 1909

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The general atmosphere is one of beneficent neglect and exhaustion. A magnificent organ dominates the stage—sadly, it was eclipsed by the speaker’s screen and I only got this tantalizing glimpse of it.

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Engrossing as the lecture was, I was glad to make my way out towards my next objective—the centerpiece of Chautauqua for Isabella and, as it turned out, for me.

The Hall in the Grove

Directly adjacent to the Hall of Christ is the cherished “Hall in the Grove.” I recognized it immediately by its prominence and its beauty:

“If you have up to this time been even a careless reader of this volume, you have doubtless discovered that the center of Chautauqua life was the ‘Hall in the Grove.’ A beautiful grove, with trees old enough and grand enough to be worthy of their baptismal name—”St Paul’s Grove.” White-pillared, simple, plain, yet suggestive of such a brilliant past and hinting of such a glorified future … this bit of green and white, with a glimmer of lake between.”

(The Hall in the Grove, page 286)

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The dedication plaque on the “Hall in the Grove” reads, “Erected in 1900 on the site of an earlier wooden hall placed here in 1879. This building was erected by the generous gifts of members of C.L.S.C. classes and other friends of Chautauqua.”

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A talk by the very popular Bill Moyers (of CBS News fame) was just finishing up, so I crept in around the edges and starting following the elaborate and beautiful mosaics that frame the lecture hall’s floor.

“All was quiet there. The sunset meeting which had been held in that white, still place was closed sometime since, and their feet, as they stepped on the floor, resounded throughout the vacant Hall.”

(The Hall in the Grove, page 240)

I was delighted to find the shield of Pansy’s Class of 1887 in a place of genuine honor—nestled around the corners of the lectern.

The lectern platform itself is still a modest affair, virtually unchanged since Pansy’s class approached to celebrate their graduation. Let’s join Paul Adams from The Hall in the Grove here:

“Arrived at the white, quiet building, he entered it with soft tread, and, under an impulse which he did not in the least understand, uncovered his head. He stepped softly onto the platform, drew the armchair, which was the seat of honor, forward a trifle, and settled himself in it. Then he brought up before him in review the many and varied and wonderful experiences which the weeks had brought him in connection with that spot … Then he got down from the professor’s chair and … after a silent last look at the Hall, he walked home with Joe, they two speaking words together that were better than marble columns or millions of money, for they represented manhood.”

(The Hall in the Grove, page 382)

In The Hall in the Grove, Isabella shares a peek into her heart:

“…the gleaming pillars of the Hall of Philosophy rose up before him; something in the purity and strength and quaintness seemed to have gotten possession of him. Whether it was a shadowy link between him and some ancient scholar or worshiper I cannot say … but treading the Chautauquan avenues for the first time … his young heart thrill[ed] with a hope and a determination, neither of which he understood, every time he saw those gleaming pillars.”

(The Hall in the Grove, page 198)

When Caroline Raynor (another character in The Hall in the Grove) objects to the Hall being made in the style of a Temple of Minerva, she is vigorously corrected by her soon-to-be suitor, Robert:

“I like it exceedingly. Let the beautiful white temple be rescued from its heathen desecration and dedicated to the service of the good and true God our Father, and his Son Jesus Christ.”

(page 204)

I passed an ancient oak near one of entrances that was garmented in ivy and wondered … if I parted the ivy, would I find a lichen-crusted carving in the tree reading “Vine, 22, 1887”? (EightySeven, page 12.)

I surely saw what Dr. Winter Kelland did when …

“he and Vine walked … around under the hill, and up the hill, and come out beside the white-pillared hall and stopped under one of the tallest trees, and looked about them, and were silent. Dr. Kelland took off his hat and looked up reverently to the very top of the tall tree, beyond the top, into the blue of heaven.”

(Eighty-Seven, page 318)

As I walked reluctantly away from the Hall, I looked up and felt sure I was seeing the same trees, the same sky, the same view Pansy enjoyed in Four Girls at Chautauqua:

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“None of all … who spent the day within the shadow of that sweet and leafy place have surely forgotten how the quaint and quiet beauty of the place and its surrounding fell upon them; they know just how the birds sang among those tall old trees; they know just how still and blue and clear the lake looked as they caught glimpses of it through the quivering green of myriad leaves …”

(Four Girls at Chautauqua, page 180)


Next time, Karen makes a little visit to the Chautauqua Post Office before trekking to the “Holy Land.”


