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A Nice Oyster Supper

25 Apr

There’s a recurring theme in many of Isabella’s books you may have noticed:

Whenever a group of characters needed to raise money for their church or favorite cause, their first inclination was to earn the money through a social event.

Ad from a 1918 North Carolina newspaper.

Isabella’s characters held fairs and festivals, old folk’s suppers and young folk’s concerts, character parties and tableaux, strawberry soirees and ice cream socials—all in the name of raising money for their church or charity.

Announcement in Fort Mill Times (South Carolina), November 17, 1910.

Carrie Spafford in The Pocket Measure didn’t see the sense of it. She asked:

“Why do you suppose we always think of devices of this kind whenever we talk about money for the cause of Christ?”

Carrie asked a good question. Whenever there was money to be earned, Isabella’s characters—much like the people in churches Isabella observed first hand—spent long hours and lots of money to stage events by which they hoped to receive donations for their cause.

The Camden (Tennessee) Chronicle, February 9, 1912.

The most popular method Isabella’s characters turned to for raising money was the oyster supper.

That’s what happened in Isabella’s short story, “Circulating Decimals.” As soon as the ladies of the Penn Avenue Church realized the church library was in need of new books, they decided to take action.

Up rose the women, the respectable, middle-aged, matronly women. The library must be replenished, the money must be raised. They—the matrons—would do this thing speedily and quietly. They would have an oyster supper on a large scale, make preparation for a great many guests, furnish oysters in every possible style, and with them such coffee as only they could make, to say nothing of the inevitable cake and cream, and side dishes for those who did not relish oysters. So they went to work quietly, skillfully, expeditiously. Baking, broiling, frying, stewing!

A portion of a comic appearing in the Washington DC Evening Star, January 1, 1911.

Oysters were also the go-to choice when Isabella’s characters entertained guests in their home.

Preparing an oyster supper; and 1873 print.

Flossie Roberts served oysters with jellies and sauces to the rough boys in her Sunday-school class in Ester Ried Yet Speaking.

Oysters with Lemon, a painting by Otto Scholderer, 1891.

And when the impoverished Cameron family in What They Couldn’t struggled to find a way to entertain their society friends with little money, they decided to invite their discerning friends to a simple lunch:

Their ideas of simplicity would have bewildered some people. A lunch without salads was not to be thought of, of course; and chicken salads were the best. No matter if chicken was very expensive just now, it did not take a great deal for a salad. Then oysters were just getting nice, and, after the long summer, seemed so new; raw oysters were the very thing with which to begin a lunch. Served on the half-shell and properly garnished, there was no simple dish which looked more inviting.

A plate of oyster patties from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Cookery, 1907.

In these stories, and many others, Isabella was sharing a very real circumstance of life in late 19th and early 20th century America:

America loved oysters and ate them in abundance.

Business card for an oyster dealer, 1880.

Fresh oysters were prized, but thanks to advancements in canning methods, oysters could be shipped inland to Midwest cities that previously had no means for buying and consuming seafood.

And new techniques for harvesting oysters made them so abundantly available, their cost was half as much as beef, per pound. They were inexpensive and popular, and Americans couldn’t get enough of them.

A plate of grilled oysters, from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Cookery, 1907.

Cook books of the time had recipes for stewed oysters, fried oysters, broiled oysters, and pickled oysters.

A 1915 cookbook published by the Oyster Growers and Dealers Association of North America. You can click on the cover to see the entire cookbook.

Americans served oyster patties, oyster pies, and soups. They added oysters to their meats, stuffed them in turkeys, and scrambled them with eggs.

For those who didn’t want to prepare oysters themselves, they could find oysters on the menu of most restaurants and public houses.

The Union Oyster House in Boston, Massachusetts was founded in 1826 and is still in business today.

Most major towns in America could boast an oyster parlor or oyster saloon.

A 1903 newspaper ad for a Louisiana oyster saloon offering a ladies’ private parlor.

Many such establishments had private dining rooms for ladies, where they could eat oysters in an environment that did not offend their delicate sensibilities.

An 1881 ad for an oyster saloon in Astoria, Oregon.

Americans’ love for oysters spawned an entirely new industry of serving plates and utensils designed specifically for oysters.

An oyster plate from the late 1800s. With six oyster wells, it is decorated in the Chinoiserie style popular at the time.

It’s no wonder, then, that when Isabella’s characters planned a dinner or a party, they naturally thought to put oysters on the menu. They were inexpensive, easy to prepare, and almost everyone liked them.

