Reverend Alden and the Jubilee Singers

In 1883 Isabella was living in the small town of Carbondale, Pennsylvania.

Illustration of an aerial view of the city showing layout of streets, and a river that flows past one end of the town.
A bird’s eye view of Carbondale, Pennsylvania in 1875.

Her husband had become pastor of Carbondale’s Presbyterian Church the year before, and he was already making his imprint upon the congregation.

Illustration showing two churches side by side. The Presbyterian church is constructed in a Gothic style with a square bell tower.
The Presbyterian Church of Carbondale on the left (the Methodist church on the right), as it appeared in 1911. When the Alden’s attended, the church was smaller and had a “beautifully proportioned spire, tall, slender and tapering.”

Reverend Alden was pastor of the Carbondale church for only three years, but decades after his departure, members of his congregation still remembered him as a leader who encouraged his flock to immerse themselves in the Lord’s work.

One member of the church said:

“He brought the church up to a high state of activity.”

In 1883 Reverend Alden brought the great American evangelist Reverend A. B. Earle to Carbondale for a two-week-long revival meeting.

Illustration of A. B. Earle from about 1870.
American evangelist A. B. Earle.

It was a resounding success. Thousands of people attended and hundreds committed their lives to Christ.

The religious revival meetings, held day and night for the two weeks past, close today. There has been no abatement of the interest, and each of the meetings have been largely attended, some of those in the evening crowded to the utmost capacity of the Presbyterian church. About three hundred persons, many of them adults and heads of families, have professed their faith in Christ and given satisfactory evidence of a change of heart.
From The Carbondale Leader, March 16, 1883.

The following year Reverend Alden organized a temperance rally, where the featured speaker was evangelist and temperance advocate P. A. Burdick.

Black and white photograph of P. A. Burdick.
Temperance advocate and evangelist P. A. Burdick.

He, too, drew large crowds and had a profound effect on the community

We are pleased to state that Mr. Burdick will reach here tomorrow and commence his labors on Sabbath evening. The first meeting will be held in one of the churches, and it is hoped that all classes of temperance people will join in the good work. All circumstances promise to be favorable, and we shall be greatly disappointed if a great reformation in this line is not effected in our city.
From The Carbondale Leader, March 21, 1884.

Also in 1883 Reverend Alden organized an event of which he was extremely proud. The previous year, while at Chautauqua Institution, he had heard the Fisk Jubilee Singers perform; and he was so impressed by their performance, he immediately went to work to convince them to perform at his church in Carbondale.

Photo of the Fisk Singers, five women and four men.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1870.

The members of Fisk Jubilee Singers were all students at Fisk University in Nashville, a liberal arts university that opened in 1866. Some of the first students were newly freed or had family members that were freed slaves. To raise funds for the university, music professor George White organized a nine-member chorus to perform in concerts.

They introduced to the world the slave songs that “were sacred to our parents” and had never before been sung in public. The Jubilee Singers’ beautiful performances soon gained a following. They began to receive critical praise, and in 1872 they sang for President Ulysses S. Grant at the White House.

A year later a second company embarked on a tour of England, where they performed before Queen Victoria and Prime Minister William Gladstone.

Photo of the Fisk Singers, six women and three men.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1875.

At home they performed at Carnegie Hall, where Mark Twain was a member of the audience and remarked:

“It’s something I never heard before. I’d walk seven miles to hear them again.”

By 1883 there were different Jubilee troupes touring different parts of the country. One of those troupes performed at Chautauqua, where Reverend Alden heard them, and resolved to bring them to Carbondale.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers performed at the Presbyterian Church of Carbondale on June 12, 1883. You can feel Reverend Alden’s enthusiasm in the press release he wrote (co-authored with Isabella and her brother-in-law, Reverend Charles Livingstone) for the local newspaper:

“Carbondale may now make ready for one of the most enjoyable entertainments ever prepared for mortal ears. The Fisk Jubilee Singers are coming!”

Here’s the full text of that press release:

Carbondale may now make ready for one of the most enjoyable entertainments ever prepared for mortal ears. The Fisk Jubilee Singers are coming! That one sentence should set this city on fire of expectancy. These twelve sons and daughters of former bondsmen render the rarest, most touching, most inspiring most wonderful music, to which we have ever listened. They made a world-wide reputation years ago, and still before Kings and Queens and Presidents, and critics of the highest order, they "hold their high carnival of song," while the immense audience is bound by the strange spell of their voices, or become wild in rapturous applause. If you have read in all the leading papers the seemingly extravagant praise of these wonderful singers, you have only to come to Nealon's Opera House on the evening of June 12th, 1883, to learn that "the half was never told." [signed] Mr. and Mrs. G. R. Alden, Rev. C. N. Livingston
From The Carbondale Leader, June 1, 1883.