If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:

Postcards from Chautauqua – Summer of 2017

A Tour of Chautauqua: Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua: Strolling the Grounds

A Tour of Chautauqua: Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

100 Years Ago at Chautauqua

Postcards from Chautauqua—Summer of 2017

19 Jul

For Isabella Alden there were few places on earth more dear to her than Chautauqua Institution. She spent many summers there, and was greatly involved in the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (C.L.S.C.).

You can judge just how great an impact Chautauqua had on her by the loving manner in which she described the place in her Chautauqua books, which she wrote in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

Chautauqua Institution is still a thriving summer destination for thousands of people. Earlier this month, Karen Noske, a regular reader of this blog, took a trip to Chautauqua. Today she is sharing the highlights of her quest to see for herself  the beloved Chautauqua locations Isabella so dearly loved and faithfully described in her books.

Take it away, Karen!


Like many of Pansy’s fans, I’ve longed to walk the “tree-shaded” avenues of her hallowed Chautauqua, and decided to take the plunge this summer, as I live only about 3 hours east.

For your enjoyment and education, I offer these guest posts as a sort of “now and then” view of many of the places mentioned in her books Eighty-Seven, The Hall in the Grove, and Four Girls at Chautauqua.

I’ve limited my review to those seminal books as they hold some of the richest treasures for modern-day Chautauquans and fans.

(For much more detailed information about this cultural retreat, you can find a list of previous posts about Chautauqua at the end of this post.)

Climbing ever higher

I should have paid more attention to the carefully worded descriptions of Isabella Alden’s favorite summer retreat, Chautauqua. In her marvelously descriptive and touching books about its lakeside, forested environs, she often mentioned that her characters “went down” to the lake or “went up” to the dining tent or the grove.

As I breathlessly labored to keep from running pell-mell down the steep inclines that make up 90% of the avenues here, I realized she’d been remarkably coy about this physical aspect of the grounds. Mountain goats would love this place.

After stowing my meager luggage in one of the many charming cottages that cling defiantly to the nearly vertical hillside, I hiked up to my first stop—the Archives, where I hoped to meet Pansy by way of her works.

This small brick building houses the full complement of the C.L.S.C. volumes, from the year of this reading circle’s inception (1878) to the present day.

Her eyes lighted with pleasure as she recognized it. This, at least, was an old friend: Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation. She did not need to read the letters on the title page to make sure that the book—so like her own—bore that name. “C.L.S.C?” she said, hardly realizing that she said it.

(The Hall in the Grove, pg 202)

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I was delighted to find Pansy’s The Hall in the Grove (required reading for the C.L.S.C. class of 1881-82) snuggled between weightier academic tomes shown here.

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I hunted for, and found the impossibly dense (reportedly dry, according to more than one The Hall in the Grove character!) Merivale’s History of Rome … one brief dip into it made me admire “Paul Adams,” “James Ward,” and “‘Pick ‘Em Up’ Caroline Raynor” all the more for virtually memorizing its contents.

How utterly hopeless it looked to him! He read over the first sentences six times without having an idea as to their meaning…

(The Hall in the Grove, pg 90)

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I learned from the very helpful, very gentlemanly guardian of these treasures that one can indeed become a member of C.L.S.C. without having to limit oneself to the current crop of books! He assured me that I could “graduate” with a future Chautauqua class by reading a specified number of ANY C.L.S.C. materials, from any year!

“We are bound in honor to undertake all manner of work which will develop the spirit of Christian love and fellowship; it is the central feature of our organization … always with a view to reaching hearts as well as intellects. Why don’t you join us?”

(Eighty-Seven, pg 188)

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Karen’s next Postcard from Chautauqua will feature The Hall of Christ and the Hall in the Grove.


If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:

A Tour of Chautauqua: Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua: Strolling the Grounds

A Tour of Chautauqua: Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

100 Years Ago at Chautauqua

 

 

 

Meet Priscilla Hunter

5 Jun

In her books Isabella Alden created many endearing and memorable characters; but perhaps one of the most beloved people who appeared in her stories was Miss Priscilla Hunter.

