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About Pansy, By Pansy

22 Jan

It’s safe to say that few places on earth celebrate fame more than the state of California.

When Isabella and her husband Ross moved to Palo Alto, California in 1901, she joined a community of talented authors, artists, musicians, and actors already in residence.

The California State Library had a system for documenting famous and notable residents through a series of biographical index cards.

Some of the cards date as far back as 1781. Each card detailed the names, birthplaces and accomplishments of artists, soldiers, statesmen, “and other notables.” In most cases, the cards were completed by the person in their own handwriting.

Here’s a biographical card completed by silent film star Douglas Fairbanks in 1916:

California State Library card dated 1916. Stage name: Douglas Fairbanks. Name in Full: Douglas Elton Fairbanks. Place of birth: May 23, 1883.

Interestingly, Fairbank’s education—first at a military school, then as an engineering major at Denver’s School of Mines—could not have been more contrary to his ultimate career as one of early Hollywood’s most beloved actors.

Author John Steinbeck was only 33 years old when he completed his card:

His most famous novels, Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, had not yet been published.

In 1906 the State of California asked Isabella to complete a biographical card.

In her own handwriting Isabella wrote out her personal information on the front of the card:

Name in full: Isabella Macdonald Alden
Born at Rochester, N.Y., on Nov. 3, 1841.
Father, Isaac Macdonald
Mother (maiden name in full), Myra Spafford.
If married to whom? Rev. G. R. Alden
Place, Gloversville, N.Y.
Date, May 30, 1866
Where educated, Seneca Collegiate Institute – Ovid, N.Y.
Years spent in California, five
Residences in State, Palo Alto, Calif.
Pseudonyms: Pansy
Present Address, 455 University Ave., Palo Alto, Calif.
(A state employee noted on the card Pansy’s date of death, August 5, 1930.)

The back of the card is also written in Isabella’s hand.

It reads:

Published works and periodicals for which you have written:

I enclose with this card a printed list of my books. I was for 25 years editor of a juvenile monthly magazine – named The Pansy; and for the same length of time I was the Editorial staff of the Westminster S. S. Teachers. I am now on the Editorial staff of the Herald & Presbyter, Cincinnati, with which paper I have been associated for 33 years.

I have for the past twelve years had a department in the Christian Endeavor World — As to Clubs, etc. I have been honored by being elected to a number of local literary clubs, and to membership in the Women’s Press Association.

When Isabella completed this card in 1906 her novel Ester Ried’s Namesake was published. In the following years she would go on to publish Ruth Erskine’s Son, The Browns at Mount Hermon, Four Mothers at Chautauqua, and five more novels.

This sample of Isabella’s handwriting reveals a few things about her. For example, the distinctive way she forms her capital letters—especially C, M and H—indicates she was taught to write script in a style that was popular around 1850. In particular, she forms her capital letters with a finishing loop that could easily be mistaken for a lower case “a” or “o.”

In this handwriting example from the 1850 United States Federal Census, you can see the census taker had a similar slant to his writing and formed his capital letters in the same way Isabella did.

Her card also shows she was very proud of her work as editor of The Pansy and other Christian publications. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find a copy of the list of published works she referenced on her card; it would be interesting to see if there were any titles she listed that aren’t among Pansy’s known published works we’ve compiled!

Sometimes people who filled out the cards also submitted photographs, pertinent letters, and copies of published books. While there’s no record that Isabella submitted such items, it’s clear the State of California has an extensive and rich collection that would be interesting and fun for any researcher or fan to explore.

You can click on any of the images in this post to see a larger version.

 

Daily Thoughts for January

1 Jan

Isabella Alden strongly believed in spending a few minutes with the Bible every morning; and that even one verse, thoughtfully read, helped fortify and strengthen Believers in their daily walk with God.

Several of her novels were based on that premise, including:

Frank Hudson’s Hedge Fence

Her Mother’s Bible

The Exact Truth

We Twelve Girls

In each story, the main characters committed to memory and relied upon a single verse of scripture every day to help them in their daily lives. She called these stories “Golden Text” novels.

Isabella brought the same concept to The Pansy magazine. In 1895 she began publishing a regular monthly feature in The Pansy called “Daily Thoughts.”

“Daily Thoughts” was printed on the first day of each month, and consisted of a list of Bible verses meant to be read individually, one each day.