A silver oyster fork from Tiffany & Company, dated 1872

But cooking and selling oysters didn’t guarantee that a fund-raising event would be successful. Though festivals and dinners and other fund-raisers were very stylish, Isabella believed that more money and effort were spent on putting the events together than the organizers ever made from donations.

When talk turned to having a fund-raising festival of some kind in The Pocket Measure, Callie Spafford stated Isabella’s opinion plainly:

“Haven’t you often seen gentlemen eat fifty cents worth of oysters and cake and cream and fruit and celery, and I don’t know what else, and pay twenty-five cents for it all, and think they were being benevolent?”

Despite the questionable economics, oyster suppers remained a favorite form of charity fundraisers in America . . . and in Isabella’s novels.

 

Pay as You Go

18 Apr

When Isabella wrote Interrupted in 1881 she was forty years old and had lived through one of the greatest financial disasters in American history.

It was a troubling time for the country, and Isabella reflected that trouble in her story. The main character, Claire Benedict, is a young woman raised in the lap of luxury, who suddenly finds herself—along with her mother and sister—virtually penniless when her father dies unexpectedly.

Isabella wrote:

How do such things occur? I cannot tell. Yet how many times in your life have you personally known of them—families who are millionaires today, and beggars tomorrow? It was just that sort of blow which came to the Benedicts.

Isabella had seen real-life examples of wealthy businessmen turned into paupers overnight. Just eight years before Interrupted was published, America suffered through The Panic of 1873.

The Collapse of a Bank by Vladimir Egorovic Makovsky. Note the despair of the man in the center of the painting, compared to the bank manager on the right, pocketing cash as he heads for the exit.

The Panic was caused by many factors, but the fatal spark came from Jay Cooke & Co., an American banking house that borrowed heavily to finance railroad expansion in the U.S.

Newspaper illustration showing crowds gathered outside Jay Cooke & Co. banking house in September, 1873.

Cooke was caught using a number of deceptive business practices, including shell companies to hide costs from investors, a scheme discovered in 1872. The revelation damaged investor confidence, and Cooke’s bank suffered heavy losses until, in 1873, Cooke was forced to suspend all deposits and payments, and closed the bank’s doors.

A run on the Fourth National Bank, New York City, 1873. From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

That announcement sent shock-waves through Wall Street, and led to a panic of bank runs and bank failures throughout the country.

The extent of the economic crash was so great, the New York Stock Exchange closed two days later and stayed closed for ten days.

Crowds on Broad Street near the Stock Exchange on September 20 after the closing of the Exchange doors.

Those banks that survived the initial crash immediately called in their debts, which caused an alarming number of foreclosures and bankruptcies throughout the country.

The Panic of 1873 commenced on September 18; by and the end of the year . . .

  • One in every eight Americans was unemployed
  • Employers that were still in business cut wages, on average by 25%
  • Construction of businesses and homes came to a standstill
  • The value of land dropped and profits crashed
  • Tens of thousands of workers—many Civil War veterans—became homeless transients, making “tramp” a commonplace American term

Retailers did their best to keep their doors open. Many abandoned attempts to make a profit and had to be content to merely break even.

Advertisement in a Philadelphia newspaper.

It was a desperate time in America; and the economic depression that followed the crash lasted almost seven years.

As the economy began a slow recovery, the average Americans found the financial rules had changed.

The cover of Harper’s Weekly magazine on October 18, 1873.

For starters, there was a lopsided disparity of wealth distribution. Rich industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller, who survived the Long Depression intact, now owned over 71% of the nation’s wealth.

A merchant’s sign proclaiming their cash-only policy.

The average American found banks no longer wanted their business. J. P. Morgan’s banking house required a minimum personal value before they allowed a new customer to even walk in their door.

The J. P. Morgan Bank building at the corner of Broad and Wall Streets, New York, as it appeared in 1914.

So Americans had no choice but to turn to cash.

It was a natural reaction, since most Americans were aware that buying on credit and shady financing deals had caused the Panic of 1873 in the first place. They came to distrust credit and lending institutions, and developed their own barter systems and cash-only policies.

A cartoon illustrating America’s altered attitude toward credit.

Isabella wrote about it in The Pocket Measure.

In that story, Mrs. Spafford suggests to a group of girls from church that they earn money by starting a business selling hand-made items.

“Where would we get our material?”

“We would need a buying committee—someone whose duty it would be to purchase material.”

