Advice to Readers on Learning to Cook

For many years Isabella had an advice column in a popular Christian magazine. In the column she answered readers’ questions—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

In 1910 she received this letter from a young woman:

Can you tell some of us girls—who never had a chance to learn much about real, practical, beautiful housekeeping—some way of learning? Are there not schools in cities for this purpose? Or are there not books from which we can learn what we need to know?

We want to understand all kinds or planning and arranging and beautifying and economizing.

We want to be excellent cooks, and to learn much that people whose time is largely spent in school or shop know very little about.

Can you help us with this practical need of ours?”

Illustration of different desserts: A sundae in a tall glass, cupcakes, a merangue, and a cake.

Here is Isabella’s reply:

It shall be my delight to do so.

Let me first express what a pleasure it is to find that one who can write so charming a letter as accompanied these questions is able to turn her thoughts to this practical subject, and to feel the “need” of knowledge.

Also, I rejoice in the thought that a large number of the letters awaiting attention deal with the same subject. Our lovely, cultured girls, who have had “advantages,” are beginning to feel the importance of understanding the art of home-making.

Newspaper clipping:
HOUSEKEEPERS HAVE TROUBLES.
Have Miss Peet help you in them at cooking school.
The school opens next Monday.
Ask her any questions any time - Wants Fort Scott women to feel it is their school.
From The Fort Scott Daily Tribune, October 31, 1913

Schools? Certainly there are. Every city of rea­sonable size now sends out its circulars announcing a “cooking-school” in regular session through the school year, or in extra session during vacation, or for the winter months.

Photo of about a dozen young women gathered around a table where they are preparing peaches to make into peach rolls.
A cooking school at the Indiana State Fair, about 1917

Better than these opportunities, especially for school­girls and those employed in regular work of any kind during the winter, are the cooking-schools that have sprung up in connection with the larger summer “as­semblies.”

I am told that every well-established summer resort organized under the peculiar rules that belong to the word “assembly” now has its own fairly well-appointed cooking class or classes. I am, however, most familiar with the one at Chautauqua, N. Y., which is, of course, the mother of all the Chautauquas, and is and must always be the first in all ways.

Photo from the early 1900s of a large classroom full of cooking students and teachers. The students are wearing caps and full aprons. The teachers wear caps and are dressed in white. Some students are preparing vegetables, others are setting a table, while others are at different stages of the cooking process.
A cooking school at the Battle Creek, Michigan resort and sanitarium.

Mrs. Emma P. Ewing, who, as everyone knows, has no superior in her department, conducts regularly at Chau­tauqua, N. Y., during the eight weeks’ season, a thor­oughly equipped cooking-school, with its normal depart­ment, its “practice class,” its lecture course, and its final examination.

Black and white head-and-shoulders photograph of Emma P. Ewing. She is wearing spectacles. She is wearing a bodice with a high neck and sleeves that puff at the shoulder.
Emma P. Ewing, from Wikipedia.org

Nothing more fascinating than the way in which Mrs. Ewing manages the entire matter can well be imagined. It has been my pleasure to be often in her classroom, to admire the white table set out with all the belongings for the day, sometimes arranged for the pur­pose of making delicious soups and white sauces and delicate desserts, sometimes planned for the purpose of showing what a study in refinement and beauty and excellence a breakfast of lamb chop and creamed pota­toes and corn puffs may become.

Newspaper article:
FREE LESSON
Mrs. Emma P. Ewing, dean of Chautauqua cooking school, will give a free lesson on breadmaking in the Woman's club class room, 306 south High street, Tuesday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock. All interested in preparing wholesome bread will be welcome.
The Muncie Daily Times, October 5, 1896.

Every conceivable branch of the culinary art is taught here. Pies, pud­dings, cakes, sauces, gravies, roasts, fries, stews, each come in for a full share of careful consideration.

Illustration from about 1912. A woman is in her kitchen looking down on a turkey in a roasting pas she has just taken from the oven.

Let me confess just here that a very fascinating part of the daily class exercise is the careful “tasting” of whatever article of food has been prepared before our eyes. For this purpose scholars go to the class armed each with a silver spoon, or fork, as occasion may require, and a napkin.

Illustration of a young woman about 1918. She is holding a bowl on a saucer just below her nose as if she is enjoying the smell of the contents.

