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.
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.
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:
LETTER FROM INDIANAPOLIS
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.
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:
There’s no question that Chautauqua Institution had far-reaching influence over the people who attended the summer assemblies at the turn of the Twentieth Century. But one of Chautauqua’s traditions—the Chautauqua salute—transcended the Institution grounds and became popular across the country.
You may have read in a previous post how the Chautauqua salute came to be, and how it was used as a gesture of respect and affection for special speakers and instructors at Chautauqua. In that venue, only Bishop John Vincent could initiate the Chautauqua salute.
But outside the Institution, in towns and villages across America, the Chautauqua salute caught on and became something of a sensation.
At the 1897 Society of Christian Endeavor convention in San Francisco there were so many attendees, the newspaper reported that Christian Endeavorers had “conquered the city.” And when Christian Endeavor President Francis Edward Clark tried to address the convention, the crowd gave him a Chautauqua salute that lasted several minutes.
When President Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Tacoma, Washington he was greeted by a crowd of 30,000 people waving their handkerchiefs in a Chautauqua salute.
But American’s didn’t reserve the Chautauqua salute only for respected speakers and past U.S. Presidents. The Los Angeles Herald society page reported on a surprise birthday party for a man named Howard L. Lunt, where “the Chautauqua salute and congratulations” began the program, followed by “dainty refreshments.”
Another 1904 news article told of a group of Christian Scientists who gave the Chautauqua salute to Mary Baker Eddy … who didn’t seem to appreciate the gesture.
And a Colorado newspaper reported baseball fans used the Chautauqua salute to cheer for their team after neighbors near the playing field complained about the noise during Sunday games.
Not everyone thought giving the Chautauqua salute was a good idea. By 1912 the U.S. Public Health Service (the precursor of today’s U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) began warning the public of increased health concerns caused by crowds of people waving handkerchiefs.
For the most part, Americans ignored the warnings and kept enthusiastically fluttering their handkerchiefs, sometimes with comic results:
Isabella Alden considered The Hall of Philosophy one of the most beloved locations at Chautauqua Institution.
The Hall of Philosophy—sometimes called the Hall in the Grove because of its location in idyllic St. Paul’s Grove—was an open-air structure that sat under a canopy of trees that shaded and cooled the Hall during the hot summer months. It was a favorite gathering place for Chautauquans, even when no lectures were held there.
If you were a Chautauqua visitor, you could stand at the edge of the Hall of Philosophy and look out upon different views of the grounds. From one vantage point, you’d see the Hall of Christ and the spires of the different denominational chapels.
From another direction you’d see gingerbread-trimmed cottages and inviting expanses of green lawns.
The original Hall of Philosophy was designed by Bishop John Vincent for the Christian Literary and Scientific Circle (C.L.S.C.). Twenty years later, when it was discovered the building needed to be replaced in order to last for future generations, the C.L.S.C. lead a fund-raising campaign and raised the money needed to erect a new Hall of Philosophy in the same location.
When the new concrete floor was poured in 1905, it included 51 different mosaic tiles, each designed by a different C.L.S.C. class, beginning with the class of 1882 (the first class) and ending with the class of 1924. Each tile depicts the class year, name and logo.
For instance, the first C.L.S.C. class of 1882 was called “The Pathfinders.” Their emblem was the nasturtium and their motto was “The truth shall make you free.”
The class of 1915 adopted the name “Jane Addams” and used the American laurel as their emblem. Their motto: “Life more abundant.”
Isabella Alden was a member of the 1887 class; her fellow classmates honored her by naming their class the Pansy Class. They used the pansy flower as their emblem and “Neglect not the gift that is in thee” as their motto.
Isabella paid tribute to the Hall of Philosophy and her own experience with the C.L.S.C. in her novel The Hall in the Grove. The story centers around a diverse group of people who each spend a summer at Chautauqua for different reasons—and each end the summer changed by their experience. The Hall of Philosophy is almost another character in Isabella’s story, for it plays a prominent role in the different characters’ spiritual journeys. (You can click on the book cover to learn more about the novel.)