“Suppose she hadn’t money enough for the purchases?”

“Then we should manifestly have to do without the material until such time as we could afford to enlarge our business.”

“Couldn’t we buy on credit?”

Both Mrs. Spafford and Addie Stowell shook their heads emphatically at this, and Addie said:

“No, ma’am! You don’t catch me launching out in any enterprise that hasn’t a solid cash foundation. I should expect my father to disown me forthwith. If there is anything he hates, it is the credit system.”

This rebus proclaims “Fork over what you owe.”

Almost all of Isabella’s novels reflect that sentiment. From David Ransom’s Watch to Ester Ried’s Namesake, Isabella made certain her characters earned the money they needed. They didn’t buy anything “on credit.”

A merchant’s broadside from 1875.

Her characters saved up for years to purchase a train ticket or a new dress.

Another example of a merchant’s broadside.

They counted pennies and survived on johnny cakes and molasses.

In fact, most of Isabella’s stories feature characters who live in poverty—the sort of poverty Isabella witnessed first-hand in the years following the 1873 crash.

What do you think?

Do you have a favorite Isabella Alden book that features characters who were poor or insisted on earning the money for the things they wanted to buy? Share your favorite Isabella book by commenting in the Leave a Reply box below.


You can learn more about the Financial Panic of 1873 by watching this short video about the Panic’s impact on the citizens of Illinois:

And you can click on any book cover to find out more about Isabella’s novels mentioned in this post.

 

A Stranger in New York

28 Mar

If you’ve read Isabella’s novel Ester Ried’s Namesake, you probably remember Esther Ried Randall’s reaction when handsome Professor Langham invited her to join a party he was organizing.

His plan was to drive a group of friends to the city to spend the day, then treat everyone to an evening show at the theater.

A 1908 theater poster for Guiseppe Verdi’s opera, “Aida.”

Poor Esther! She wanted so much to drive to town and spend a day shopping and seeing the sights; but her loving Christian parents had taught her that good Christians did not attend theater performances.

“Beverly” was a popular play in 1904. It was based on the best-selling novel of the same name by George Barr McCutcheon. Renowned artist Harrison Fisher created the poster artwork.

With her parents’ scruples in mind, Esther declined the professor’s invitation, saying:

“I may as well tell you plainly that I do not attend the theater.”

“Oh, is that all? As a rule I think I may be said not to do so myself. But isn’t it drawing the line rather closely, being in fact what might be called Puritanical, not to go at all?”

There was an amused smile on his face and a note of amused toleration in his voice. Still, Esther might have answered him quietly but for that word “Puritanical.” Over that she flamed.

Doris Farrand struggled with the same issue when her boyfriend Richard invited her to attend a play with “a splendid moral lesson” in the book Doris Farrand’s Vocation.

In 1898 “The Sorrows of Satan,” based on the best-selling novel by Marie Corelli, was a moralistic play with a Faustian theme.

When Doris declined his invitation, Richard couldn’t understand her reason; neither could Doris’s sister, Athalie, who told Doris:

“It seems narrow-minded to object to [theater-going] these days. Why, Doris, the very best people go to this particular play.”

“The Curse of Drink” was a 1904 temperance play that portrayed one man’s addiction to drink, and it’s affect on his family.

Doris’s boyfriend was a seminary student; he was studying to be a minister. Surely, he argued, he was a better judge of what was right and wrong; surely Doris should trust his judgment and go with him to the theater.

“Alice Sit by the Fire” was a sweet, wholesome play written by J. M. Barrie, the author of “Peter Pan” and “The Little Minister.” Actress Mary Shaw starred in the 1907 production.

But in the end, Doris stood firm in her decision to remain at home, which didn’t please Richard at all.

Esther Randall also stayed at home, and struggled with the idea of living by her parents’ “hated scruples.” She felt she was missing out on all the fun in life, merely because her mother and father had some old-fashioned ideas.

Esther’s best friend told her:

“You live in a little narrow space all hedged about with ‘Thou shalt nots’ or ‘I must nots,’ and that seems to be all there is of your religion.”

Esther couldn’t have agreed more!

In the book, Isabella describes Esther’s struggles in a very compelling way. Isabella understood what it was like to be young and want to go where her friends went and do that they did.

“The Shoemaker” was a heart-warming 1907 play that promised it’s audience “tears and laughter.”

But as a Christian, Isabella was very aware of the example she set for her family, friends, and acquaintances.

