Pansy’s Favorite Author: Amos R. Wells

22 May

Isabella Alden was one busy lady! In addition to writing novels and short stories, she wrote Sunday school lessons for teachers, and edited The Pansy magazine for children.

Along the way, she also wrote articles for many different Christian publications, including the monthly magazine Christian Endeavor World. Her good friend Amos R. Wells was the long-time editor of Christian Endeavor World, and through their mutual commitment to both the magazine and the Christian Endeavor movement, Isabella and Amos became good friends.

Isabella’s friend and fellow author, Amos R. Wells in 1901 at the age of 39.

Their friendship was strong enough to withstand a good bit of teasing. In 1902 Amos published a new book of poems for children, titled Rollicking Rhymes for Youngsters.

Isabella promptly obtained a copy of the book and wrote a delightful tongue-in-cheek review , which was published in American newspapers on December 18, 1902:

Dear Mr. Wells:

I owe you a grudge; you have robbed me of an entire morning, and of no end of pocket money! Yesterday, just as I was seated in my study, all conditions favorable for work, the mail brought to me a copy of your latest book, “Rollicking Rhymes for Youngsters.”

I meant only to look at the covers and the type, and wait for leisure; but I took just a peep at the first poem and indulged in a laugh over a droll picture or two, then “Carlo” caught me, and we went together, “over the fields in the sunny weather.” On the way I met the “little laddie of a very prying mind” and—you know the rest.

It is the old story; somebody tempted me, and I fell. How could I remember that the morning was going, and the typewriter waiting, and the editor scolding? I never stopped till I reached the suggestive lines, “Two full hours ago, believe me, was this glorious day begun.” Alas for me, the morning was gone!

How delightful in you to write that which the children and their elders can enjoy together, not one whit the less because, sandwiched all throughout the fun, are charming little lessons that will sink deep into young hearts, and bear fruit. How cruel in you to write a book which a million weary mothers will have to read, and re-read and read again?”

Yours sincerely,
      Isabella Macdonald Alden.

Amos Wells probably had a good laugh over Isabella’s clever “mock review” of his new book, and Isabella probably enjoyed the chance to support her friend and fellow author (and indulge in some good-natured teasing at the same time).

You can read Amos Well’s book, Rollicking Rhymes for Youngsters and see if you agree with Isabella’s review. Click here to read the e-book version on Archive.org.

You can also read many of Amos’ other books online. Like Isabella, he was a prolific writer and published more than 60 titles during his lifetime. And like Isabella, he had a passion for properly educating the men and women who taught Christian Sunday-school lessons; he wrote many books, pamphlets, and articles on the topic. Click here to read some of Amos’ other titles. 

 

The Wonderful Something – Electricity

15 May

In 1910 it took a woman an average of 12 hours per day to do her housework; six of those 12 hours were for cooking alone!

This 1909 newspaper illustration shows the women of the house (along with their daughters and hired helpers) working together to accomplish the annual Spring cleaning.

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During Isabella Alden’s lifetime, housework wasn’t for sissies. Despite being referred to as the “weaker sex,” house cleaning was hard, physical work. Women hauled water; they built and maintained fires to heat the water; and scrubbed, brushed, polished and swept for hours every day. Even on good days the work could be exhausting; but in the Spring, when women took on the added task of giving their entire house a good, thorough cleaning, the work went on for days—sometimes weeks, depending upon the size of the house.

A 1921 magazine ad for furniture polish.

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Spring cleaning was needed after a family’s house was kept closed up during the winter months to maintain warmth. But as soon as the temperatures began to rise in late April and early May, homemakers opened windows and doors, and began the task of airing out the house and furnishings.

Women dragged heavy carpets outside, hung them, and physically beat the dirt out of them. They did the same with upholstered furniture and mattresses, using beaters made of cane or wire.

They scrubbed kitchen cupboards and drawers, and lined pantry shelves with newspaper. They whitewashed cabinets and walls, polished stoves, and scoured tiles.

A portion of a 1921 magazine ad for Bon Ami cleaning powder.

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The work was all done by hand. There were very few tools—besides brushes, brooms, and cloths—to make the job easier or faster.

A print ad for Old Dutch Cleanser, 1916.

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In the 1880s Bissell began selling carpet sweepers, which helped with daily cleaning of rugs and floors, but it wasn’t until about 1910, when more and more homes were wired for electricity, that Spring house cleaning became substantially easier for women.

From The Iola Daily Record (Kansas) May 22, 1906.

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In the early 1900s electricity was new and mysterious to many people. By 1925 more than half of all American homes had electricity, but an Ohio newspaper article declared that:

“Nobody knows what electricity is, but its many services in the home are none the less appreciated because of that.”

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Electricity may have been unexplainable at the time, but its introduction was a definite boon to women. It opened the gates for new household appliances to enter the market—appliances that saved women time and energy in their daily homemaking responsibilities.

Electric washing machines cut in half the time required to do a family’s laundry, because they took the place of galvanized tubs, washboards and elbow grease.

New Electric Washing Machine ad from the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press, 1909

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Electric stoves and ovens like this one eliminated the need for women to constantly tend kitchen fires needed to heat water and cook their family’s meals.

Electric dishwashers were a luxury because of their cost, but by 1920 Whirlpool was actively marketing their dishwasher models in newspapers and magazines across the country.

But one of the best time and labor savors introduced during that period was the vacuum cleaner. They eliminated the back-breaking work of carrying carpets outside to beat and brush them clean.

Newspaper ad for the 1912 Hoover Vacuum Cleaner.

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By 1920 most vacuums were sold with attachments that helped clean upholstery.

And the crevasse tool (which we still use today on our modern vacuums) was originally designed to clean 1920-era radiators.

These appliances revolutionized domestic life during Isabella’s lifetime, and paved the way for the time-saving appliances we use today.

Do you do an annual Spring clean at your house? How long does it take?

Do you have an old appliance—large or small—that you still use today? Tell us about it!

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A Mother’s Day Free Read

8 May

This month’s free read is a lovely short story written by Isabella’s sister Marcia Macdonald Livingston.

When Miss Esther Harlowe decides to visit the residents of a nearby Old Ladies’ Home, she only wants to bring a little bit of cheer to the residents’ lives. But when she meets Katherine Lyman, she feels a instant bond with the elderly Christian woman. Soon, Esther looks forward to their visits just as much Katherine does, and Esther quickly discovers her life will never be the same again!

You can read “My Aunt Katherine” on your smart phone, iPad, Kindle, computer, or other electronic device. Just click on the book cover to choose your preferred e-book format from BookFunnel.com and download the story for free!

 

 

Thimbles and Love Stitches

1 May

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

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

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

A 14k rose gold thimble dated 1903.

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

A sterling silver thimble decorated with Lily of the Valley.

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

A sterling silver thimble and case from the 1890s.

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

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

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

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

An antique thimble holder by Tiffany.

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

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

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

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

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

Filigree thimble over pink frosted glass.

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

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

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

18k gold thimble, from about 1860.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Would You Like to Be Today?

24 Apr

In the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, paper toys were very popular. They were cheap to make (thanks to advances in the automation of the paper-making industry) and they were plentiful.

Merchants often used paper toys as giveaways, while other paper toys could be purchased for pennies.

An ad in a 1908 issue of The Ladies Home Journal.

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There were paper airplanes and spinning tops, paper dolls and paper furniture for paper houses.

But in 1905 something unusual happened in the paper toy industry. In November of that year, Tuck & Sons, the famous London-based printing house, released a new paper toy in America.

A winning jockey

The new toy was a paper half-mask children could wear. The masks were issued in a series format, with each series based on a theme, such as literary figures, historical people, or costumes from foreign lands.

A Dutch girl.

The masks were wildly popular for two reasons. First, the artwork was exceptional.

Napoleon

There were no cartoonish drawings here; each mask was beautifully detailed and life-like.

A woman motorist.

The second reason the masks were popular: Adults liked to wear them, too. In fact, adults bought and wore the masks more often than children did.

Carmen, from the opera series.

By the summer of 1906 Tuck was producing the masks in adult sizes, and they were selling like hotcakes.

Granny in her cap.

Hostesses handed them out at parties, and some adults fashioned new games to play in the evening while wearing the masks.

An old tramp.

Here’s an idea for a masked party for young adults that appeared in a 1908 issue of The Woman’s Home Companion:

Adults all across America had fun pretending to be someone other than who they really were!

Cousin Kate, the focus of the popular poem of the same name, by Christina Georgina Rosetti.

Isabella probably did not participate in the fun. In her 1902 novel Unto the End Isabella acknowledges the popularity of masked parties and full-costume masquerades, to the misfortune of one her characters, Grace Landis.

Several times in the story Grace has to find the balance between her father’s more worldly ways and her mother’s religious convictions (that, incidentally, align with Isabella’s). In one scene Grace tells her mother:

“Has [father] told you of the party which is to be at Mr. McAllison’s in a few weeks, where the people are all to dress in character, and wear masks? Some of the characters are what I am sure you would call ‘questionable,’ and as for masks, I did not know that refined society approved of them, but my father wants me to wear one.”

Amazingly, some of those one-hundred-year-old paper Tuck masks have survived, and they’re popular collectors’ items. You can find them for sale on retail websites like Etsy, as well as new masks that are fashioned along the same style as the Tuck originals.

You can see our previous post about paper dolls by clicking here.

Read our post about other paper toys by clicking here.

View more masks on Etsy by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

New Free Read: Easter Flowers

18 Apr

A big “Thank You” to Rebekah, a long-time reader of this blog, for making today’s Free Read possible.

Not long ago, Rebekah shared her collection of Isabella Alden books with us so we could make the stories available to everyone. Today’s post is the first of many from Rebekah’s collection, and it couldn’t be more appropriate.

The story is about a young girl named Claribel, who begins her Easter morning wanting to commemorate Christ’s resurrection by offering her most beautiful possession to the church. But a friend in need may cause Claribel to stray from her purpose.

You can read today’s short story here on the blog by scrolling down the page.

Or you can read “Easter Flowers” on your phone, ipad, Kindle, computer, or other electronic device. Just click on the book cover to choose your preferred e-book format from BookFunnel.com.

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Easter Flowers

Old as creation itself, yet new every spring-time! The coming forth from the dull, gray earth of the fresh green grass, the putting out of the leaves and the opening of the flowers.

And more than eighteen hundred times have the followers of our Lord Jesus Christ welcomed Easter Sabbath, which still comes to us with its fresh, new joy each year. It comes with the first spring flowers and we welcome its dawning, bringing into God’s house flowers from forest and the choicest of the conservatory. Claribel had been watching her one rosebush for many days, with alternating hope and fear. But her hopes were fulfilled, and on Easter morning she found one full-blown rose. With this single offering she started for church.

“Claribel,” said her mother, “will you have time to go around by Mrs. O’Neil’s and leave this jelly and blanc-mange for Kitty? She enjoyed that which I took to her Friday so much, that I would like her to have some more today. I’ve put in a bottle of beef tea. The doctor says if she can have something to tempt her appetite, and to take her mind from herself, she may get well again.”

“There’s plenty of time,” replied Claribel. “I’ll walk fast, and it is an hour to the time Miss Clark told us to be there with the flowers.” And Claribel tripped away with her little basket of dainties for her sick schoolmate, and her treasured rose. She stopped a moment to speak to Kitty, and tell her that mamma had sent her something nice for her Sunday dinner. But Kitty had only eyes and thoughts for the beautiful rose which Claribel had in her hand

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “What a sweet, lovely rose!”

“Isn’t it!” returned Claribel. “You know it is Easter morning and I am going to take this to the church! Miss Clark told us to bring all we could get and she will arrange them. I had only this one, but it is so beautiful that I think it will make up for there being only one.”

“Will you let me hold it a minute?” asked Kitty.

Claribel rather unwillingly resigned her treasure to Kitty’s care for a moment. If anything should happen to it!

“Oh, if I could only see the flowers!” said Kitty with a weary sigh. “But I don’t suppose I shall ever see another rose.”

Suddenly there flashed through Claribel’s mind what her mother had said about Kitty’s having something to take her mind from her own pain and sorrows and the thought followed, what if she gave her the rose? Would it help? Kitty seemed to enjoy just holding it in her hand for a few minutes. Should she leave it? Could she go to the church without a single flower? She had looked forward to this morning so eagerly, and watched so anxiously the budding of this rose. She had welcomed its opening with such joy, could she leave it here instead of taking it to adorn the house of God as she had intended? Ought she? Was it not a way of showing her love to Christ, bringing flowers to his house on this morning when his resurrection was to be commemorated? These thoughts darted through Claribel’s mind perhaps less clearly defined than I have written them down, but they were in her heart, and there followed another, even the words of Christ himself, uttered long ago, “I was sick and ye visited me,” and she said, with a lump in her throat:

“Kitty, one little flower won’t he missed very much and you may have the rose.”

“Oh, Claribel, how good you are! If I get well, and I do believe I shall, I’ll do something nice for you. This will make me happy all day.”

Claribel hurried away. She was afraid she would cry and spoil everything. Not that she was sorry she had given away the rose, not at all! But there was a sharp pain for a few moments over the thought that she had no Easter offering to bring. Had, she but known it, she had brought more than they all. I am afraid that Miss Clark herself could not have willingly given away her beautiful bouquet of rare green-house flowers, which she had bought out of her ample allowance. She and the girls wondered a little that Claribel had no flowers, for they knew about her rosebush, but the little girl had no intention of telling of her unselfish deed. But she always told her mother everything and when they were settled down for their Sunday afternoon talk, she related the story of her interview with Kitty.

Mamma’s eyes filled with tears, but she asked:

“But, Claribel, why didn’t you take your rose to church and have it sent to Kitty afterwards? You know the flowers are often sent to the sick people in the village.”

“I know, but you see, Kitty would have had to spend all the long, lonesome day without anything to comfort her. The flowers are to be distributed tomorrow morning, and I will ask Miss Clark to send Kitty some. My little rose will be wilted by that time.”
And thoughtful little Claribel was the bearer of Miss Clark’s pretty bouquet the next morning.

“Kitty had the most comfortable day yesterday that she has had in a long time,” said Kitty’s mother. “I thought in the morning she would have a hard day, but your visit seemed to set her right up; she just lay with the rose in her hand or on her pillow all day, and the doctor said last night that he had more hope of her than at any time since she was taken sick.”
Easter Flowers


If you enjoyed this short story by Isabella Alden, please be sure to share it!

 

Nettie Beldon’s Motto

15 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Karen, for sharing these images!

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

Charming Ladybird

8 Apr

Every author dreams of earning good reviews for his or her books. Isabella’s niece Grace Livingston Hill wrote stories that always seemed to win critics’ praises.

Eighty-nine years ago, Grace’s novel Ladybird was released, and became an instant favorite. Critics described it as “charming,” “wholesome,” and “adventuresome.”

On April 6, 1930 this review of Ladybird appeared in newspapers across the country.

That’s a nice review that Grace certainly would have appreciated!

And the interesting thing is that Ladybird is still widely read today. Reader sites like Goodreads.com give Ladybird 4 stars out of 5—Not bad for a book written almost 90 years ago!

Have you read Grace Livingston Hill’s novel Ladybird? What did you think of it? Do you agree with the reviewer?

What Lies Beneath

3 Apr

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

An 1891 fashion plate.

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

Ladies’ fashions in 1915.

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

Black silk stockings (about 1890 to 1910).

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

White cotton stockings (1835 to 1875).

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

Embroidered silk stockings (1875 to 1900).

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

Black embroidered stockings (1875-1900).

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

Blue plaid cotton stockings (1830 to 1860).

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

Cotton stockings (1875 to 1895).

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

Blue cotton and silk stockings (1830 to 1835).

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

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

Silk stockings with floral design (1875 to 1899).

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

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

Mail Call!

27 Mar

In Isabella Alden’s novel Twenty Minutes Late, young Caroline Bryant mistakenly takes a wrong train and ends up in a strange city far from home. Alone and afraid, she finds temporary shelter in the home of kindly Dr. Forsythe and his daughter Dorothy.

“Anything for me, Mr. Postman?”

Meanwhile, Caroline’s family anxiously awaits her return. Her brother Ben meets every train at the station, hoping Caroline will be on it; and Caroline’s mother and sister Daisy watch the mail for a letter from Caroline, even as they prepare a celebratory meal to welcome her home:

And now it was nearing the hour when she ought in all reasonableness to be expected, if the day was to bring her. It had been a long, nervous one to get through with. The little family watched for the ten and three o’clock mails, half uncertain whether to hope for or to fear a letter; but when none arrived their hopes grew strong; even the mother allowed her heart to say, “The dear child must surely be coming today.”

Ben had announced, as he dashed in to report no letter in the three o’clock mail, that he should not come home again until he brought Line with him. “I shall go straight to the station from the office,” he announced gleefully; “and as soon as our four feet can bring us you may expect to see us walk in. Have your nose at the window-pane, Daisylinda, for Line will want to see it the first thing.”

When Isabella wrote that the family “watched for the ten and three o’clock mails,” she gave us a hint that the Bryant family lived in a rather large town themselves.

Twenty Minutes Late was published in 1893; at that time the United States Post Office provided “person-to-person delivery” of mail in most major cities.

city mail carrier delivers a letter to a customer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, circa 1908.

“Person-to-Person delivery” meant that mail carriers delivered mail into their customers’ hands . . . literally. If a customer didn’t answer the carrier’s knock, ring or whistle, the carrier kept the customer’s mail in his satchel until the next trip.

By 1914 city mail carriers spent up to an hour a day waiting at doors, trying to complete person-to-person deliveries. That changed in 1923, when all city customers were required to provide mail slots or receptacles in order to receive mail.

Mail delivery in Franklin, Massachusetts, March 1910.

Mail was delivered Monday through Saturday. The number of daily deliveries varied by city.

In 1905 letter carriers employed at New York City’s main post office made nine daily deliveries to businesses and homes.

Letter carriers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1908.

By contrast, customers in St. Paul, Minnesota received mail once a day, depending on which area of the city they resided.

A rural mail carrier in 1908.

With that kind of delivery schedule, it wasn’t unusual for local mail to be delivered from one part of the city to another within hours of being sent.

Replies to letters traveled at the same speed. “By return mail” was an often used phrase—especially in business letters—requesting an immediate response in time for the next scheduled delivery that day. (Miss Webster used the phrase in Chapter 23 of Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant.)

George L. Baum, who worked 35 years as a mail collector in Washington, D.C.

Although the number of daily deliveries in large cities changed over the years, the U.S. Postal Service maintained this hectic delivery pace until the 1950s, when they finally limited the number of deliveries in residential areas to one per day “in the interest of economy.” For the most part, multiple daily deliveries to businesses ended in the 1970s.

As you read Isabella’s stories, you’ll see that some of her characters wrote quick letters that they wanted to have “ready for the early mail.”

Other times her characters listened for the postman’s whistle, which signaled the arrival of “the morning mail,” or “the ten o’clock mail,” or even “the next mail.”

Isabella’s novels and short stories are little testaments to the fact that there was once a time when the U.S. Postal Service delivered letters, bills, newspapers, greeting cards, catalogs, and advertisements with impressive speed and accuracy—without the aid of Zip Codes, automation, and computers.

A proud letter carrier.

What do you think? Do you know anyone who works for the U.S. Postal Service? How would you like your mail carrier to personally hand-deliver your mail to you?

You can read more about Isabella’s books mentioned in this post by clicking on the book covers below:

   

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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