Advice to Readers about Marriage Proposals

For many years Isabella edited a Christian magazine for which she wrote a very popular advice column. In 1896 she responded to a letter from an unmarried woman who had just received a proposal of marriage.

Despite his profession of love to her, the woman confessed she did not feel the same way about him. Yet she was tempted to accept his offer because she thought he’d make a fine husband; but her biggest concern was that because she was getting older, she was afraid his proposal may be her last chance for marriage.  

In closing, she asked Isabella: How could she tell if the Lord meant for her to marry such a man?

Image of man and woman about 1910 in an embrace, holding hands.

Here is Isabella’s advice:

My Dear Friend, I can understand the state of bewilderment into which you are thrown, but at my age the light is plainer. As I read your letter, I find myself wishing that all questions were as easily answered as yours.

In the first place, let me beg you never to allow any chain of circumstances or specious reasoning to persuade you that it is right to marry one that you are not sure beyond the shadow of a doubt is the man above all others that you believe your heart would have chosen under any conceivable circumstances. Any other marriage than this I believe to be a mockery in the sight of God. I can conceive of one loving another in this way, and yet not marrying from motives of duty; but I cannot conceive of any duty that would make it right for one not so loving to marry. Do you not see how simple a matter such conviction of right and wrong as this makes your query?

Image of bride and groom holding hands as they kneel in church about 1905. Behind them are three bridesmaids dressed in pink gowns and holding bouquets of pink flowers.

Be sure, dear friend, that what “the Lord means” for you is that you should do right, even if in doing so you are compelled to grieve someone that has given you the best his heart has to offer. It would be but a sorry return to give back to such a man mere dregs of feeling.  

I know it is the fashion in certain circles to talk a great deal about “Platonic affection.” I have often been tempted to think that many people use the term without having a clear idea of what it means; but the fact remains that with honest, earnest, well-trained young men and women exclusive and long-continued companionship means, other things being equal, companionship for life; and when two persons arrange to set aside this rule of nature, it generally means sorrow for one of them.

Image of bride and groom about 1910 in tender embrace.

Let me still further say that it seems to me you are perhaps making the very common mistake of thinking of marriage almost as a necessity to a woman’s life. Does it not occur to you that possibly God may not mean you to marry at all?

In saying this I do not want to be understood to speak lightly of marriage; on the contrary, I believe a true marriage to be the crown of a woman’s life. But there are many honorable exceptions; there is blessed work in the world being done by women with warm affections and motherly hearts, who have no home ties, and so are able to do that which—but for them—would be left undone. Who can estimate how many homeless and motherless ones rise up to call such women blessed? Possibly your work lies in this direction. Whether it does or not, let me repeat the admonition with which I began:

Never mistake friendship for love; never stand before the marriage altar with one of whom you could not say, “My heart chose him alone from all the world.”

Image of a bride and groom outside a church about 1918. Bride is dressed in white gown and veil and carrying a bouquet of white flowers. Groom is dressed in formal black tux with white shirt, tie and waistcoat.

My dear girl, I want to emphasize this as much as possible because I believe in it so thoroughly. The world is full of wrecked homes and ruined hearts that need not have been so if friendship had not been so often mistaken for love, and marriage relations entered into so carelessly.

I wonder whether I have fully answered your thought. I have no doubt that you consider your circumstances peculiar—we all do—but the letters that I have received lead me to believe that a large number of your sisters are thinking along much the same lines.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Do you agree with her that marriage is not always “a necessity to a woman’s life”?

You can read more of Isabella’s advice columns by clicking on the links below:

Advice to Anxious Mothers of Daughters

Advice to Readers on Learning to Cook

Advice to Readers about Keeping Confidences

Isabella’s Advice about Christmas Possibilities

Advice about Righting the Wrong Marriage Proposal

Advice to Readers about Shortcomings

Advice to Readers on Managing the World

Advice to Readers on Memorizing Bible Verses

Advice to Readers on Praying Aloud in Public

Advice to Readers Living Humdrum Lives

Advice to Readers on Bashfulness

Advice to Readers about Boys and Books

Advice to Readers about Forgiveness

Advice to Readers about Ornaments

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.

Advice to Readers on Learning to Cook

For many years Isabella had an advice column in a popular Christian magazine. In the column she answered readers’ questions—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

In 1910 she received this letter from a young woman:

Can you tell some of us girls—who never had a chance to learn much about real, practical, beautiful housekeeping—some way of learning? Are there not schools in cities for this purpose? Or are there not books from which we can learn what we need to know?

We want to understand all kinds or planning and arranging and beautifying and economizing.

We want to be excellent cooks, and to learn much that people whose time is largely spent in school or shop know very little about.

Can you help us with this practical need of ours?”

Illustration of different desserts: A sundae in a tall glass, cupcakes, a merangue, and a cake.

Here is Isabella’s reply:

It shall be my delight to do so.

Let me first express what a pleasure it is to find that one who can write so charming a letter as accompanied these questions is able to turn her thoughts to this practical subject, and to feel the “need” of knowledge.