She chose each verse carefully, with the prayerful hope that each one would inspire her readers to live their lives for Jesus’ sake.

With each verse she offered a brief comment or question to help her readers better understand the text.

Her verses for January 1895 all came from the book of Psalms. You’ll notice she didn’t print the actual verse, but only gave the citation. She hoped doing so would encourage readers to open their Bibles each day and look up the verses for themselves.

You can click here to open a full-size PDF version of Isabella’s Daily Thoughts for January, which you can use, print, save and share with others.

Or click here to download a simplified Word version.

Please join us again next month to see Isabella’s “Daily Thoughts” for the month of February.

If you’d like to know more about Isabella’s novels mentioned in this post, click on the any of the book covers to learn more:

     

     

 

 

A Perfect Partnership: Isabella and Daniel Lothrop

13 Nov

In additional to writing novels, Isabella Alden wrote articles and short stories for many different publications.

Her stories and articles were so popular she found herself in a unique position for a writer: She never had to submit her work for publication.

Instead, publishers went to her. Elias Riggs Monfort, the long-time editor of The Herald and Presbyter (a weekly Presbyterian newspaper), gave her a lifetime contract to publish any serials she wrote.

Elias Riggs Monfort, about 1870 (Wikipedia).

Mr. Montfort was such a fan of Isabella’s, he wrote to his friend, Daniel Lothrop, full of praises about Isabella and her stories.

Daniel Lothrop was the owner of D. Lothrop & Company, a Boston publishing house that specialized in books for young people.

Daniel Lothrop.

Daniel Lothrop had been a great reader from his childhood; while he was still a boy himself he developed an ambition to publish books specifically written for children—a novel idea at the time. Even more radical: he believed the books should be beautifully illustrated to serve the story and keep children’s attention.

An undated artist’s rendering of the D. Lothrop and Co. Publishing building in Boston, Massachusetts.

But he persisted, believing that it was possible to publish children’s books that were not only entertaining, but encouraged “true, steadfast growth in right living.”

The interior of D. Lothrop and Company.

He often said to the people in his employ: “I publish books to do good as well as to make money. I always ask first, ‘Will this book help the young people?’ rather than ‘How much money is there in it?’”

His long partnership with Isabella began around 1874. After Elias Monfort sang Isabella’s praises to him, Daniel Lothrop invited Isabella to contribute stories to be published in a small weekly Sunday School newspaper he published.

Little One’s Friend, one of D. Lothrop and Company’s beautifully illustrated books for children.

By 1877 that short weekly paper had grown considerably in size and content—and Isabella was its editor!

Called The Pansy, each issue was filled with inspiring stories, delightful illustrations, short poems, and descriptions of exotic and far-away places to spark children’s imaginations.

Isabella wrote a short story for each issue, and other members of her family did, too, including her husband, her sister Marcia, niece Grace Livingston, and later, once he was old enough, her son Raymond.

Another frequent contributor was Daniel Lothrop’s wife Harriett, who wrote under the pen name “Margaret Sidney.”

Author Harriet Stone Lothrop, who wrote under the name “Margaret Sidney.”

Isabella wrote that Mr. Lothrop always had “a very warm place in his great warm heart” for The Pansy magazine.

Not only was he fertile in suggestions calculated to make it better, but he was ready always to heartily second the suggestions of others, and to aid in carrying them out.

The Pansy Society in particular was very dear to him. He was interested in everything about the Society, from the content of the letters children wrote to the magazine, to the design of the badges that Isabella sent to Pansy Society members. Isabella said:

“It would be difficult—impossible, indeed—to tell you in how many ways he helped along the cause of truth and right in the world.”

Another common interest Isabella and Lothrop shared was the Christian Endeavor Society. From the early days of the Society, Daniel Lothrop saw an opportunity to use his publishing company to further the Society’s message. He recruited authors to write books of interest to Christian Endeavor members. Margaret Sidney, Faye Huntington, and Grace Livingston were among those who answered the call.

An 1897 newspaper ad showing new Lothrop books by the company’s prized authors.

Isabella’s novels, Chrissy’s Endeavor and Her Associate Members were written and published especially for C.E. members.

     

Isabella’s long partnership with Daniel Lothrop lasted almost twenty years. It ended when he passed away in 1892.

Isabella was heartbroken. In her memoirs she wrote:

“Mr. Lothrop was my true, strong, faithful friend all his life.”