Would you like to hear The Fisk Jubilee Singers? Click here to listen to their 1909 recording of “Golden Slippers,” part of a Fisk Jubilee Singers collection at the Library of Congress.

You can learn more about the Fisk University and the history of the Jubilee Singers by clicking here to visit their website.

Welcome to Pansy’s House

Isabella Macdonald Alden was born the youngest child in a loving, and very tight-knit family.

She and her sisters were especially close, even though there was a vast difference in their ages.

For example, Isabella celebrated her first birthday the same year her eldest sister, Elizabeth, married and moved into a home of her own. But since Elizabeth’s new house was only a few steps from the Macdonald’s front door, Isabella and Elizabeth shared a close relationship.

The same was true of Mary, who was 14 years older than Isabella. When Mary wed and set up housekeeping, her home was built on property that abutted the Macdonald’s back garden. As a result, Isabella spent a lot of time with Mary and they, too, had a special bond.

Isabella’s sister, Mary Macdonald Williamson (age 87) with two of Isabella’s grandchildren in Palo Alto, California (1914).

It’s no wonder, then, that when Isabella married and began keeping a house of her own, she made certain the door was always open to family members. She wanted her sisters to feel the same welcoming spirit in her house as she had always felt in theirs.

When her son Raymond was young, Isabella and her husband Ross began taking him to Florida, hoping the southern climate would benefit Raymond’s health. To their relief, Raymond’s health did improve, so the Aldens decided to make Florida their winter home.

The Aldens and the Livingstons in Florida. Front row left to right: Julia Macdonald (in white blouse), unidentified man, Margaret Hill, Ruth Hill, Grace Livingston Hill and her husband, Frank Hill. Second row (in light-colored dress) Marcia Macdonald Livingston and her husband Charles Livingston. Back row, third from left: Isabella Macdonald Alden, Raymond Alden, Ross Alden.

They bought a plot of land in the new town of Winter Park, and began building a house that would be big enough to accommodate plenty of family members.

Interlachen Avenue in the 1890s. Bicycles appear to be a favorite mode of transportation.

They built on an oversized lot on the corner of Lyman and Interlachen avenues, right across the street from All Saints Episcopal Church.

An 1888 photo of All Saints Episcopal Church. You can see the front half of Isabella’s new house peeking from the left side of the church.

The house was completed in 1888. Ross dubbed it “Pansy Cottage,” a name that stuck and was soon known all over town. This photo shows the size of the “cottage”:

The inviting home was three stories tall, with large yards in front and back, and a wrap-around porch that invited family, friends and neighbors to sit down and enjoy a cozy chat. It was the perfect place for the family to gather, far away from the cold New York winters.

In this photo you can see family members on the front steps and porch, in the yard, and even peeking out of the top-most windows. They look like they’re having fun!

Isabella and her family members spent many happy winters at the Pansy Cottage; and the Florida climate did improve Raymond’s health.

A side view of Pansy Cottage, with children riding their bicycles.

In 1906 Ross and Isabella began their preparations for retirement. They sold Pansy Cottage and moved to their new house in Palo Alto, California where, once again, everyone was welcome in Isabella’s new home.

In fact, she and Ross shared the California house with their son Raymond, and his wife and children, as well as Isabella’s sisters Julia and Mary.

Julia Macdonald (about 1875).

After Ross and Isabella sold Pansy Cottage, it was passed along to different owners. Eventually, it was turned into a rooming house; and in 1955 Pansy Cottage was demolished. But thanks to photos like these, we can still peek into Isabella’s world and imagine a bit of her life with those she loved in turn-of-the-century Florida.

Click here to read more about Isabella’s house in Palo Alto, California.

This post is part of our Blogiversary Celebration! Leave a comment below or on Isabella’s Facebook page to be entered in a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card! We’ll announce the winner on Friday, September 28.

Too Much of a Good Thing, and a New Free Read

Isabella Alden was very close to her sister Marcia, who married the Reverend Charles Livingston. For many years Isabella’s and Marcia’s families lived together under the same roof.

Isabella Alden (left) and her sister, Marcia Livingston in an undated photo.
Isabella Alden (left) and her sister, Marcia Livingston in an undated photo.

In the summer months the Aldens and the Livingstons traveled to Chautauqua, New York and shared a cottage on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution.

In the winter they made the pilgrimage to Florida, where the two families lived in a large house in Winter Park.