Also, I rejoice in the thought that a large number of the letters awaiting attention deal with the same subject. Our lovely, cultured girls, who have had “advantages,” are beginning to feel the importance of understanding the art of home-making.

Newspaper clipping:
HOUSEKEEPERS HAVE TROUBLES.
Have Miss Peet help you in them at cooking school.
The school opens next Monday.
Ask her any questions any time - Wants Fort Scott women to feel it is their school.
From The Fort Scott Daily Tribune, October 31, 1913

Schools? Certainly there are. Every city of rea­sonable size now sends out its circulars announcing a “cooking-school” in regular session through the school year, or in extra session during vacation, or for the winter months.

Photo of about a dozen young women gathered around a table where they are preparing peaches to make into peach rolls.
A cooking school at the Indiana State Fair, about 1917

Better than these opportunities, especially for school­girls and those employed in regular work of any kind during the winter, are the cooking-schools that have sprung up in connection with the larger summer “as­semblies.”

I am told that every well-established summer resort organized under the peculiar rules that belong to the word “assembly” now has its own fairly well-appointed cooking class or classes. I am, however, most familiar with the one at Chautauqua, N. Y., which is, of course, the mother of all the Chautauquas, and is and must always be the first in all ways.

Photo from the early 1900s of a large classroom full of cooking students and teachers. The students are wearing caps and full aprons. The teachers wear caps and are dressed in white. Some students are preparing vegetables, others are setting a table, while others are at different stages of the cooking process.
A cooking school at the Battle Creek, Michigan resort and sanitarium.

Mrs. Emma P. Ewing, who, as everyone knows, has no superior in her department, conducts regularly at Chau­tauqua, N. Y., during the eight weeks’ season, a thor­oughly equipped cooking-school, with its normal depart­ment, its “practice class,” its lecture course, and its final examination.

Black and white head-and-shoulders photograph of Emma P. Ewing. She is wearing spectacles. She is wearing a bodice with a high neck and sleeves that puff at the shoulder.
Emma P. Ewing, from Wikipedia.org

Nothing more fascinating than the way in which Mrs. Ewing manages the entire matter can well be imagined. It has been my pleasure to be often in her classroom, to admire the white table set out with all the belongings for the day, sometimes arranged for the pur­pose of making delicious soups and white sauces and delicate desserts, sometimes planned for the purpose of showing what a study in refinement and beauty and excellence a breakfast of lamb chop and creamed pota­toes and corn puffs may become.

Newspaper article:
FREE LESSON
Mrs. Emma P. Ewing, dean of Chautauqua cooking school, will give a free lesson on breadmaking in the Woman's club class room, 306 south High street, Tuesday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock. All interested in preparing wholesome bread will be welcome.
The Muncie Daily Times, October 5, 1896.

Every conceivable branch of the culinary art is taught here. Pies, pud­dings, cakes, sauces, gravies, roasts, fries, stews, each come in for a full share of careful consideration.

Illustration from about 1912. A woman is in her kitchen looking down on a turkey in a roasting pas she has just taken from the oven.

Let me confess just here that a very fascinating part of the daily class exercise is the careful “tasting” of whatever article of food has been prepared before our eyes. For this purpose scholars go to the class armed each with a silver spoon, or fork, as occasion may require, and a napkin.

Illustration of a young woman about 1918. She is holding a bowl on a saucer just below her nose as if she is enjoying the smell of the contents.

Delicious beyond description are the spoonfuls of broth or “white soup” or bouillon that one thus enjoys, to say nothing of the marvellous concoctions made with a spoonful or two of cream, a cup of fruit-juice, a dash of sugar, and a little gelatine; to say nothing, moreover, of the delicious creams and ices and “foams” and innumerable other forms to delight the palate.

Illustration of different desserts, including a cake, a plum pudding, a molded gelatine, a cake decorated with gelatine, and a mousse.

Not only can the making and cooking of all these dishes be thoroughly learned at this summer school, but there are classes formed for the special purpose of train­ing the pupils in the art of setting the table neatly and gracefully, of clearing away skillfully, of selecting dishes that harmonize with others, of explaining the difference between a refined abundance and a sinful waste.

Illustration of a dining room with a table for 12. The table is covered with a white tablecloth. Each place is set with plate, silverware, glasses and napkins. In the center are large bowls of fruits, a cruet, and a coffee service.
A proper Victorian-era table set for dinner.

There are bills of fare arranged for summer, for winter, for the trying springs and falls. There is careful attention paid to the novice who does not know whether to buy steak “by the yard” or piece, or whether to try to have strawberries and green peas in February, or to wait until they are less flavored with money.

Illustration of a woman reading a cookbook in her kitchen about 1920. On the table before her is a colander full of berries, a large empty bowl, a can of Crisco and a rolling pin.

In short, anything that one needs to learn about housekeeping, as connected with the kitchen and storeroom, may be acquired at this summer cooking-school. Moreover, the teacher is so gentle voiced and sympathetic, and so thoroughly ladylike, that it is simply a pleasure to watch her and listen to her. It would be difficult to imagine anyone farther removed from the “fussy” or the hurried and nervous stage of housekeeping than Mrs. Ewing.

