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Pansy in Paperback

At the height of her popularity Isabella’s books were published in several languages and sold all over the world.

She had a large fan base in England, and in the 1890s a British publisher took the unusual step of publishing Isabella’s novels as pamphlets. Today, we’d call them paperback books.

Cover of Four Girls at Chautauqua. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows three young women dressed in gowns and bonnets of the 1890s on the deck of a boat. Two of the ladies are seated while the third stands facing them. In the background other people stand at the railing and look out over the water at the coastline in the distance.

S. W. Partridge & Co. of London advertised the books as “Partridge’s Cheap Pansy Series.” Each edition included a list of the available titles in the series:

A portion of the front matter contained in the books announcing Partridge's Cheap "Pansy" series at fourpence each. Other books in the series:
Mrs. Solomon Smith Looking On 
Links in Rebecca's Life
Chrissy's Endeavour
The King's Daughter
Ester Ried
Ester Ried Yet Speaking
Ruth Erskine's Crosses
Chautauqua Girls at Home
Three People
Wise an Otherwise
An Endless Chain

The novels measured 7-1/2” by 10-3/4”, making them slightly smaller than the 8-1/2 by 11” standard paper Americans use today. They were only 64 pages long, but thanks to their 2-column layout and small type, each novel was complete and compact enough to fit into a lady’s bag.

Page one of Four Girls at Chautauqua. The text is formatted in two columns in small type.

In fact, Partridge & Co. published them particularly for women travelers. They were sold at newsstands in railway stations throughout England and cost just four pennies.

A portion of the cover of Four Girls at Chautauqua, showing the price of the book: fourpence.

Each book featured a beautifully embellished, full-color cover that illustrated a particular scene from the story. Here’s the cover for Chautauqua Girls at Home:

Cover of Chautauqua Girls at Home. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman seated at a piano, playing and singing. Standing behind her are a young woman and two young men, each holding music books and singing.

The cover art for Ruth Erskine’s Crosses shows the moment Ruth’s father introduced her to Judge Burnham.

Cover of Ruth Erskine's Crosses. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows an older man in coat and hat introducing a young woman to an older man who is in the process of removing his hat. In the background are two other women. One is removing her coat while the other unties the cords on a large box.

What do you think of the depiction of this important scene? Is that how you pictured Judge Burnham when you first read Ruth Erskine’s Crosses?

The cover for Julia Ried shows the moment Julia went to apply for the bookkeeping job at the box factory.

Cover of Julia Ried. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman dressed in coat and bonnet and carrying a parasol. She has just entered a room and her hand is still on the doorknob. She faces an older man dressed in a suit with a watch fob and chain in the pocket of his waistcoat. The room he is in contains boxes, a table with books on top and shelves with large books or bound ledgers.

In addition to the cover, each book had anywhere from five to nine black and white illustrations. This one, in Julia Ried, depicts the moment Dr. Douglass introduced Julia to Mrs. Tyndale.

Illustration of a man in 1890s clothing introducing a young woman wearing cape and bonnet to an older woman who is wearing a fashionable gown and a cap.

Mottos were very popular in the 1890s, and this motto appeared at the end of Julia Ried:

Your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (I Cor. II. 5.)

It very nicely sums up one of the lessons Julia learned in the story.

Often, mottoes like this one were used as inexpensive sources of artwork. Ladies cut them from the pages of books and magazines and pasted them into scrapbooks or framed them to hang on the wall.

Cover of Ester Ried Yet Speaking. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young girl sitting on the floor beside a vase holding two white flowers.

Ester Ried Yet Speaking also ends with a motto related to the story:

Let us not be weary in well doing. (Cal. VI. 9.)

The cover for Interrupted illustrates the moment Claire Benedict learned her father’s money was gone and the family was bankrupt.

Cover of Interrupted. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman dressed in black facing three men who are seated, each holding their hats and walking sticks. Beside the young woman is seated an older woman also dressed in black.

One of the black-and-white illustrations shows the moment Claire suggests to her students that they take on the job of cleaning up the church sanctuary:

Illustration of Claire seated as the piano, one hand on the keyboard, but she has turned slightly to face five girls who are standing nearby. Caption: "This suggestion for a moment struck them dumb."

It wasn’t uncommon for the titles of Pansy’s novels to be changed when they were published in other countries. One Commonplace Day was one such novel; in England it was renamed Wise to Win:

Cover of Wise to Win. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman and young man conversing in a parlor or living room. In the background are two women, one standing and one seated at a table near a fireplace.

These paperback books all have some wear and tear, but considering the fact that they’re over 130 years old, they are in remarkably good shape. Perhaps they’ll last another hundred years for a new generation of Pansy readers to enjoy!

What do you think of these paperbacks?

Do you have a favorite cover?

Click here to read a previous post about mottos.

Advice to Anxious Mothers of Daughters

How often have you thought—or heard someone say—“Our little girls are growing up too fast!”

We tend to think of it as a modern-day problem, but in 1897 mothers were coping with the very same concern. Isabella received so many letters on the topic, she dedicated one of her advice columns to “anxious mothers of daughters.”

Here’s what Isabella wrote:

I have a package of letters from anxious mothers. I hold them tenderly, for there are heart-throbs in every line. I study and pray over them and wish—Oh, so earnestly!—that I knew how to help. Instead, I have resolved to tell our girls what some mothers fear: That their daughters—their young, sweet daughters, whom they would guard with jealous care from every form of the world’s contamination—are having the bloom of their beautiful girlhood brushed away by too early friendships with young men, or, as they frankly put it, with “the boys.”

One mother writes that her fourteen-year-old daughter’s mind is in danger of being taken up with the thought of “beaux.” She lives in the country, and associates almost of necessity with those who talk much about “beaux” and about “keeping company” with this or that boy. Not only this, but she has for associates those who believe in “kissing games” and all such practices.

What can you do?

Ah, dear, I don’t know. Except this—the same thing that I have said before, only I want to say it more emphatically, if I can:

Will you not use every inch of influence you possess to help anxious mothers, and to protect young and oftentimes motherless girls from the sort of harm that comes from playing with ideas that should be held sacred?

Sometimes uncultured guests do harm in this way:

A merry-faced couple—girl and boy aged perhaps ten and twelve—were hurrying down the street side by side, swinging their book-bags and chatting and laughing.

“Hasn’t Alice come yet?” asked the mother in a home.

“Here she comes,” said a guest who was in the doorway. “Here she comes with her little beau. Dear me, Alice, why didn’t you kiss each other? When I was of your age, and had little beaux come home with me, I always kissed them good-by.”

The mother came forward swiftly, a spot of red glowing on each cheek. “Alice does not know even the meaning of the word beau,” she said, “and she keeps her kisses for her father and brothers.”

Oh, the infinite harm that coarse and careless tongues can do to these young buds before their time of blossoming! Remember how much influence older sisters have in these directions. Nor is their influence confined to the young people of their own homes, if they are wise-hearted Christian workers.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Have you ever seen someone tease a child about boyfriends, like the “coarse and careless guest” Isabella described?

You can read more of Isabella’s advice columns. Just type “advice” in the search box on the right.

On the Lookout (Committee)

Last week’s free story “A Christian Endeavor Picnic” ended with this interesting sentence:

When the merry party from the city completed their six weeks’ vacation and went home, they left a Christian Endeavor Society in the quiet seaside village fully organized and Henry Myers and Katrine Hempel are both on the lookout committee.

What, exactly, was a “lookout committee”?

As the name suggests, the Lookout Committee was responsible for bringing new members into a Christian Endeavor Society, but the committee members did so much more!

They were also responsible for educating potential members about their responsibilities. Joining a C.E. society was a major commitment, and it was the members of the Lookout Committee who ensured applicants understood everything membership entailed.

The most important requirement for a member was signing the C. E. covenant, which read:

Trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for strength, I promise Him that I will strive to do whatever He would like to have me do; that I will pray and read the Bible every day; and that, just as far as I know how, I will try to lead a Christian life. I will be present at every meeting of the Society when I can, and will take some part in every meeting.

The Lookout Committee’s job wasn’t over once a new member joined. They called on members who missed even one prayer-meeting to encourage them to honor their commitment. They counseled members who were unfaithful to the covenant, and sometimes they had to make crucial decisions about when and how to drop members from their society.

At times, Lookout Committee members must have had a very difficult job!

But, as Rev. Clark summed it up, it was the Lookout Committee’s duty to keep the society active, earnest, efficient, and spiritually minded. A difficult task? Yes, but he regularly reminded Lookout Committee members that . . .

“You can do it through Him who strengtheneth you.”

Did you know Christian Endeavor Societies had such strict requirements for joining?

What do you think of the pledge new Christian Endeavor members were required to sign?

You can read more about Isabella’s involvement with Christian Endeavor in these previous posts:

Chrissy’s Endeavor Pin

A Chorus of Four-thousand Voices

Free Read: Mine

Free Read: Her Opportunity

Free Read: A Christian Endeavor Picnic

This month’s Free Read is a short story Isabella wrote about the Christian Endeavor movement and the opportunities its members had to influence others for Christ.

While on vacation, Dorothea Conklin is determined to invite the local teens to her Christian Endeavor prayer meeting, even if her friends oppose her plan. Somehow she must find a way to convince her friends—and the local teens—that there’s room for everyone at an Endeavor prayer meeting.

Sharp-eyed readers might recognize the name of one of the characters in the story: Eurie Shipley. Why does it sound familiar?

Because Isabella introduced Eurie Harrison and Flossie Shipley in her 1875 novel, Four Girls at Chautauqua.

Perhaps when she wrote “A Christian Endeavor Picnic” in 1896, she meant to imply that Eurie Shipley was somehow a relative of those two beloved characters from twenty years before. What do you think?

You can read “A Christian Endeavor Picnic” for free!

Choose the reading option you like best:

You can read the story on your computer, phone, tablet, Kindle, or other electronic device. Just click here to download your preferred format from BookFunnel.com.

Or you can select BookFunnel’s “My Computer” option to receive an email with a version you can read, print, and share with friends.

I Like Him!

On May 30, 1866 Isabella Macdonald married Gustavus “Ross” Alden.

They met on Thanksgiving day 1863, and their courtship lasted a little more than two years. As their relationship blossomed, Isabella did what any young woman would do under similar circumstances: she told her best friend all about it.

Isabella and Theodosia Toll had been close friends since they met as students at the same boarding school. Through their school years together and after graduation, they remained devoted friends, and often visited each other’s homes.

Theodosia was staying with Isabella during the winter of 1864, when Isabella introduced her to Ross Alden. Luckily for us, Theodosia recorded her impressions of their meeting in her diary:  

January 1, 1864

Yesterday I came to Auburn to visit dear Belle. This has been a gloriously happy New Years day. We had a number of calls. During them one whose name I had heard before—Mr. Alden. I had gotten up considerable curiosity in regard to him. I sat reading, pressing a handkerchief to my aching head when the gentleman entered and was presented. And here I will state briefly my first impressions. Those were pleasant. A tall, grand looking man heavily bearded and mustached, a finely formed head and pleasant face, speaks very deliberately and very low. There you have him. I wonder if I shall be called upon to take him into my circle of friends, for her sake?

Two days later Theodosia got a chance to answer that question:

January 3d Sabbath.

Went with Belle to the Orphan Asylum Sabbath School at nine o’clock. Mr. Alden escorted us on our way to the Asylum and walked to and from that place with us. I like him!! If he and somebody should happen to fall in love with each other, I have not a word of remonstrance to offer. He seems an earnest worker from Christ, and that is worth so much.

Not long after Theodosia’s visit to the orphan asylum with Isabella and Ross, she returned to her home in Verona, New York, which was about sixty miles away. But Isabella promised to visit her friend soon.

Two weeks later, Theodosia recorded this entry in her diary:

Jan 27th

In a few hours she will be here. Only two weeks since we parted, yet I think I have never looked forward to her coming with more eagerness. She says in her letter received last evening, “Queer things have happened.” How I wonder what those queer things are. I shall know soon but I keep wondering. There are some things that ought to happen to her that would make me both glad and sorry. Well, I’ll be patient for a few hours.

Could it be those “queer things” Isabella wanted to tell her were the latest details of her relationship with Ross? Perhaps Ross proposed marriage, and Isabella wanted her dearest friend Theodosia to be among the first to know!

Unfortunately, sudden illness prevented Isabella from traveling to see Theodosia, so discovering those “queer things” had to wait. But several months later, Isabella sent her friend a very thorough accounting of the state of her relationship with Ross. Here is Theodosia’s diary entry:

Thursday, Sept 22d 1864

I have been reading over Belle’s letter. It is a dear good letter, and I am so glad that she is happy at last, that the old restless feeling seems to have left her. I trust that he to whom she has given her heart is worthy of her love. Just go back eight months, Journal, and remember what I told you of my first impressions of the man. Oh, Belle, you have much to make you grateful and happy, and so have I! I thank Thee My God for the blessings that crowd my way, and of the coming joy of a woman’s life that has come to my Darling.

After several months—and many more visits and letters between them—Theodosia made this diary entry:

Jan 30th 1866

What a happy month this has been! But, oh, how lonely I am today! My dear Belle left me this morning. Her “Ross” came last Saturday and spent the Sabbath. He preached on Sabbath evening. I like him very much. I already find myself numbering him among my friends.

At last, Isabella and Ross set the date of their wedding. They planned to be married in Gloversville on May 30, 1866. Of course Theodosia was there. She spent the night with Isabella as she happily—and nervously—made ready for her wedding day.

Two weeks after the big day, Theodosia wrote this in her journal:

I had a letter from Belle this week dated at her new home in Almond [New York]. She is very happy and I do believe that God has given her the strong constant love of a Christian man as the crowning happiness of her life.


Special thanks to Susan Wadley, Theodosia’s great-granddaughter, for sharing her diaries and giving us this delightful glimpse into Theodosia’s friendship with Isabella.

You can read more about how Isabella and Ross met by clicking here.

Read more about Ross and Isabella’s early years of marriage by clicking here.

The Aldens had a long and loving marriage. Read about their Golden Wedding Anniversary by clicking here.

Like her friend Isabella, Theodosia Toll Foster was an author, too! You can read some of her stories for free by clicking here.

A Hard Text in Matthew

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. Here’s one he wrote in 1888:


A Hard Text

Matthew 10:348: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
Photo of open Bible.

In Luke 2:14 the angels sing of Jesus when He was born, “On earth peace.” At first sight these verses in Matthew and Luke seem to contradict each other. They do not. The blessed Book never does that. 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.

“I come not to send peace” to a sinner if he stay in his sins. “There is no peace to the wicked.” There ought not to be. But as soon as a sinner asks Jesus for forgiveness, he gets peace. That’s the way peace comes on earth; it is the peace of God in the heart; peace and joy in believing.

Now, when one gets this peace, it seems so good that he wants some other one to get it, too. So he speaks to his other one and urges him to confess his sins and seek Jesus; and in most cases this other one gets angry and talks against Jesus or Christians. That often happens in a family where one is a true Christian and the others are not. You see how trouble will come. There will be war in that family. It may not be a war of swords, but it will be a war of words. Jesus does not want the war, and there wouldn’t be any if the sinner would give up. But he does not usually surrender till after a hard battle with Jesus. So Jesus is said to send a sword or war. It simply means, “I am come to fight against the wrong; and people who are on the wrong side and stay there, will fight against me and my soldiers.”

My dear, dear children, I wish you may never be found with a sword in your hand, or mouth, or heart, fighting against the Lord. Let Him put His sweet peace into your heart, and when you draw the sword, draw it against sin.


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

Click on the links below to read more “A Hard Text” columns:

A Hard Text

A Hard Text: Mathew, Mark, and Luke

What is Love?

Isabella Alden’s son Raymond was fifteen years old when he wrote this sweet poem. It was published in The Pansy magazine in 1888.

(Written in answer to a child who asked what love was.)

Love is—well, what can anyone say?
Love is—Why, darling, think all day
Of all the words that we can say;
And think, and think, and tell me
What love is. Ah! I knew you could not.

Well, love is Jesus; and He is love.
Love is a message, so sweet, from above.
God is love, so the good Book says,
And true love is great and high, always.

What is the best definition given?
Love is a message, a breath from Heaven.
God’s message to lost ones—our Light, our Life.
Love makes all peace where once was strife.
Oh! Let me show you what love can do.

For God so loved the world that he gave
His only begotten Son to save—
Whom do you think? Why, sinners, whom
Justice for justice’s sake would doom!

But then, you look very wise, and say,
Why, God is love, you know, anyway!
Aye, my darling, that is true.
Now let me ask you—What cannot love do?

Lanterns to Light the Summer Night

Many of the characters in Isabella’s books looked forward to spring, when days got longer and temperatures warmed. They planned their days around being outdoors as much as possible, taking their meals outside and even taking long “tramps” through fields and parks.

When the sun went down, they remained outdoors, and lit their lawns and gardens with “oriental lanterns.”

Asian goods began to make their way into American homes as far back as the Civil War, but only in relatively exclusive areas, such as Boston and New York.

But in the 1880s, more common Japanese goods, such as paper parasols, fans, and lanterns became readily available in American markets.

Two young girls stand in a field of grasses, roses, and tall lillies. Each girl holds a paper lantern they are lighting. Around them hang lanterns that are already lit.
John Singer Sargent’s famous 1886 painting, “Carnation Lily, Lily Rose.”

One import firm, Vantine’s, offered a fairyland of Japanese items in their New York showroom.

A corner of the store displaying wicker chairs and tables, ceramic vases, framed Japanese prints, pagodas and colorful lanterns.
A partial display of summer home furnishings at Vantine’s New York showroom.

You could see paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling on every floor of  A.A. Vantine’s multi-story establishment. It wasn’t long before Vantine’s was shipping paper lanterns to stores all over the eastern states.

Postcard showing a variety of lanterns, lamps, and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Beneath are display cases with smaller items for sale.
Vantine’s of New York. A View of the main floor showroom from the balcony.

That’s about the time that Isabella began mentioning paper lanterns in her books.

In Making Fate (published in 1895) Marjorie Edmonds visited the Schuyler Farm and spent a lovely evening with friends:

She was out with many others on the lawn, which was brilliantly and fantastically lighted with many Chinese lanterns. It formed a place of special attraction on this lovely May evening, which was almost as warm as an evening in midsummer.

Illustration from about 1900 showing a young woman outside near several rose bushes, hanging red paper lanters on a tree. Behind is a field with a house on the horizon.

In The Browns at Mount Hermon (1908), several characters where concerned about a group of boys who planned to sneak off into the countryside to light a bonfire and spend the night gambling and smoking. Then, John Brown offered this suggestion:  

What if we could give up this evening to pure fun? Have a gathering on the Zayante lawn, which is far more attractive than the redwood grove across the way; decorate the trees and the porches and all other available places with Chinese lanterns, plan for the finest bonfire that our splendid brush heaps suggest, and serve unlimited sandwiches, cake, coffee, and anything else that could be gathered in haste, and is calculated to tempt the appetite of the average boy. Then we could send a deputation to meet the train and kidnap the crowd as our honored guests, meeting their spirit of frolic and good time at least half-way.

Old photograph of a woman about 1910 on a balcony. Overhead she has strung some string and is hanging lanterns of different shapes and colors. On the balcony railing are a bunch of roses and more lanterns to be hung.

One of Isabella’s most charming descriptions of paper lanterns was in The Hall in the Grove (1882), when Mr. Masters escorted Caroline Raynor and the Fentons to the opening assembly at Chautauqua:

On they hurried, striking at last into Simpson Avenue. Caroline came to a sudden halt, and gave an exclamation of delight. Away down the avenue as far as her eye could reach, on either side was one blaze of light; illuminated mottoes, flags, Chinese lanterns, flowers, ribbons—anything that could lend a glow of color to the bright scene had been displayed, and the whole effect was such as she will remember all her life.

Painting of three young women laying on the grass of a sloping hill. One woman holds a paper fan. Behind them two lighted paper lanters hang from the branches of a tree. Beyond, the night sky is filled with stars.
Daydreaming Under the Stars by Jacques Wagrez.

Paper lanterns became so popular, they were regularly incorporated into greeting card design like this one:

Greeting card with illustration of woman gathering pink roses from a bush while a pink paper lantern hangs from a branch of the tree behind her.

And in illustrated calendars:

Portion of an 1899 calendar showing January through March; each month is printed against a backdrop of a paper lantern. "Hours of Brightness" is printed across the top.

When you read Isabella’s books, you can tell she enjoyed the beauty of a light-filled summer night, and her descriptions of paper lanterns still have the power to warm our imaginations.

What do you think of Isabella’s descriptions?

Have you ever been to an outdoor event that was lit with candles or paper lanterns?

New Free Read: The Spool-Cotton Girl

Isabella was very involved in the Christian Endeavor movement and often mentioned the organization in her stores. She strongly believed Christians were called to serve others—even in small ways—as Christ would.

She illustrated the point in “The Spool-Cotton Girl,” a short story she wrote in 1892 about a young girl who labors long and thankless hours in a department store selling the store’s cheapest cotton threads.

Young Marion Wilkes takes her Christian Endeavor pledge very seriously. She always looks for ways to witness for Christ through service to others, even though her job selling cotton threads at the local department store can sometimes test her commitment and her patience.

You can read “The Spool-Cotton Girl” for free!

Choose the reading option you like best:

You can read the story on your computer, phone, tablet, Kindle, or other electronic device. Just click here to download your preferred format from BookFunnel.com.

Or you can select BookFunnel’s “My Computer” option to receive an email with a version you can read, print, and share with friends.

The Wayside Game

It’s the time of year when families begin planning their summer vacations. If you’ve ever taken a driving trip with children, you know the first rule is to keep children occupied.

Isabella most certainly had experience in taking children on long trips, by automobile and by train. Her son Raymond and daughter Frances frequently accompanied her when she traveled to speaking engagements all over the country.

In 1883 Isabella published a brief article in The Pansy magazine about a new game for traveling with children.

The next time any of you Pansies go travelling, try the new funny little “Wayside Game” that has just been invented for children on a journey. They are to look out for four-footed animals, each of which counts 1. A white quadruped counts 5, a squirrel 25, and a cat sitting in the window of a house, 50.
Two little girls were thus relieving the tedium of a long trip the other day, and the elder was getting ahead, when the younger happened to spy fifteen little pigs, as white as snow, which gave her 75 at once. And soon after, she was lucky enough to see a cat in the window, which gave her 50, so that the little one made a score of 365 against 189 for her sister. Try it, all who want a gay little travelling time.

Does this game sound familiar to you?

When you take driving trips, do you play a similar game?