In fact, Isabella liked Priscilla Hunter so much, she included Priscilla in four of her books:

The Man of the House
Miss Priscilla Hunter
One Commonplace Day
People Who Haven’t Time and Can’t Afford It

If you haven’t heard of Priscilla Hunter before, here’s how Mr. Durant described her in One Commonplace Day:

Miss Priscilla Hunter [is] a maiden lady who has just come here to live. If you have not heard of her before, you will do well to make her acquaintance. I think you will find her a woman after your own heart on the temperance question, as well as on some others.

And in The Man of the House, little Beth Stone said Priscilla was:

A woman; kind of old, and not so very old, either. She’s got grey hair, and she is tall and straight, and her face looks sort of nice; not pretty, and not exactly pleasant as I know of, but the kind of face one likes.

But don’t let Priscilla’s grey hair fool you. She was a woman of high energy and focused activity. It was Priscilla Hunter who almost single-handedly raised the money needed for the church in Miss Priscilla Hunter.

And when (in People Who Haven’t Time and Can’t Afford It) pretty Mrs. Leymon asked Priscilla to help bring some hope to a poverty-stricken family, Priscilla energetically replied:

Help! Of course I will. I’ll bring my scissors and snip out things for you in odd hours. Oceans of things can be done in odd hours; and I’ve got a little bundle laid away that will do to make over for somebody; and Mrs. Jackson has an attic full of trumpery that she will never use. I’ll see that a good load of it gets sent around to the room. You’ve got a good room? It’s Mr. Hoardwell’s, isn’t it! Of course he’ll let you have it; I’ll see him if you want me to; he’s a friend of mine. I’ll slip up there between daylight and dark and see about it.

Priscilla’s scissors and snips were always at work. She was a seamstress by trade; and in People Who Haven’t Time Priscilla . . .

. . . sewed all day in her attic room on clothes for boys too young or too poor to go to the regular clothing establishments. Poor was Miss Hunter; that is, people looking on called her so. But, after all, I hardly knew of a richer person than Miss Priscilla Hunter.

But if Priscilla Hunter was poor, why would characters in Isabella’s stories describe Priscilla as rich?

First, she was extremely wise. She was adept at sizing up a situation, asking the right questions, and dispensing the truest and most needed morsel of advice at just the right time.

She gave advice to children and adults, women and men, friends and strangers; and her advice was always the right advice!

She was intuitive, too. Sometimes she could figure out what someone’s worries were just by looking at them. She noticed everything; no detail was too small to escape her notice.  In “Miss Priscilla Hunter” Priscilla observed:

It is the trifling sacrifices that pinch. [A man] can do a great thing now and then that he knows people will admire, even though he has no such selfish motive in doing it; still it helps and cheers, to know that an appreciative world looks on and says: “That was well done!”

But to go without a new dress all winter—to go to church, and to society, and occasionally to a tea-party, wearing the cashmere or alpaca that has done duty as best for two years, and do it for the sake of the church, and say nothing about it, and know that people are ignorant of the reason, and feel that they are wondering whether you are aware that your dress begins to look “rusty”—that is sacrifice.

Priscilla was also generous. What little she had she shared with others, always trusting that as long as she did the Lord’s work, God would provide whatever she needed.

But the most important reason Priscilla was rich was her unshakable faith in God. She had a way of talking about God that made clear to everyone He was her best friend and constant companion:

You will find that if this life is a warfare, we have more than a Captain—we’ve a Commander-in-chief, and we have nothing to do with the fight, other than to obey orders and keep behind the shield.

Priscilla Hunter’s unwavering faith is on full display in the book The Man of the House. And though the hero of the story, Reuben Stone, is honest and trustworthy and always tries to do right, Miss Hunter shows Reuben how much better his life can be if he will make the decision to follow Jesus.

It’s no wonder Isabella Alden liked Miss Priscilla Hunter so much. And since she created Priscilla as a “maiden lady” without family or possessions to tie her down, Isabella could move Miss Hunter from place to place, and into the lives of the very people who needed someone to remind them of God’s love and friendship.

If you’d like to read about Miss Priscilla Hunter, you can read these stories for free on this website:

Miss Priscilla Hunter

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

Or you can click on the book covers below to read The Man of the House and One Commonplace Day:

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Reuben and the Bound Out Boys

29 Mar

When Isabella wrote about children in her novels, she often gave them jobs.