Illustration from about 1918. A mother and daughter are in the kitchen standing side-by-side at the stove. The mother is reading from a cookbook while the daughter adds ingredients to a pot on the stove.

No matter how much it may sound like it, my dear girls, this is not an advertisement of the Chautauqua cooking-school. The truth is, that favored spot needs no advertising; its classes are always full, and application has to be made some time in advance. It is simply an honest effort to answer an honest and often repeated question about learning how.

Illustration of a woman from about 1910. She is in a kitchen, wearing an apron, stirring the contents of a large bowl. On the table before her are a variety of pans and cooking utensils.

Meantime, do you know, dear girls, what delightful institutions home cooking-clubs are? Why not organize one in your own circle?

Black and white photo of five ladies standing arm-in-arm in a row. Each is wearing an apron.
Members of a cooking club in their aprons.

Select one evening or afternoon a week out of your busy lives. Meet around at one another’s homes; find out the specialty of each mother or grandma or auntie; and petition for a lesson in her line—a “normal” lesson, where you can have the privilege of furnishing your own materials, and doing exactly what the teacher does, and carry home the result in triumph. Some of the most fascinating evenings I have ever known were spent in this way.

Newspaper article:
AFTERNOON TEA
The Muffin Cooking Club Entertains the Young Ladies' Cooking Club.
Yesterday afternoon the members of Muffin Cooking Club entertained the members of the Young Ladies' Cooking Club with an afternoon tea at the beautiful home of Miss Mayne Sprankle, South Liberty street. The spacious rooms of the house were beautifully decorated and presented a unique appearance, especially the dining room and table, over which flowers and candles were artistically arranged. Dainty refreshments were served and all were delightfully entertained.
From The Muncie Morning News, September 22, 1892.

Try it, and see how much, at the end of a year, you will have added to your stock of practical knowledge.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Where and when did you learn to cook? Have you ever taken a cooking class or joined a cooking club?

You can read some of Emma P. Ewing’s cookbooks for free! Just click on any of the titles below to view them on Archive.org.

The Art of Cookery; a Manual for Homes and Schools

A Textbook of Cookery for Use in Schools

Cooking and Castle-building

Soup and Soup Making

Vegetables and Vegetable Cooking

Advice to Readers about Keeping Confidences

For many years Isabella had an advice column in a popular Christian magazine. She used the column to answer readers’ questions—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

In an 1897 column Isabella wrote that she had received several letters in one week about “imprudent confidences.” The letters were from young women who regretted something they said or wrote.

Two or three girls wrote about their mothers in ways they wished they had not.

One young wife wrote “with utmost frankness” about the failings of her husband to a lady friend!

Several young ladies were very harsh in their criticisms of “certain gentleman acquaintances.”

Each ended their letter to Isabella with the same two questions:

“Ought I to take back the words I wrote? And ought I to tell the persons of whom I wrote what I have done?”

Here is Isabella’s advice:

There are really two questions. Let me so divide them.

With regard to the first, I answer: By all means, YES. Perhaps there is no more common error than that of giving vent to one’s anger by putting on paper words concerning others that in our cooler moments we would not even think, much less say.

Moreover, in nearly (if not quite every) case of the kind, the written words are more or less untrue. For the hour they may seem to us strictly true and justifiable; but the next morning, after the mail has been sent, and it is too late, what would we not give to be able to recall them? How sure we are to remember entire sentences that we no know to be false, or—at the very least—to convey entirely false impressions!

In all such cases, what better can we do than to write promptly and frankly:

“I am sorry I told you what I did. I was angry at the time, or so strangely hurt that I did not realize what I was doing. My mother meant what she said in an entirely different way from what I translated it; she did not speak the words in the manner which I ascribed to her; she did not speak quite those words. I see it all now. Please burn my letter, and forgive me.”

Or:

“Dear Friend, I have been unjust to my husband; he is not what I have led you to infer. It is I who was angry, and misinterpreted him.”

Some such reparation as this we owe to our own sense of honor, even though we are quite sure that our mistaken confidences will go no further. Every true correspondent will approve such a course, and think more highly of her friend that she can possibly do without this frankness.

Especially should this course be urged in the case of husband and wife. In a very peculiar and solemn sense these two are pledged to each other, and no third person should be permitted, save in the cases of gravest necessity, to step between them even in thought.

As to the second question, there may be individual cases where confession would be wise; but as a rule I see no reason why the heart of a husband or friend should be made sore by explanations of what they would otherwise never hear. A good general rule in such matters seems to be:

If you are quite confident that silence will do no one any harm, and reasonably certain that speaking would give pain, be silent.

I think I would make one exception to this, in the case of mother and young daughter. Between these two there should be not only implicit confidence, but such deference on the part of the duaghter that it would wound her conscience to keep even such a matter secret. In nine cases out of ten the good mother would rather be told the exact truth, and would be able to help her child to grow stronger.

There is one potent reason why it is best always to take back, so far as possible, confidences of the kind named; and that is because it is a humiliating thing to do, and helps one to be more careful in the future.

The fact is, confidences are very important and choice and troublesome matters. They need to be guarded with great care, and bestowed warily.

What do you think of the advice Isabella gave?

Does it sound like the kind of advice that applies today, too?

Advice About Righting the Wrong Marriage Proposal

For many years Isabella had an advice column in a popular Christian magazine. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

In 1897 she received a surprising letter from a young woman who regretted turning down a marriage proposal.

Here is the letter:

Suppose a gentleman had proposed marriage to a lady by letter, although he lived in the same town with her, and she, vexed at this, had simply returned the letter without other reply. Yet suppose that she loved the man, and believed him in every way worthy. What could she do to right matters?

Illustration of letter envelopes with wax seals on the flaps and hand-written "For You" on the front of one, against a background of a quill feather pen and small blue flowers.

Here is Isabella’s reply:

Yours is an extremely difficult question to answer. If I were the gentleman, it would take a good deal to “right matters.”

I am simply amazed at the number of young women who seem to be interested in a question of this kind. Why, in the name of common sense, should not a gentleman propose marriage by letter if that method suits him best? Certainly there is no discourtesy in such a letter. If he felt that in the quiet of his own room he could express the thought and desire of his heart better than he could by speech, the probabilities are that he is a thoughtful, earnest, sensible man. For such a man to condone the discourtesy of returning him his honest letter without other answer would, I should think, be very difficult.

A young couple stands near an outdoor bench. She is facing away from him, looking angry with her nose in the air. He looks down at the ground, dejected.

Honestly, the possibilities are that he would decide that he had been mistaken in the character of the lady, and had made a narrow escape.

It is all very well to cultivate dignity and a certain fine self-respect; every true woman, even though she be quite young, should be enveloped by these as with a garment; but there is in some natures a tendency to let these degenerate until the persons become—what shall I say? Finical? Over nice? Neither of these quite covers the thought, but perhaps you understand me.

A young man tips his hat to a young woman who looks annoyed.

Do you not know people who seem to be on the watch for something at which to take offence, people who will not hesitate to stab the deepest feelings of their dearest friends because of some fancied slight or discourtesy?  I know young ladies who pride themselves upon their extreme sensitiveness in such directions, and seem to think that they are made of finer grain than others, when the fact is that there is really no trait easier to cultivate. To think much about one’s self, and to imagine that others do not think enough about us, seems to be first, instead of second, nature to many.

Now, after this lengthy digression, let me try to answer the question, “What can be done to right matters?”

A young couple sits outside on a fence rail, facing away from each other as if they have had a disagreement.

My dear, if you are really a sincere, self-respecting girl, and the gentleman has the character that you ascribe to him, write him a letter stating frankly that you unwittingly insulted him; that you are ashamed of yourself, and want to be forgiven. That may “right matters” in your individual case, and it may not. It depends on whether the gentleman is high-minded and unselfish, and so deeply attached to you that he is able to overlook your faults.


Oh, dear! Isabella wasn’t very sympathetic to the young lady’s plight, was she?

Do you think Isabella gave her good advice?

How would you react if you received a marriage proposal by mail?

Advice to Readers on Praying Aloud in Public

For many years Isabella served as an editor and contributor to a Christian magazine in which she had a very popular advice column. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

One letter came from a woman who was having trouble overcoming a very common problem: She was terrified of praying aloud in front of other people.

Antique illustration of women praying in church.

The writer described herself as a grown woman, “not very young” of age. She believed it was her duty to pray before others in Sunday-school class or at prayer meetings, but she found it “almost impossible” to do so. Even when she planned out what to say ahead of time, she would forget, and stammer and stutter; and she often ended her prayer feeling embarrassed and pledging never to pray before others again.

Here is the advice Isabella gave her:

First, let me assure you that your “name is Legion.” As a worker among those that are moving toward middle age, I have found this feeling a constant hindrance.

My friend, by all means persevere, no matter how much you stumble, nor how many carefully-thought-out sentences you “forget.” Stammering lips often carry a message straight to the throne of God, and it is to God that we speak when we pray.

Do not let Satan blind you with that specious argument of his that you cannot pray to “edification.” That is not the first object of prayer. Moreover, God often uses the stammering tongue for his glory. I remember and am helped to this day by the thought of the hesitating, sometimes broken, sentences of a dear father who thought that he could not pray aloud.

Young woman dressed in black with white lace collar and cuffs is seated at a table. A Bible is open on the table and her hands are clasped together on top of the open Bible.

Now for a few hints that I have found helpful:

First: Cultivate the habit of praying in an audible voice when alone in your room. Perhaps no one thing will give you self-control more speedily than this. We are creatures of habit, and when we have grown accustomed to the daily sound of our own voices when on our knees, habit, after a little, asserts itself when we kneel before others. Because of habit, the kneeling posture is, I think, the most helpful one to assume, even in public prayer, wherever this is feasible.

Next, grow very familiar with Bible prayers, those terse sentences pregnant with meaning:

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord.”

“In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust.”

“Be thou to me a strong rock.”

“Send out thy light and thy truth.”

The Bible is very rich as a prayer-book. If we linger much among such petitions, habit will again come to our aid, and the Bible words will rush in upon us when we pray before others. When I was a beginner in public prayer, I used to write out certain of these Bible prayers that voiced my desires, and spread them before me, lest my memory should prove treacherous. I found this a good crutch for a time.

For a like reason I used sometimes to write out my own form of prayer, carefully avoiding set phrases and sentences that I should never think of using if alone, going over and over the form to make it simple and direct, and to be sure that it expressed only what I really felt. This I would read aloud, with bowed head; and it helped me in overcoming timidity.

Let me close as I commenced, with an urgent appeal to you to overcome the temptation to shirk this duty; and to resolve to conquer in His name.

Pansy

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Do you think her suggestions were helpful?

Advice to Readers Living Humdrum Lives

For many years Isabella served as an editor and contributor to a Christian magazine in which she had a very popular advice column.

Usually her column fielded questions from young people who needed help navigating adolescent life, but in 1912 Isabella published a letter from a grown woman who had a much more adult problem on her hands.

Here is her letter:

I do not belong to the young people, but all the same I’m going to try to get in and get help if I can. I belong to the hum-drum class. Do you know them? I haven’t a grievance in the world that is worthy of the name. I’m a farmer’s wife, living with my husband and one son of nineteen on a fairly prosperous farm.

My husband is a good, kind, hard-working man, and our son is following in his footsteps. We have comfortable and fairly convenient things about us and I don’t have to work too hard. Then what, in the name of common sense, do I want help about? It’s a fair question, and I can’t answer it. I’m not even sure that there is any common sense in my want; but I know that I’m not satisfied.

Mrs. Alden, we work and eat and sleep, and work and eat and sleep again; that’s the whole of our life. Now, is that living? I used not to think so. I married for love and I love my husband, and am sure he loves me, but it would scare either of us to mention it.

Oh, we go to church every Sunday; but we live out a couple of miles—too far, I suppose, for people to walk, and we know no one but the minister, who calls once a year; my boy is timid and doesn’t make acquaintances easily so he has none. We know a number of people by name, and bow to them when we meet, but that is all. We go nowhere, and see no one from month’s end to month’s end. We read, all of us, and have books, and papers, but we have a habit of reading by ourselves, and I don’t know that we ever talk about anything together. We have acquired habits of silence, except for the necessary words. Understand me, we are not cross or “grouty,” but we are each of us alone; and I, at least, am dreadfully lonesome. I have some rather nice clothes, but what is the use of wearing them? Neither husband nor son would know whether I wore a calico wrapper or a blue satin gown; I’ve given up dressing.

I could say a good deal more, but I presume I shall think by tomorrow that I have said a great deal too much. If you print any of this, sign it …

A Farmer’s Wife.

Here is Isabella’s Reply:

Your letter makes me want to tell you a little story about a home that was like, and yet unlike yours, in which I spent some pleasant months. Father, mother and a son past 25 made up the family. The parents were past middle age and lived out of town; the son was in business in town and boarded at home. The usual cares incident to country life were upon them, so that they were very busy people, but their home was the cheeriest, most home-like, most comfortable and restful place that could well be imagined. Even in their busy hours they gave one, somehow, the impression of abundant leisure; I think this was in part due to the fact that their time was carefully systematized.

They, too, went “to church every Sunday,” and had by dint of steady service and genial helpfulness made themselves such a power there that after a time they became not only known, but sought after and leaned upon. In the Sunday school, in the prayer meeting, in the young people’s societies, in the official work of the church, it came to be understood that they could be depended upon.

But it was not so much or such matters that I wished to talk as of the so-called trifles which, in their quiet home-life created an atmosphere that breathed out perfume. Your “nice clothes” reminded me of this home-keeper. She always looked the perfection of neatness and suitability when about her multiform household tasks, and she always carefully dressed for supper; and always there were flowers on the table.

Meal-time in the home was a genuine social gathering, at which time not only the pleasant happenings of the day were considered, but the larger news of the country, of all countries. The mother, although she often deplored the fact that she was not able to carry out her desire for a higher education, is nevertheless a well-educated, cultured woman; both father and mother made such splendid use of the opportunities they had as to be far above the average in general knowledge, and the life they live and the reading they do daily adds to their store.

They had also trained themselves in other ways. You, my friend, do not think husband or son would know whether you wore wrapper or house dress to the supper table, but I doubt that; it is rather that they, like a great many others, have become speechless about many things. This family tells out its pleasant thoughts.

One evening I came suddenly upon a little by-play not intended for my ears and sight. It chanced that the mother’s simple home dress was unusually becoming, and the gray-haired husband, calling her by a pet name, said, “You look pretty enough to kiss,” suiting the action to the word.

The wife’s little laugh showed her pleasure n the token, and also the fact that this was no amazing exception to general rules. As a matter of fact, this husband and wife never separated for even a few hours without exchanging good-by kisses.

“You see, we are a pair of old lovers,” the mother said to me one day, with a half apologetic laugh, adding immediately, “Why not? I never believed that love and kisses were to be confined to the young; do you?”

As for “the boy,” which is the way that father and mother fondly speak of him, he is a man in every sense of the word, taking a man’s part in business, in the church, in civic affairs, and has about him the masculine air of authority and protection, even when he piles the box high with wood, that his mother may take no extra steps, and the masterful air with which he takes the pail or the heavy pitcher from her hand and makes her sit, laughing, to rest a minute, while he waits upon her; yet nothing sweeter or stronger or more holy has been shown to me than the loving comradeship that exists between those two.

The son walks to and from his place of business, and his cheery voice can be heard in the early morning, and again at noon, after his keen eyes have swept kitchen, pantry and porch to see if perchance he may take some further step to save his mother.

“Come mother, are you ready?” and away they tramp down the long, tree-lined avenue to the “lower gate,” chatting, laughing, enjoying each other, for all the word like a boy and girl out for a lark. I have a shrewd suspicion, also, that this is sometimes the hour for confidences.

Once, the father, looking after them with tender eyes, said to me: “She always goes to the big gate with him. If it should have to be given up, I don’t know which would miss it most, the boy or his mother.” And one, an old man, looking thoughtfully after the two from an upper window, said, “Only a good man would care for that.”

Is my little sermon preached, dear friend? There is no humdrum living in that home. There might have been; all the conditions that can so easily degenerate into humdrumness are there; but outspoken love and unselfish service have glorified them.

What do you think of the advice Pansy gave?

Do you think it made a difference the  lives of the farmer’s wife and her family?

Advice to Readers on Bashfulness

For many years Isabella served as an editor and contributor to a Christian magazine in which she had a very popular advice column. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

This letter came from a teen in Kansas:

I want to ask if there is any way to overcome being painfully bashful. I am really a sufferer with this disease. I get good marks in school when the work is largely in writing, but as sure as I am called upon to talk, I am scared out of my wits.

In Voice Culture class it is the same. I am said to have a fine voice and my teachers say my “scares” are all that keep me back. I am always swallowing at the wrong place. I have been so humiliated by this drawback that there are times when I think I would like to run away where no one who knows me would ever see me again.

My dear mother is planning to have me go to college, and I know I shall fail on account of timidity; that is the only drawback, for I like to study.

Kansas.

Here is Isabella’s Reply:

Yours is by no means an uncommon affliction, dear friend. Indeed, it sometimes seems as though the world of young people was made up of two classes: those who have no timidity about anything and rush in where thoughtful persons hesitate, and those who, as the letters quoted from express it, are “painfully bashful.”

Before the remedy can be applied with any degree of success, the cause of the disease must be determined; and at the risk of having some of the afflicted start back in protesting dismay, I am going to diagnose it as pride, overweening self-esteem, egotism, any of the words by which we define undue self-consciousness.

Illustration of an 1888 classroom of young girls. One girl stands; she is holding a book, her head is bent and she holds up her arm to cover her face. The other students are seated; one tries to comfort the embarrassed student. Two others whisper and smile together; while two more are reading a book in the back. A teacher stands near the window of the room.

I know that to some it will sound like a contradiction to say that a timid person has too much self-esteem, yet I believe that in nine cases of “bashfulness” out of ten, this will be found to be the case. The remedy, therefore, suggests itself. Anything that will help us to forget ourselves entirely will go far toward removing the trouble: and there is really nothing else that is likely to do much good.

Photo dated about 1905 of a classroom of female students in their teens. One female students stands beside a large document hung on the wall and uses a pointer to indicate one section of the document. All other students are seeated at desks and are looking in her direction..
A student recites in history class. (Credit: Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

In a school recitation, if we have made such close and careful preparation that the subject has got hold of us and we are filled with admiration (or indignation, or curiosity) over the thoughts expressed by the author we study, it will be those thoughts and not ourselves that we will think about when we recite.

Photo dated about 1910. A teacher stands at the classroom blackboard where words and shapes are drawn, and points to one section of the blackboard. One little girl stands facing the teacher (her back to the camera) to answer the teacher's question. All other students sit at desks with their backs to the camera. Some students have their hands raised to answer the question.

In Voice Culture this is harder, because the inane syllables on which the pupil is compelled to practice afford no chance for thought; but as soon as one is allowed to sing words—if they are worth singing—the performer can train himself to be absorbed in the thought they express, and in the wonder that the human voice has power to render varying feeling and emotion; and in curiosity to see what range of expression he has himself, until he forgets entirely to wonder, or to fear, what other people think of his performance, and becomes an artist, lost in his art. Such a singer will not be troubled with timidity. Ordinary singers can train toward this height, and overcome self by degrees.

Illustration of a group of young people in a drawing-room about 1875. Some are seated, some are standing. One man sits at a piano and looks at a young  woman who stands beside the piano, singing and holding sheet music.

In social life the ideal way to overcome the form of self-consciousness that expresses itself in timidity, is to fix one’s attention on some other person, a stranger perhaps, or one not accustomed to society, who, for these or other reasons, is not having a good time; and resolve that he or she shall have a pleasant evening. The reflex result will astonish those who try it for the first time.

I knew a timid, shrinking girl, given to fancying herself awkward or stupid or conspicuous in some unpleasant way, who was one evening roused to sympathy for a young woman not so well dressed as the others, and evidently painfully aware of it. In struggling to make that one forget her too short dress and gloveless hands and other defects of costume and have a good time in spite of them, she forgot all about herself.

Illustration of two young women in old period dress, standing close together with a small branch of a pink flowering bush.

Here is what she told her mother on reaching home.

“We had a lovely time, mamma; and Miss Haven says I sang better than she ever heard me; that my voice didn’t tremble a bit. And don’t you believe I forgot all about being scared! I asked that Bennett girl to take the alto, and I was so interested in having her do well that I never once thought of how I was singing!”

A young woman stands holding sheet music and singing. Beside her another young woman is seated, playing a piano.

All of which goes to prove that the old, old rule which, being freely translated is: ”Think always of others and never mind about yourself.” It’s a good one to apply to the great, and the trivial acts of our lives. Once, a girl told me that she thought it would be irreverent to try to imagine what the Lord Jesus Christ thought of her when she stood up in class, or whether he was pleased with her work.

Do you know, I want no such Savior as that girl must have thought she had? I want one who knows our infirmities, “was tempted in all points” as we are, who is interested in the very hairs of our heads, and in the minutest trivialities of our daily lives. Suppose we thought much more about what he is thinking of us than we do? Would it help?

Pansy.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice to the teen in Kansas?

Advice to Readers about Boys and Books

For many years Isabella served as an editor and contributor to a Christian magazine in which she had a very popular advice column. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

This letter came from a teen named Betsy:

Do you think there is any harm in girls of, say, fifteen to seventeen or eighteen, giving parties and inviting their boy friends? Some people seem to think so; what do you think?

I wish you would name a list of books for girl to read. Father doesn’t like me to read “Little Women” and such stories, and I’m sure I don’t know what is good if they are not.

Betsy.

Here is Isabella’s reply:

About the parties, Betsy, they belong to the class that the logicians call an “open question.” There are parties, and “parties.” A girl of fifteen, or sixteen, or seventeen, whose mother heartily approves the plan and joins with her daughter in making ready and in preparing the list of invitations—giving careful consideration to the names of the boys— and whose father and mother are to act as host and hostess, may safely give a party such as all her friends will approve and enjoy. In short, a party thoroughly mothered and fathered is, as a rule, a safe and pleasant place for young people to gather occasionally.

Note the use of that word “occasionally.” Even under the most favorable circumstances, with fathers and mothers as wise as serpents, parties are like rich cake; as an occasional luxury it is delicious and comparatively harmless; but used as a steady diet, interfering with substantial food, the normal appetite soon turns from it with dislike; and for the abnormal one, it works mischief.

Do you know, Betsy, I don’t more than half believe in the party that your question is planning. I more than half believe that either mother or father, or both, have been trying to convince you that you have not time, or, perhaps, strength, for such functions; perhaps, that there have already been too many parties in your circle this season; perhaps, that they cannot afford to indulge you in this matter; perhaps, that some of the boys, and even, possibly, certain of the girls, whom you wish to invite, are not such as they like to welcome as your friends; and you have not been convinced by them; hence your question.

If I am wrong in reading between the lines of your letter, forgive me; I may be wrongly judging you by others. I know such girls; indeed, I am answering their letters at this moment. through yours. I want to say to them that nothing is safer in this world than for girls of sixteen or seventeen, or any age that marks them as girls, to be guided by the judgment, by the fears, by the notions, even, of good mothers and fathers; and that just as surely as they break away from such advice and guidance, whether in the matter of parties or anything else, just as surely the day is coming when they will regret it. I am an old woman, and I am saying what I know is true. I have seen it bitterly regretted when it was too late.

About books. Lists, when they come from strangers, are doubtful helps. Personal tastes and acquirements, as well as the environment of the readers, must be taken into consideration to make them helpful.

I do not know your father’s reason for objecting to Little Women, but my personal objection to that and other volumes by the same gifted author is that, while charmingly written, they present views of life that are fascinating and false. Many of the characters described live beautifully, unselfishly, sacrificially, not for the sake of love, but for the sake of duty; and they do it steadily, climbing to the heights of self-abnegation, growing day by day in all the graces of the Christian religion, but they do it without a Savior. Jesus Christ is to them a friend, a guide, a beautiful pattern, but never a Redeemer. Such living is impossible. For this reason I deplore the charms of that class of books.

Betsy, dear, why not get that good father of yours to make a list of books that he would like you to read? I’m nearly certain that he would do it if you asked him, and equally certain that he would be gratified at the request.

When you get your list, let me beg you to begin at the beginning and read the books through carefully, conscientiously; not skimming a page, not skipping a line; even though they be as dry as chips baked in a summer’s sun and you fall asleep over them a dozen times. If he is the father that I think he is, I can predict the result with the certainty of a prophet.

I can even imagine a typical scene; a day when you will stand with one of the time-worn volumes in your hand, a dreamy look on your face, a tenderness in your voice, and an undertone of pathos, as you say:

I can never be grateful enough to my dear father for persuading me when I was a girl of sixteen to read this old book, and the others that were on the list he gave me. Some of them have had an abiding influence over my life. I truly believe that my taste for real literature of the best kind began to be formed while I was struggling through this first volume, for father’s sake. Dear father! He did a great deal more for me than he knew.

Believe me, Betsy, now is the time to plant seeds that may bloom, some day, over father’s grave. It will be blessed for you if you do such gardening now that if, in the faraway future, you stand one day beside the resting places of father and mother, there will be flowers of memory in your heart, instead of that thorny plant: “Oh, I wish I hadn’t!”

What do you think of Isabella’s advice to Betsy?

Advice to Readers about Forgiveness

In the early 1900s Isabella wrote a regular column for a Christian magazine in which she answered reader letters and offered advice—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of subjects.

The letter below came from a teen in California:

I am in sore need of help. I find that I cannot use the whole of the Lord’s Prayer. Our pastor talked last Sunday about the Lord’s Prayer being a “model,” but I cannot model my praying after it. The words that trouble me are, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Now, there is one person whom I cannot forgive. She has purposely come between me and my best friends. She has said untrue things about me—dozens of them—and she loses no opportunity to be hateful to me.

How can I pretend to forgive such a creature? The last thing she wants is my forgiveness—why, she says that she despises me, and wouldn’t speak to me, nor stay in the same room with me for the world!

I cannot understand why I should be expected to forgive her. Even God doesn’t forgive people unless they ask him to, does he? And yet, the prayer says, “Forgive us our debts AS we forgive.” Doesn’t that mean that if I pray that prayer I am actually asking God to forgive me in the same way that I am forgiving her? That seems to me an awful prayer!

I want God to forgive me: and I want to serve him, yet it seems as though that said I mustn’t ask him, because I cannot forgive her! I don’t understand it, and I don’t know what to do. And there is that verse about “loving your enemies”—that is simply impossible! And yet I do truly love Jesus and want to follow him. What shall I do?

Here’s how Isabella responded to her letter:

Undoubtedly your pastor is right, and the Lord Jesus gave us a “model prayer.” Yet the phrase you quoted has not the exact meaning you give to it. It is not a challenge to God to treat us, in the matter of forgiveness, just as we are treating somebody else; it is rather our acknowledgment to God that we have obeyed his directions.

Do you remember that in the chapter preceding the one with the Lord’s Prayer, the words of Jesus are plainer and stronger than those in the prayer? When you go to pray and remember that your brother has something against you, go first and be reconciled to him, then come and offer your gift of prayer.

The duty of forgiveness is so plainly and repeatedly taught in the Bible that there is no way of escaping it. Nor are we by any means to wait to be asked. Note the language of that direction in Mat. 5:23:

“And there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee.”

Not even necessarily you against him but he against you.

You speak of God having to be asked before he forgives, but you forget what is involved. When God forgives, he absolves from sin, and presents eternal life; and the plan of salvation is, there is no compulsion, the sinner is free, he may accept or refuse, but forgiveness, remember, is offered, and God waits for its acceptance.

If I understand your letter (or, rather, your letters, for the quotation is gathered from several who, with varying surroundings, have much the same problem), your main trouble is, I think, that you do not take in the real meaning of that word “forgiveness,” or that word “love,” as applied to your enemies. It is not that you are directed to have pleasure in the society of the one who has injured you, or to feel the same toward her that you do toward a friend.

It is not that you should trust her, so long as she continues to prove herself unworthy of trust, nor that you should love her in the way that you love those who please you. None of these things would you be able to do. But there is higher ground than this, and the Christian, because of God in his life, can reach it.

You can refrain from talking about this one who has injured you, and making the wounds deeper by spreading them open.

You can be kept from brooding in private over what has been done.

You can be helped to genuinely want good and not evil to come to that one.

You can learn to pray daily for her highest good.

You can grow into an earnest desire to be helpful to her in any way that may open.

All this is possible and reasonable, and his been done by God’s children again and again. It may look impossible to you but it is not, because the impossible is God’s part.

Yield yourself to him, and what he sees that you honestly want he will grant. This is loving our enemies and forgiving them their debts. It is not a love of enjoyment in their society necessarily, until there is a radical change in them—but it is higher than that, because it is divine. It is thinking God’s thoughts after him.

Don’t imagine for a moment that you can run away from the obligation that is upon you to forgive, by skipping the Lord’s Prayer. Remember that its spirit must pervade all real prayer.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Do you think she gave the right counsel to the teen from California?

You can read Isabella’s Advice to Readers about Ornaments by clicking here.