She gently told readers in an issue of The Pansy about the passing of “our friend who loved us, and worked for us and with us.”

It’s impossible to know how many lives were influenced for good by Isabella’s partnership with Daniel Lothrop. Her books alone sold more than 100,000 copies a year, and The Pansy magazine had thousands of subscribers all around the world.

They had formed a perfect partnership. Both Isabella and Daniel Lothrop must have been proud of their accomplishments and the knowledge that they always produced books and stories that were consistently wholesome, pure, and elevating.


You can learn more about The Pansy magazine, The Christian Endeavor Society, and The Pansy Society by reading these previous posts:

The Pansy Magazine

The Christian Endeavor Society

The Pansy Society

Isabella Goes West!

6 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

Of her advancing age Isabella wrote:

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

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

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

From the Palo Alto Press, November 27, 1901.

A Cross-Country Trip

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

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

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

From the New York Tribune, December 8, 1903.

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

New York Tribune, April 24, 1902.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Los Angeles Times, January 1, 1902.

A New Life in Palo Alto

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

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

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

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

The rustic Mount Hermon train station, about 1910.

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

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

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

From Daily Palo Alto Times, 1907.

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

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

Isabella Returns to Chautauqua

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

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

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

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

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

The Palo Altan, August 21, 1914.

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

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

The Rome Daily Sentinel, June 6, 1916.

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


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

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

The Older Brother … Illustrated!

9 Oct

Have you read Isabella’s novel, The Older Brother?

It’s the story of a young man named Lawrence Hammond. Just before his father died, Lawrence promised he would always care for his mother and younger brother and sister, just as his father did before him.

“My dear children,” it began.

But Lawrence had a dream. More than anything, he wanted a college education, but in the days following his father’s death, he put that dream on hold because his family needed him.

As time passed, Lawrence’s skill and hard work began pay off. The family farm began to prosper and it finally looked as though Lawrence’s dream of going to college just might become a reality.

Just then, though, the family’s needs called for another sacrifice.

Suddenly, Lawrence was forced to ask himself a difficult question:

Did he have the strength to once again postpone his own heart’s desire for the sake of the people he loves?

“How would you like to change places with me, Port?” He had tried to make his voice sound careless.

The Older Brother is a touching story of faith and family duty. An 1898 version of the novel is available on Amazon and other e-book retailers.

But we recently found an earlier version of the book, which included the lovely illustrations shared here.

“Engaged!” exclaimed Mamie. “How delightful! Now we shall have a wedding.”

The artist was George T. Tobin, who often worked in pencil and ink in his younger years.

His wonderful illustrations capture the essence of some of the key scenes in Isabella’s novel.

Have you read The Older Brother? What did you think of the story?

Did you think Lawrence was right to sacrifice his own aspirations for his family?

You can click on the Amazon stamp below to learn more about The Older Brother by Isabella Alden.

Who’s a Fan of Pansy?

26 Jun

When Isabella Alden published a new novel, readers around the world rejoiced; her fellow authors did, too.

One of Isabella’s biggest fans was novelist Lucy Maud Montgomery, who wrote the famous Anne of Green Gables series of books for girls.

In fact, Ms. Montgomery enjoyed Isabella’s novels so much, she mentioned them in her own book.

If you’ve read Anne of Green Gables, you’ll recall there’s a chapter titled “A Tempest in a School Teapot,” in which Anne Shirley suffers through a terrible day at school.

First, Gilbert Blythe calls her “Carrots” because of the color of her hair, and Anne reacts so angrily, she breaks her slate over Gilbert’s head.

Then, after lunch, Anne and several boys return to class late, and Mr. Phillips, the schoolmaster, decides to make an example of Anne:

“Anne Shirley, since you seem to be so fond of the boys’ company we shall indulge your taste for it this afternoon,” he said sarcastically. “Take those flowers out of your hair and sit with Gilbert Blythe.”

To Anne, this was as the end of all things. It was bad enough to be singled out for punishment from among a dozen equally guilty ones; it was worse still to be sent to sit with a boy; but that that boy should be Gilbert Blythe was heaping insult on injury to a degree utterly unbearable.

Later, when Anne was finally free to walk home with her bosom friend Diana Berry, Anne declared she would never return to school again.

Diana immediately tried to convince her to change her mind, saying:

“Just think of all the fun you will miss,” mourned Diana. “We are going to build the loveliest new house down by the brook; and we’ll be playing ball next week and you’ve never played ball, Anne. It’s tremenjusly exciting. And we’re going to learn a new song—Jane Andrews is practicing it up now; and Alice Andrews is going to bring a new Pansy book next week and we’re all going to read it out loud, chapter about, down by the brook, and you know you are so fond of reading out loud, Anne.”

Diana knew just how to tempt Anne—with a new Pansy book!

And author Lucy Maud Montgomery knew that everyone who read that line would know exactly what Diana Berry was talking about. Perhaps Ms. Montgomery knew that girls who liked to read about Anne of Green Gables would most certainly be fans of Pansy’s books, as well.

Have you read Anne of Green Gables or any other novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery? Which is your favorite?

You can read Anne of Green Gables for free online; just click here.

Isabella’s Lady Golfer

19 Jun

All the world loves to play, and the characters in Isabella’s novels were no exception. Come springtime, many of Isabella’s characters headed outdoors to engage in some kind of sport for fun and relaxation.

The cover from a 1908 issue of Collier’s magazine.

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Ester Randall and her friends played tennis in Ester Ried’s Namesake.

“A Rally,” by Sir John Lavery, 1885.

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In What They Couldn’t, Professor Landis enjoyed neighborhood baseball games until his few leisure hours were overtaken by the duties of his profession.

On the other hand, Irene Burnham was a lady of leisure in Ruth Erskine’s Son. She had plenty of time to play tennis and golf.

By the time Irene Burnham appeared in the novel, lady golfers had been swinging their clubs for centuries. Mary Queen of Scots was said to be an avid golfer.

A romanticized rendering of Mary Queen of Scots, published by The Detroit Publishing Company, 1898.

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Legend has it Mary coined the term “caddie.” She also incurred the anger of her church and her subjects when, in 1567, she hit the links within days of her husband being murdered.

Queen Mary playing a round of golf

When Isabella was young, golf was a game of leisure and skill that few women could afford to play. But with the advent of public golf courses in the early twentieth century, more women began to take up the game.

In 1897 the first 7-hole tournament for ladies was held in Morristown, New Jersey.

In 1895 the first women’s amateur tournament was held in Hampstead, New York.

From the Casper Star Tribune, Monday, June 5, 1922.

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There was plenty of advice available for women who wanted to learn to play the game. That advice often focused on what women should wear on the golf course:

From Golf Illustrated magazine, December 7, 1900.

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A lady’s golfing outfit, from a 1912 issue of The Ladies Home Journal magazine.

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Other advice centered on women’s conduct on the links, as in this article from The Philipsburg Montana Mail, on Jul 22, 1898:

Click on the image to see a larger version

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Isabella’s friend and fellow author Margaret Sangster published a book of etiquette in 1904, in which she included a chapter on how women should behave on the golf course.

One of Ms. Sangster’s comments suggests she may have thought golfing an unfeminine pastime. She wrote:

Now, we do not presume to dictate, but we must observe that the posture and gestures requisite for a full swing are not particularly graceful when the player is clad in female dress.

Ms. Sangster also worried that male golfers might see their scores suffer when there were women on the course:

If women choose to play at times when the male golfers are feeding or resting, no one can object; but at other times—must we say it?—they are in the way, just because gallantry forbids to treat them exactly as men.

Are you a lady golfer, or know someone who is?

What do you think of those determined lady golfers of bygone years who risked their “graceful” femininity to play the game—and the “gallant” men who played with them?

You can read Margaret Sangster’s book, Good Manners for All Occasions, by clicking here.

Thimbles and Love Stitches

1 May

Four farthings and a thimble,
Make a tailor’s pocket jingle.
—Old English Proverb

During Isabella’s lifetime, sewing and needlework were part of a woman’s daily life.

In her novel Workers Together; An Endless Chain Joy Saunders’ workbasket includes a “small gold thimble and her own blue needle-case.”

A 14k rose gold thimble dated 1903.

Some of Isabella’s female characters, like Mrs. Bryant, sewed every day because that’s how they earned their living.

A sterling silver thimble decorated with Lily of the Valley.

Other characters, like wealthy Miss Sutherland, plied their needles to create fancy table linens and delicate trims, like ruffles and laces.

A sterling silver thimble and case from the 1890s.

In Isabella’s stories, thimbles were sometimes utilitarian—little more than tools to accomplish a task.

An example is in Ester Ried’s Namesake (Book 7 of the Ester Ried Series), when the president of the Ladies’ Aid Society called the meeting to order by “tapping with her silver thimble on the table.”

Other times, Isabella used thimbles help us understand how a character was feeling, as in this description of Helen Randolph in Household Puzzles:

Helen was in absolute ill humor. Some heavy trial had evidently crossed her path. She sewed industriously, but with that ominous click of the needle against her thimble, and an angry snipping of her thread by the pert little scissors, that plainly indicated a disturbed state of mind.

An antique thimble holder by Tiffany.

More often than not, though, thimbles appear in Isabella’s stories in very sweet ways. One example is in Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant, when little Daisy Bryant’s mother surprises her with the gift of a sewing box on Christmas morning:

There had been intense excitement over that box; for, in addition to the spools, and the needle-book, gifts from mother, there had gleamed before Daisy’s astonished eyes a real truly silver thimble, of just the right size for her small finger.

A child-size thimble. The case is shaped like an iron; at its base is a tape measure (circa 1890).

Another example appears in the novel, Pauline, when Mr. Curtis shows his love for his fiancé Constance by preparing a sitting-room in his house just for her:

It all looked charming to him that evening, with the departing rays of the sun glinting the needle, Constance’s needle, and touching also his mother’s small gold thimble that lay waiting. He had taken steps toward the assurance that the thimble would fit. On the day after tomorrow, when they stood here beside his mother’s chair, he would tell Constance how he had brought the gold thimble to his mother one day, and she had said, with one of her tender smiles, “I will wear it, my son, whenever I am taking stitches for you; and someday you will give it to your wife, and tell her from me that it has taken love stitches for you all its life and must always be kept for such service.”

Filigree thimble over pink frosted glass.

Sometimes thimbles play a role in building bridges between Isabella’s characters, as in A New Graft on the Family Tree.

When Louise Morgan and her new husband move in with his family, she has difficulty winning over her resentful new mother-in-law, until she realizes they have a common interest: Needlework.

Presently she came, thimble and needle-case in hand, and established herself on one of the yellow wooden chairs to make button-holes in the dingy calico; and, with the delicate stitches in those button-holes, she worked an entrance-way into her mother-in- law’s heart.

18k gold thimble, from about 1860.

Rebecca Harlow Edwards finds herself in the same situation (in Links in Rebecca’s Life). She and her new husband live in the same house with her mother-in-law, and in the early days of marriage, Rebecca struggles to find a way to fit in. So, one afternoon . . .

. . . about the usual hour for calls, she went daintily dressed in a home dress for afternoon, and with a bit of sewing-work in hand, and tapped softly at the door of her mother’s room.

“Are you awake?” she asked, “and are you ready to receive calls, because I have come to call on you?”

“Really,” Mrs. Edwards said, half rising from her rocker, and looking bewildered, “this is an unexpected pleasure! Am I to take you to the parlor, where I usually receive my calls?”

“No,” Rebecca said, laughing, and trying to ignore the quick rush of color to her face. “I am to be a more privileged caller than that. I have brought my work, and intend to make a visit. I used to go to mother’s room and make a call very often.”

The elder Mrs. Edwards was almost embarrassed. It was very unusual for her to have any such feeling, and she did not know how to treat it.

Rebecca, however, had determined to pretend, at least, that she felt very much at home. She helped herself to a low chair and brought out her thimble, and challenged her mother-in-law at once to know whether her work was not pretty. As she did so, it gave her a strange sense of her unfilial life, as she remembered that that same bit of work had been the resort of her half-idle moments for some weeks, and that yet she had never shown it to Mrs. Edwards before.

It proved to be a lucky piece of work. It gave Mrs. Edwards an idea, and suggested a line of thought that was so natural to her that she forgot the embarrassment of the situation at once.

It’s a sure bet that Isabella Alden was herself a sewer. She may have plied her needle to hem an everyday handkerchief, or she may have used her talents to create fancywork items for her home. But it’s a testament to Isabella’s skill as a story-teller that she could make a simple, everyday item like a thimble figure so prominently in some of the most important scenes in her novels.

How about you? Do you enjoy sewing? Do you use a thimble when you sew? Is it plain and utilitarian, or decorative? Old or new?

Nettie Beldon’s Motto

15 Apr

Have you read Isabella’s novel, Only Ten Cents? In the story young Nettie Beldon’s health is so poor, she is unable to leave her room.