Thanks to the determination and rallying spirit of the members of the C.L.S.C. the Hall of Philosophy was rebuilt, and is still in use today.
This short video by Chautauqua Institution gives a brief history of the Hall of Philosophy and shows some examples of the C.L.S.C. class tiles:
In the middle of the 19th Century a new craze began to take hold on American college campuses. The new fad was a revolutionary form of physical exercise called gymnastics.
German in origin, gymnastics spread in popularity and were ultimately integrated into college sports programs. By the end of the century, gymnastics training—as well as the concept of regular exercise for overall health and well-being—made the leap into public consciousness and became a popular concept in the lives of everyday Americans.
The founders of Chautauqua Institution saw the rise of public interest in physical education and knew the concept had a place at Chautauqua. Bishop John Vincent strongly believed that a healthy body was essential to a healthy mind and soul.
Chautauqua had always offered plenty of exercise for visitors who wanted to be active. There were athletic clubs for men, women and children. Classes were offered in hiking and riding bikes; wrestling and fencing; swimming, diving, hurdle-jumping and golf.
Even their courses on gardening and horticulture emphasized the mental and physical benefits of growing orchard and garden crops.
With the nation’s growing interest in fitness and outdoor sports came an increased demand for trained teachers of athletics. Chautauqua Institution answered the call by establishing the Chautauqua School of Physical Education. The school focused on preparing teachers for placement at schools, universities, Young Men’s Christian Associations, and athletic clubs; and they were the first to give certificates to teachers in physical education.
As usual, Chautauqua Institution offered the best instruction that could be furnished in several lines of athletics.
And, as always, Chautauqua assembled the country’s premier instructors for each area of specialty. Here, for instance, is a roster of the faculty during the summer of 1903:
Between 1886 (when the school was founded) and 1904 the school trained an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 physical education teachers from across the United States. In addition to the Normal Course, the school offered classes “suited to the needs of men, women, misses, boys and children.”
In other words, summer visitors to Chautauqua had ample opportunity to learn track and field, gymnastics, and virtually every other athletic technique from the country’s best instructors, assembled in one place.
A unique aspect of the physical education training offered at Chautauqua was the melding of three different physical education systems.
The German gymnastics system was based on strenuous exercise performed on equipment such as pommel horses, parallel bars, climbing walls and rope mechanisms.
The Swedish gymnastics system focused on calisthenics, stretching and breathing.
And the Delsartean system integrated lighted physical exercise with artistic movement and relaxation techniques. The system was named for Francois Delsarte, who devoted his life to studying the laws of human motion, gesture and expression.
Together these three systems formed the school of physical culture. As students learned to master the different techniques, they often exhibited their skills in the Chautauqua Amphitheater.
The Physical Culture exhibitions were extremely popular as a form of entertainment for summer Chautauquans. At the time, most people had never before seen athletes displaying skills with light devices such as dumb-bells, rings, poles, and Indian Clubs. As a source of entertainment, these displays were something of a phenomenon.
But athletes didn’t demonstrate strength and skill alone. The Delsartean system stressed beauty of movement. Under Delsartean teaching it wasn’t enough for students to simply lift a dumb-bell in front of an audience; they learned to lift dumb-bells in prescribed forms that created pleasing compositions, all accompanied to appropriate music.
Perhaps the most popular portion of the program was the display of mastery of Indian Clubs. Indian Clubs looked something like modern-day bowling pins. They were often hollow with removable tops so sand or other substances could be inserted to give them weight. By swinging the clubs according to Delsartean rhythms and movements, men, women and children got an effective upper body workout.
Isabella Alden wrote about a public performance of Indian Clubs in her short story “Agatha’s Unknown Way.” She described the exhibition as “fancy club-swinging.”
Demonstrations like the one Isabella described were extremely popular and drew large audiences, which is exactly what happened in “Agatha’s Unknown Way.”
In the story, the solo performer was a woman, which would have been very unusual at the time, and she certainly would have drawn a crowd. She also probably stimulated audience members to try exercising with Indian Clubs themselves.