That was true of six-year-old Daisy Bryant, who worked alongside her mother in a canning factory in the novel, Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant.

Interior of a South Carolina canning factory showing a 7-year old girl who shucks 3 pots of oysters a day. Her 6-year old brother works across from her. Also in the photo are boys aged 11 and 12 years old. (From the Library of Congress)

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And in Household Puzzles, enterprising teenager Maria Randolph decided to take in laundry to help support her family.

A 1916 photo of sisters Zelina & Florence Richards, 12 and 13 years old, doing laundry. (From the Library of Congress)

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In the world in which Isabella lived, it was very common for children to work … and it was even more common for employers to exploit child laborers.

Six-year old Henry and three-year old Hilda were beet workers on a Wisconsin farm. Henry told the photographer, “I don’t never git no rest.” (From the Library of Congress)

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Children were paid pennies for twelve-hour work days, and often worked in dangerous conditions, as Isabella knew well. In her book Ester Ried Yet Speaking, young Mark Calkins, who worked long hours at a printing house, was injured in an elevator accident at work. With no money to see a doctor, and no help from his employer, Mark was left to suffer his injuries alone until kindly Dr. Everett intervened.

Eight-year-old, Jennie Camillo, a cranberry picker near Pemberton, New Jersey. (From the Library of Congress)

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But it was the children who had no parents who often fared the worst. With no one to protect them or look out for their interests, they were sometimes “bound out” to a family to work in exchange for food and shelter.

A four-year-old cotton picker who regularly picks fifteen pounds a day, and a seven-year old who picks fifty pounds a day. Homeless, they move from farm to farm with the emigrant wagons. Notice the knees of the boy’s pants have been worn through from constant kneeling. (From the Library of Congress)

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Orphanages regularly bound out boys and girls in their care. They would send a child to live with an individual or a family; in exchange, the child received training in some craft or trade that would support them in the future.

Boys from the Baptist Orphanage working in the cotton fields near Waxahachie Texas. The boys, aged seven years and up, pick cotton for the man in the photo. (From the Library of Congress)

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Some masters were exacting, severe, even cruel, and used the children they took in as slaves. Others were fair and kindly, even though they may have been strict and insisted on good workmanship.

Meet Jack

In 1915 Jack was an eight-year-old boy who worked sunrise to sunset on a farm in Western Massachusetts. Jack’s daily work was documented by photographer Lewis Hines.

Eight-year old Jack on a Western Massachusetts farm. He is representative of many young children who were overworked in rural areas of the country. (From the Library of Congress)

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An investigator with The National Child Labor Committee (an advocacy group that organized is 1904), Lewis Hines sought to publicize the plight of working children in America. Mr. Hines traveled the country documenting the children who labored in rural and urban areas of America, and he took all the photographs used in this post.

In her book Reuben’s Hindrances, Isabella wrote about a boy who was very much like Jack. Orphaned when his mother died, Reuben went to live with a poor farming family. The Hardmans treated Reuben badly and even begrudged him the bit of food he was given to eat each day.

Eight-year old Jack moving heavy cans of milk on a stone sled. (From the Library of Congress)

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In the novel, Reuben is overworked. His duties keep him busy from sun up to sun down on the Hardman farm, and he sometimes performs backbreaking tasks.

Jack milking a cow. (From the Library of Congress)

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But all the while, Reuben dreams of going to school and building a better life. Yet every time he tries to get away from the Hardmans, his efforts are thwarted.

Eight-year old Jack driving a horse rake. A small boy, he’s clearly having difficulty keeping his seat as he travels over the rough ground, making his task much more dangerous. (From the Library of Congress)

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In desperation, Reuben turns to his mother’s Bible for comfort. The verses he reads help Reuben realize that the things he thought hindered his progress were really opportunities he failed to recognize.

Jack preparing to drive a load of hay. (From the Library of Congress)

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Soon Reuben has a new outlook on life; and with the words of his mother’s Bible to guide him, he sets out to bring some happiness to the same people who once treated him badly and did him the most harm.

You can read more about Reuben’s Hindrances here.

Would you like to see more of Lewis Hines’ photographs? Click here to visit the Library of Congress and their collection of images by Lewis Hines.

Click here to read more about The National Child Labor Committee and their advocacy work for children.

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

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