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The Old Church Organ: A Jigsaw Puzzle for You

4 Sep

It gave Joseph a curious sensation to hear his verse sung over and over again by the choir, the great organ rolling out the melody and seeming to him to speak the words almost as distinctly as the voices did. (A Dozen of Them, by Isabella Alden)

Church organs were often mentioned in Isabella Alden’s books, but they looked nothing like the organs we frequently see in churches today.

So here’s a jigsaw puzzle for you to solve that will reveal the type of church organ Isabella probably had in mind when she wrote her novels.

Just follow this link to solve the puzzle online. Start the puzzle by clicking “Okay,” then just drag and drop the individual pieces in the order you choose.

Once you’re done, be sure to return here to the blog (or visit Isabella’s Facebook page) and tell us how you liked solving this jigsaw puzzle.

Remember your comments enter you in a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card, which will be awarded on Friday, September 7, 2018!

Meet Myra Spafford … and a New Free Read!

3 Sep

This post is part of our blogiversary celebration! Leave a comment below or on Isabella’s Facebook page to be entered into Friday’s drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card!


Isabella Alden’s father Isaac Macdonald is often credited with instilling in her a love of writing. He gave her a journal when she was very young and—to teach her to pay attention in church—he encouraged her to take notes during Sunday sermons so they could discuss the minister’s message later in the day.

“A Writer” by William Adolphe Bouruereau, 1890.

But it was probably Isabella’s mother, Myra, who taught Isabella to be a great story-teller.

At a young age—even before she could write—Isabella’s mother encouraged her to make up little stories about things.

“Make a story out of it for mother,” she would say; and out of those beginnings, Isabella began to develop the writing skills that would serve her as an adult.

Myra was herself a story-teller, and often entertained her six children with stories of her own younger years.

Myra’s father was Horatio Gates Spafford, a well-respected author and New York newspaper editor, so she developed her own writing skills at a very early age.

Isabella credited her mother Myra with teaching her how to weave a story centered on a well-loved Bible verse. It was Myra’s habit to gather her children—and later, her grandchildren—around her in the evening to tell them stories that were entertaining and and helped make sense of a Bible verse or Sunday-school lesson.

Her stories always contained a practical lesson in walking daily with Christ—a theme Isabella adopted and perfected in her own stories.

When Isabella’s father Isaac Macdonald died in 1870 Isabella and her husband Ross made certain Myra came to live with them. Although Ross’s career as a Presbyterian minister caused them to move regularly from one town to another, Myra made her home with the Aldens for the next fifteen years.

Myra’s entry in the 1880 Cincinnati directory shows she resided with the “Rev. G. R. Alden’s.”

They were living in Carbondale, Pennsylvania when Myra died at home in 1885. Isabella was 43 years old when her mother passed away, and she missed her terribly.

At that time Isabella was editing The Pansy magazine; and since she and her family members—including Ross, her son Raymond, her sister Marcia, and Marcia’s husband Charles—were all contributing articles and stories to the magazine, Isabella and Marcia found a way to pay tribute to their mother in the pages of The Pansy.

The cover of an 1891 issue of The Pansy.

They began publishing short stories for children in The Pansy under the pseudonym “Myra Spafford.” The stories were reminiscent of the kind of stories Myra told her children and grandchildren.

In 1887 Isabella published Grandma’s Miracles; Stories Told at Six O’clock in the Evening. The book is a fictionalized account of those tender and loving evening story-times Myra had with her children and grandchildren.

You can read Grandma’s Miracles for free!

Click on the book cover to read this story on your phone, ipad, Kindle, or other electronic device.

Or you can read, print and share it as a PDF document on your computer. Just click on the book cover to start reading now.

 

Good Neighbors

22 Aug

Many people who love to read Isabella Alden’s books also enjoy the novels written by her niece, Grace Livingston Hill.

If you’ve ever searched for some of Grace’s titles, you’re not alone. Used copies of her novels are hard to find. If they are listed for sale on Internet sites, such as Ebay, fans immediately snap them up.

In the days before the Internet, fans had to search through used book stores to find her books. In some cases, they turned to newspapers to try to find copies. Here’s one example:

In the 1990s an Illinois newspaper had a regular column called “Good Neighbors.”

The column shared readers’ advice on a variety of topics, and gave readers a chance to ask or answer questions.

In March 1996 they ran a brief paragraph in the Good Neighbors column:

The newspaper received quite a few responses! Here are some of them:

You can tell there was a little bit of a bidding war going on, with some readers offering to pick the books up and pay for telephone calls (at a time when there were “toll” charges for calling a number in a different area code).

It happened again in 2001, when “M.B. of Lexington” offered to give away dozens of Grace Livingston Hill books:

It sounds like the newspaper was quite surprised to learn so many people were interested in novels that were written (at that time) almost 100 years before. And yet, Grace Livingston Hill’s books are still popular!

How about you? Do you read and collect Grace Livingston Hill novels? Do you have a complete collection? What are the methods you use to hunt down copies of her books?

The Dangers of Soda Fountains

15 Aug

Today, a soda fountain—when you can find one—is a quaint relic of a by-gone era. Think of soda fountains and you may think of ladies wearing corsets and long skirts, or gentlemen who never leave home without a hat, tie, and pocket watch.

Soda fountains are such benign objects to us, it’s hard to imagine that they ever had the potential to cause harm. But in Isabella’s day, there were hidden dangers in every soda fountain, in every town in America.

An average American drugstore in 1900. A soda fountain is on the right side of the photo.]

Isabella Alden recognized those hidden dangers and wrote about them, because she knew the dangers were not inconsequential. There were pitifully few laws at the time that regulated the sale or distribution of products that could be bought at the time; and many products included alcohol and addictive ingredients.

Children could obtain alcoholic drinks in saloons. Doctors prescribed alcohol to patients young and old.

A pair of 1894 trade cards depicting “a big spender and his girl” at the soda fountain.

And commonly used tonics and medications often contained alcohol and opiates—sometimes at alarmingly high levels—and most did not disclose their contents on their labels.

In 1888 this cough syrup proudly listed its addictive ingredients—cannabis, morphine, alcohol, and chloroform—on its label. Since no laws required such disclosures, few manufacturers revealed their product contents.

Here’s an example: In 1885 a man named John Pemberton began marketing a beverage he invented. He called it “French Wine Cola—Ideal Nerve and Tonic Stimulant.”

In an 1880 drugstore in Washington DC, this soda fountain sold a beverage called Wine Coca for five cents a glass.

Why such a name? Because every 7 ounce glass contained 9 milligrams of cocaine and a walloping dose of caffeine extracted from the kola bean. Initially, sales were sluggish.

But the following year, when Pemberton renamed the drink “Coca-Cola,” sales picked up. By the 1890s, Coca-Cola was being sold in stores and soda fountains all over the country . . . and it still contained cocaine and caffeine. (Coca-Cola’s formula didn’t change until after 1903.)

An 1890s trade card for Coca-Cola, touting it as the “ideal brain food” for relieving mental and physical exhaustion.

That’s one example of the “hidden dangers” Isabella wrote about.

A 1905 magazine ad for Coca-Cola.

In her novel One Commonplace Day, several scenes take place in the town drug store, which Isabella describes this way:

[It was ] glittering with its show of colored glass and brilliant liquids, and arranged with that regard to lovely combinations of color which is common in first-class drug stores. There is at one end a handsome soda fountain, with all the various cooling syrups and elegant appliances of first-class establishments.

The design for a new soda dispensing unit, showing front and side views, with marble counters and inlays (circa 1900).

Charlie Lambert, one of the characters in the story, was a temperance man who took pride in the fact that he drank no liquor and had no temptation to drink any. But he often took his lunch at the soda fountain, where he drank a soda almost every day during the summer.

An 1890 newspaper ad for Coca-Cola aimed at temperance advocates, despite the drink’s ingredients.

Chances are, Charlie’s soda was laced with wine, cocaine, caffeine, or one of any number of additives that were not disclosed to unsuspecting consumers.

The soda fountain in a Peoples Drug Store, Washington D.C., 1909.

In the book Isabella advances the theory that people often become addicted to alcohol or drugs because they develop a taste for them as children.

A 1916 advertising broadside showing boys drinking a case of beer or liquor.

When you think of the number of children who sat on soda fountain stools, unconsciously swinging their dangling feet as they enjoyed a glass of Coca-Cola—all the while pumping nine milligrams of cocaine through their veins—Isabella’s theory begins to make sense.

A 1905 ad in Harpers’ magazine.

Advertising for Coca-Cola and similar beverages was everywhere. Ads showed happy, peppy, beautiful people sipping cocaine-laced drinks.

Coca-Cola calendar art, 1915.

And some soda fountains and saloons distributed tickets to people on the sidewalks, with a buy-one-drink, get-one-free offer.

By today’s standards, Isabella’s novels about temperance and the evils of alcohol may come across as strident and unreasonable. In reality, Isabella was fighting a very real problem in the best way she knew how; by writing stories people could relate to.

An iconic 1890s Coca-Cola advertisement.

And while One Commonplace Day is, on the surface, a story about the American temperance movement in the late 1880s, it carries a deeper message.

In the book, a group of prayerful Christians band together to help one of their neighbors overcome his addiction to alcohol. They formulate a plan to intercede in his life and help put him on the path to sobriety.

A crowded Coca-Cola soda fountain in 1910.

They pray for him, invite him to church, intercept him before he can enter a saloon or drug store, and do everything they can to help him kick his addiction.

Much has changed since Isabella wrote One Commonplace Day in 1886, but Americans still struggle with issues of alcoholism and addiction.

What do you think? In today’s world, is it possible for a group of prayerful Christians—like the people Isabella wrote about in One Commonplace Day—to band together to change the life of one person who struggles with addiction?


Coca-Cola wasn’t the only tonic that promised health benefits from questionable ingredients. You can read more about quack cures and patent medicines on these sites:

The Museum of Quackery.

Pilgrim Hall Museum.

And you can click here to learn more about Isabella’s novel, One Commonplace Day.

What About Croquet?

1 Aug

It’s the time of year when millions of Americans enjoy the out-of-doors. In Isabella’s novels, her characters spent summer days walking, hiking, and playing sports of all kinds.

A favorite pastime for Isabella’s characters was the game of croquet, and she may very well have played the game herself.

A romantic scene captured on the 1866 cover of a pamphlet on the rules of croquet.

Beginning in her early twenties, Isabella made several trips over the years to the Castille Sanitarium in New York, where she was treated for health concerns. The owner of the sanitarium encouraged all her patients to play croquet, and it’s possible Isabella followed the doctor’s orders.

Whether she played the game herself or not, she certainly appreciated the game. In her books, characters young and old played croquet, as did the rich and poor. No matter what their circumstances, croquet brought her characters together.

Children Playing Croquet – Little Playmates

In Cunning Workmen, Sunday-school teacher Mr. Hammond attends a young people’s party where he notices that Peter, one of his young charges, isn’t participating in any of the games.

“What about croquet?” he presently asked. “Miss Blake seems to be enjoying the game, and the boys are very patient in their teaching. Why haven’t you joined them?”

Peter’s honest face grew red and troubled.

“I don’t quite know about them,” he said, earnestly. “I was waiting for you to come so I could speak to you about it. Them red and yellow balls look nice, and I’m most sure I could strike them through those little wires, if that’s what they’re after; but …”

“Well?” his teacher said, in kindly inquiry.

“Why, they look so exactly like them billiard things that they play with down at the saloon. Tom Randolph took me in one day. He plays there a good deal, and if them things are wrong, why ain’t these?”

“But it isn’t the red and yellow balls that are at fault, you know. It is the associations. Billiard playing is generally done for money, and croquet is simply for pleasure and exercise. Isn’t there a difference?”

“Yes,” said Peter, slowly and thoughtfully, “there’s a difference. I see that.”

Leave it to Isabella to find a way to teach a lesson through a simple game of croquet!

Playing croquet in Cape May, New Jersey, 1875.

She also used the game to show readers the motivations and mindset of her characters. That was the case with the Reverend Mr. Tresevant in The King’s Daughter, when he decided to play croquet rather than attend a temperance meeting.

Later, in Wise and Otherwise, the next book in the series, Mr. Tresevant makes a fateful decision. When a little neighborhood boy is extremely ill and lay dying in his bed, the entire town, including Dr. Douglass, went in search of the Reverend Mr. Tresevant.

Dr. Douglass’ wife later asked if he ever found the minister:

“Did you tell him about Freddy, and how much they wanted to see him?”

“I did,” relaxing into gloom and laconic answers.

“What did he say?” Mrs. Douglass was entirely accustomed to cross-questioning her husband, and understood the process thoroughly.

“That he would go down there as soon as the game of croquet was concluded.”

The lady opposite him set down her cup that had nearly reached her lips and looked at her husband, while an expression of mingled doubt and dismay spread over her face.

“Dr. Douglass! Did you tell him the child was dying, and that they had been in search of him?” she asked in shocked tones.

“I explained the latter fact to him elaborately, and told him the boy was very sick, and that I feared he might not live until morning.”

For once the ever ready tongue opposite seemed to have not a word to utter. When she found voice again, it was to ask, in a very subdued way, “Do they know it at the house—know that you have found him, I mean? What do they think of it?”

“They know that I found him—and where—for they asked me both questions. I did not enlighten them as to his occupation, and said what I hoped and believed was true, that I thought he would be along very soon; but he had not arrived when I came away, a quarter of an hour ago. The game must have proved a complicated one.”

Now, the question is, was Mr. Tresevant’s heart so bound up in the game of croquet that he could not even leave it to answer a summons from the dying?

A tense moment in a game of croquet, 1918.

In the novel, Isabella does go on to explain the reasons Mr. Tresevant would not leave his croquet game to pray with the family of a dying child; and in doing so, she tells us much about the state of Mr. Tresevant’s heart and soul.

Students play croquet at girls school in Pennsylvania, 1901.

In all, Isabella mentioned the game of croquet in at least nine novels. Sometimes she used the game to introduce topics of right and wrong Christian behavior, as in the discussion above from Cunning Workmen.

Other times she simply used it as a way for her characters to enjoy each other’s company on a bright summer afternoon.

How about you? Have you ever played croquet? What do you like most about the game?


You can find out more about Isabella Alden’s stay at the Castille Sanitarium in New York. Click here to read the post.

And you can find out more about Isabella’s books mentioned in this post by clicking on any of these book covers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isabella’s Critic, Friend, and Helper

28 Jul

Isabella had a special bond with her father, Isaac Macdonald. She might even have been what we would call in today’s world a “daddy’s girl.” But the truth was that her father was undoubtedly the single most influential person in her life when she was growing up.

In his younger years Isaac Macdonald earned his living as a farmer, but with a wife and six children to support, he left farming and established a box-making business in Gloversville, New York.

Many years later, after Isabella became a best-selling author, a Gloversville newspaper wrote a brief article about her early years in that town. The writer of the article briefly mentioned her father:

Isaac was a box maker, and if his boxes are any index to his character, he was staunch and worthy. He lies in our pleasant cemetery, but there are boxes still in use made by his faithful hands.

It’s a brief paragraph, but with its use of the words character, worthy, and faithful, we get a glimpse of Isaac Macdonald’s reputation among his neighbors and friends.

In the many stories and anecdotes Isabella shared about her father, she paints a picture of a loving man of immense faith.

In his home circle, he ably fulfilled his role as provider, protector, leader and teacher. He was eternally patient with his children and grandchildren; and he instilled in them an unbreakable faith in God and His Word.

Most of all, Isaac valued honesty, a fact Isabella illustrated in a story that took place when she was an adult and her young niece Minie was staying at the family home.

Isabella’s sister Julia teasingly told little Minie that she was going to serve butterflies and caterpillars for tea, which greatly shocked and upset the little girl. Julia, however, thought Minie’s reaction was funny; she told the story to the family later that day “with many descriptions of Minie’s shocked tones and looks, and much laughter.”

Only Isaac looked grave. When the laughter was over he said to Julia:

“How many years do you suppose it will be before Minie will discover that you haven’t told her the truth?”

“The truth!” said Julia, in surprise. “Why, of course it wasn’t truth. It was only in fun, you know. Whoever supposed that the absurd little monkey would believe it?” and she laughed again at the thought.

“But, you see, she did believe it,” Isaac said. “She believed it because you told it to her. She has great faith in your word, you see. I would be very careful not to give that faith a shock if I were you.”

“Why, dear me!” Julia said, with puzzled face; “I never thought about its being anything serious. Don’t you think it is right to say anything in fun to a child?”

“I don’t think it is right to say anything but the truth to anyone,” Isaac said, emphatically; “least of all to a child.”

Isabella never forgot the lesson.

Isaac’s teachings with Isabella extended beyond those that would shape her character. In an interview with The Ladies Home Journal, Isabella said that it was her father who taught her to write at an early age.

He was the first to encourage her to keep a diary; and he also taught her to take notes during their minister’s sermons on Sunday morning. Together they would review her notes, and he encouraged her to use her own imagination to expand on them and weave stories from the lessons and bits of wisdom she had recorded.

That early discipline soon bore fruit. When she was about seven or eight years old Isabella wrote a story about the family clock (read more about her story here).

Her story was published in the local newspaper (coincidentally, the newspaper was owned by her sister Mary’s husband and little Minie’s father). Isaac insisted that the story be published under a pseudonym, saying:

“We don’t wish anyone to know that you wrote it, and so we will sign it, Pansy, for pansy means tender and pleasant thoughts, and you have given me some thoughts that are tender and pleasant.”

This incident, too, offers a glimpse into Isaac Macdonald’s character, and his desire to protect his daughter from public scrutiny and the hazards of fame.

Thereafter, Isabella was often writing or telling a story. Her books Four Girls at Chautauqua and Ester Ried made “Pansy” a household name around the world. It was while she was writing Ester Ried that her father became ill.

Isabella mentioned that when she was young, she always hoped she would never have to tend to anyone who was sick; she thought it would be “so dreadful to look at anybody knowing that he was soon to die.”

But she found it made a difference who the sick person was, and how he felt about death himself. Her father, she knew, wasn’t afraid of dying. He used to say to her:

“It is nice to have my children all about me, and it seems sad sometimes that I must go and leave them—sad for them, I mean. But what a blessed thing it will be when we all get up there where none of us will have to go away any more. It will be vacation there all the time, won’t it?”

When her father fell ill in the summer of 1870, Isabella spent as much time with him as she could, and often read to him from his Bible. She described it as a large-print Bible, all full of leaves turned down and verses marked.

She said there was no need to ask which verse was his favorite; he had left “marks of his love” all through the book.

One afternoon when Isabella was with him, she read verses here and there as her eye caught his different markings:

“And they shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads.

“And there shall be no night there.”

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with Songs, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.”

And there was this verse:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed thee. I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine.”

She knew that verse was among the dearest to her father in the entire Bible. (Read the story behind the verse here.)

During that summer of Isaac Macdonald’s illness, Isabella was writing Ester Ried.

An early cover for Ester Ried

Her father, as always, was interested in her writing progress; but he showed particular interest in the story of Ester Ried. He told Isabella that “he prayed that it might be a blessing to some young life.” Sadly, he passed away on July 26, 1870, before Isabella finished writing the novel.

Isabella later wrote:

“It was while the tears were gathering thick in my eyes as I looked out upon his grave that I wrote the last chapter of the book, feeling that my closest, strongest friend and critic, and wisest helper had gone from me.”

Isaac Macdonald’s grave marker.

Isaac Macdonald’s prayer for Ester Ried was answered over and over again. Ester Ried was a great success and proved to be a blessing to generations of girls and young women who read it.

Isabella’s love for her father was evidenced in the books she wrote. She used him as the model for many of her male characters who were wise in judgment and strong in faith.

You’ll catch glimpses of him in Dr. Deane in Wanted and in Dr. Everett in Workers Together; an Endless Chain.

You can read more about the special bond between Isabella and her father Isaac Macdonald in these posts:

Isabella’s Early Writings

A Teachable Moment

Julia’s Occupation

A Woman’s Voice

A New Brother

Tom Randolph’s Vision

11 Jul

Isabella’s novel The Randolphs is set in New York City. The book follows the fortunes of the Randolph siblings, all young adults who are each trying to find happiness and their places in the world.

In the story, Tom Randolph—after facing some early trouble in his own life because of alcohol—is a devoted “temperance man.”

In a conversation with his brother-in-law, Mr. Harper, Tom mentions how hard it is for young men to stay away from alcohol because of “how many places in this city it can be found.”

“Only think of the fact that, however much you might desire it, you could not find a hotel to stop at, throughout the length and breadth of this whole city, where liquor is not sold.”

“Is that actually so?” Mr. Harper said, in astonishment.

“It is really so; and not only that, but the large boarding-houses, where most of the working men who are without homes of their own have to gather, have side tables where they retail beer and whiskey. Temptation is spread on every hand, not only for those who want it fearfully by reason of an already formed taste, but for those who, because of no better place in which to spend their leisure time, are compelled to look on until they too follow the general example.”

“And your remedy is?” Mr. Harper asked, inquiringly; and there was a respectful tone in his voice. He was learning something from his young brother-in-law.

“Why, if I had the purse, I would have a temperance hotel.”

Tom’s idea of opening a hotel that didn’t serve alcohol wasn’t a new one. Temperance hotels were very popular in Great Britain and Europe, but they were almost unheard of in America.

In 1867 the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) began operating an alcohol-free hotel for young men in Chicago. Besides lodgings, the Chicago YMCA offered a parlor and a library for members’ use.

The lounge in a YMCA Chicago branch location, about 1923.

Unfortunately, the Chicago YMCA burned down only a year after it opened. Though a new building was constructed in its place, it was built without any sleeping rooms.

In 1869—the same year Isabella wrote The Randolphs—a new YMCA opened in New York City with great fanfare. It housed art studios, a large library, and a lecture hall that could seat 1,500 people.

Artist’s rendering of the lecture room in the New York YMCA. From Harper’s Weekly magazine, 1869.

Members of the New York Y could use the services of a nearby gymnasium; and they could take advantage of a steady schedule of activities designed to offer young men wholesome entertainment. But, again, the New York YMCA was built without sleeping rooms.

The library at the New York YMCA. From Harper’s Weekly magazine, 1869.

Isabella would have been aware of the YMCA and the great growth the organization had enjoyed in the U.S.A. Newspapers across the country regularly printed articles about the Y, and the programs it offer young men that promoted a healthy spirit, mind, and body.

The billiard room in the Hoboken, New Jersey YMCA in 1918.

Most YMCAs had extensive libraries, billiard rooms, and well-appointed cafeterias.

Cafeteria in the Omaha, Nebraska YMCA, 1916.

They were places where young men could socialize and have fun, make friends and learn new skills, all in a “vice-free” environment.

YMCAs often reached out to young men, encouraging them to join and take advantage of the Y’s programs. This is a postcard the YMCA in Cleveland Ohio used in 1910:

On the reverse side is a message of invitation to a young man to join one of the Y’s health classes:

Isabella knew, however, that despite all the wonderful activities and programs the YMCA offered, the Y’s influence over young men ceased the moment they left left the premises. Some young men went home to good families; but far too many went to hotels or boarding houses where liquor was served. That’s one reason she liked the idea of temperance hotels.

A fitness class at the Cleveland, Ohio YMCA in 1910.

In the late 1880s—the same time period when Isabella wrote The Randolphs—the YMCA began putting up a few new buildings that included residence arrangements.

Some of the accommodations were similar to small hotel-like rooms with bathrooms down the hall. Others had dormitories with rows of beds in a single, large room.

A corner of a dormitory style room in the Troy, New York YMCA, 1907.

The YMCA advertised their lodgings as safe and affordable. They were serviceable places to sleep, but they were far from first-class accommodations.

In The Randolphs, Tom Randolph thought it was possible to create a better Christian-based hotel.

Tom envisioned a temperance hotel that had . . .

“. . . carpets, and mirrors, and sofas, and brilliant gaslights, and the glitter of silver, and everything else that is used to entice and entrap. I would have such a place as would offer not a shadow of excuse to any living man for not stopping at the Temperance House, except the one honest reason that he wanted to go where there was rum.”

As Tom said in the story, the best way to fight Satan was with “his own weapons—if they do really belong to him.” If Satan used bright gaslights and glittering glassware to tempt men to drink in saloons, Tom would use the same to entice men into his temperance hotel.

Bible study at a Utah YMCA in 1906.

He thought a nice hotel that offered first-class rooms and excellent service was the very thing needed to interest young men; and if the sleeping rooms were affordably priced, there would be no excuse for men to stay at any other hotel unless they specifically wanted to be able to drink alcohol on the premises.

The lobby of the YMCA in Amsterdam, New York, 1910.

Tom was to have his wish. In the novel, Tom was able to secure the financial backing he needed to buy an old New York City hotel and remodel it. Tom’s adventures in opening and operating the hotel soon include other members of his family, and their involvement helps drive the rest of the story.

An invitation to attend the opening of new rooms at the Carbondale, Pennsylvania YMCA.

Isabella was something of a visionary when she wrote The Randolphs. She foresaw the need for temperance hotels, just as she foresaw the welcome such establishments would receive from communities.

From The Asbury Park Press (New Jersey), April 9, 1906.

By the turn of the century the idea of first-class temperance hotels began to catch on in America. Some communities, like the seaside resort town of Asbury Park, New Jersey, openly invited temperance hotels to open in their town.

From The Daily Notes, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, December 22, 1906.

The YMCA recognized the need, too. The organization had always offered first-class entertainment for its members, but in the 1900s they began upgrading their residence accommodations. Newer YMCAs had residential rooms that were more spacious and home-like (although they still couldn’t be described as “luxurious”).

This 1908 trade card from the Brooklyn New York YMCA pictured a home-like single room.

In 1912 the Boston YMCA began construction on their flagship location in Boston.

The Boston YMCA, 1915.

The building was so large, it covered almost an entire city block on Huntington Avenue. It offered men extensive classes on a range of subjects, including engineering and science. Its health education and body-building programs were the first in the nation. And its residential floors provided plenty of dormitory style sleeping accommodations for young men.

When Tom Randolph opened his temperance hotel in The Randolphs, he named the place Randolph House. Before he opened the doors for business, he ensured Randolph House was consecrated with prayer.

And he did one other thing: he remodeled the old ballroom that was part of the previous hotel. He did the work himself and kept the work secret, until he showed his sister Helen what he had done.

“What is all this for?” she asked, gazing up and down the room with satisfied eyes. The beauty and the refinement displayed here actually rested her, she was such a lover of beautiful things, especially of things that meant wealth and cultured taste and leisure to enjoy.  

Then Tom unveiled the sign he intended to hang at the entrance to the remodeled ballroom:

Young Men’s Christian Association Rooms.

Only then did he reveal his plan to start a branch of the YMCA at Randolph House, where young Christian men could pray, and socialize, and study their Bibles together.

In The Randolphs Isabella gave us a glimpse into her own dreams and ideals of what a first-class Christian temperance hotel might look like . . . and what it could accomplish in the lives of young men.

You can find out more about Isabella’s novel The Randolphs by click on the book cover.

 

Off to Chautauqua!

27 Jun

The 2018 summer season at Chautauqua Institution opened on Saturday, June 23. Over the next ten weeks, travelers will be planning trips to the great summer assembly, either by car (using a GPS app on their phone for guidance), by air (landing at nearby Chautauqua County Airport at Jamestown), or train (Amtrack tickets can be purchased online or via a smart phone app).

Four ladies from Minnesota, ready to travel! (1920)

Travel to Chautauqua has changed a lot in the 142 years since Isabella Alden wrote Four Girls at Chautauqua. Back in 1876, the only way her lead characters in the story—Eurie, Ruth, Marion, and Flossy—could get to Chautauqua was by train. And preparing for their trip wasn’t as easy as tapping an icon on a smart phone.

Four young women walk to the train station in 1901

The first decision the ladies had to make was how much luggage to take. Practical Marion began the conversation:

“Ruth, are you going to take a trunk?”

Ruth roused herself from the contemplation of her brown gloves to say with a little start, “How you girls do rush things. Why, I haven’t decided yet that I am going.”

“Oh, you’ll go,” Marion Wilbur said. “The question is, are we to take trunks—or, rather, are you to? Because I know I shall not. I’m going to wear my black suit. Put it on on Tuesday morning—or Monday is it that we start?—and wear it until we return. I may take it off, to be sure, while I sleep, but even that is uncertain, as we may not get a place to sleep in; but for once in my life I am not going to be bored with baggage.”

“I shall take mine,” Ruth Erskine said with determination. “I don’t intend to be bored by being without baggage. It is horrid, I think, to go away with only one dress, and feel obliged to wear it whether it is suited to the weather or not, or whatever happens to it.”

An 1870 trade card for a dealer in trunks and valises.

The truth of the matter was that Marion—who barely supported herself on a teacher’s salary—didn’t own enough clothes to fill a travel trunk.

Besides, paying an expressman to deliver her trunk to the station, tipping baggage porters, and checking her trunk through to Chautauqua, was far beyond the cost of what Marion could afford.

A porter tends to a woman’s luggage and dog. (From a 1907 Tuck’s postcard)

As the eldest child of a hard-working doctor, Eurie Mitchell’s travel budget wasn’t much larger than Marion’s.

Ladies preparing to travel in 1915. (From the Indiana History Album)

Ruth Erskine and Flossy Shipley, on the other hand, were wealthy enough to insist on first-class accommodations in all her journeys. In all likelihood, they would have taken more than one trunk, each, as well as other pieces of luggage. Here’s why:

Luggage was much different in 1876 than the pull-suitcases and travel totes we use today.

Excerpt from an article in a 1906 issue of the Minneapolis Journal, illustrating the various types of trunks and cases needed to transport a lady traveler’s belongings.

For starters, different trunks or cases were made to accommodate different types of clothing and belongings.

For example, the average skirt of a woman’s dress in 1876 was made from about 8 to 10 (or more) yards of fabric. Underneath, women wore petticoats made up of an equal amount of material. These skirts, dresses, and undergarments took up a lot of room, and were usually packed in a dress trunk.

Dress trunks were made long and deep so skirts, petticoats, and dresses could be stored flat.

Shirtwaists, jackets, and suits went into a wardrobe trunk, where they could hang properly and minimize creasing and folds.

Wardrobe trunks, like this 1917 model, accommodated hanging garments like jackets and short coats. This particular wardrobe trunk would cost $701.16 in today’s money.

Hats and bonnets were transported in boxes designed to protect their shape and prevent damage to ornaments.

A standard hat box design for 1917. Adjusting for inflation, this hat box would cost $116.95 today.

Lotions and toiletries went into yet another case, fitted out with compartments for bottles and toothbrushes, and powders.

A trade card for a maker of trunks and valises, from about 1910.

Items a traveler might need to keep handy, such as clean handkerchiefs, fresh collars or cuffs, and possibly, a change of shirt waist, were carried in a valise or grip.

Trunks were sturdily built and meant to last a lifetime, despite rough treatment and wear and tear.

Some ladies also used tourist Cases to pack things to carry on the train and keep with them. Tourist cases looked very much like the small suitcases that were in use in the 1950s and 60s. The young women pictured in the photo below all have tourist cases (and one very large trunk!).

College students prepare to return home, about 1909.

For a lady traveling in the late 18th and early 19th century, traveling was not a casual business. It took planning, if she wanted to arrive at her destination looking fresh and effortlessly gowned.

Most hotels had carriages to transport guests and their small pieces of luggage to and from the train station. This 1890 photograph shows such a carriage, as well as a wagon convey trunks and heavy baggage, for a hotel in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

In 1904 The San Francisco Call newspaper published a full-page article on how to properly pack a trunk. The article was filled with plenty of practical, and not-so-practical, advice:

Making a trunk look nice is a distinct art.

A lady’s skirt should never have a front fold.

The author of the article was a professional packer of trunks. She tells the story of a phone call she received from a client:

“I want you to pack my trunks,” said she, “so I can catch the midnight train.”

“How many trunks are there?” I asked.

“There are twenty-seven,” said she, “and several boxes and suit cases, and the wagon is to call for them at five o’clock.”

Twenty-seven trunks! By comparison, Marion, Eurie, Ruth, and Flossy traveled light when they set off for Chautauqua!

You can read the full-page article “How to Pack a Trunk” by clicking here.

You can read all about the 2018 Chautauqua Institution summer program and events. Just click here.

And you can read previous posts about going to Chautauqua; just click on one of the links below:

A Tour of Chautauqua – Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua – Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

 

Pansy’s Favorite Author: Susan Warner

6 Jun

Isabella Alden was a prolific author, a Sunday school teacher, a mother, and a dedicated minister’s wife who was devoted to the members of her husband’s congregation.

In the few leisure hours she had, she was a great reader, and one of her favorite authors was Susan Warner. Isabella was such a fan, she even mentioned Susan Warner’s books in her own novels.

For example, in her book What They Couldn’t, Professor Landis has his eye on his neighbor, Miss Mary Cameron.

He believes Mary to be a troubled young woman, whose face wears the clear signs of unrest. He wants to help her, but unhappy Mary avoids him as much as possible—until the day they meet by accident at the public library.

Professor Landis strikes up a conversation and asks Mary what books and authors she likes to read.

“Tell me if you ever indulge in one of my favorites. Do you read Miss Warner?”

The professor is, of course, talking about Susan Warner. Miss Warner’s first novel, The Wide, Wide World, was published in 1850, and told the story of young Ellen Montgomery, who must rely on her Christian faith when she is sent to live with unkind relatives who lead a more worldly lifestyle.

A well-worn and much read copy of The Wide, Wide World.

The Wide, Wide World was a run-away best-seller—a fact that’s even more remarkable when you consider that the book was published at a time when most people, women in particular, did not often read novels.

In Isabella’s novel What They Couldn’t, Mary Cameron considers herself too sophisticated to confess to enjoying the simple stories of Christian faith that Susan Warner wrote. She scoffs at the mention of Susan Warner’s name and repeats some of the criticisms Isabella often heard and read about Susan’s work:

“You cannot mean the old-fashioned Miss Warner, with her interminable ‘Wide, Wide World’ and ‘Queechy’ and ‘The Hills of —’ something or other!” she said.

“Ah, but I do! She is the very Miss Warner, with her ‘Say and Seal’ and her ‘Old Helmet,’ and all the other creations of her earnest brain. I am glad to find you familiar with her.”

“I am not. You give me too much credit. It was a spasm of my childhood, long since passed. Professor Landis, it is not possible that you can intend to seriously commend her writings!”

“Why not?”

“Because she is not worthy of it. From a literary point of view, which I supposed a teacher would feel bound to consider, I am sure she is of no account; and as for her characters — It is the same person always, whether in masculine or feminine dress, and the most improbable one imaginable.”

Susan Warner in an undated photograph.

When Isabella wrote those lines, she was repeating criticisms that had often been leveled against Susan Warner’s novels. Susan Warner’s books were regularly maligned by reviewers as old-fashioned, with weak, unnatural characters who were too good and perfect to be believed.

But then, Isabella did something remarkable. In What They Couldn’t she turns those criticisms around by having her character, Professor Landis, ask Mary Cameron this question about Susan Warner’s books:

“Are the characters you have mentioned better than the Pattern?”

“The pattern?” she repeated in genuine bewilderment. This young woman was so unused to meeting a religious thought in ordinary conversation that her mind did not take in his meaning.

“Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ. He came among us for that purpose, among others, you remember. Has Miss Warner succeeded in imagining a human being superior to him?”

“Of course not. But she has tried to make a human being like him; and that makes the whole unnatural.”

“I beg pardon, but what is a copy worth unless one strives to attain to it?”

Isabella understood Susan Warner’s reasons for writing her books as she did. Unlike other Christian authors of the same period, who wrote moralistic fiction, Susan Warner’s books were inspirational; Susan hoped to encourage readers not just to achieve salvation through Christ, but to emulate Christ in their every-day lives.

Isabella’s Inspiration

She certainly influenced Isabella. Isabella often used the same theme Susan Warner used in The Wide, Wide World—a child sent to live with strangers—in her own books.

One example is Line Bryant, who goes to live with a wealthy family in the city when a series of mishaps takes her far from home in Isabella’s novel Twenty Minutes Late. Although Line has been raised with good principles, she learns what it means to follow Christ by the example set by the family that takes her in.

Many of Isabella’s novels are based on that theme; The Man of the House and Reuben’s Hindrances are two other examples of stories involving children who learn from older friends or acquaintances about salvation through Jesus.

Susan’s Writing Career

Under the pen name “Elizabeth Wetherell” Susan Warner wrote about thirty novels, many of which were best-sellers and went into multiple editions.

One of those books was The Old Helmet, which remained popular for decades after its initial publication in 1864.

Thirty years later, Isabella mentioned The Old Helmet in her novel, Her Associate Members.

Once again, Isabella brought up the topic of Susan Warner’s books in a conversation between her heroine, Chrissy Holmes, and a friend from church:

“I am going to see if you do not, after all, like some of my favorites. Do you ever read Miss Warner’s books?”

“What has she written? I hardly ever notice the name of the author.”

“Miss Warner has written a large number of books. ‘The Hills of the Shatemuc’ was one of my favorites, and ‘The Old Helmet’ was another.”