The Alden house in Winter Park. From Winter Park Public Library archives.
The Alden house in Winter Park. (From Winter Park Public Library archives.)

Isabella’s son Raymond and Marcia’s daughter Grace attended Rollins College in Winter Park, and Grace went on to teach physical education classes there.

Grace Livingston Hill in her early twenties.
Grace Livingston Hill in her early twenties.

Before Grace took up her pen to write some of America’s most beloved novels under the name Grace Livingston Hill, she was one of the first teachers at Rollins College. She was also a true advocate for the “physical culture” movement that was sweeping the country at the time. She recognized the freedom it gave women to pursue physical health in a way they hadn’t been able to before. At Rollins she taught ladies’ classes in calisthenics, basketball, gymnastics, and fencing.

Grace Livingston (front and center) with her Greek Posture Class, about 1889.
Grace Livingston (front and center) with her Greek Posture Class, about 1889. (From Rollins College Archives.)

She also taught men’s classes in physical culture, such as fencing and Greek Posture:

Grace teaching a fencing class in 1890. (From the Rollins College Archives.)
Grace teaching a fencing class in 1890. (From the Rollins College Archives.)


Men's Greek Posture Class, about 1890. From Rollins College Archives.
Men’s Greek Posture Class, about 1890. (From Rollins College Archives.)

And when she wasn’t teaching at the college, she taught physical culture classes at the Florida Chautauqua.

An 1889 announcement from the Florida Chautauqua.
An 1889 announcement from the Florida Chautauqua.

Like her niece, Isabella appreciated the physical culture movement. She even featured the craze in one of her short stories, “Agatha’s Uknown Way.”

Image of the cover for Agatha's Unknown Way

And she wrote “Too Much of a Good Thing,” a story about how one young girl got so caught up in the physical culture craze, that she made life difficult for her entire family. You can read “Too Much of a Good Thing” for free below.

Would you like to learn more about Grace Livingston’s teaching years at Rollins College? Click this link to read a fun story about one of her biggest challenges at the school, and how she convinced the faculty to see things her way.

You can read Isabella’s short story, “Agatha’s Unknown Way” for free. Just click this link.

You can also read a previous post about the birth of gymnastics at Chatuauqua Institution.

Enjoy Isabella’s story, “Too Much of a Good Thing”:

Too Much of a Good Thing

Downstairs everyone was busy. Uncle Morris and his entire family, just from Europe, were coming by an earlier train than it had been expected they could take, and many last preparations for making them comfortable had still to be attended to.

Mrs. Evans had been up since daylight, planning, directing, and helping to the utmost that her small strength would admit.

Indeed, her eldest daughter Laura had constantly to watch, to save her mother from lifting something heavy, or reaching for something high. Often her clear voice could be heard with a “Oh, mother, don’t! Please—I’ll take care of that.” And often the gentle answer was:

“Dear child, you cannot do everything, though your will is strong enough. Where is Millie?”

“Millie has gone to sweep and dust the hall room; you know we didn’t think we should need that, and I used it as a sort of store room; but since Arthur is coming with them, we shall have to get it ready; and he will need to go at once to his room, since he is an invalid, so I sent Millie to put it in order. I told her just what to do, and she will manage it nicely. She must be nearly through now, and I’ll have her finish dusting here, so I can help you with those books; they are too heavy for you to handle.”

No, Millie wasn’t nearly through. In fact, she could hardly have been said to have commenced. The truth is, she had been thrown off the track. It was an old print which fell out of an, unused portfolio that did it. The print showed the picture of a girl in fun Greek costume, and reminded Millie of what was not long out of her mind, that in the coming Physical Culture entertainment she was to chess in a costume which was supposed to be after the Greek order.

“Let me see,” she said, bending over the print, “this girl has short sleeves and low neck. Why, the dress is almost precisely like the one which Laura wears with her lace over-dress; I might wear that. It would be too long, of course, but it could be hemmed up. I am almost sure Laura would let me have it; and with her white sash ribbon tied around my waist it would be just lovely. Then that would save buying anything new, and save mother any trouble. I mean to go this minute and try on the dress, before I say anything about it.”

Away dashed the Greek maiden to one of the guest chambers which Laura had left in perfect order, dragged from a seldom used drawer the elegant white mull dress with its lace belongings, all of which saw the light only on state occasions, and rushed back to the hall room again, where she had left the print she was trying to copy. In her haste, she dragged out with the dress various articles of the toilet. Laura’s white kid gloves which she wore when she graduated, a quantity of laces, and a handkerchief or two, to say nothing of sprays of dried flowers. These she trailed over the carpet, seeing nothing of them. The important thing in life just now was to get herself into that dress.