And because her husband was a minister, Isabella knew members of the congregation scrutinized her behavior—some did so to take inspiration, and others to find fault.

Whatever their reasons, Isabella knew people watched her, and she was careful to set what she hoped was a good and clear example of Christian living.

She often mentioned Romans 14:15-16 as her guide:

For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.

Therefore, do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.

Isabella knew those verses weren’t just about food; they applied to anything a Christian might do or say that could influence others.

This innocuous-looking ad for a new play, “A Stranger in New York” appeared in an 1890 Brooklyn, New York newspaper.

She knew that if a non-believer—or a new or struggling Christian—should see her entering a theater to see a morality play, that non-believer might assume that she went to other plays, as well, and that she considered any theater production to be acceptable.

This poster for “A Stranger in New York” may look innocent by today’s standards; but in 1890 it was quite risqué. Ladies did not lift their skirts to show their ankles; nor did they allow men to put their arms around them in a familiar manner.

Isabella didn’t want to run that risk, so she made it a rule in her life not to attend the theater for any reason.

Another poster for “A Stranger in New York.” The image includes every possible element that was contrary to Christian standards of the time: women wearing short skirts and scandalously revealing leotards, cigars, wine, and flirtatious behavior.

She wasn’t alone in setting that standard. In 1892 Methodist Bishop John Heyl Vincent (a co-founder of Chautauqua Institution) published a short book titled Better Not.

In his book Bishop Vincent explained why Christians should ask themselves hard questions about their actions, and whether those actions were harmful or helpful to a soul who may follow their lead.

Isabella agreed with Bishop Vincent’s position, and even mentioned his book Better Not in her story of Esther Ried Randall’s struggle with “scruples.”

She hoped that young Christian women who read Esther’s story would be inspired to keep those two verses in Romans foremost in their minds whenever they planned an evening entertainment with friends and family.


You can read Bishop Vincent’s book Better Not for free! Click here to find it on Google Books. Then click on the red “Ebook – Free” button to read it on your phone or table, or to download it as a pdf.

And you can click on the book cover to find out more about Ester Ried’s Namesake (Book 7 in the Ester Ried Series).

The Long Way Home

12 Mar

In 1912 Isabella Alden published her novel The Long Way Home. She was 71 years old at the time.

She had begun a trend about ten years before of writing books directed toward adult readers. It began with Mara, her most controversial novel.  Mara (published in 1902) was about a young woman who inadvertently married a man who practiced polygamy.

Unto the End told the story of a young wife’s dilemma when she discovered her husband’s infidelity; it was published the same year.

For several years thereafter Isabella regularly published new novels with her adult readers in mind:

1904 – Doris Farrand’s Vocation

1905 – David Ransom’s Watch

1906 – Ester Ried’s Namesake

1907 – Ruth Erskine’s Son

1908 – The Browns at Mount Hermon

1911 – Lost on the Trail

In each book, Isabella tackled important and emotional topics. She wrote about young women who wanted to be judged on their own merits, instead of on their wealth and social standing (or lack thereof).

She also wrote about women who sought real purpose in their lives by working to make a different in the world in Jesus’ name.

She even wrote about one woman’s struggle to love an unlovable daughter-in-law (in Ruth Erskine’s Son).

Isabella continued that trend with The Long Way Home. The story is about Andy and Ilsa, a young couple in love, and their impetuous decision to marry. They exchange marriage vows on the very day Ilsa graduates from high school!

An original illustration from The Long Way Home, showing Ilsa and Andy at a Chautauqua-style summer encampment.

It isn’t long before their hasty decision—combined with a selfish streak in one and a lack of understanding in the other—begins to lead Andy and Ilsa down a path that may undermine their marriage vows.

Ilsa’s mother counsels her to refuse Andy’s suit, saying, “He’ll never be able to buy you diamonds.”

In her adult books Isabella often wrote about the strain and unhappiness that results when a husband and wife do not share the same religious views, and she explores that premise in this story.

A new acquaintance senses Andy’s heart is open to accepting Christ. She invites him to join her family for dinner and a revival-style lecture given by a premier preacher of the day.

In The Long Way Home, Andy is given many opportunities to choose to follow Jesus Christ, but each time he takes a different path because his eagerness to please Ilsa overrides the callings of his own conscience.

Ilsa also struggles with her conscience, but it takes a dramatic turn of events before she’ll admit that she, too, contributed to the turmoil in her marriage.