Delicious beyond description are the spoonfuls of broth or “white soup” or bouillon that one thus enjoys, to say nothing of the marvellous concoctions made with a spoonful or two of cream, a cup of fruit-juice, a dash of sugar, and a little gelatine; to say nothing, moreover, of the delicious creams and ices and “foams” and innumerable other forms to delight the palate.

Illustration of different desserts, including a cake, a plum pudding, a molded gelatine, a cake decorated with gelatine, and a mousse.

Not only can the making and cooking of all these dishes be thoroughly learned at this summer school, but there are classes formed for the special purpose of train­ing the pupils in the art of setting the table neatly and gracefully, of clearing away skillfully, of selecting dishes that harmonize with others, of explaining the difference between a refined abundance and a sinful waste.

Illustration of a dining room with a table for 12. The table is covered with a white tablecloth. Each place is set with plate, silverware, glasses and napkins. In the center are large bowls of fruits, a cruet, and a coffee service.
A proper Victorian-era table set for dinner.

There are bills of fare arranged for summer, for winter, for the trying springs and falls. There is careful attention paid to the novice who does not know whether to buy steak “by the yard” or piece, or whether to try to have strawberries and green peas in February, or to wait until they are less flavored with money.

Illustration of a woman reading a cookbook in her kitchen about 1920. On the table before her is a colander full of berries, a large empty bowl, a can of Crisco and a rolling pin.

In short, anything that one needs to learn about housekeeping, as connected with the kitchen and storeroom, may be acquired at this summer cooking-school. Moreover, the teacher is so gentle voiced and sympathetic, and so thoroughly ladylike, that it is simply a pleasure to watch her and listen to her. It would be difficult to imagine anyone farther removed from the “fussy” or the hurried and nervous stage of housekeeping than Mrs. Ewing.

Illustration from about 1918. A mother and daughter are in the kitchen standing side-by-side at the stove. The mother is reading from a cookbook while the daughter adds ingredients to a pot on the stove.

No matter how much it may sound like it, my dear girls, this is not an advertisement of the Chautauqua cooking-school. The truth is, that favored spot needs no advertising; its classes are always full, and application has to be made some time in advance. It is simply an honest effort to answer an honest and often repeated question about learning how.

Illustration of a woman from about 1910. She is in a kitchen, wearing an apron, stirring the contents of a large bowl. On the table before her are a variety of pans and cooking utensils.

Meantime, do you know, dear girls, what delightful institutions home cooking-clubs are? Why not organize one in your own circle?

Black and white photo of five ladies standing arm-in-arm in a row. Each is wearing an apron.
Members of a cooking club in their aprons.

Select one evening or afternoon a week out of your busy lives. Meet around at one another’s homes; find out the specialty of each mother or grandma or auntie; and petition for a lesson in her line—a “normal” lesson, where you can have the privilege of furnishing your own materials, and doing exactly what the teacher does, and carry home the result in triumph. Some of the most fascinating evenings I have ever known were spent in this way.

Newspaper article:
AFTERNOON TEA
The Muffin Cooking Club Entertains the Young Ladies' Cooking Club.
Yesterday afternoon the members of Muffin Cooking Club entertained the members of the Young Ladies' Cooking Club with an afternoon tea at the beautiful home of Miss Mayne Sprankle, South Liberty street. The spacious rooms of the house were beautifully decorated and presented a unique appearance, especially the dining room and table, over which flowers and candles were artistically arranged. Dainty refreshments were served and all were delightfully entertained.
From The Muncie Morning News, September 22, 1892.

Try it, and see how much, at the end of a year, you will have added to your stock of practical knowledge.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Where and when did you learn to cook? Have you ever taken a cooking class or joined a cooking club?

You can read some of Emma P. Ewing’s cookbooks for free! Just click on any of the titles below to view them on Archive.org.

The Art of Cookery; a Manual for Homes and Schools

A Textbook of Cookery for Use in Schools

Cooking and Castle-building

Soup and Soup Making

Vegetables and Vegetable Cooking

A Hard Text: Matthew, Mark and Luke

Isabella’s brother-in-law the Reverend Charles M. Livingston wrote several articles for The Pansy magazine in which he explained some of the Bible’s most challenging verses in terms young people could understand.

Rev. Livingston wrote the following article for an April 1891 issue of the magazine:


A Hard Text

Matthew 8:28: And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.
Mark 5:1-2: And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit;
Luke 8:26-27: And they arrived at the country of the Gadarrenes, which is over against Galilee. And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs.
Photo of open Bible.