It was accomplished at last, not without a tiny tear having been made in the delicate stuff, but which Millie’s fingers were too eager to notice. She tied the white sash high up about her waist, after the fashion of the picture, seized the dust brush in one hand as if it were a dumb bell, or an Indian club, and struck a graceful attitude with her arm on the corner of the mantel.

“There!” she said, “I would like to have my picture taken in this dress; I have a very nice position now for it. I wish the girls were here to see me. Laura must let me wear this; it fits exactly. I don’t believe it is much too long for a Greek maiden. I should like to wear my dresses long; it must be great fun. I wonder if we couldn’t have our pictures taken in costume? I think it would be real nice; and our folks would each want to buy one. Perhaps we could make some money.”

There were hurried steps in the hall, and the Greek maiden’s musings were cut short. Laura came forward rapidly, talking as she

“Millie, aren’t you through here? You have had plenty of time, and mother needs your help right away. Hurry down just as quickly as you can; she is over-doing, and it is growing late; the carriage may come any minute now. Why, Millie Evans!”

She stopped in amazement, for the Greek maiden was still posing. She smiled graciously and said: “Don’t I look fine? I borrowed it a minute to see if it will do to wear to the entertainment. It is just the thing, isn’t it? You will lend it to me, won’t you? Just for one evening? I’ll be awfully careful of it.”

“And you have been to that drawer where all the nice things are packed, and dragged them out! There is one of my white gloves under your feet, and my only lace handkerchief keeping it company! I must say, Millie Evans, you deserve to be punished. Here we are trying our best to get ready for company, and keep mother from getting too tired, and you neglect your work to rig up like a circus girl; and go to a drawer which you have no right to open. I shall certainly tell father of this.”

The Greek maiden’s cheeks were in an unbecoming blaze. Laura was hurried and tired, and spoke with more severity than was her custom. It certainly was trying to find the room in disorder, and her best dress in danger.

“Take care,” she said, as Millie’s frantic efforts to get it off put it in greater danger. “Don’t quite ruin that dress. Indeed you shall not wear it. I am astonished at you for thinking of such a thing; when father hears what you have been doing, I doubt if you will need a dress for the entertainment.”

Then Millie lost all self control. “You are a hateful, selfish thing!” she burst forth. “Take your old dress; I don’t want to wear it; and I won’t be ordered about by you as though you were my grandmother. I’m nearly fourteen, and you have no right to manage me. I’ll just tell father myself that I—”

“What is all this?” Mr. Evans’ voice was sternness itself, and he looked at the girl with blazing cheeks, in a way that made her angry eyes droop.

“What does it mean, Millicent? I heard you using very unbecoming language to your sister, and to judge from your appearance you have been about some very inappropriate work.”

“Well, father, Laura burst in here and—”

“Never mind what Laura did, Millicent. Unfortunately for you, I know which daughter tries to care for and spare her sick mother in every possible way. I overheard enough to show me which one is to blame. Laura may tell me what is the trouble, and you may listen.”

But Laura was already sorry that she had spoken so sharply, and tried to soften the story as much as truth would permit.

“Her mind is so full of the Physical Culture entertainment, father, that she does not stop to think. I know she did not mean to hinder and make trouble.”

“I see,” said Mr. Evans, speaking grimly. “I have heard a good deal about this Physical Culture business. If everyone is as much carried out of common sense by it as our Millicent is, I should say it was high time to have some moral culture. Millicent, you may put yourself into a suitable dress for sweeping, and do the work you were sent to do, at once; and you will not need to think any more about a dress for the entertainment, for you are to be excused from attending it. You may tell your teacher that I said so.”

Poor Millie! The hall bedroom floor might almost have been washed, if that were desirable, with the tears she shed. No hope had she of any change of mind on her father’s part. He rarely interfered with his children, but when he did, his word was law.

And poor Laura! She went downstairs heavy-hearted and miserable. Why had Millie been so silly, and why had she allowed her vexation to make matters worse?

The poor frail mother actually cried when she heard of Millie’s disappointment. “Yet I really cannot ask her father not to notice it,” she said sorrowfully. “Millie has been so remiss in her duties for weeks, all on account of the hold which that Physical Culture craze has upon her. It is too much of a good thing. I am afraid her father is doing right.”



The Pansy Society

One of the most interesting features of The Pansy magazine was the way it promoted The Pansy Society. Isabella Alden organized The Pansy Society as a children’s version of the Christian Endeavor program that had taken teens and young adults by storm in the 1880s.

