New Free Read: What She Could

16 Aug

It’s back to school time across the country, when millions of children return to the classroom.

As a teacher herself, Isabella Alden understood the tremendous influence a teacher had over the minds and hearts of young students.

In 1893 she wrote a short story about a young teacher, her sacrifice, and the rewards she reaped, simply because she did “what she could” for her students.

Now you can read the story for free! Just click on the book cover below to begin reading.


Postcards from Chautauqua: Saturday in the Park with Pansy

8 Aug

A Sunset service at Palestine Park


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

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

Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives.


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

Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favorite? The truly little town of Bethlehem.

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

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

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

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

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

Dusting off my sandals,


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

Postcards from Chautauqua – Pansy-trod Pathways

Postcards from Chautauqua – On a Pilgrimage

Postcards from Chautauqua – Summer of 2017

A Tour of Chautauqua: Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua: Strolling the Grounds

A Tour of Chautauqua: Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

100 Years Ago at Chautauqua

Postcards from Chautauqua: Pansy-trod Pathways

2 Aug

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Did someone from the Alden household purchase stamps here?

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

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

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

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

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


Finding my roots (and leaves and blossoms)

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

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

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

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

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


Irrepressibly His, Karen.


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

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

Postcards from Chautauqua – On a Pilgrimage

Postcards from Chautauqua – Summer of 2017

A Tour of Chautauqua: Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua: Strolling the Grounds

A Tour of Chautauqua: Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

100 Years Ago at Chautauqua

Postcards from Chautauqua: On a Pilgrimage

26 Jul

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

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

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

The Hall of Christ, as it appears today.


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

(Four Mothers at Chautauqua)

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

The Hall of Christ as it appeared in 1909


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


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

The Hall in the Grove

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

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

(The Hall in the Grove, page 286)


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


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

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

(The Hall in the Grove, page 240)

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

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

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

(The Hall in the Grove, page 382)

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

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

(The Hall in the Grove, page 198)

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

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

(page 204)

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

I surely saw what Dr. Winter Kelland did when …

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

(Eighty-Seven, page 318)

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


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

(Four Girls at Chautauqua, page 180)

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

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

Postcards from Chautauqua – Summer of 2017

A Tour of Chautauqua: Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua: Strolling the Grounds

A Tour of Chautauqua: Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

100 Years Ago at Chautauqua

Postcards from Chautauqua—Summer of 2017

19 Jul

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

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

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

Take it away, Karen!

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

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

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

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

Climbing ever higher

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

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

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

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

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

(The Hall in the Grove, pg 202)


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


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

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

(The Hall in the Grove, pg 90)


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

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

(Eighty-Seven, pg 188)


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

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

A Tour of Chautauqua: Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua: Strolling the Grounds

A Tour of Chautauqua: Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

100 Years Ago at Chautauqua




Let’s Hit the Beach!

11 Jul

Bathing at Chautauqua, 1908, in swim suits popular in Isabella’s lifetime.


In 1960 Brian Hyland hit the top of the U.S. music charts with his song, Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.

The song, about a woman who was too shy to wear her new bikini on the beach, was an instant hit. Many women at the time identified with the song’s lyrics. Although the bikini had been popular in Europe for years, Americans were slow to adopt it, believing the tiny two-piece was too risqué to be worn in public.

Those who dared to wear a bikini on an American beach or at a public pool quickly found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Some American cities banned the two-piece swimsuits and issued citations to any woman caught wearing one.

Other cities skipped the citation process and immediately took women to jail for violating local decency laws. But even in more progressive areas of the country, modesty and fear made women reluctant to wear bikini swimwear.

It wasn’t until 1962 when Ursula Andress emerged from the surf in the popular James Bond movie Dr. No that opinions began to change.

The original 1962 movie post for Dr. No showing a bikini-clad woman.


A modified movie poster for Dr. No, displayed in movie theaters in conservative areas of America.


Helping turn the tide was a series of “beach party” movies produced in the early 1960s. They featured wholesome, fun-loving teenagers—like America’s sweetheart Annette Funicello—cavorting on beaches and arguing over boyfriends, all while wearing two-piece and bikini swim suits.

Movie poster for 1963’s Beach Party.


Movie poster for Bikini Beach, which hit American theaters in 1964.


Then, in 1964, Raquel Welch wore a deer-skin bikini in the movie One Million Years B.C. and caused a sensation. The result: the bikini instantly became must-have swim attire for women across the country.

The early 1960s wasn’t the first time Americans had contended with notions of risqué swimwear. The same thing happened at the turn of the 20th Century.

A new design for swimwear, from the Fashion Page of the July 25, 1897 issue of the Los Angeles Herald. Beneath the skirt was a pair of waist-to-knee bloomers.


Women’s swimwear in Isabella Alden’s time was designed to hide the woman’s body and protect her modesty. In fact, most public bathing areas at the time were segregated by gender.

From a summer fashion article showing a new style of bathing suit. The San Francisco Call, April 30, 1899.


While men boldly walked into the surf and swam freely, some municipalities confined women to specific areas of the beach.

And they required women be covered from head to toe at all times. Swimsuit designers expected women to swim in hats, leggings, bloomers, shoes, and puffy-sleeved dresses.

An 1896 swim suit made of mohair. From an article in the May 24, 1896 issue of the Salt Lake Herald.


And because those dresses were usually made of wool, they were heavy when they got wet and weighed women down. Even worse, the long skirts tangled in their legs, preventing women from doing little more than wading into the water.

That began to change in the early 1900s when a professional swimmer from Australia arrived in the United States. Her name was Annette Kellerman, and she brought with her a one-piece swimsuit she had created herself and wore in competitions.

Annette Kellerman in a 1907 photograph.


By American standards, Annette’s swimsuit was downright indecent. It showed way too much skin and it hugged the curves of her body. When Annette dared to wear it on a public beach in Boston in 1907, she was arrested for violating indecency laws.

Annette may have run afoul of Boston city ordinances, but she also fired the imagination of American swimwear designers.

By the following year stores carried new designs in swimwear fashion. Those new designs weren’t quite as revealing as Annette’s one-piece suit, but they were certainly more comfortable and practical.

A 1908 postcard for Atlantic City, New Jersey.


Gone were the heavy leggings; the new styles allowed ladies to bare their legs and lose their high-laced shoes. And the skirts were shorter; beneath them bloomers were replaced by fitted shorts that allowed women to move freely in the water.

A 1908 postcard for Atlantic City, New Jersey.


Many people didn’t take kindly to the new styles. Americans formed protests on beaches, and newspaper editorials decried the swim fashions as emblems of the breakdown of American morals.

A 1910 editorial cartoon showing women in swim suits carrying Satan, hero-like, on their shoulders.


By 1920, some cities had tightened their swimsuit laws. New York recruited female officers to monitor the swim suits worn on beaches and issue citations if women were found in violation of city regulations.

From the New York Times, May 30, 1919.


In In Chicago the city by-passed the citation route and—as a precursor to the bikini dust-up of the 1960s—simply took women off to jail if they judged them to be indecently dressed.

Chicago swimmers being forced into police paddy-wagon before being taken to jail in 1922.


In Washington, D.C. one male officer made a name for himself as The Bathing Beach Cop by using a tape measure to ensure the distance between a female bather’s knee and the bottom of her bathing suit met with local regulations.

Bill Norton, the D.C. Bathing Beach Cop on duty.


By the 1930s the hue and cry over women’s bathing suits had, for the most part, shrunk to a whisper. Swim suits that had been scandalously indecent in 1920 became mainstream by 1930. After that, women’s swim suits changed very little through the 1950s.

Then came the 1960s and the little bikini, and Americans have never looked back. But what a far cry today’s swim suits are from the head-to-toe garments Isabella’s contemporaries wore!

You can click here to view more images of Victorian-era bathing suits:


Happy Independence Day!

4 Jul

New Free Read: Jennie’s Witness

30 Jun

Here is a short story by Isabella Alden that first appeared in The Pansy magazine on July 1, 1893. In this story, Isabella’s theme underscores the importance of reputation and doing the right thing.


Jennie’s Witness

Jennie fingered the flowers as though she loved them. She was a country girl, and used to flowers, but it seemed to her that she had never loved them so much as since she came to the city to live, and found that people had to buy them.

“And pay lots of money for them,” she wrote to the little girl friend with whom she had often gathered field daisies. “You just ought to see what lots of money folks will pay just for daisies! If we had the old south meadow lot out here on Karnick Street, we could get rich.”


There was a great deal of work to be done this morning in the greenhouse. There was to be a Fourth of July celebration the next day, and a festival, and a wedding, and Jennie did not know what else; but she knew that flowers were to be arranged for all these, and that, new girl though she was, she had been called upon to help make up bouquets. This was an honor.

Heretofore her work had been to water certain plants, and run errands, and keep the shelves and tables tidy. She felt very happy, for Mr. Greenough, when he came through the greenhouse workroom, had stopped to admire her bouquets, and told her she had shown good taste, and would be called upon again.

Mr. Greenough was the young Master of all the flowers, and Jennie knew she had been greatly honored. She was at work now on the last basket of what she called “left overs,” though they were as pretty as any of the gardens. These were for Grandmamma Greenough, who had a fresh basket sent to her every morning. Jennie was ahead of time, and could afford to loiter a little and pet the blossoms. Karl was there, leaning over her shoulder and laughing at the loving way in which she talked to them.

“Anybody would think they were a lot of live babies whom you were loving,” he said.

Karl Shubert was Mr. Greenough’s nephew; he was spending the summer with Grandmama Greenough while his father went West on business. Karl liked nothing better than to take off his coat, and roll up his sleeves, and push his queer little cap on the back of his head, and call himself a workman. Karl was also from the country, and thought it very strange that people were willing to pay money for “just weeds.”

“There are flowers almost like those which grow wild in the woods back of our house,” he said. “I’ve gathered ’em lots of times, just for fun. Nobody ever thought of buying them; I guess I should have thought they were crazy if they had.”

“Folks would think here that you were crazy if you gave them away,” answered Jennie. “These are not quite like the wild ones; but I guess they are cousins.”

“I believe they are just like them. Give me a bunch of these, and I’ll send them to Mattie Bennett and ask her if they aren’t. She gathers them all the time. Give me that great big one, and the little bits of ones next to it.”

Jennie opened her blue eyes very wide, and looked gravely at him. “You are just joking?” she said, inquiringly.

“No, I’m not joking. I think it would be great fun to send Mattie a bunch of these by mail, and tell her what the dunces here in the city pay for them. She will think I am joking, for sure. I wonder I never thought of it before. Give us a bunch.’

But Jennie’s face was graver than ever. “Of course you know I can’t,” she said, quietly.

“Well I should like to know why not? Are you suddenly taken with rheumatism in your arms, or anything of that kind? What is to hinder your handing over that bunch of posies to me?”

“Why, Karl, you don’t need me to tell you that the flowers aren’t mine? I couldn’t give you the least little blossom, of course; and I know you are just trying to tease me.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” said Karl, getting into a fume. “I never heard of such a dunce. Do you pretend to say that you never take one of the silly little things for yourself?”

Jennie’s cheeks flamed a brilliant red, and her blue eyes flashed. “I don’t think that question is worth answering,” she said, with dignity. “Do you suppose I would steal a flower any sooner than I would steal anything else?”

“Oh, steal! Who is talking about stealing? What is just a few flowers? Anyhow you might give them to me. Don’t you know my grandmother will give me the whole basketful if I ask her? And every one of them belongs to my own uncle.”

“That doesn’t make a bit of difference,” said Jennie firmly. “Your grandmother has a right to give you the basketful, of course, if she wants to, and your uncle could give you the whole greenhouse; but that would have nothing to do with me. Not one little flower is mine, and if you think I will take what belongs to other people and give it away, you are mistaken. I wouldn’t do it any more than I would take one for myself.”

“Poh!” said Karl, who thought this was utter nonsense. “What a fuss you can make about nothing. Suppose I reach over and take the whole bunch and leave? How will you help yourself?”

“You won’t do that,” said Jennie confidently, and a pleasant look came into her blue eyes. “I’m not the least bit afraid of it, because that would be mean, and I know you will never be mean.”

“Poh!” said Karl again; but he couldn’t help feeling that she had the best of the argument. On the whole he was vexed with her, and went away in a huff. “Such a ridiculous idea!” he said, kicking the dust with his bare toes as he walked. “Who would have supposed she could be so stupid as to suppose my uncle would care about her giving me some flowers?”

In half an hour he had forgotten all about it. He never thought of it again until a week afterward.

His uncle opened his room door one morning and spoke hurriedly, “Karl, my boy, did you see anything of a silver dollar that I left lying on the shelf of the lower greenhouse yesterday?”

“No, sir,” said Karl, turning over in bed and looking wonderingly at his uncle’s grave face. “I wasn’t in the greenhouse yesterday. Don’t you remember I had a cold, and Grandma would not let me go there, or anywhere?”

“Is that so?” and the face of the uncle grew graver. “Then I am afraid she has taken it, and I would not have lost my faith in the girl for ten times that amount.”

“Who, uncle?”

“I’m afraid, Karl, that Jennie has slipped the dollar into her pocket. There are little circumstances connected with it which make me quite sure I left it there; and Jennie is the only new help we have, you know. I would as soon suspect myself or dishonesty as any of the others. I have turned everything upside down in the greenhouse, and made more fuss than forty dollars are worth, just to get rid of the suspicion; but I’m afraid I can’t. David suggested that you might have seen it; but if you were not out of the house yesterday, of course that won’t do. I questioned Jennie, and she says she saw nothing of it. If there were any cracks for it to slip into I should be glad; but there are not. I’m afraid I shall have to tell her she cannot be trusted.”

“Oh, my!” said Karl, and he buried his head in the pillow and laughed. “Uncle Robert, that is too funny,” he said, when he had had his laugh out. “Jennie wouldn’t take a dollar that didn’t belong to her, not if she was starving, and could eat it. Why, she wouldn’t even take a poor little flower which looks just like the wild ones that I used to gather by the bushel up home. Uncle Robert, she is just awfully honest.”

“Is that so?” asked Uncle Robert, his eyes looking less troubled. “How do you know, my boy?” and he sat down on the side of the bed and heard the story of the Fourth of July flowers, and the bunch that Karl wanted, and did not get.

“Well,” said Mr. Greenough, after he had questioned until he understood all about it, “that is pretty good proof: she is an excellent witness for herself. It was quite natural for you to think as you did, Karl, and it was splendid in her to refuse you. I don’t believe she knows anything about the dollar. What can have become of it is more than I can imagine; but I shall say nothing more to her, for the present, at least. Don’t mention it, Karl; I would not like to have her think I suspected her.”

“I guess not!” said Karl, with emphasis. “I wouldn’t tell her for a farm.”

It was nearly two weeks afterward that Jennie came across the lawn toward Mr. Greenwich with a flower pot in her hand and a puzzled look on her face.

“What is it, Jennie?” he asked, turning back to answer her look.

“If you please, Mr. Greenough, I did not know they ever planted money; but isn’t that a piece of money peeping up through the earth?”

Mr. Greenough looked, and dived in his hand, and drew out a silver dollar.

“It is money, without doubt,” he said, smiling. “Has that plant had fresh earth put around it lately?”

“Yes, sir; more than a week ago Dennis turned a whole tubful on the table, and filled up the plants in that long row at the left; but I didn’t think—” and then Jennie stopped.

“You didn’t think they ever mixed silver dollars with the earth, eh?” Mr. Greenough said, laughing. “It seems Dennis does sometimes; and I must say I am very glad to know it. It explains a mystery.”

Karl’s eyes twinkled, but he kept his own counsel. Jennie was right; he wouldn’t be mean.

If you enjoyed this story, feel free to share it with others by downloading a pdf copy here.

It’s National Sewing Machine Day

13 Jun

It’s National Sewing Machine Day in the USA—a day to celebrate the invention of one of the greatest time-saving devices in America.

From a 1917 magazine ad

If you’ve read any of Isabella’s books, you get a sense of how many women slaved over their sewing to keep their families in decent clothes; or how many women plied their needles 10 to 12 hours a day to earn a living. The sewing machine changed all that.

Dreaming of a new sewing machine. Advertisement by the New Home Sewing Machine Company

One hour of machine sewing produced the amount of work once accomplished by about 15 hours of hand sewing. That kind of statistic placed sewing machines in high demand.

Trade card from The Free Sewing Machine Company

And there were plenty of machines to choose from. Competing manufacturers helped keep prices down, so new machines they were affordable for most middle-class households.

The New Arrival. Undated trade card from New Home Sewing Machine Company

For those families who could not afford to purchase a machine out=right, some companies (like The Free Sewing Machine Company) allowed customers to purchase a machine on time. This was an innovative marketing ploy, since the concept of individuals purchasing on credit was largely unheard of in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Sewing Party. An Undated trade card from Domestic Sewing Machine Company

The introduction of the sewing machine made a huge impact on how America produced clothing, bedding, linens, curtains and draperies . . . essentially, any fabric-based item that we wear or use in our homes and businesses.

You can see more images of sewing machines, including trade cards and magazine ads, on Isabella’s Pinterest board.  Click here to visit Pinterest.



Meet Priscilla Hunter

5 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Priscilla Hunter

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

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



The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

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