Ultimately, the very fact that Andy and Ilsa failed to place God at the center of their union turns out to be one of the great wedges that threatens to drive them apart.

As the title suggests, Isabella finally brings her characters “home” and they have their happily ever, but only after Andy and Ilsa learn to put their trust in God before each other.

The Long Way Home is now available as an e-book for only 99 cents! You can find it at these bookseller sites:

          

You can learn more about Isabella’s books mentioned in this post by visiting her Books page.

Read Along with Mrs. Fenton and the CLSC

7 Mar

One of Isabella Alden’s most touching characters is Mrs. Fenton, a homemaker and mother who played a pivotal role in The Hall in the Grove.

Mrs. Fenton had no pretentions; she considered herself an average person, and believed her only talents were as a housekeeper, wife, and mother.

Isabella wrote of her:

Her bread was of the lightest and sweetest. Her chambers were kept in that delicate purity which rests weary heads, and sometimes hearts. Her windows were as clear as hands could make them; her snowy curtains were looped in graceful folds, and with just the right tint of ribbon to blend well with surroundings. Her vines and plants climbed and budded and blossomed in luxurious fashion. Her husband’s buttons were always in place, held by firm threads of her placing; his collars and cuffs shone brilliantly, for her own hands clear-starched and ironed them. Indeed, in whatsoever department of home life you looked, you would be likely, after thorough investigation, to pronounce Mrs. Fenton a model.

Mrs. Fenton’s fourteen-year-old son Robert was her pride and joy. She raised him to be . . .

Straight as an arrow, morally, as well as physically—a grand, truthful, earnest-hearted boy.

She also raised him to be a good student, to take his studies seriously, and apply himself to every lesson and exam.

Mrs. Fenton herself had been a bright student, but her own education as a girl had been limited; so as Robert progressed through his studies, she began to feel her own limitations more and more.

When Robert asked her help with a homework problem, Mrs. Fenton realized she not only didn’t know the answer, she didn’t even know how to steer him toward finding the correct answer himself.

And when he sought her input in preparing for a topic that will come up on an important exam, she didn’t even understand the subject he’s asking about. With similar incidents became more frequent, poor Mrs. Fenton felt “a stab in that mother’s heart.” Her greatest fear is that Robert will one day soon recognize her short-comings and he’ll be ashamed of her.

This CLSC ad appeared in an 1896 edition of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.

So when Mrs. Fenton visits a friend and hears about the Chautauqua Scientific and Literary Circle for the first time, she begins to wonder if the program may be the answer to her worries.

This eight-page pamphlet for the 1885-1886 school year describes the CLSC program in full. Thousands of adults across the country wrote to the CLSC every year, requesting their annual pamphlet. Click on it to read the entire brochure.

Once Mrs. Fenton understood what the CLSC was and what it could do for her, she became an advocate of the program in her town.

So what, exactly, was the CLSC?

A CLSC receipt for membership dues, 1887.

The CLSC was an education program for adults—young and old—who were unable to obtain a college education. For an annual membership fee of fifty cents (plus the cost of books) adults could enroll in the CLSC’s systematic course of reading in key subjects:

History
Literature
Science
The Arts

The beauty of the program was that members could earn the equivalent of a four-year college course . . . from home!

Imagine receiving one of these beautifully illustrated envelopes in the mail from the CLSC! This one is from 1885 and bears the motto, “Never Be Discouraged.”

CLSC members followed a weekly outline that required them to work a little every day and read prescribed passages from selected books. Then, once a year, they completed an examination (the CLSC called it a “memoranda”) that consisted of questions about the books they’d read. The questions . . .

. . . are to be answered, as far as possible, from memory; where memory fails, the students are expected to refer to their books for help, but to give the answers in their own language.

The exam was typically four pages of questions, but to earn extra credit, members could elect to complete a sixteen-page paper, containing questions that were more comprehensive. An 80% score on the expanded memoranda earned the member a special white seal on their diploma.

The offices of the CLSC on the grounds at Chautauqua Institution in 1896.

Four years and four such annual exams later, CLSC members earned a college degree that carried the same weight and prestige as any other college or university in the country.

A CLSC diploma. This one bears several seals of post-graduate courses of study.

The CLSC program was incredibly popular. Some members followed the program alone. Some members organized into local circles. By 1881 there were over 1,000 local circles in towns and villages across the country.

A CLSC circle in rural Lewisburg, Tennessee, 1911.