Logo for The Pansy Society of Christian Endeavor
Logo for The Pansy Society of Christian Endeavor

Through stories and articles in The Pansy, Isabella encouraged young children to join The Pansy Society. Members of the Society had their own pledge:

Asking Jesus to help me, I promise to try to overcome the fault which oftenest tempts me to do wrong. This fault is _______.

Thousands of children filled in the blank for themselves, thereby pledging to harness their temper, obey their parents, be patient, read their Bible, or say only kind words.

Isabella encouraged children to use The Pansy Society “whisper motto” whenever they needed help controlling their fault:

I will do it for Jesus’ sake.

Thousands of children wrote to tell Isabella they whispered “For Jesus’ sake” regularly to keep them on the right path.

The Pansy Society membership badge. Found at Rollins College Archives
Pansy Society badge. (Rollins College Archives)

Every child who joined The Pansy Society received a membership card, personally signed by Isabella, and a badge to wear.

Isabella encouraged Pansy Society members (she often called them Pansies or Blossoms) to find other members in their neighborhood, and hold meetings to encourage each other in overcoming their faults and doing good for Jesus’ sake.

Isabella’s brother-in-law Charles Livingston (Grace Livingston Hill’s father) wrote a novel called The Poplar Street Pansy Society that told the story of the good accomplished by children who formed their own local Pansy Society.

A local Pansy Society band
A local Pansy Society band

Many children wrote to Isabella about their struggles to honor their Pansy Society pledge, and others wrote of their triumphs. She received hundreds of letters every month and answered every one. Many were published in The Pansy magazine, like these:

Dear Pansy:
I live in Winona, Minn., and I have heard little girls grumble because they don’t live in a big city, but that is not right. I give my old Pansy books to a poor little girl across the street. She is sick, and she is trying to be a Christian; I will help her all I can.
Eleanor Calvery

Dear Pansy:
We have a little sister younger than ourselves, and she gives away sometimes to fits of temper, and says little naughty words, but since she has seen our badges, and has been told that we are going to try to be good boys, she begs to wear a badge, and says she wants to be good, too. Mamma asked her to say the pledge after her this morning, and she said it so sweetly. “I will do all the dood I tan.” Won’t you please enroll her and send her a badge, too? Her name is Vivian Allen.
Harry L. A. Allen

Dear Pansy:
Your Pansy magazine has helped me to lead a Christian life. Mamma likes to have sister Ruthanna and me help her about the house, and I do not enjoy it very much, so I nearly always grumble and try to get out of it. So I will try to overcome this, with Jesus’ help, and do my work cheerfully.
Clara A. Simms.

Helping Mother
Helping Mother

Parents wrote letters, too, sharing stories of changes in their children’s behavior, all due to their child’s membership in The Pansy Society.

In return, Isabella wrote stories to help children remember their pledge, and to encourage them to take their troubles to Jesus. For example, “Polly’s Short Journey” appeared in an 1888 issue of The Pansy, and teaches children to appreciate what they have. You can read the story here:

Polly’s Short Journey

It was rather a sour-faced little maid who got on the train by herself at Glenburn station. She had on a brown suit, brown hat and gloves, and carried a brown basket. But she didn’t look half so pleased as you would expect a little brown sparrow of a girl to be when she was going on a journey in a nice plush-lined car, through a beautiful country.

The car was very full, and Polly Imboden flopped herself down in the first seat she came to, which was occupied by a sweet-looking old lady in Quaker bonnet and gown. The Friend eyed her with quiet amusement, and presently asked gently:

“Is thee going far today?”

“Only to Midvale,” answered the little traveler shortly.

“Then thee will not have time to grow tired; but I am going a thousand miles.”

“A thousand miles!” exclaimed Polly; and as soon as she forgot herself and began to be interested in somebody else, the ugly look took itself off somewhere, and you began to see that Polly had a sweet, bright face, and actually two dimples.

Her companion soon found out that Polly was pouting because her mother had gone to Philadelphia, and instead of taking her, had sent her to Midvale to stay with Aunt Mary. Mother did not seem to be to blame, as there was fear of scarlet fever in the square to which she was going, but that did not keep Polly from being cross about it.

“This is a patience lesson set thee, child,” said the old Friend. “There are many more for thee to learn, but if thee skip this one, the next will be harder.”

But Polly wasn’t listening to this little sermon. To her surprise there were rows upon rows of little boys and girls about her own age in the car.

“Is thee looking at my children?” said the old lady, smiling. “They are going with me on that long thousand miles to find homes in the West.”

“Aren’t they coming back to their fathers and mothers?” asked Polly, her lips beginning to tremble a little.