One day, her mother returns from a trip to the store with a surprise:

Mrs. Beldon produced and untied an interesting-looking roll, and spread it out in triumph on the little stand which she drew up in front of Nettie. “There, isn’t that pretty? It is exactly like the things I used to work when I was a little girl. I haven’t seen one of them in I don’t know how many years, yet I used to make them ever so often. When I saw it lying there on the counter I thought of you right away, and thinks I to myself: I do wish I could get one of those for Nettie.”

Nettie raised herself a little from among the pillows, and an eager look began to come into her eyes, while a delicate pink flush appeared on her pale cheek. “For the barrel, mother? Something that I can make?” She looked curiously at the cardboard spread out before her—very familiar material to her mother, but new to Nettie.

“What queer little dotted stuff!” she said. “What is that marked on it? Letters? Why, mother, does it read something?”

“Yes, indeed it does,” said the mother triumphantly. “Here, let me hold it so that you can make it out. They are not very plain, you know: just a pattern to be worked. Take pretty blue or pink, or some kind of worsted or silk, and work the letters so that they stand out bright and clear. They are as pretty a thing as one need have. My, how many of them I used to make when I was a little girl!” She slipped a piece of paper under the cardboard, and then held it in the right light, so that Nettie could read quite distinctly: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

She read slowly, picking out the words that wound in and out amid a sort of scroll-work.

“Why, mother, how very pretty! And how very queer! I never saw anything like it before.”

“I have,” said the mother. “Once I worked this very motto for my grandmother, and she had it framed and hung in her room. It hung there for years.”

Nettie’s mother taught her to cross stitch the letters, and soon Nettie completed the “motto.” But Nettie’s handiwork never hung on any wall in her house; instead, it fulfilled a much greater purpose in the story.

Karen, a long-time friend of this blog, found some great examples of what Nettie’s “motto” might have looked like.

What do you think? Have you ever stitched a motto yourself, or know someone who has? Are mottoes like these too old-fashioned to hang in a today’s modern home?

You can see more examples of mottoes by visiting this Pinterest page: 44 best Victorian Motto Sampler Shoppe

Thank you, Karen, for sharing these images!

You can click on the book cover to learn more about Only Ten Cents, by Isabella Alden.

What Lies Beneath

3 Apr

Fashion during Isabella’s lifetime changed dramatically; but for the majority of her years, ladies’ gowns consisted of high-necked collars, long sleeves, and floor-length skirts.

An 1891 fashion plate.

For the most part, women’s clothes were modest and conservative, especially when viewed by today’s standards.

Ladies’ fashions in 1915.

But underneath the “brown alpaca” or “black bombazine” gowns she mentioned in her novels (as well as layers of petticoats, corsets, drawers, and bustles), women found ways to express themselves in—oddly enough—stockings!

Black silk stockings (about 1890 to 1910).

In those days, women’s hosiery was manufactured in different weights of silks, cottons, wools, and merinos. The most common color was black, followed by the color white.

White cotton stockings (1835 to 1875).

But some women expressed their personalities and preferences by eschewing those common colors for something bright and vibrant.

Embroidered silk stockings (1875 to 1900).

Embroidered stockings were expensive and didn’t last long, considering that stockings were easily ripped, torn, or worn through from wear. These black silk stockings, embroidered with silk and metallic threads, were luxurious and costly:

Black embroidered stockings (1875-1900).

But cost didn’t have to be a factor. These sensible cotton stockings were fun and playful . . .

Blue plaid cotton stockings (1830 to 1860).

. . . while these cotton stockings were bold and striking:

Cotton stockings (1875 to 1895).

Some designs were more complex. These lovely stockings combined geometric stripes with beautifully detailed embroidery.

Blue cotton and silk stockings (1830 to 1835).

When worn, a typical lady’s boot would have covered the lower embroidered portion of the stocking, leaving only the horizontal band and stripes visible (if she lifted her skirt).

By contrast, the embroidery on these beauties was visible from knee to toe.

Silk stockings with floral design (1875 to 1899).

Which stocking design is your favorite? Which pair would you like to wear?

All the stockings shown in this post were found on the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising website, which documents over 200 years of fashion history. You can explore the FIDM Museum website by clicking here.

Writer Jenny Berlin

Faith, romance, and a place to belong

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Britt Reads Fiction

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

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