In 1892 Isabella’s husband was made assistant pastor of a brand new church in Washington, D.C. The Eastern Presbyterian Church was only blocks from the nation’s Capitol, and the Capitol dome could be seen from the top of the church’s 130-foot bell tower.
The Aldens moved into a house about four blocks away on Maryland Avenue.
It’s likely the Aldens lived in a single-family house, instead of one of the row houses that were erected on Maryland Avenue and on many other streets in the District in the early 1900s. The photo below—taken from the top of the Capitol Dome looking northeast—shows a view of the Alden’s neighborhood.
In an 1893 interview, Isabella spoke about how much she “dearly loved” her D.C. home. It was “cheery” and “bright” and Isabella took great care “in all that pertains to its comfort and happiness.”
The Aldens—Isabella, her husband Ross, and their son Raymond—had a daily routine in their Maryland Avenue home. Early in the morning, the family gathered in the back parlour of the house before breakfast “to sing a few verses of praise, to read a chapter in the Bible, and to ask God’s help and blessing on the work to be done.”
After breakfast, Isabella went right to work in her study—a place that was off limits to visitors or interruptions (except in a case of emergency). For the remainder of the morning, Isabella was at her typewriter, typing stories, writing Sunday-school lessons, working on a chapter of her next novel, or answering the volumes of fan mail she received daily—some days quickly turning from one task to another.
Isabella once said that she didn’t have to “think” when she typed. Much of her thinking, plotting and composing was done in her head as she went about her household chores. Then, when she sat down to write, her thoughts were “drilled like a well-ordered army, ready to march at the word.”
An interviewer once described Isabella’s workplace as “a pretty study, lined with books.” In the room were two typewriters—one for Isabella, and one for her husband; they often worked side by side.
Typewriters weren’t the only modern gadgets in her home. Isabella employed all kinds of appliances and machinery, and was always on the look-out for a new labor-saving device. One reason: from a young age Isabella suffered from constant headaches (you can read more about her condition and the treatments she sought for it here), and she was seldom able to use her typewriter more than a few hours a day.
But she found that she could instead use a stenograph machine (similar to the ones court reporters use today) because her eyes didn’t tire as they did when she used a typewriter.
She taught herself to use a stenograph, and was soon able to extend her working hours a little longer each day. When she was done with work in the early evening, she handed the machine’s cryptic shorthand to a secretary, who transcribed it on the typewriter.
Dictation machines were another type of equipment that was just coming into use during the time Isabella lived in Washington D.C.
The early machines were expensive, but effective; and, as she did with her stenograph machine, Isabella could employ a secretary to transcribe the recorded text for her.
Isabella sometimes wove descriptions of new and innovative appliances into her stories. She wrote about early typewriters in her novel Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant (read a previous blog post about it here).
And in the sequel, Twenty Minutes Late, she described Caroline Bryant’s astonishment upon seeing an early dish washing machine.
After the work day was done, Isabella and her family gathered again in the back parlour of the house. If they did not have a special engagement to attend, the family spent the evening reading together. More often than not, Isabella read aloud to Ross and Raymond, and anyone else who happened to be a guest in the house.
Different newspaper accounts of her public readings describe Isabella as a charming reader, with a “sweet voice” and “perfect intonations” that must have been delightful to hear.
What do you suppose Isabella read aloud to her family in the evenings?
Are you surprised to learn Isabella used the latest technology to work efficiently and streamline her housekeeping tasks?
Which of our 21st Century devices or appliances do you think Isabella would be most likely to use?