“They have no fathers and mothers on earth,” answered the friend, “but their Heavenly Father takes care of them.”

The tears were beginning to run down Polly’s cheeks at the thought of all that these little children had to do without.

The Friend laid her hand lightly on the little brown-gloved fingers. “Has thee ever seen a lesson-book?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” answered Polly, in surprise.

“What are the pictures for?”

“Why,” said Polly, still more surprised, “why, to show things.”

“Yes, that is it. Now, the great Teacher wants my little friend to be contented with her lot, to be so glad she has a dear mother and father and home, and friends to take care of her, but she wasn’t learning that lesson very fast, so he puts her on this train for a journey, and shows her all these little ones who have to do without these blessings. Will this picture make thee learn faster?”

Polly pulled out her handkerchief and scrubbed away at the tear drops. “I’d like to give one of them my basket. It’s got a lot of good things that mother put in it for me.”

“Thee will have to hurry, then,” said the Friend, well pleased, “for Midvale is in full sight.”

Hastily, Polly slipped off the plush seat, and picking out a pale, grave-looking child, she put the heavy basket in her hand, smiled a good-bye under the Quaker bonnet of the old lady, and here was Midvale.

And for a long time to come, when mother felt Polly’s arm close on her so tight that she could hardly breathe, she knew she was thinking about the old Friend, and her rows and rows of motherless children.

All of the black and white illustrations in this post came from original issues of The Pansy magazine.

Follow this link to Rollins College archives for an example of a note from Pansy.

You can read more about The Pansy Society. Click here to read a previous post.

The Pansy Magazine

For over twenty years Isabella Alden and her husband edited a children’s magazine called The Pansy.

Pansy Cover 1886 Jul


Each issue was filled with inspiring stories, delightful illustrations, short poems, and descriptions of exotic and far-away places to spark children’s imaginations. Published by D. Lothrop and Company of Boston, the magazine was first produced as a weekly publication, and later changed to a monthly.

D. Lothrop and Company sales room


Editing and writing for the magazine was no easy undertaking and Isabella’s entire family pitched in to help.

Pick up any issue of The Pansy and you’ll find stories by Isabella’s sisters, Julia Macdonald and Marcia Livingston, or her best friend, Theodosia Foster (writing as Faye Huntington).

Margaret Sidney, famous for the Five Little Peppers books for children, published some of her books as serials in The Pansy, as did author Ruth Ogden. Even Isabella’s brother-in-law Charles and beloved niece Grace Livingston (before her marriage to Reverend Frank Hill) contributed stories.

The 1881 cover of The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
The 1881 cover of The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney


Isabella’s son Raymond wrote poems, and her husband Reverend Gustavus “Ross” Alden contributed stories and short homilies like this one:

Don't Gossip. Children, avoid this evil. I am pained every day at seeing the work which mischief-makers do. Someone has compared this evil to pin-making. “There is sometimes some truth, which I call the wire. As this passes from hand to hand, one gives it a polish, another a point, others make and put on the head, and at last the pin is done.” The Bible speaks much against mischief-making, and I would advise you to collect all the verses in this book, bearing on this subject, and commit them to memory, and then I do not think you will ever be guilty of this sin. Remember, my little friends, that you can never gather up the mischief you may do by gossip.


Sometimes, the family banded together to write stories for the magazine. In 1886 each family member—Isabella, Ross, Marcia, Grace, Raymond, Theodosia, and Charles—took a turn writing a chapter of a serial story titled  “A Sevenfold Trouble.” In 1887 they continued their collaboration by writing a sequel titled, “Up Garret,” with each writer again  producing a different chapter. In 1889 the combined stories were published as a book titled A Sevenfold Trouble.

An original illustration for A Sevenfold Trouble, published in an 1887 edition of The Pansy.
An original illustration for A Sevenfold Trouble, published as an 1887 serial in The Pansy.


Isabella also previewed some of her own books by publishing them as serial stories in the magazine. Monteagle and A Dozen of Them first captured readers’ hearts in the pages of The Pansy.

Cover of 2015 e-book edition of Monteagle


The magazine was a resounding success. Thousands of boys and girls from around the world subscribed. Many children grew to adulthood reading the magazine, as Isabella remained at the helm of The Pansy for over 23 years.

Next week: The Pansy Society

A Special Slice of Pumpkin Pie

Isabella Alden tells a lovely story about a very special Thanksgiving she spent in Auburn, New York.

Thanksgiving feast

She was 22 years old at the time, and living with her older sister Marcia and brother-in-law Charles, while Charles attended Auburn Theological Seminary.