They don’t seem to agree. How to account for that?

But don’t you see that if the writers wanted to cheat the readers they wouldn’t contradict each other?

The truth in this case is that they mention different cities but in the same region or neighborhood. Christ went into the same neighborhood.

“There met him two … ” says Matthew.

But Mark and Luke mention one, so then here’s another seeming contradiction. Two cannot be one. How to account for this?

Easily enough.

Mark and Luke do not deny that there were two; they simply call special attention to the very furious one. He was a man of some standing before this and so his cure from such dreadful violence by the power of Christ would be so much the more noticeable.

This may be a key to many other “hard texts.” The writers only seem to contradict each other, whereas they may be telling different things about the very same person or thing, or calling special attention to one of several persons. When writers try to deceive, they do not give names and dates, [but] you will find them in the Bible.

It may not always be possible to harmonize all things as you read along in the Bible; but do not therefore conclude that those things cannot be harmonized.

Remember:

When one thing in one part of the Bible seems to conflict with another part or say something which seems to be wrong, you are to conclude that a little better understanding will set it all to rights in your mind.


[break or line]

Did you know? … Reverend Livingston’s daughter was beloved Christian novelist Grace Livingston Hill.

Click here to read another “A Hard Text” article by Rev. Livingston.

What Does it Mean to be a Christian?

In 1891 a Christian weekly magazine mailed letters to America’s most prominent Christian authors and ministers asking one question:

What is it to be a Christian?

Many of the replies from ministers and church elders spoke about adhering to New Testament doctrines. Some replied that being a Christian meant following the example set by the Divine Master.

A famous Unitarian pastor answered that to be a Christian was “to do the will of my father who is in heaven.”

Of course, Isabella was one of the Christian authors who received the letter.

Photograph of Isabella Alden in profile.
Isabella Alden, about 1900.

Here is her answer, which was printed in newspapers across the country on Sunday, March 20, 1892:

“To be a Christian is to love the Lord Jesus Christ so much that I shall desire to have him reign supreme in my heart.”

What do you think of Isabella’s answer?

How would you answer the question?

Advice to Readers about Keeping Confidences

For many years Isabella had an advice column in a popular Christian magazine. She used the column to answer readers’ questions—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

In an 1897 column Isabella wrote that she had received several letters in one week about “imprudent confidences.” The letters were from young women who regretted something they said or wrote.

Two or three girls wrote about their mothers in ways they wished they had not.

One young wife wrote “with utmost frankness” about the failings of her husband to a lady friend!

Several young ladies were very harsh in their criticisms of “certain gentleman acquaintances.”

Each ended their letter to Isabella with the same two questions:

“Ought I to take back the words I wrote? And ought I to tell the persons of whom I wrote what I have done?”

Here is Isabella’s advice:

There are really two questions. Let me so divide them.

With regard to the first, I answer: By all means, YES. Perhaps there is no more common error than that of giving vent to one’s anger by putting on paper words concerning others that in our cooler moments we would not even think, much less say.

Moreover, in nearly (if not quite every) case of the kind, the written words are more or less untrue. For the hour they may seem to us strictly true and justifiable; but the next morning, after the mail has been sent, and it is too late, what would we not give to be able to recall them? How sure we are to remember entire sentences that we no know to be false, or—at the very least—to convey entirely false impressions!

In all such cases, what better can we do than to write promptly and frankly:

“I am sorry I told you what I did. I was angry at the time, or so strangely hurt that I did not realize what I was doing. My mother meant what she said in an entirely different way from what I translated it; she did not speak the words in the manner which I ascribed to her; she did not speak quite those words. I see it all now. Please burn my letter, and forgive me.”

Or:

“Dear Friend, I have been unjust to my husband; he is not what I have led you to infer. It is I who was angry, and misinterpreted him.”

Some such reparation as this we owe to our own sense of honor, even though we are quite sure that our mistaken confidences will go no further. Every true correspondent will approve such a course, and think more highly of her friend that she can possibly do without this frankness.

Especially should this course be urged in the case of husband and wife. In a very peculiar and solemn sense these two are pledged to each other, and no third person should be permitted, save in the cases of gravest necessity, to step between them even in thought.

As to the second question, there may be individual cases where confession would be wise; but as a rule I see no reason why the heart of a husband or friend should be made sore by explanations of what they would otherwise never hear. A good general rule in such matters seems to be:

If you are quite confident that silence will do no one any harm, and reasonably certain that speaking would give pain, be silent.

I think I would make one exception to this, in the case of mother and young daughter. Between these two there should be not only implicit confidence, but such deference on the part of the duaghter that it would wound her conscience to keep even such a matter secret. In nine cases out of ten the good mother would rather be told the exact truth, and would be able to help her child to grow stronger.

There is one potent reason why it is best always to take back, so far as possible, confidences of the kind named; and that is because it is a humiliating thing to do, and helps one to be more careful in the future.

The fact is, confidences are very important and choice and troublesome matters. They need to be guarded with great care, and bestowed warily.

What do you think of the advice Isabella gave?

Does it sound like the kind of advice that applies today, too?

Isabella’s Advice about Christmas Possibilities

For many years Isabella had an advice column in a popular Christian magazine in which she answered readers’ questions—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

While the commercialization of Christmas seems like a twenty-first century problem, this letter from a young woman shows it was a concern in Isabella’s lifetime, too.

Here is the letter:

I know that it is quite too late—or too early—to talk about Christmas, and yet that is just what I want to talk about, or, rather, I want you to.

Ought not something be done about all this Christmas business to give us a different state of things from that which now exists? Why, I know homes whose happiness is simply wrecked by this mania for giving costly presents that they cannot afford, and giving multitudes of them, at that!

But I need not tell you about these things; you know just how people go on.

What can be done? Ought the custom of exchanging Christmas gifts to be abolished? Won’t you tell us what you think?

—A Grown-up Sister

Here is Isabella’s reply:

I am going to draw from my own observations for my talk about Christmas.

I know a home where are father and mother, four daughters in various stages of growing up, a married son with his wife and baby, and two boys of high-school and grammar-school ages—a large family circle.

Illustration of heads and shoulders of family with older father and mother, two sons and four daughters of different ages.

There is not a wealthy nor hardly well-to-do member of this household. A good deal of management is required to meet the necessary monthly bills with anything like comfort. Yet they are, as a rule, a cheerful, happy family; busy from morning until night with school duties, household duties, and, on the part of the father and his eldest son, work that requires strength and brain-power.

This family has planned, whenever it is possible for them to do so, to spend three evenings of each week in the home circle, with music and pleasant talk, or with one reading aloud while the others sew, and mend disabled books and toys, and all sorts of things.

Old photo of family in parlor. Young girl plays piano. Beside her man stands playing guitar. a teen boy and young girl sit at a nearby table.

Popped corn and taffy, or apples and nuts, are occasional accompaniments of these pleasant evenings, and the cicle is often enlarged by the dropping in of a neighbor; those who have dropped in once, seeming eager to repeat the experience.

Old photo of mother father, adult daughter and teen son gathered around a piano.

Many enjoyable books—not only of the kind that leave a pleasant flavor, but help to strengthen an underlying purpose—have been read aloud in this circle, to the enjoyment of all and the lasting helpfulness of some. These evenings always close with a favorite hymn, the repeating of a choice Bible verse by each one present, and a good-night prayer, led by the father. All things considered, this is as wholesome and delightful a family circle as one could find among our American homes.

That is, until three or four weeks before Christmas. By that time the spirit of unrest steals into this home and gets possession, more or less, of almost every member of the family.

The social evenings are entirely broken up; no one has time for family life. As soon as possible after dinner, the girls retire to their own rooms to struggle with secret preparations.

1890s illustration of young woman sewing fabric on a sewing machine. Beside her one young woman holds up a length of fabric while a third cuts it.

The mother works rapidly and with nervous glances toward the door, and the quick hiding of something every few minutes, for she has countless interruptions. She frankly declines to be read to, owning herself too busy thinking and planning to listen.

The father, who himself looks over-tired, tries with poor success, after he has skimmed the daily news, to be interested in his paper; and yawns and wishes they could get to bed early, and knows they won’t.

The school boys, their study-hour over, look in, ask for the others, lounge about uneasily for a few minutes, whistle a little, their mother wishing, meantime, that they would go, for one of the “things” she is trying to make is for them; and they do, finally, take themselves elsewhere in search of “something to do.”

The young mother upstairs wrestles with an unusually wakeful and nervous baby, and explains wearily to the tired father that the child has acted all day as though his Christmas plans were going crooked, just as most of hers are. Somehow, even the baby has caught the spirit of Christmas unrest.

Illustration of head of a crying baby

Oh, the pity of it, that all this should be because the birthday of the Christ-child draws near!

Still, if the interrupted family gatherings and the pressure of a little extra work were all, these might cheerfully be borne for the sake of the greater good to come. But it is very far from being all. With unrest comes dissatisfaction in various lines.

One of the girls, who is a teacher, and whose duties in the school room press more heavily as the Christmas vacation nears, snatches minutes between times to join the throngs of Christmas shoppers and is jostled and bumped and pushed from counter to counter, and does not find the things she wants, and cannot afford to buy the things she sees, and is, by no means, sure any of the time just what she does want, only that she “must have something!”

Illustration of crowds of shoppers on Fifth Avenue in New York in 1895.

The second daughter, who is learning dressmaking and sews in a shop where they have the “Christmas rush” upon them in full force, has no time for shopping, and comes home after hours, ready only for rest, and shuts herself up and tries to sew on her attempts at pretty secrets; and hasn’t the material she needs, and cannot afford to buy it, and stains the ribbon she is struggling over with a few rebellious tears, and wishes that she could ever have anything that she wanted! And “what on earth is she going to give Aunt Melissa, anyway?” That girl has been heard to say that she wishes Christmas did not come but once in twenty years.

Old photo from about 1915 of a young woman hand-sewing. She is seated on a chair beside a window. Beside her is a table with a small sewing basket and a spool of thread.

I might continue the description, but I am only too sure that there is no need. You are all acquainted with homes where the true spirit of Christmas is all but lost in the pressure of added cares, and responsibilities, and expenses, and disappointments, and longings, and vain struggling, and over-wrought nerves, until there are hours when it becomes a dreaded thing, a nightmare, and ever increasing hopeless burden from which at any cost, some would escape.

Yet it is the anniversary of the coming of the King! The harbinger of peace and good will. Oh, the pity of it!

Now, what was the question? “Ought the custom of exchanging Christmas gifts be abolished?”

Oh, no, no! Abolish a good and beautiful and helpful custom because it has been warped and twisted into ugliness? A thousand times, no!

But it needs reformation. I am deeply interested in this problem, and I could fill this reply with quotes from those who are groaning under the burden. I think I know the remedies, if we could get them applied. If we could persuade all the dear people who have large hearts and many friends, with little time and less money, to begin their Christmas plans on the first, or, at the latest, the second day of the new year the problem would be largely solved.

Illustration about 1914 of boy and girl on city street carrying several packages as they pass stores and other shoppers.

I read last week in a daily city paper an account of a girl who was highly commended for putting aside a dollar of her earnings each week for a Christmas frolic. She said that when Christmas week came, she took her fifty dollars and went out and had a good time shopping. The writer of the article explained that she was a girl who earned eighteen dollars a week. She was living at home, but was “paying a dear price for her board, as every self-respecting girl whose father was poor would want to do.”

Illustration of woman and boy walking outside. Each carries a number of wrapped packages. Behind them an older man carries more.

Some definite sum set apart each week for Christmas plans by those who have an allowance or are wage earners, is, undoubtedly, an excellent solvent of part of the Christmas problem.

The next thing is to have plans. A little blank book for Christmas notes as they grow in one’s mind should be kept in a secret drawer, to be taken out on occasion. One can imagine its record growing after this manner:

“Jimmie’s heart is set on a mechanical register bank that will register as high as ten dollars.”

“An electric toaster would be nice for mother, if I don’t think of something better.”

“Father ought to have a larger-type Bible.”

“Aunt Carrie very much wants Holman Hunt’s picture of Christ to hang in the room where the girls meet.”

Painting of Jesus, holding a lantern in one hand. With the other he knocks on a long-unopened door around which weeds and brush are overgrown.
“The Light of the World” by William Holman Hunt.

“Christmas Hints,” the book could be called, and it would make very interesting and helpful reading as the days passed. There could be pages set apart for the names of little trifles as they occur to mind or might be pretty for someone. It is a great relief when one starts out on Christmas shopping to have two or three entirely satisfactory alternatives, provided the first choice is not available.

Illustration from about 1910 of a woman seated in a chair. She is dressed in bonnet, cloak, and gloves. In one hand she holds a small book. In her other hand she holds a pencil up to her chin as she thinks about what to write.

Next: Wide open eyes, as one passes shop windows or takes a trolley ride to another town, or has a week’s vacation at the shore.

“There’s that very abalone pin that Emma admired so much, or one just like it!” exclaimed a friend of mine as we were viewing a shop window. “And it’s marked only one dollar. Isn’t it handsome? I mean to get it; I’ve been looking for one a long time.”

While she made her purchase the group of girls that I was chaperoning waited for her outside and discussed her. They wanted to know as soon as she appeared if her sister Emma was to have a gift of it then, for it certainly wasn’t her birthday.

“Oh, it isn’t for now,” said the shopper, showing her pin with great satisfaction. “This is to go into my locked box, against next Christmas.”

Illustration of pretty box with gold edging. Two small bird sit atop the lid, which is open and holly is arranged inside and outside the box.

There were shouts of laughter and exclamations. “Christmas! But this is only July.”

“Yes, my dear, but December will come here as sure as fate, and I shall be serenely ready for it, while you are hopping about upsetting yourselves and all your acquaintances. I’ve done quite a bit of my Christmas shopping already.”

I knew a dear girl whose leisure and play were scarce and who, on one January day, planned the very kind of dress that she would make for her mother ready for the next Christmas. In the early fall she chose her material, and two weeks before Christmas Day had the dress finished and folded ready for mother.

“Made it!” I hear you exclaim. “Then she was a dressmaker; I should as soon think of making a house as a dress!”

Illustration about 1915 of young woman with sewing machine. She is holding up two pieces of lacy fabric.

No, she was not. She was simply a clever daughter. She selected her fabric from samples and sent her measurements to a dress-making company; they sent the dress to her, cut and fitted, ready for plain sewing. The result was a satisfactory and useful dress that cost no more than the materials would have cost in any store. How did she know about such a system? She had been keeping her eyes open, watching out for ideas and opportunities.

1912 illustration of young woman sitting in chair. Her hands are clasped together in front of her and she is looking up, as if thinking about or remembering something.

When I began this article my chief desire was to say an earnest word against the growing habit of indiscriminate Christmas giving. The “commercial habit,” we might call it, is the spirit that says, “I must give Mrs. Blank something, I suppose, because she sent me a book last year; but I’m sure I don’t know what it will be; I don’t care enough for her to waste my money on her.” That is a quote I heard from the lips of a thoughtless girl.

A great deal of our Christmas trouble derives from the fact that we do not carry the real Christmas spirit into our giving. If all planning and all buying and all presenting were done as in his sight, and in his name, we should be held from extravagance of expenditure, from selfishness as regards time and strength, from anything that would mar the joy of the Christmas morning in the eyes of him whose love and sacrifice we celebrate.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Do you think her advice would work today to help people feel less stressed about christmas?

Advice About Righting the Wrong Marriage Proposal

For many years Isabella had an advice column in a popular Christian magazine. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

In 1897 she received a surprising letter from a young woman who regretted turning down a marriage proposal.

Here is the letter:

Suppose a gentleman had proposed marriage to a lady by letter, although he lived in the same town with her, and she, vexed at this, had simply returned the letter without other reply. Yet suppose that she loved the man, and believed him in every way worthy. What could she do to right matters?

Illustration of letter envelopes with wax seals on the flaps and hand-written "For You" on the front of one, against a background of a quill feather pen and small blue flowers.

Here is Isabella’s reply:

Yours is an extremely difficult question to answer. If I were the gentleman, it would take a good deal to “right matters.”

I am simply amazed at the number of young women who seem to be interested in a question of this kind. Why, in the name of common sense, should not a gentleman propose marriage by letter if that method suits him best? Certainly there is no discourtesy in such a letter. If he felt that in the quiet of his own room he could express the thought and desire of his heart better than he could by speech, the probabilities are that he is a thoughtful, earnest, sensible man. For such a man to condone the discourtesy of returning him his honest letter without other answer would, I should think, be very difficult.

A young couple stands near an outdoor bench. She is facing away from him, looking angry with her nose in the air. He looks down at the ground, dejected.

Honestly, the possibilities are that he would decide that he had been mistaken in the character of the lady, and had made a narrow escape.

It is all very well to cultivate dignity and a certain fine self-respect; every true woman, even though she be quite young, should be enveloped by these as with a garment; but there is in some natures a tendency to let these degenerate until the persons become—what shall I say? Finical? Over nice? Neither of these quite covers the thought, but perhaps you understand me.

A young man tips his hat to a young woman who looks annoyed.

Do you not know people who seem to be on the watch for something at which to take offence, people who will not hesitate to stab the deepest feelings of their dearest friends because of some fancied slight or discourtesy?  I know young ladies who pride themselves upon their extreme sensitiveness in such directions, and seem to think that they are made of finer grain than others, when the fact is that there is really no trait easier to cultivate. To think much about one’s self, and to imagine that others do not think enough about us, seems to be first, instead of second, nature to many.

Now, after this lengthy digression, let me try to answer the question, “What can be done to right matters?”

A young couple sits outside on a fence rail, facing away from each other as if they have had a disagreement.

My dear, if you are really a sincere, self-respecting girl, and the gentleman has the character that you ascribe to him, write him a letter stating frankly that you unwittingly insulted him; that you are ashamed of yourself, and want to be forgiven. That may “right matters” in your individual case, and it may not. It depends on whether the gentleman is high-minded and unselfish, and so deeply attached to you that he is able to overlook your faults.


Oh, dear! Isabella wasn’t very sympathetic to the young lady’s plight, was she?

Do you think Isabella gave her good advice?

How would you react if you received a marriage proposal by mail?

Making Christmas Bright

Isabella Alden knew all about the Christmas shopping season. She had a large extended family, and she either bought or made gifts for each family member.

Her niece, author Grace Livingston Hill, recalled what it was like when the Aldens, Livingstons, and Macdonalds got together:

Our Christmases were happy, thrilling times. There were many presents, nearly all of them quite inexpensive, most of them home-made, occupying spare time for weeks beforehand; occasionally a luxury, but more often a necessity; not any of the expensive nothings that spell Christmas for most people today.

Isabella—being a clever and creative person—made many of the gifts she gave.

Sometimes she got gift-making ideas from magazines. She subscribed to The Ladies’ Home Journal and Harper’s Bazar, both of which regularly printed directions for making items to use or give as gifts. Sometimes she passed those ideas and directions on to her own readers.

For example, an 1898 issue of The Ladies’ Home Journal published instructions for making this pretty wall pocket:

Drawing of a wall pocket made of a long board or cardboard. At one end is a ribbon so it can be hung vertically on the wall. Spaced evenly down the board are three fabric pockets decorated with different trims.

Isabella liked the idea so much, she wrote simplified instructions that children could follow and printed them in an issue of The Pansy magazine. She told her readers how to make the wall pocket from pine board, calico, buttons, and felt, and hinted it would make a lovely gift “for mamma.” She wrote:

I get the idea and most of the details from Harper’s Bazar. The article from which they are taken says the contrivance is for an invalid, but let me assure you that mamma will like it very much, or, for the matter of that, papa also.

At Christmas she encouraged boys and girls to make gifts not only for family members and friends, but for strangers, too. She wrote this to readers of The Pansy magazine:

How many Pansies are planning the Christmas gifts they will make? In all the merry bustle and happy, loving thoughts, don’t forget to throw a bit of kindly cheer into those poor little lives darkened by distress and want.

If every member of The Pansy Society would make some little gift as a loving reminder to one who otherwise would have none, how many children, think you, would be made happy?

Remember, you do it “For Jesus’ sake.”

There were instructions for making this simple knitting bag, made of fabric, ribbon, and embroidery hoops:

Illustration of a cloth bag made with hoops for handles.

And this case, made from pieces of cardboard and colored ribbons, to hold photos, greeting cards, or pictures cut from magazines.

Drawing of a "case for Christmas cards." Made of square cardboard, it has a photo pasted in the center. It is bound on the left with pieces of ribbon and tied on the right to keep it closed.

She wrote:

What a delightful present that will be when you get it done! I can imagine an ingenious girl and boy putting their heads together, and making many variations which would be a comfort to the fortunate owner.

Isabella always knew how to give those gentle reminders that children (and adults!) sometimes need about the true spirit of Christmas.

Isabella Alden quote: Remember the poor always, but especially at Christmas. It is the kind of giving which our Lord, the Gift of gifts, would most approve.

What is your favorite way to share the message of Christmas with people in need?

Have you ever made a Christmas gift for someone? How was it received?