It would have been easy enough to learn how. By the turn of the century over 20 different best-selling books had been published on Delsartean techniques. People bought the instruction books and used them to practice the system of movement and exercise in the privacy of their own homes.
Other exercise-at-home books sold well, too, such as this Ladies’ Home Calisthenics book published in 1890.
In this book, push-ups, weight lifting, and club swinging exercises were modified for women in consideration of the restrictions on their movements caused by their corsets.
Women were expected to wear their corsets at all times, even while exercising; but at least one corset manufacturer, spotting the new exercise trend, advertised that women wearing their corset could “perform in comfort any exercise of physical culture.”
. . . . . . . . . .
The physical culture movement wasn’t just about lifting weights and swinging clubs. The Delsartean system had at its core a principle of movement based on art, relaxation, balance and the natural flow of breath. Over time, the Delsartean system expanded to address areas of “self-expression.” For example, some public speaking classes at Chautauqua adopted the breathing and relaxation techniques designed by Delsarte, as did courses on deportment and “self-expression.”
In Four Mothers at Chautauqua Isabella Alden wrote about a Chautauqua class on relaxation that was founded on Delsarte’s principles. Grumpy Mrs. Bradford learned about the relaxation techniques after her daughter Isabel showed her a brochure about the class.
“‘Exercise that rests.’ I wonder what kind it can be? I’m sure I have exercise enough, but I must say I don’t feel especially rested. Why in the world do you want me to go and look on at those idiots twisting their bodies into all sorts of shapes? Look at this one trying to reach her toes without tipping over! I must say I have no patience with women who make fools of themselves taking such exercises. It is bad enough for silly girls to waste their time and money in that way.”
However, she had turned from her doorway and was allowing the eager Isabel to pilot her down the avenue toward the “School of Expression.” She continued to read, as she walked, and to make comments. “‘It is not the work we do, but the energy we waste when not working that exhausts us.’ Humph, much she knows about it! I never waste any energy.”
Yet perhaps there was never a woman who wasted more than did Mrs. Bradford. The trouble with her, as with many another, was that she did not know herself.
She read on: “‘Learn to relax, to let go—physically and mentally—to untie the fuss and worry knots.’ Yes, I wonder how? It’s easy enough to talk!” But the tone was less scornful; there was even a touch of wistfulness in it.
Isabel caught at the wistful tone and answered it.
“You wait, Mother, she will tell you how. She says she has been doing it a good many years, and has rested more tired women than she can count.”
And it was a fact that as soon as the teacher began to talk, to explain, to answer with ready comprehension and sympathy the volley of questions poured at her, to move that supple body of hers that seemed to have no more weight in it than a cork, and did her instant bidding with an unfailing ease and grace, Mrs. Bradford discovered what every member of the large class had done: that here was one body that was a willing servant, instead of a tyrant demanding from the jaded spirit impossibilities.
“You want to learn how to get a good healthy ‘tired,’ that will make rest a joy, and work that follows it a pleasure;” she said brightly, as if that was a very ordinary lesson easily mastered.
Mrs. Bradford, from listening with an air of endurance as one who had been smuggled in against her will, grew interested, grew absorbed in the genial flow of talk that was not a lecture nor a lesson, and yet was distinctly both. When she came to herself, and found herself standing with the others trying to reach her toes without tipping over—the precise effort that she had so sharply criticized—she did not know whether to be ashamed, and indignant at somebody, or to laugh. But fun got the upper hand, and she joined in the hearty laugh that was going the rounds at the expense of them all. After that, she forgot that it was a class, and a lesson, and that she was a middle-aged woman with dignity to sustain. For a full half hour she did that excellent thing for such women as she: forgot Mrs. Bradford entirely.
Mrs. Bradford laughed outright, a merry laugh such as she had not in years relaxed sufficiently to give. The comic side of this strange morning was getting possession of her.
Next stop of our tour of Chautauqua: The Teacher’s Retreat
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Click here to read more about Four Mothers at Chautauqua.
You can read “Agatha’s Unknown Way” forfree! Click on the book cover to read Isabella Alden’s short story now.
You can learn more about the Delsartean system of Physical Culture by following these links: