It’s National Sewing Machine Day

13 Jun

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

From a 1917 magazine ad

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

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

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

Trade card from The Free Sewing Machine Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Meet Priscilla Hunter

5 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Priscilla Hunter

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

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

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Memorial Day 1917

29 May

The Prettiest Thing I Ever Saw …

12 May

In honor of Mother’s Day this Sunday, here’s a poem that appeared in The Pansy magazine in 1866:

harrison-fisher_all-mine-ed

Mother’s Face

Three little boys talked together
….One sunny summer day,
And I leaned out of the window
….To hear what they had to say.

“The prettiest thing I ever saw,”
….One of the little boys said,
“Was a bird in grandpa’s garden,
….All black and white and red.”

“The prettiest thing I ever saw,”
….Said the second little lad,
“Was a pony at the circus;
….I wanted him awful bad.”

“I think,” said the third little fellow,
….With a grave and gentle grace,
“That the prettiest thing in all the world
….Is just my mother’s face.”

—Eben E. Rexford, in Good Cheer magazine, 1886

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An Interview with Grace Livingston Hill

2 May

In 1915 Isabella’s niece, writer Grace Livingston Hill, was profiled in The Book News Monthly magazine.

A photograph of Grace Livingston Hill, published in the 1915 Book News Monthly interview.

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The magazine printed two articles, the first of which was written by Grace’s long-time friend Hilda von Markhen. Hilda described Grace’s “workshop” for writing: an ample, business-like desk at the sunshiny side of an upstairs room. On the desk was her typewriter and a few necessary reference books; behind her was a glass door which led to a small un-roofed upper porch set in the midst of trees in which played birds and squirrels.

Grace reading on her favorite porch.

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In addition to describing Grace’s workspace, Hilda told the story of how Grace’s first books were published. Sprinkled throughout the article are hints of Grace’s strong Christian beliefs and the work Grace did for those in need, the Sunday school classes she taught, the children Grace “adopted,” and her commitment to The Christian Christian Endeavor society.

Grace working out-of-doors at her home in 1915.

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The second article was written by Norma Bright Carson and provides some insight into Grace’s personality and the impression she made on the article’s author.

You can read both articles right now by clicking on the image below.

 

 

 

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Quotable

21 Apr

Let’s Decorate!

19 Apr

When Isabella’s husband Gustavus “Ross” Alden retired from the Presbyterian ministry in 1906, they moved to California.

Isabella and Ross settled in Palo Alto, about three miles from Stanford University where their son Raymond was a professor of English.

They purchased two adjoining residential lots and began construction on a new home. They worked with renown Bay Area architect A. W. Smith, who helped them design the home of their dreams.

Ross and Isabella Alden with their son Raymond in 1916

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When it was complete, the house measured over 5,000 square feet. It was a duplex, built in the shape of a U around a central entrance court. Flanking the courtyard were two almost identical homes. Isabella and Ross moved into one side of the duplex; Raymond and his wife Barbara and their children moved into the other.

The house at 425 and 427 Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto. In the middle of the photo you can see steps leading to the central courtyard. (From PastHeritage.org)

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At the bottom of the U-shaped structure was a large living room which served as the connection between the two sides of the house.

An aerial view of 425-427 Embarcadero Road, showing the U-shape of the house, as it appears today. (From Google Maps)

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The side of the house occupied by Isabella and Ross had four bedrooms and two baths. Isabella’s sister Julia had a two-room suite to call her own. In later years, Isabella’s sister Mary also came to live in the house on Embarcadero after her husband passed away.

The house was designed in the Craftsman style, with a few Swiss Chalet touches under the eaves and on the balconies.

The house on Embarcadero Road showing the shingle detail and touches of Swiss Chalet trim work on the balcony and eaves.

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An ivy-covered wall surrounded the property, creating a private, tranquil garden-like setting for the family.

A view of the Embarcadero Road house from the street.

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After many years of moving from one minister’s manse to another, Isabella must have relished the idea of decorating her very own, brand new home. She would have been able to furnish her kitchen with the newest appliances available on the market.

And she would have been able to incorporate the latest design techniques in every room. One of the most popular decorating trends during the early 1900s was …

Linoleum

Linoleum was not a new product. In fact, it had been around for forty years; but in residential construction it was used almost exclusively in kitchens and bathrooms. Its attraction was that it was waterproof. It was also monochromatic, and its plain, utilitarian appearance (usually in a shade of deep brown) didn’t recommend it for use in any other room in the house.

Sample patterns from Armstrong’s 1922 designs for linoleum flooring.

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Then, in 1906 linoleum manufacturers had a breakthrough; they invented a machine that allowed them to cut straight lines into linoleum, which made it possible to inlay other colors into linoleum sheets in simple designs.

A 1916 print ad for Congoleum. (From The Ladies Home Journal magazine)

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Soon after, manufacturers developed methods to produce complex patterns in linoleum, and Americans took notice.

A Craftsman style living room, similar to the style that would have been in Isabella’s house; depicted in a 1921 Armstrong Linoleum print ad.

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Linoleum cost only a fraction of the price of hardwood floors; and with its durability, beautiful patterns, and low prices, Linoleum soon became America’s favorite flooring.

A portion of a 1922 print ad for Congoleum, Inc., manufacturers of linoleum flooring.

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By 1919 linoleum manufacturers were enjoying brisk sales, and Americans were installing linoleum at record rates.

A dining room featuring Armstrong linoleum (from a 1922 ad in The Ladies’ Home Journal).

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Linoleum came in every color of the rainbow, and in patterns ranging from florals to geometrics and everything in between.

A 1922 print ad for Blabon linoleum.

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It even mimicked throw rugs, wall-to-wall carpeting and hardwood floors.

With so many patterns and colors to choose from, Americans could lay linoleum in their parlors and dining rooms, bedrooms and entry halls.

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Professional decorators loved it, too. Here’s a bit of decorating advice on how to use linoleum in a sun room; it first appeared as part of an article in a 1922 issue of The Ladies’ Home Journal magazine:

And here’s the illustration that accompanied it.

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Housewives also appreciated linoleum because it was virtually maintenance free. It was easy to clean and required none of the regular waxing and polishing regimens needed for hardwood floors.

A 1921 ad for Blabon “Art Rugs” made of linoleum. The company often highlighted their product’s easy maintenance.

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And unlike traditional wool rugs, linoleum rugs didn’t have to be taken outside and beaten in order to keep them clean.

Part of a 1922 Armstrong linoleum ad.

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Isabella loved the house on Embarcadero. She had a dedicated room for writing, where she had her desk and typewriter. In that room she continued to produce stories and books until the late 1920s. She died in the house on August 5, 1930.

A 1922 print ad featuring Armstrong’s wood-look linoleum

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The house remained in the Alden family after her death; Isabella’s daughter-in-law Barbara lived there until the 1950s. The property was sold in 1966.

This Congoleum ad ran with the caption, “Sorry I called you extravagant, Sally. This new rug is a beauty for $16.20.”

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What kind of decorating style do you think Isabella used in her new house? Do you think she would have furnished her dream home with linoleum, the new wonder flooring product?

Or do you think she was more conservative when it came to decorating, and would have utilized traditional hardwood floors and wool carpets and rugs?


Here are some more ads for linoleum flooring products from the early 1920s (you can click on any of the images in this post to see a larger version):

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Preparing for Easter, 1909

14 Apr

Brothers and Sisters, Husbands and Wives

11 Apr

Here’s some little-known trivia about Isabella’s family, beginning with Isabella’s mother, Myra Spafford.

Myra was close to her sister Julia; they were born only a year apart in Canaan, near Johnstown, New York.

Myra and Julia’s father (Isabella’s grandfather) was Horatio Spafford. Horatio was a teacher, inventor, author, and—for a few years—a newspaper publisher.

Julia’s husband Duncan Macdonald in an undated photo

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When she was still a teenager, younger sister Julia married Duncan Macdonald, who also grew up in Johnstown, not far from the Spaffords.

Like his new father-in-law, Duncan was a newspaperman. He was famous for his work as a journalist; and his newspaper, The Schoharie Free Press, was well-known throughout the state of New York.

A brief obituary of Duncan Macdonald, which appeared in the Plattsburgh New York Sentinel on September 9, 1887.

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A few years after Julia’s marriage to Duncan Macdonald, Myra married Duncan’s brother, Isaac.

Myra and Isaac went on to have seven children—the sixth of which was Isabella Macdonald Alden.

Isabella Alden in an undated photograph.

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Myra and Isaac, Julia and Duncan, lived very near each other and raised their children together in Johnstown, New York.

A view of Main Street in Johnstown, New York, about 1905

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And just as they lived their lives together, they also went to their final rest together. Myra and Isaac are buried near Julia and Duncan in the Johnstown Cemetery.

Isaac Macdonald’s grave marker.

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Myra Spafford Macdonald’s grave marker

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Julia Spafford Macdonald’s grave marker, Johnstown Cemetery in Johnstown, New York.

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Duncan Macdonald’s grave marker, Johnstown Cemetery in Johnstown, New York.

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A generation later, Isabella’s family welcomed another pair of siblings to the family. Isabella’s eldest sister Elizabeth married Hiram Titus in 1843. They set up house in Gloversville, not far from Isaac Macdonald’s box-making factory, and had eleven children.

Then, not long after, Isabella’s older brother James married Hiram’s sister Sarah, and they had five children.

In her memoirs, Isabella often mentioned how much her family meant to her, and how close they remained over the course of their lives. Her niece, Grace Livingston Hill, also wrote about their bond, and how they all spent time together as one family.

The days were one long dream. Hard work? Yes, but good fellowship. Everybody working together with a common aim, and joy in the work and the fellowship!

You can read more about Isabella’s family and her life in the Johnstown/Gloversville area in these posts:

A New Brother

BFFs at Oneida Seminary

Pansy’s Public Readings

Julia’s Occupation

Deerville, My Home Town

 

 

New Free Read: Muriel’s Bright Idea

4 Apr

Throughout her adult life, Isabella wrote many short stories that were published by different Christian magazines. For your enjoyment, here is a sweet short story Isabella Alden wrote for Christian Endeavor World magazine:


My friend Muriel is the youngest daughter in a large family of busy people. They are in moderate circumstances, and the original breadwinner has been long gone; so in order to enjoy many of the comforts and a few of the luxuries of life the young people have to be wage-earners. I am sure that they enjoy life just as much as they would if such were not the case, though there are doubtless times when they would like to be less busy. Still, even this condition has its compensations.

“Other people do not know how lovely vacations are,” was the way Esther expressed it as she sat one day on the side porch, hands folded lightly in her lap, and an air of delicious idleness about her entire person. It was her week of absolute leisure, which she had earned by a season of hard work. She is a public school teacher, belonging to a section and grade where they work their teachers fourteen hours of the twenty-four.

Alice is a music teacher, and goes all day from house to house in town, and from school to school, with her music books in hand.

Ben, a young brother, is studying medicine in a doctor’s office, also in town, and serving the doctor between times to pay for his opportunities. There are two others, an older brother just started in business for himself, and a sister in a training school for nurses.

So it was that this large family scattered each morning to their duties in the city ten miles away, and gathered at night, like chickens, to the home nest, which was mothered by the dearest little woman, who gave much of her time and strength to the preparation of favorite dishes with which to greet the wage-earners as they gathered at night around the home table. It is a very happy family, but it was not about any of them that I set out to tell you. In truth, it was Muriel’s apron that I wanted to talk about; but it seemed necessary to describe the family in order to secure full appreciation of the apron.

Muriel, I should tell you, is still a high school girl, hoping to be graduated next year, though at times a little anxious lest she may not pass.

But about her apron . . . I saw it first one morning when I crossed the street to my neighbor’s side door that opens directly into the large living room, and met Muriel in the doorway, as pretty a picture as a fair-haired, bright-eyed girl of seventeen can make. She was in what she called her uniform, a short dress made of dark print, cut lower in the neck than a street dress. It had elbow sleeves, and a bit of white braid stitched on their bands and around the square neck set off the little costume charmingly.

Her apron was of strong dark green denim, wide enough to cover her dress completely. It had a bib waist held in place by shoulder straps; and the garment fastened behind with a single button, making it adjustable in a second. But its distinctive feature was a row of pockets—or rather several rows of them—extending across the front breadth; they were of varying sizes, and all bulged out as if well filled.

“What in the world . . . ?” I began, and stared at the pockets. Muriel’s merry laugh rang out.

“Haven’t you seen my pockets before?” she asked. “They astonish you, of course; everybody laughs at them. But I am proud of them; they are my own invention. You see, we are such a busy family all day long, and so tired when we get home at night, that we have a bad habit of dropping things just where they happen to land, and leaving them. By the end of the week this big living room is a sight to behold. It used to take half my morning to pick up the thousand and one things that did not belong here, and carry them to their places. You do not know how many journeys I had to make, because I was always overlooking something. So I invented this apron with a pocket in it for every member of the family, and it works like a charm.

“Look at this big one with a B on it; that is for Ben, of course, and it is always full. Ben is a great boy to leave his pencils, and his handkerchiefs, and everything else about. Last night he even discarded his necktie because it felt choky.

From Pinterest

“This pocket is Esther’s. She leaves her letters and her discarded handkerchiefs, as well as her gloves. And Kate sheds hair ribbons and hatpins wherever she goes. Just think how lovely it is to have a pocket for each, and drop things in as fast as I find them. When I am all through dusting, I have simply to travel once around the house and unpack my load. I cannot tell you how much time and trouble and temper my invention has saved me.”

“It is a bright idea,” I said, “and I mean to pass it on. There are other living rooms and busy girls. Whose is that largest pocket, marked M?

“Why, I made it for mother; but, do you know, I have found out just in this very way that mothers do not leave things lying around. It is queer, isn’t it, when they have so many cares? It seems to be natural for mothers to think about other people. So I made the M stand for ‘miscellaneous,’ and I put into that pocket articles which will not classify, and that belong to all of us. There are hosts of things for which no particular one seems to be responsible. Is it not a pity that I did not think of pockets last winter, when we all had special cares and were so dreadfully busy? It is such a simple idea you would have supposed that any person would have thought of it, but it took me two years. I just had to do it this spring, because there simply was not time to run up- and downstairs so much.”

“You have proved once more the truth of the old proverb, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’” I said. “And, besides, you have given me a new idea. I am going home to work it out. When it is finished, I will show it to you.” Then I went home, and made rows and rows of strong pockets to sew on a folding screen I was making for my work-room.

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