In Isabella’s novel John Remington, Martyr, she described how John—newly ordained and assigned his first church—believed that the right books placed in the hands of his congregants could teach Christ’s principles just as well as any sermon he could deliver:

Great care was taken to select and circulate attractive religious books through the parish. And here one had need of great discernment to fit the right book or tract to the right person. If sure that James’ “Anxious Inquirer” or Baxter’s “Call” or Bunyan’s “Come and Welcome” would not be read by certain persons, then there was a wide field to choose from to secure an excellent religious story, from “Pilgrim’s Progress” down to Miss Warner’s “Queechy” and “Old Helmet.”

Isabella’s Flawed Characters

Isabella may have been inspired by Susan Warner’s books, but she did not copy them. One major difference between Isabella’s novels and Susan’s works was in the characters they each created.

Isabella wasn’t afraid to create a heroine who was less than perfect. In that way, her stories were probably more believable than Susan Warner’s, and her characters were more natural and relateable to readers of her time.

Susan Warner’s book My Desire provides an example. In the book, Miss Desire Burgoyne is just blossoming into Christian womanhood. She lives a quiet life in the country with one of her sisters; but when her wealthy eldest sister invites her to spend time with her in the city, Desire’s Christian faith is tested at every turn. Then she makes the acquaintance of Maxmillian Iredell, who is also a Christian. Soon, Desire finds herself falling in love for the first time, even as she must face one of the hardest tests for a Christian: forgiving the very person who cruelly betrayed her.

My Desire is a touching and heart-felt story, but critics once again claimed that Susan Warner made Desire Burgoyne a little too perfect to be believed.

Isabella had her own perfect characters. In The Chautauqua Series of books, Flossy Shipley is beautiful and wealthy, and she always knows exactly what to say and do. Just like Desire Burgoyne, Flossy’s new-found Christian faith is tested in many unforeseen ways when the people she loves most, wrong her. Luckily, Flossy meets godly Evan Roberts, who supports her in her Christian journey, and helps her forgive the people who tried to discourage her from following Christ.

Elsie Chilton contends with the same dilemma in Isabella’s novel, John Remington, Martyr. Elsie’s wealthy, influential father expects her to marry the man of his choice, even though Elsie is increasingly attracted to Earle Mason, a man dedicated to performing good works in Jesus’ name.

When Fiction Follows Fact

Isabella’s novel Interrupted is about a young woman named Claire Benedict. Born to wealth and privilege, Claire is forced to go to work to avoid living in poverty when her father encounters financial hardships and dies unexpectedly.

That story is very much like the story of Susan Warner’s life.

Undated photo of Susan Warner in her later years.

Susan and her sister Anna were born in New York (which is also Isabella’s home state) to wealthy parents. But when her father suffered significant financial losses, they sold their mansion in town and moved to an old farmhouse on Constitution Island, near West Point.

The Warner home on Constitution Island.

The change was a hard one for the family. They no longer had household servants and coachmen to see to their needs and drive them about. They no longer shopped at expensive stores and mingled with the cream of society. Instead, they had to learn to make their own clothes and grow their own food.

Susan and her younger sister Anna did not suffer their hardships alone; the sisters became devout Christians and sought ways to serve Christ in their everyday lives. They began to hold Bible studies for cadets at the nearby United States Military Academy. They continued those Bible studies with the cadets for over forty years.

Susan Warner and a few of the cadets she taught.

Susan also began to express her Christian faith with her pen. It was while she was living on Constitution Island that Susan wrote The Wide, Wide World. The book was published in 1850 and became an instant run-away best seller.

Two years later she published Queechy. Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot were outspoken fans of the book.

She went on to write about thirty novels, including The Hills of Shatemuc (in 1856), The Old Helmet (1863), Daisy (1868), Pine Needles (1877), My Desire (1879), and The End of a Coil (1880), just to name a few.

When Susan Warner died in 1885, West Point honored her by ensuring she was buried on the grounds of the military academy, along with America’s most respected military leaders, historic heroes, astronauts, and Medal of Honor recipients.

The graves of Susan Warner (left) and her sister Anna (right) at the West Point Cemetery.

Fittingly, Susan and her sister Anna are interred next to the Cadet Monument in a quiet corner of the cemetery.

The Cadet Monument at West Point Cemetery.

The military academy also ensured Susan’s home on Constitution Island was preserved, after the Warner sisters willed the land and house to West Point. Today the home is a museum that houses many artifacts related to Susan’s life and work.


Did you know you can read many of Susan Warner’s books for free?

Amazon has many of Susan Warner’s novels available as free e-books, and you don’t have to own an Amazon Kindle to read them! Click here to see a full list of her available novels in print and e-book formats.

Barnes and Noble also has many Susan Warner e-books priced as low as 99 cents. Click here to see a complete list.


More about Susan Warner

You can read more about Susan Warner’s interesting life and discover how her family home became a popular museum by visiting this website:

ConstitutionIsland.org

There’s also a Wikipedia page dedicated to Susan Warner, which you can find here:

Wikipedia.org

And this article describes Susan’s loving and faithful ministry to the young cadets at West Point:

Heroes, Heroines, and History

Finally, this website gives examples of the many fan letters Susan Warner received from readers of her novel, The Wide, Wide World:

Common-Place.org


Have you read any of Susan Warner’s books?

How do you think they compare to Isabella Alden’s novels? Which Susan Warner book is your favorite? Please share your thoughts!

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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.

 

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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