These circles—composed of men, women and teens—met in city apartments and rural farm houses. They discussed a variety of topics related to their reading assignments, from the conduct of the Greeks and Romans, to the hereditary line of English kings.

The College Hill Circle in Winfield Kansas, 1913. The oldest and youngest members were aged 76 and 13.

Some local circles arranged lectures or organized public discussions in town halls. Other circles organized by members’ heritage; the CLSC furnished them with text-books in their native language.

A San Diego, California circle in 1915.

In CLSC circles around the world household servants read Shakespeare’s sonnets alongside society matrons; bank presidents discussed the history of Hadrian’s Wall with grocery clerks.

A CLSC circle in Enid, Oklahoma in 1911. The ladies in white in the front row are in the graduating class.

It’s no wonder that Mrs. Fenton was intrigued by the idea of joining the Chautauqua Scientific and Literary Circle. She quickly realized that a CLSC circle in her home town would be the answer to her troubles . . . and her prayers.

You can read all about Mrs. Fenton’s efforts to organize a CLSC chapter and how it changed not only her life, but the lives of her friends and neighbors, in The Hall in the Grove.

Click here to read The Hall in the Grove on your Kindle, tablet, smart phone or PC.

Click here to read it on your Nook.

Did you know you can still join the CLSC? All it takes is payment of a modest membership fee and a commitment to read a book a month from the CLSC’s approved book list.  You can find out more and download their approved book list by clicking here.

And if you’d like to know what it’s like for a modern day woman to read her way through the CLSC program, be sure to read The Hall in the Grove blog.

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Let’s Go Sledding!

28 Feb

It’s the last day of February, and some parts of the U.S. are waking up to a cold winter morning. There’s snow on the ground and a nip in the air; and for many children, those conditions equate to perfect sledding weather.

Children sledding in Washington D.C. in 1915

The children in Isabella Alden’s books are fond of sledding, too, especially the boys.

In Her Mother’s Bible, Ralph Selmser looks forward to having a day of fun that includes sledding:

“Tomorrow’s Saturday, and I’m going to give Ned a ride on my sled, and I’m going to get green things and berries for Mary Jane to trim up the room for father’s birthday; and there isn’t a thing to do all day but I’ll rather do than not.”

A sledding party in Rochester, New York, 1908.

For some of Isabella’s characters, sledding wasn’t just for fun and games. Sidney (in Sidney Martin’s Christmas) uses his sled in a variety of different and practical ways.

A 1910 toboggan party

With his sled, Sidney gives a pleasant ride to a friend. He also hauls heavy items, and transports an injured boy home after he takes a tumble in the snow.

Sledding in Central Park, New York in 1900

Joseph, the young hero of A Dozen of Them, didn’t own a sled of his own, but still found a way to enjoy sledding.

He liked nothing better than to turn pony himself, and give Rettie a ride on her box sled; and so through the day everything was merry and happy.

Sledding on an icy pond in 1869

Later in the story, Joseph is astonished to learn he is the recipient of a sled of his own! His friends joyously break the news to him:

And then all the children talked at once.
“Why, you had a hand-sled!” said one.
“A perfect beauty!” exclaimed another.
“One of the boss kind!” explained a third. “And it has your name on it in red letters.”

Adults also enjoyed sliding through the snow. Toboggans, which are longer than child-sized sleds, could carry more than one passenger.

An 1885 ad for Star Toboggans

In her books Isabella didn’t mention grown-ups enjoying downhill sledding, but these images show it was a popular winter pastime for people of all ages.

The Toboggan Party by artist Henry Sandham, 1882.

In fact, sledding and tobogganing were so much fun in Isabella’s time, children, especially, didn’t always wait for perfect conditions like fresh snow and gently-sloping hills—they made do with what they had.

That’s what these children did in 1921. They took advantage of a sleety morning by sledding down the steps of the War and Navy building in Washington D.C.


You can read all the stories mentioned in this post for free! Just click on a link below to get started:

A Dozen of Them

Her Mother’s Bible

Sidney Martin’s Christmas

 

More About “The Golden Texts”

24 Jan

Last week Karen—a long-time reader of this blog—asked a question about the “Golden Texts” mentioned in many of Isabella Alden’s stories, including Gertrude’s Diary and The Exact Truth.

Karen asked:

Where can I get one of these booklets that have these Golden Verses in them? Were they distributed in Sunday Schools as part of the materials?

The Golden Texts were a very popular teaching method used by Sunday-schools and missionary societies in the late 1800s.

In those days, almost every major Christian denomination—especially Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian—operated a publishing house as one of its departments.

They produced Golden Text lessons in the form of pamphlets and trading cards, which were styled and written for the most part to appeal to children, aged toddlers to teens.

The tradecard-style lesson below is No. 3 in a series about the Golden Texts found in the Book of Matthew. The card was produced by the publishing arm of the Presbyterian Church, and was intended to be used by Sunday-school teachers as a lesson help.

You can see the subscription rate to purchase cards on the reverse side:

Card No. 5 in the series features another Golden Text from the Book of Matthew:

.

Here’s an example of a Golden Text lesson card the American Baptists produced for their churches and ministries:

.

Not all the lessons were printed by churches. The publishing company of Ward & Drummond produced Golden Text lessons in pamphlet form for many years.

This Ward & Drummond pamphlet is bound with a paper boards and feature lovely artwork. The pamphlet measures just 2-3/4” by 4-1/4” so it could be tucked into a boy’s pocket or a girl’s purse.

The back cover displays Ward & Drummond’s contact information:

Some good news: This particular Ward & Drummond pamphlet is for sale on ebay! You can click here to see the listing.

Like Ward & Drummond, Cincinnati publishers Walden & Stowe specialized in publishing religious materials, like this 1881 “Picture Lesson Paper”:

It was printed on paper and bound by thread stitches on the spine. It features a Golden Text from Luke 1:46-47:

My soul doth magnify the Lord; and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

You can click on the image to see a PDF of the entire four-page leaflet.

Walden & Stowe published many Christian leaflets, including Sunday-school tracts written by Reverend Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, who helped direct the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle.

Examples of Golden Text teaching aids—in both leaflet and postcard styles—often come up for sale on sites like ebay and Etsy, so it pays to check back often with both sites.

Won by a Sister’s Prayers

9 Jan

In Isabella Alden’s books she often includes a character who is a “sort of” Christian. In Mrs. Solomon Smith Looking On, Laura Leonard was just such a Christian.

Laura had been brought up in a good home by good, Christian parents. She went to church every Sunday and attended Sunday-school. Laura was kind and knew right from wrong, but she had never accepted Jesus Christ as her Saviour. To the contrary, Laura rebelled against the mere thought of taking such a step . . . until Mrs. Solomon Smith helped show Laura that being a Christian and loving the Lord was the only way Laura would find real and lasting happiness in her life.

When Isabella wrote about Laura Leonard, she wrote from experience. Like fictional Laura, Isabella had been raised by loving Christian parents. She, too, attended church every Sunday, and joined the family in home worship every evening.

Beginning at a young age Isabella was carefully taught what the Bible says about who will be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and that the only way to have eternal life is through Jesus Christ; yet Isabella never took the ultimate step of choosing to accept Christ as her Saviour.

Then the unthinkable happened. When Isabella was twelve years old, she fell seriously ill. For several days neither her parents nor the doctor believed she would live. But, miraculously, the crisis passed, and Isabella began to recover.

Her sister Marcia, who was nine years older than Isabella, had stayed by Isabella’s side throughout her illness. She had watched over Isabella, and slept in a chair by her bed, never leaving Isabella’s side for more than a few minutes.

When Isabella began to feel better, Marcia asked her one day:

“Would you have gone to live in heaven if God had called you when you were so ill?”

Isabella was genuinely surprised by the question, but Marcia said, “The thought of parting from you forever was one of unceasing agony to me; and my constant prayer during all those days and nights of illness was that you might be spared until you could choose Christ.”

These words made a lasting impression upon Isabella. They came to her with all the power and force of a sudden revelation: for though she had been carefully trained, and knew in a theoretical way the plan of salvation, she had never given the matter five minutes serious thought, until her sister appealed to her as she did.

Isabella tried to put the subject aside again, feeling that it darkened the day and made her uncomfortable; but the Holy Spirit had carried it home to her soul, and over and over again Marcia’s words rang in her ears.

Isabella could no longer deny the truth. She wrote, “It is not enough for me to believe in Christ as a Saviour, I must ‘choose’ Christ as my Saviour.”

Soon she began to feel that in a strange and wonderful way her sister’s earnest and loving prayer that she might be spared to “choose” had been answered. And with it came the conviction that she was compelled to make a definite choice.

Not long afterward, she did choose the Lord Jesus Christ as her personal Saviour.

What a blessed decision that was for the millions of readers of her books!

Isabella Alden at her writing desk.