That year Marcia and Isabella prepared the family’s Thanksgiving feast, and Isabella was responsible for baking the pies. She wrote:

My mother was a wonderful cook, and her pumpkin pies were especially renowned, but I, her youngest daughter, had been busy since very early in life in other places than the kitchen, and knew almost nothing about cooking.

Modern Priscilla 1915-01 ed

Despite her doubts, Isabella’s pies were a success, and Charles declared:

“Upon my word, I believe this pumpkin pie is every bit as good as our mother can make. And we three know that there can’t be any greater praise for pumpkin pie than that!”

When they’d finished eating and had cleared away the dishes, Charles suggested they ask some of his fellow seminary students to come in and share their cheer.

Of course Marcia and Isabella agreed; and while Charles was gone, hunting up lonely students to bring back to the house, Marcia and Isabella prepared turkey sandwiches and sliced the remaining pies Isabella had made.

McCall_s 1913-11 ed

Charles soon returned with one lonesome stranger in tow. Isabella described her first impression of their guest:

He looked uncommonly tall to me, and he certainly liked pumpkin pie. My sister had no difficulty in persuading [him] to take another piece. Also, there was much fun over the fact that these were the very first pumpkin pies I had ever made.

They spent an enjoyable evening together, unaware of how great a role their guest would play in their futures.

Post Toasties ad 1914 - at the dinner table ed

As Isabella later wrote:

That lonesome stranger who ate my first pumpkin pie was the man who afterward became my husband!

New Grace Livingston Hill Book and Giveaway

Although there was a nine-year age difference between Isabella and her older sister Marcia, they were as close as sisters could be.

They had a lot in common—they had the same sense of humor, they both married ministers, and they were both talented writers.

Isabella Alden (left) and her sister, Marcia Livingston in an undated photo
Isabella Alden (left) and her sister, Marcia Livingston in an undated photo

Marcia and Isabella co-wrote several novels together, including:

Aunt Hannah and Martha and John
John Remington, Martyr
By Way of the Wilderness
From Different Standpoints

Isabella and Marcia wrote some books while they lived together in the same house in Winter Park, Florida; and when miles and circumstances separated the sisters, they wrote some of their books “by mail.” What’s extraordinary is the way the sisters’ writing styles blended seamlessly so that it’s impossible to tell which sister wrote which sections of their books.

Marcia Livingston
Marcia Livingston

They were both tireless writers. In addition to novel writing, Marcia contributed stories and articles to The Pansy, which was Isabella’s magazine for children. And Marcia’s short stories for adults were regularly published in The Interior, a Christian magazine.

Marcia’s husband Charles was a minister who wrote his own weekly sermons, as well as theological papers. Like Marcia, he, too, wrote stories and articles for The Pansy.

Their daughter Grace Livingston Hill grew up in a home filled with creativity, a love of reading, and a strong work ethic. She learned the letters of the alphabet by clicking on the keys of her Aunt Isabella’s typewriter. She learned the art of writing a short story from her mother Marcia.

At an early age Grace discovered she could earn a living by her writing, just as her mother and aunt did. Her first book, A Chautauqua Idyl was published in 1887. Soon Grace joined her mother and her Aunt Isabella in creating inspiring, uplifting and memorable Christian fiction for women. Marcia encouraged Grace and often edited her manuscripts before Grace sent them off to her publisher.

From The Buffalo Courier, March 1, 1908
From The Buffalo Courier, March 1, 1908

Grace wrote over one-hundred novels, all of which remain popular today. Less popular are her short stories—not because they are any less well-written, but because they are more difficult to find. Her short stories appeared in magazines and newspapers in the early years of the 1900s and copies of those publications are rare finds today.

Grace working in the out of doors at her home in Swarthmore, PA. 1915.
Grace working in the out of doors at her home in Swarthmore, PA. 1915.

The same is true for stories written by Marcia Livingston. They were published in the 1890s in magazines that went out of business long ago, their records scattered or destroyed; only a few issues can be found in libraries and museum collections. Their scarcity makes them all the more precious.

Cover_Story Collection 07 resizedA new, exclusive collection of those hard-to-find short stories by Grace Livingston Hill and Marcia Livingston is now available …

… And we’re giving away free copies!

We’re giving away four copies of Faith and Love in e-book format to subscribers to this blog. The winners will claim their e-book through Amazon.

We’ll announce the winners on Friday, August 28. Good luck!


Faith and Love is available at these e-book retailers:

Amazon button 2    Nook button    Kobo Button


A New Brother

In her memoirs Isabella Alden recalled the day she met the man who would become her brother and an important influence in her life.

Woman picking blackberries 1905It started out like any other day for eleven-year-old Isabella. She and her older sisters—Mary (age 26 at the time), Marcia (age 20) and Julia (age 17)—set off with their father in the family’s old-fashioned wagon to ride to Clip Hill. Clip Hill was an area about seven miles from their home where wild blackberries grew. Isabella and her sisters were charged with picking as many berries as they could so their mother could bake pies and put up berry preserves to last through the winter.

Their route took them through town, and as they drove down the main business street of Johnstown, New York, they saw a young man who stood out from the scores of other people moving up and down the sidewalk. Isabella wrote:

Perhaps his garments had a more stylish cut. For one thing, he carried a cane. I was used to seeing only old and lame people carry canes, but this man didn’t seem to need it, or anything else to help him! He walked as though he enjoyed walking and he looked all dressed up, even so early in the morning. I liked him.

Mary knew exactly who the aristocratic stranger was.

“Don’t you know that fine old house with splendid trees all around the grounds, the handsomest place in this part of the country?”

“The Livingston homestead?” said Father. “Yes, I know it.”

“Well, he is the youngest son, just graduated from college where he took all the honors they had to give. To hear the girls go on about him one would think there wasn’t any ground fit for him to walk on.”

By this time we had passed him. I saw my sister Marcia turn and look back at him again, so I twisted myself around in the hope of another glimpse as I said, “I like his looks.”

That young man was Charles Montgomery Livingston. He was descended from the distinguished Livingston family of New York. From the late 17th century to the early 19th century, the Livingstons were one of America’s richest and most aristocratic families. Their land holdings in New York alone were larger than the entire state of Rhode Island. By the early 1800s the family had built almost 40 mansions along the Hudson River, surrounded by more than one million acres of prime Hudson Valley land the family collectively owned.

Clermont, one of the Livingston mansions in New York State
Clermont, one of the Livingston mansions in New York State

But the Livingstons’ fame didn’t come from wealth. Rather, the family was distinguished because of their contributions to molding early America. Long before the Kennedys or the Roosevelts, the Livingstons shaped the course of the country.

The Mills Mansion in New York State
The Mills Mansion in New York State

During the American War of Independence, General George Washington used one of the Livingston mansions as his headquarters; and it was a Livingston who administered the presidential oath of office to George Washington.

Robert Livingston administers the Presidential Oath of Office to George Washington
Robert Livingston administers the Presidential Oath of Office to George Washington

Another Livingston helped draft the Declaration of Independence and negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. Yet another Livingston became a Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Philip Livingston, signer of the Declaration of Independence
Philip Livingston, signer of the Declaration of Independence

But it was Philip Livingston, Delegate to the Continental Congress and Signer of the Declaration of Independence, from whom Charles Livingston was descended.

When Isabella and her family finally reached Clip Hill, they were still talking about “the handsome gentleman with his cane.” While they picked berries, Marcia selected a branch from the ground and paraded up and down using her improvised cane to make everyone laugh.

Their father laughed, too; but he predicted, “If what I heard about that young man is true, you may see the time when you would be glad to imitate him in more ways than handling a cane.”

No prophecy could have proved more true, as Isabella later wrote. Only three months later, Charles Livingston married Isabella’s sister, Marcia—the very same sister who imitated him so ridiculously in the blackberry patch on Clip Hill!

Charles Livingston in an undated photo
Charles Livingston in an undated photo

By the day of the wedding, Isabella called Charles “brother” and he was as kind and loving to her as a brother could be. In fact, he asked Isabella and his niece, Maria (who was about Isabella’s age), to ride with the bride and groom to the railroad station after the marriage ceremony. It was quite an honor, and Isabella was thrilled to be singled out for such a special invitation. But in the confusion following the ceremony, Isabella and Maria never made it into the carriage. Instead, they watched as the carriage rolled away with the bride and groom … leaving Isabella and Maria standing at the curb!

Moments later the carriage came to a stop and then turned around. Marcia later told Isabella that it was Charles who insisted that they go back as fast as they could to pick up the girls, knowing it would break their hearts to be forgotten and left behind.

In later years, Isabella remembered that day and her new brother’s thoughtfulness. “I don’t believe there is another man like him in all the world. It was ‘just like him.’ And he was like that all through the beautiful years of his life, always thinking of others, and not considering his own plans or convenience.”

Click here to read a previous post about Charles Livingston and his influence on Isabella’s life.

You can learn more about the Livingston Mansions of New York by clicking this link.

Find out more about Philip Livingston, Signer of the Declaration of Independence at these websites: