The Long Way Home

12 Mar

In 1912 Isabella Alden published her novel The Long Way Home. She was 71 years old at the time.

She had begun a trend about ten years before of writing books directed toward adult readers. It began with Mara, her most controversial novel.  Mara (published in 1902) was about a young woman who inadvertently married a man who practiced polygamy.

Unto the End told the story of a young wife’s dilemma when she discovered her husband’s infidelity; it was published the same year.

For several years thereafter Isabella regularly published new novels with her adult readers in mind:

1904 – Doris Farrand’s Vocation

1905 – David Ransom’s Watch

1906 – Ester Ried’s Namesake

1907 – Ruth Erskine’s Son

1908 – The Browns at Mount Hermon

1911 – Lost on the Trail

In each book, Isabella tackled important and emotional topics. She wrote about young women who wanted to be judged on their own merits, instead of on their wealth and social standing (or lack thereof).

She also wrote about women who sought real purpose in their lives by working to make a different in the world in Jesus’ name.

She even wrote about one woman’s struggle to love an unlovable daughter-in-law (in Ruth Erskine’s Son).

Isabella continued that trend with The Long Way Home. The story is about Andy and Ilsa, a young couple in love, and their impetuous decision to marry. They exchange marriage vows on the very day Ilsa graduates from high school!

An original illustration from The Long Way Home, showing Ilsa and Andy at a Chautauqua-style summer encampment.

It isn’t long before their hasty decision—combined with a selfish streak in one and a lack of understanding in the other—begins to lead Andy and Ilsa down a path that may undermine their marriage vows.

Ilsa’s mother counsels her to refuse Andy’s suit, saying, “He’ll never be able to buy you diamonds.”

In her adult books Isabella often wrote about the strain and unhappiness that results when a husband and wife do not share the same religious views, and she explores that premise in this story.

A new acquaintance senses Andy’s heart is open to accepting Christ. She invites him to join her family for dinner and a revival-style lecture given by a premier preacher of the day.

In The Long Way Home, Andy is given many opportunities to choose to follow Jesus Christ, but each time he takes a different path because his eagerness to please Ilsa overrides the callings of his own conscience.

Ilsa also struggles with her conscience, but it takes a dramatic turn of events before she’ll admit that she, too, contributed to the turmoil in her marriage.

Ultimately, the very fact that Andy and Ilsa failed to place God at the center of their union turns out to be one of the great wedges that threatens to drive them apart.

As the title suggests, Isabella finally brings her characters “home” and they have their happily ever, but only after Andy and Ilsa learn to put their trust in God before each other.

The Long Way Home is now available as an e-book for only 99 cents! You can find it at these bookseller sites:


You can learn more about Isabella’s books mentioned in this post by visiting her Books page.

Read Along with Mrs. Fenton and the CLSC

7 Mar

One of Isabella Alden’s most touching characters is Mrs. Fenton, a homemaker and mother who played a pivotal role in The Hall in the Grove.

Mrs. Fenton had no pretentions; she considered herself an average person, and believed her only talents were as a housekeeper, wife, and mother.

Isabella wrote of her:

Her bread was of the lightest and sweetest. Her chambers were kept in that delicate purity which rests weary heads, and sometimes hearts. Her windows were as clear as hands could make them; her snowy curtains were looped in graceful folds, and with just the right tint of ribbon to blend well with surroundings. Her vines and plants climbed and budded and blossomed in luxurious fashion. Her husband’s buttons were always in place, held by firm threads of her placing; his collars and cuffs shone brilliantly, for her own hands clear-starched and ironed them. Indeed, in whatsoever department of home life you looked, you would be likely, after thorough investigation, to pronounce Mrs. Fenton a model.

Mrs. Fenton’s fourteen-year-old son Robert was her pride and joy. She raised him to be . . .

Straight as an arrow, morally, as well as physically—a grand, truthful, earnest-hearted boy.

She also raised him to be a good student, to take his studies seriously, and apply himself to every lesson and exam.

Mrs. Fenton herself had been a bright student, but her own education as a girl had been limited; so as Robert progressed through his studies, she began to feel her own limitations more and more.

When Robert asked her help with a homework problem, Mrs. Fenton realized she not only didn’t know the answer, she didn’t even know how to steer him toward finding the correct answer himself.

And when he sought her input in preparing for a topic that will come up on an important exam, she didn’t even understand the subject he’s asking about. With similar incidents became more frequent, poor Mrs. Fenton felt “a stab in that mother’s heart.” Her greatest fear is that Robert will one day soon recognize her short-comings and he’ll be ashamed of her.

This CLSC ad appeared in an 1896 edition of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.

So when Mrs. Fenton visits a friend and hears about the Chautauqua Scientific and Literary Circle for the first time, she begins to wonder if the program may be the answer to her worries.

This eight-page pamphlet for the 1885-1886 school year describes the CLSC program in full. Thousands of adults across the country wrote to the CLSC every year, requesting their annual pamphlet. Click on it to read the entire brochure.

Once Mrs. Fenton understood what the CLSC was and what it could do for her, she became an advocate of the program in her town.

So what, exactly, was the CLSC?

A CLSC receipt for membership dues, 1887.

The CLSC was an education program for adults—young and old—who were unable to obtain a college education. For an annual membership fee of fifty cents (plus the cost of books) adults could enroll in the CLSC’s systematic course of reading in key subjects:

The Arts

The beauty of the program was that members could earn the equivalent of a four-year college course . . . from home!

Imagine receiving one of these beautifully illustrated envelopes in the mail from the CLSC! This one is from 1885 and bears the motto, “Never Be Discouraged.”

CLSC members followed a weekly outline that required them to work a little every day and read prescribed passages from selected books. Then, once a year, they completed an examination (the CLSC called it a “memoranda”) that consisted of questions about the books they’d read. The questions . . .

. . . are to be answered, as far as possible, from memory; where memory fails, the students are expected to refer to their books for help, but to give the answers in their own language.

The exam was typically four pages of questions, but to earn extra credit, members could elect to complete a sixteen-page paper, containing questions that were more comprehensive. An 80% score on the expanded memoranda earned the member a special white seal on their diploma.

The offices of the CLSC on the grounds at Chautauqua Institution in 1896.

Four years and four such annual exams later, CLSC members earned a college degree that carried the same weight and prestige as any other college or university in the country.

A CLSC diploma. This one bears several seals of post-graduate courses of study.

The CLSC program was incredibly popular. Some members followed the program alone. Some members organized into local circles. By 1881 there were over 1,000 local circles in towns and villages across the country.

A CLSC circle in rural Lewisburg, Tennessee, 1911.

These circles—composed of men, women and teens—met in city apartments and rural farm houses. They discussed a variety of topics related to their reading assignments, from the conduct of the Greeks and Romans, to the hereditary line of English kings.

The College Hill Circle in Winfield Kansas, 1913. The oldest and youngest members were aged 76 and 13.

Some local circles arranged lectures or organized public discussions in town halls. Other circles organized by members’ heritage; the CLSC furnished them with text-books in their native language.

A San Diego, California circle in 1915.

In CLSC circles around the world household servants read Shakespeare’s sonnets alongside society matrons; bank presidents discussed the history of Hadrian’s Wall with grocery clerks.

A CLSC circle in Enid, Oklahoma in 1911. The ladies in white in the front row are in the graduating class.

It’s no wonder that Mrs. Fenton was intrigued by the idea of joining the Chautauqua Scientific and Literary Circle. She quickly realized that a CLSC circle in her home town would be the answer to her troubles . . . and her prayers.

You can read all about Mrs. Fenton’s efforts to organize a CLSC chapter and how it changed not only her life, but the lives of her friends and neighbors, in The Hall in the Grove.

Click here to read The Hall in the Grove on your Kindle, tablet, smart phone or PC.

Click here to read it on your Nook.

Did you know you can still join the CLSC? All it takes is payment of a modest membership fee and a commitment to read a book a month from the CLSC’s approved book list.  You can find out more and download their approved book list by clicking here.

And if you’d like to know what it’s like for a modern day woman to read her way through the CLSC program, be sure to read The Hall in the Grove blog.


Let’s Go Sledding!

28 Feb

It’s the last day of February, and some parts of the U.S. are waking up to a cold winter morning. There’s snow on the ground and a nip in the air; and for many children, those conditions equate to perfect sledding weather.

Children sledding in Washington D.C. in 1915

The children in Isabella Alden’s books are fond of sledding, too, especially the boys.

In Her Mother’s Bible, Ralph Selmser looks forward to having a day of fun that includes sledding:

“Tomorrow’s Saturday, and I’m going to give Ned a ride on my sled, and I’m going to get green things and berries for Mary Jane to trim up the room for father’s birthday; and there isn’t a thing to do all day but I’ll rather do than not.”

A sledding party in Rochester, New York, 1908.

For some of Isabella’s characters, sledding wasn’t just for fun and games. Sidney (in Sidney Martin’s Christmas) uses his sled in a variety of different and practical ways.

A 1910 toboggan party

With his sled, Sidney gives a pleasant ride to a friend. He also hauls heavy items, and transports an injured boy home after he takes a tumble in the snow.

Sledding in Central Park, New York in 1900

Joseph, the young hero of A Dozen of Them, didn’t own a sled of his own, but still found a way to enjoy sledding.

He liked nothing better than to turn pony himself, and give Rettie a ride on her box sled; and so through the day everything was merry and happy.

Sledding on an icy pond in 1869

Later in the story, Joseph is astonished to learn he is the recipient of a sled of his own! His friends joyously break the news to him:

And then all the children talked at once.
“Why, you had a hand-sled!” said one.
“A perfect beauty!” exclaimed another.
“One of the boss kind!” explained a third. “And it has your name on it in red letters.”

Adults also enjoyed sliding through the snow. Toboggans, which are longer than child-sized sleds, could carry more than one passenger.

An 1885 ad for Star Toboggans

In her books Isabella didn’t mention grown-ups enjoying downhill sledding, but these images show it was a popular winter pastime for people of all ages.

The Toboggan Party by artist Henry Sandham, 1882.

In fact, sledding and tobogganing were so much fun in Isabella’s time, children, especially, didn’t always wait for perfect conditions like fresh snow and gently-sloping hills—they made do with what they had.

That’s what these children did in 1921. They took advantage of a sleety morning by sledding down the steps of the War and Navy building in Washington D.C.

You can read all the stories mentioned in this post for free! Just click on a link below to get started:

A Dozen of Them

Her Mother’s Bible

Sidney Martin’s Christmas




23 Feb

Evil habits are webs which are too light to be noticed until they are too strong to be broken.

New Free Read: “A Test Case”

22 Feb

Isabella Alden wrote stories about children facing peer pressure long before the term “peer pressure” was coined. This month’s Free Read is a short story Isabella wrote about one young lady’s need to fit in with her friends, and what that need cost her.

“A Test Case” was first published as a short serial in The Pansy Magazine in 1890.

You can scroll down to read the story on your tablet or smart phone, or click on the cover to download the story in a PDF document.


Part 1

“Oh, Aunt Patty, Aunt Patty! How can I ever thank you in the world! I don’t know what to say, nor how to say it. Oh, mamma, mamma, do you hear what she says? I feel as though I should go wild!”

“I wouldn’t,” said Aunt Patty, making her shining needles click against one another, until you fancied you could see the sparks. “You’ll need all your wits, I can tell you, if you are going to a city to live; specially a city like Boston, where the streets tumble round on top of each other, and don’t appear to know half the time where they are going, themselves! Of all the cities I ever see for getting befuddled in, give me Boston.”

“I know it will be lovely,” declared Cora. “I don’t care how crooked the streets are, I can find my way. To think that I’m going to the great big music school, where all the grand people go! And am to learn to play on the violin! Oh, I am too happy to live! Aunt Patty, I’ll love you forever!”

Two plump arms were thrown about the old lady’s neck, and she was hugged unmercifully.

“Sho!” said Aunt Patty, trying to sit straight and look grim, though there was a softened tone to her voice even when she said Sho! “You’ll forget all about me after you’ve been in Boston a while; like enough wouldn’t know me if you should see me on the street.”

“The idea!” said Cora, not indignant, only amused. There was nothing but folly in the thought that she should not know Aunt Patty if she saw her anywhere. “I should know you a mile away!”

It was really no wonder that Cora was, as she said, “almost wild” with delight. She was extremely fond of music, and had a great deal of musical talent. Since almost babyhood she had been familiar with her Uncle Ned’s violin, and made what he called really respectable music for a “little kid.”

During the last year she had taken lessons from the best music teacher the town afforded. When she first began, it seemed to her that she needed nothing more to make her perfectly happy; but quite often during the winter had been heard to say, with a sigh, that she would give “anything in this world” if she could go into Boston for just one term of lessons. To be sure, she said it very much as she might have wished that she could take a journey to the moon. I do not know but she expected one as much as the other. Yet here she was, with the golden opportunity open before her: not one term only, but a whole year! And she was to take lessons of the most distinguished teacher that even Boston could offer! It is no wonder that Cora was surprised; in truth, she was not the only one; perhaps Aunt Patty herself was almost as much astonished as any of them.

She had a good deal of money carefully invested. No one but her lawyer and herself knew just how much; but she was very careful about spending it, and had never looked with much favor upon Cora’s violin music.

“Just a silly little tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,” she said, knitting fast as she spoke. “A good old-fashioned accordion beats it all to pieces, to my mind.”

Yet it was Aunt Patty who arranged that Cora should go into Boston, which was fifty miles away from her home, and spend the entire winter studying her beloved music.

“She needs a rest from school, you all say,” said Aunt Patty, “and you think it doesn’t hurt her to play on that thing, so I don’t see as she will ever have a better chance. I’ve arranged with my nephew that she shall board in his family. His wife is a good, capable woman who will see that she is took good care of, so there is nothing to worry about.”

No, there certainly was not—at least in Cora’s opinion. For a week she could hardly get to sleep at night, and awoke as early as she could in the morning to think over her lovely prospects, so much grander than she had ever thought could come to her.

So that was the way it happened that she spent the winter in Boston.

She certainly did succeed wonderfully well with her music, and was selected to play at the grand concert with which the late spring term always closed. “The youngest scholar who had ever played at that concert” the girls assured her. Only the very best pupils were chosen for that occasion. There were some discomforts connected with the grand event, for some of the girls were envious, and did not hesitate to say that there were others who could play every bit as well as she, who had been overlooked; though they omitted to give any reason for such a proceeding.

Another thing which brought hours of anxiety was the fact that in Cora’s opinion, she had not a decent dress for such an important event. She wrote quires of paper to her mother about it, and received short, tender, anxious notes in reply, setting forth the utter impossibility of sparing money to get her a new dress at this time.

“Father had been unusually unfortunate, and has had unexpected expenses.”

“He always has!” said Cora to the walls of her room, for she was quite alone. “I never knew a year when father wasn’t unfortunate, and hadn’t unusual expenses!”

Then she brushed away some bitter tears, and drawing her writing desk to her, dashed off the most loving little letter that was ever written, to dear Aunt Patty, setting forth her needs and her troubles in such a pretty way that Aunt Patty, who had declared but the day before that the child’s best white dress was nice enough to wear anywhere, and that if her winter in Boston had made her vain, she would be sorry she had sent her there, tramped off down street within an hour after reading the letter, and came home in due time with the finest piece of white mull that the town could produce. Moreover, Aunt Patty—being a woman who never did things by halves—sent the muslin to Boston by the next mail; and with it a letter to that capable woman, her nephew’s wife, directing that such and such articles be bought to go with the dress, and that the dress itself be made by somebody who would know enough not to spoil a piece of goods like that; and the bill was to be sent to her.

All these directions were duly carried out, and on the evening in question the young musician certainly did justice to her pretty suit. A great many admiring eyes rested upon her, as her graceful bow drew sweet sounds from the instrument. So thought an old lady with very sharp eyes, peering out from under a queer bonnet. She gave almost constant attention to Cora—indeed her gaze was so marked that the moment the young girl was seated, while the sound of applause with which her effort was received was still sounding, Alice Westlake whispered:

“Cora, do look at that funny old woman! You ought to notice her, for she is dreadfully struck with you; hasn’t taken her eyes off from you since you went on the stage. Only look at her bonnet! Did you ever see such a queer shape? I should think they would pay her a good price for that in the museum. And she has an umbrella! Of all things in this world—a cotton umbrella at a dress concert! Isn’t she too funny for anything? How do you suppose she happened to come here?”

Cora looked, and felt at once as though it would be a comfort to have the floor open and receive her, new suit, kid slippers and all. Aunt Patty, of all persons in the world! Aunt Patty, at an evening concert in Boston!

Part 2

What Cora saw was an old woman, in the ugliest bonnet, and a queer little black shawl, which even in the gaslight showed itself to be rusty with service. What should she do? What could she do? What was she to say to this chattering girl beside her? As for owning to any knowledge of Aunt Patty, it seemed to her utterly out of the question.
What a dreadful thing to happen on this night of her great triumph! She had cried a little because mamma could not afford to come to Boston to hear her play, and had been half- ashamed to think that none of her people were to be present, when they lived so near. But not for a moment had she thought that Aunt Patty might come. In all the six years of her acquaintance with her, she had never known Aunt Patty to do such a thing.

Would she stay until the close of the concert, she wondered? Would she go to her nephew’s afterwards? Why could she not have stopped there in the first place, if she must come, and let them get a little used to her?

“Though I’m glad she didn’t,” moaned the unhappy girl, “for I never could have played in the world if I had known that that old fright was looking at me! Oh, dear! I don’t know what to do. I wonder if I could slip away the minute the concert is over, or before it is over? I might do that, if there was anybody to go with. I cannot have her asking for me and talking to me with all these girls looking on, and before Madame De Launey, too.”

Meantime Alice was giving this silly girl all the trouble she could. “What’s the matter?” she said. “Why don’t you answer me? You look as though you saw a ghost, instead of an old lady. Oh, look at her spectacles! Did you ever see such big ones? I should think they would lame her nose. I declare, she is looking right at you; I believe she is nodding! Who do you suppose she is—who thinks she knows you?”

“How should I know?” said Cora, at last, speaking crossly. “I can’t be expected to give you the history of every old woman who chances to come to the concert, can I?”

“Well, but this one acts so funny. Cora, I’m sure she is nodding. Did you ever hear the like? Bowing to people across a concert hall! Do you suppose she is crazy?”

“I presume so,” said Cora, taking refuge in lie suggestion; “she looks like it, I am sure. She fancies, I suppose, that she knows some of us over in these seats; crazy people have all sorts of notions, I know.”

“Why!” said Alice, with wide-open eyes, “I’m half afraid of her, aren’t you? It seems sort of dreadful to have a crazy woman sitting here looking at us. Oughtn’t we to tell Professor Wayland, or do something?”

“Nonsense!” said Cora, speaking very sharply. “What a little simpleton you are, Alice Westlake. Why in the world should we tell anybody? She is sitting there quiet enough.”

“Well, but she stares so, and all the time in this direction.”

“What if she does? Staring will not hurt anybody, I guess.” And then Alice’s attention was turned in another direction; during this chattering one of the pupils had been singing a song.

“Maude has lived through it,” said Alice. “How they are cheering her. I didn’t think she sang so wonderfully well, did you? Now it is recess. Let’s go over that way and get a nearer glimpse of that queer old woman. If she is crazy I should like to hear her talk. Hurry, before the way is all blocked up.”

“I’m not going,” said Cora, now fairly angry, and so distressed that she did not know what she was saying. “Do you suppose I want to go and hear a crazy old woman talk?”

But the “crazy old woman” was not waiting for her to come.

At Madame De Launey’s the “recess” was an institution; it lasted for fifteen or twenty minutes, and was indeed a sociable—a time when friends were greeted, and strangers introduced. Nothing was plainer than that Aunt Patty intended to take advantage of it to greet her niece. She made rapid strides through the crowd, and, despite Cora’s frantic efforts, pounced upon her just as she was about to dive under a broad settee.

“Well, Niece Cora,” she said, in a loud, clear voice, “I suppose you think you fiddled well, and I guess you did do as well as any of ’em; and looked about as prink, too, for all that I can see.”

“Prink” was a word of Aunt Patty’s very own. It was used only upon rare occasions, and meant the highest possible compliment. Under other circumstances, Cora would have been proud of having it applied to her; but at this moment her cheeks were blazing, and she had no words.

Pressing close beside her was Alice, with eyes astare and a dim idea that her friend was in danger from the assaults of a crazy woman, and that she ought to do something. She glanced about her wildly, and caught sight of Madame De Launey herself pressing up behind them. She made a dash for that lady’s elegant lace and satin robe, and said in a loud whisper, “Oh, Madame De Launey! That old woman is—”

But the Madame transfixed her with astonished, reproving eyes, and the next moment brushed past her and was beside the crazy woman.

“My dear Miss Perkins,” she said, “this is an unexpected honor, and one heartily appreciated, I assure you. Professor Wayland, allow me to introduce you to my old and honored friend, Miss Perkins; she is the aunt and patron of one of your most promising pupils. Ah, Cora, my dear! I see you are surprised with the rest of us. I thought you could not have known of your aunt’s coming, or you would have told me; but then you did not know that she and I were friends of long ago, did you?”

Cora did not know much in any direction just at that moment. The person whom of all others she would have liked to escape from was her friend Alice, whose eyes were not yet done staring in a bewildered way. What a horrid, deceitful, wicked girl she had been, actually to disown Aunt Patty and let her be considered a crazy person, because her dress was old-fashioned and queer; and here was Madame De Launey saying loud enough for dozens of grand people to hear, that she was her dear old friend, and Professor Wayland was offering his arm to her as though she had been a queen.

It was all dreadful, but I think perhaps it had its useful side. Cora, I know, had a glimpse of her own heart such as she had never expected to see, and understood her temptations better after that.

You can read more of Isabella Alden’s stories and novels for free! Click here to see more titles.




Happy Valentine’s Day!

14 Feb

Pansy’s Impromptu Interview

30 Jan

In addition to writing stories and novels, editing a children’s magazine, and giving lectures on women’s topics that were dear to her heart, Isabella wrote Sunday-school lessons for children.

Photo of Isabella Alden about 1880 (age 39)


Her published lessons were well-regarding and widely adopted by many denominations. Several publications printed her lessons each month, and dedicated Sunday-school teachers across the country employed them every Sunday morning.

Isabella had been trained as a teacher; that’s how she earned her living prior to her marriage to the Reverend Gustavus Alden.

An August 1861 ad in the Oneida (NY) Sachem for Oneida Seminary


It’s little wonder, then that Isabella was regarded as an expert in her field, and often found herself giving impromptu talks about the proper methods of teaching Sunday-school, particularly for younger children (which were often called the “infant class”).

The May 1877 issue of Sabbath School Monthly magazine printed a letter submitted by a reader who had the pleasure of hearing Isabella give just such a talk. The reader had been at the Sabbath School Conference in Indianapolis earlier in the year, and was in the audience when Isabella was brought on stage to answer questions.

You can read the letter to the editor by clicking on the image below, or scroll down to read a transcript:



Messrs. Editors:
Many in our city who have enjoyed the writings of your special contributor, Mrs. Alden—our dear “Pansy”—had the opportunity, last week, of seeing her and of hearing her talk.

After the urgent solicitation of Dr. Vincent, who conducted a Sunday-school Congress of the M. E. Church, she consented to reply to questions on infant-class teaching.

To the first, “Should the infant class be present at the opening of the school?” she answered: “They should feel that the Sunday-school, and all that pertains to it, belongs to them.”

“What if the opening exercises are too lengthy?” She said that there might be folding doors, so that the rooms could be thrown together—that she had shut her doors when she had enough.

“Should there be a division of the class, and a teacher for each division?” She replied that one of the many difficulties that would result from it would be the desire to go from one class to another. This question is answered conclusively in last week’s chapter of her serial.

It was asked: “If I can not visit all my class, what can I do?” “You can send a messenger; some one who will make a pleasant and good impression, with a message of love, or a token of love, such as a flower.” She had been surprised to see how little things sent by a teacher were cherished by children.

She was desired to speak of blackboard teaching and we were convinced that her kind of object lessons would give a definite idea to the mind of a child. A heart on the blackboard, with a red crayon mark around it, and the word “clean” printed upon it, would indicate that it was washed in the blood of Christ.

As to memorizing verses, she told of the conductor’s punch that had been used by some teachers, making a round hole in the card for a perfect recitation, and a hole not round for an imperfect one, and how the child would work for that round hole.

Three different train conductor ticket punches and the hole shapes they make.


To the question, “How shall I secure a regular attendance?” she replied, “Do the best you can.”

To the many that wish they could see Mrs. Alden, I would say that you would find in her a friend. She is a small lady; her face very bright, with delicate features; good teeth, rosy color; dark brown hair; very small hands. She dresses in good taste; very neatly. These items are not needed to add to the interest of her books, but they may satisfy some wonderings concerning their author.

Don’t you love the writer’s physical description of Isabella (she has “good teeth”!)?

When Isabella gave her impromptu talk in 1877 she was 35 years old, and a seasoned public speaker who seemed to make a very good impression on her audience.

You can read these previous posts about Isabella’s experiences as both a student and a teacher at Oneida Seminary:

BFFs at Oneida Seminary

The Accusation

Free Read: The Book That Started It All

More About “The Golden Texts”

24 Jan

Last week Karen—a long-time reader of this blog—asked a question about the “Golden Texts” mentioned in many of Isabella Alden’s stories, including Gertrude’s Diary and The Exact Truth.

Karen asked:

Where can I get one of these booklets that have these Golden Verses in them? Were they distributed in Sunday Schools as part of the materials?

The Golden Texts were a very popular teaching method used by Sunday-schools and missionary societies in the late 1800s.

In those days, almost every major Christian denomination—especially Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian—operated a publishing house as one of its departments.

They produced Golden Text lessons in the form of pamphlets and trading cards, which were styled and written for the most part to appeal to children, aged toddlers to teens.

The tradecard-style lesson below is No. 3 in a series about the Golden Texts found in the Book of Matthew. The card was produced by the publishing arm of the Presbyterian Church, and was intended to be used by Sunday-school teachers as a lesson help.

You can see the subscription rate to purchase cards on the reverse side:

Card No. 5 in the series features another Golden Text from the Book of Matthew:


Here’s an example of a Golden Text lesson card the American Baptists produced for their churches and ministries:


Not all the lessons were printed by churches. The publishing company of Ward & Drummond produced Golden Text lessons in pamphlet form for many years.

This Ward & Drummond pamphlet is bound with a paper boards and feature lovely artwork. The pamphlet measures just 2-3/4” by 4-1/4” so it could be tucked into a boy’s pocket or a girl’s purse.

The back cover displays Ward & Drummond’s contact information:

Some good news: This particular Ward & Drummond pamphlet is for sale on ebay! You can click here to see the listing.

Like Ward & Drummond, Cincinnati publishers Walden & Stowe specialized in publishing religious materials, like this 1881 “Picture Lesson Paper”:

It was printed on paper and bound by thread stitches on the spine. It features a Golden Text from Luke 1:46-47:

My soul doth magnify the Lord; and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

You can click on the image to see a PDF of the entire four-page leaflet.

Walden & Stowe published many Christian leaflets, including Sunday-school tracts written by Reverend Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, who helped direct the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle.

Examples of Golden Text teaching aids—in both leaflet and postcard styles—often come up for sale on sites like ebay and Etsy, so it pays to check back often with both sites.

Locust Shade … and a New Free Read!

18 Jan

January’s free read is Gertrude’s Diary, a novella first published in 1885.

Isabella wrote the book in the “diary style” she often used. In the story, twelve-year-old Gertrude and her friends are given a set of Bible verses for each month of the year, along with journals in which the girls are to record their experiences as they try to live by the verses.

Isabella often incorporated her own life experiences into her stories (see last week’s post for an example) and Gertrude’s Diary is no exception. Isabella was very candid about the fact that she had a temper that often got her in trouble when she was young. It isn’t hard to imagine as you read Gertrude’s Diary that some of Gertrude’s temper-induced predicaments might be based on episodes in Isabella’s own life.

In the final chapter of the book Isabella gives a very real nod to one of her favorite places on earth when she reveals that Gertrude’s home town is called Locust Shade.

Locust Shade was a place Isabella knew well; in “real life” it was the name of the Toll family farm in Verona, New York. Isabella’s best friend Theodosia Toll Foster was raised at Locust Shade and Isabella spent many wonderful weekends and school vacations at Locust Shade with Theodosia and her family. You can read more about their friendship and Locust Shade here.

Gertrude’s Diary is available to read for free. Just click on the cover to begin reading.



Won by a Sister’s Prayers

9 Jan

In Isabella Alden’s books she often includes a character who is a “sort of” Christian. In Mrs. Solomon Smith Looking On, Laura Leonard was just such a Christian.

Laura had been brought up in a good home by good, Christian parents. She went to church every Sunday and attended Sunday-school. Laura was kind and knew right from wrong, but she had never accepted Jesus Christ as her Saviour. To the contrary, Laura rebelled against the mere thought of taking such a step . . . until Mrs. Solomon Smith helped show Laura that being a Christian and loving the Lord was the only way Laura would find real and lasting happiness in her life.

When Isabella wrote about Laura Leonard, she wrote from experience. Like fictional Laura, Isabella had been raised by loving Christian parents. She, too, attended church every Sunday, and joined the family in home worship every evening.

Beginning at a young age Isabella was carefully taught what the Bible says about who will be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and that the only way to have eternal life is through Jesus Christ; yet Isabella never took the ultimate step of choosing to accept Christ as her Saviour.

Then the unthinkable happened. When Isabella was twelve years old, she fell seriously ill. For several days neither her parents nor the doctor believed she would live. But, miraculously, the crisis passed, and Isabella began to recover.

Her sister Marcia, who was nine years older than Isabella, had stayed by Isabella’s side throughout her illness. She had watched over Isabella, and slept in a chair by her bed, never leaving Isabella’s side for more than a few minutes.

When Isabella began to feel better, Marcia asked her one day:

“Would you have gone to live in heaven if God had called you when you were so ill?”

Isabella was genuinely surprised by the question, but Marcia said, “The thought of parting from you forever was one of unceasing agony to me; and my constant prayer during all those days and nights of illness was that you might be spared until you could choose Christ.”

These words made a lasting impression upon Isabella. They came to her with all the power and force of a sudden revelation: for though she had been carefully trained, and knew in a theoretical way the plan of salvation, she had never given the matter five minutes serious thought, until her sister appealed to her as she did.

Isabella tried to put the subject aside again, feeling that it darkened the day and made her uncomfortable; but the Holy Spirit had carried it home to her soul, and over and over again Marcia’s words rang in her ears.

Isabella could no longer deny the truth. She wrote, “It is not enough for me to believe in Christ as a Saviour, I must ‘choose’ Christ as my Saviour.”

Soon she began to feel that in a strange and wonderful way her sister’s earnest and loving prayer that she might be spared to “choose” had been answered. And with it came the conviction that she was compelled to make a definite choice.

Not long afterward, she did choose the Lord Jesus Christ as her personal Saviour.

What a blessed decision that was for the millions of readers of her books!

Isabella Alden at her writing desk.

In 1902 Isabella wrote:

“In a few more years it will be half a century since I chose Christ. I have had abundant reason to thank God for sparing my life at that time, and for giving me a faithful sister.”

Isabella and Marcia remained close, loving sisters for the rest of their lives.

And Isabella used her experience of being a “sort of” Christian as a device to show her fictional characters—and her readers—that believing in Christ wasn’t the same as choosing to make Christ the center of our lives.

Isabella originally shared her story of how she became a Christian in a 1901 edition Christian Herald newspaper.

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. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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