In 1902 Isabella wrote:

“In a few more years it will be half a century since I chose Christ. I have had abundant reason to thank God for sparing my life at that time, and for giving me a faithful sister.”

Isabella and Marcia remained close, loving sisters for the rest of their lives.

And Isabella used her experience of being a “sort of” Christian as a device to show her fictional characters—and her readers—that believing in Christ wasn’t the same as choosing to make Christ the center of our lives.


Isabella originally shared her story of how she became a Christian in a 1901 edition Christian Herald newspaper.

Corsets at Chautauqua

29 Nov

Facing Miller Park at the intersection of Pratt and Morris avenues, The Colonnade was the business center of Chautauqua Institution.

The Colonnade as it appeared in 1909. You can see the vine-covered pergola on the right.

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Visitors approaching The Colonnade from the south passed through a lovely, vine-covered pergola.

The pergola with The Colonnade beyond it and to the left.

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The Colonnade was a busy place. Nearby was the post office, where residents retrieved and sent mail.

The Colonnade itself was a favorite place for friends to gather. It housed a grocery, a dry-goods store, a hair salon, a barber shop, a drug store, and various other merchants.

One retailer that managed to secure a prime location in The Colonnade was an establishment called Spirella Parlour, which was a genteel store name for the Spirella Corset Company.

A Chautauqua post card modified by the Spirella Corset Company to show the location of their shop at The Colonnade, Chautauqua, New York.

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The Spirella Corset Company had factories established in Pennsylvania and Canada when they set up shop in The Colonnade at Chautauqua. Wedged between a ladies’ dress shop on one side and the main hall, their’s was an ideal location. The store was staffed by “skillful corsetières” (more on them in a moment).

A trade card for Ball’s “health preserving” corsets, from about 1880.

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In Isabella’s time, every woman—and many girls—wore corsets. They were an essential element of a lady’s undergarments.

Trade card for the Bortree Adjustable Duplex Corset by Bortree Manufacturing Company, about 1890.

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But corsets did not last very long. Their stays had a tendency to break; and since corsets were worn over only a thin muslin chemise or slip, perspiration and natural skin oils often stained the corset fabric or rusted the stays.

Magazine ad for Warner’s corsets, about 1917.

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Corset garter hooks often broke, and their long lacing ribbons often snapped off. For women, access to a store such as Spirella’s on Chautauqua’s premises was practically essential, since the nearest town where a lingerie store might be found was miles away.

Trade card for Dr. Strong’s Tampico Corset.

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Once a lady had donned her chemise or slip (sometimes called a shift), she put on her corset. Then she added other layers of undergarments:

Corset cover
Drawers
Bustle(s)
As many as 5 layers of petticoats

Over all of that she donned her dress or skirt with shirtwaist.

Doctor and Madame Strong brand corsets touted the medical benefits of wearing their corsets.

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This 1908 newspaper ad in the Omaha Daily Bee shows some of the many different undergarments women wore under their clothes.

A woman’s corset was essential; she wore a corset wherever she went, no matter what she was doing.

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Of course, The Spirella Company was not the only corset manufacturer in the United States. There were many such companies, each vying for their share of the corset market.

F. C. Corset Company trade card from about 1890.

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What set Spirella apart from their competition was that they specialized in custom-made corsets.

In fact, the Spirella Parlour at Chautauqua is the only known retail location for Spirella Corsets in America. Instead of opening stores, The Spirella Company hired a legion of women called corsetières who were sent to customers’ homes. The corsetières took the customer’s measurements and consulted on the correct model of Spirella corset based on the lady’s figure type.

Spirella Corset Company diagram showing the many body measurements their corsetieres took in order to achieve a perfect fit.

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According to Spirella’s 1913 customer brochure:

“The secret of being well dressed lies in your figure, and your figure is made or ruined by your corset.”

You can see The Spirella Corset Company’s 1913 brochure distributed by their corsetières to customers. The booklet is filled with nice illustrations of the different models of corsets they offered, and offers guidance on how to select the proper corset based on body type. Just click here.

You can also watch this fun video that shows the many layers of undergarments women wore in the late 1800s and early 1900s:

Did you know . . .

. . .  as essential as a corset was to every woman’s wardrobe, Isabella never mentioned corsets in any of her many books and stories. She did mention shifts and petticoats, but never made mention of corsets.

 

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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Writer Jenny Berlin

Faith, romance, and a place to belong

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Britt Reads Fiction

Reviews and giveaways for Christian fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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