October 1901 marked a milestone in Isabella’s life.
For decades she and her husband Ross and other members of their family had been deeply involved with Chautauqua Institution. Isabella strongly believed in its core principles, and she immersed herself in furthering Chautauqua’s mission.
Every summer for decades she taught classes at Chautauqua, and encouraged friends and acquaintances to attend the summer session. She helped extend Chautauqua’s outreach by quietly encouraging people she met in all walks of life to embrace the CLSC and its educational offerings.
And more than any other ambassador, she inspired an entire generation of readers to experience the place for themselves after reading about it in Isabella’s many novels about Chautauqua.
During the course of their marriage Isabella and Ross lived in many places; his occupation as a minister often required them to move from one church to another. But almost without fail their summers took them back to Chautauqua. For Isabella, who was born and raised in New York, her annual trips to Chautauqua must have felt very much like a homecoming.
Over the years Isabella and Ross rented different cottages on Chautauqua’s grounds. Many of them have since been demolished and replaced by newer buildings.
One of the last cottages they occupied was at 20 Forest Avenue, bounded to the north by the shore of Lake Chautauqua and to the east by normal Hall.
The house was built in 1890 and still stands today dressed in sunny yellow with white trim.
Isabella and her family spent a few summers in that cottage, including the summer of 1901. And when the Chautauqua season ended in early September they, like all the other summer residents, made their way to the railroad depot and returned to their “regular” home.
Few people know, however, that just a few weeks later Isabella and Ross quietly returned to Chautauqua to pack up their belongings and leave Chautauqua for the last time.
How different Chautauqua must have seemed to them in October; and how quiet it must have been, with its closed cottages, empty meeting halls, and deserted dining rooms!
Frances Hawley knew what Chautauqua was like off season. She was a year-round Chautauqua resident and Isabella’s friend. She was on hand when Isabella and Ross, along with their little daughter Francis, arrived at Chautauqua to pack up their possessions.
The Aldens intended to stay with Frances only a day or two, but their stay soon lengthened into a week, for there was much to do. Frances wrote:
They were very busy packing books and sorting papers and manuscripts. [Ross] would come in at night utterly weary, but with a big basketful to be looked over during the evening. They were obliged to stop and eat, and were tired enough at meal time to be glad of a little rest; and so three times a day our food was spiced with anecdotes and stories, wise and pithy sayings, and with the jokes that had been perpetrated upon old Chautauquans by the inimitable Frank Beard.
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to be in that room and hear those stories about Frank Beard and his practical jokes?
Frances said this about her friend Isabella:
The bright and sparkling style that has made Mrs. Alden’s books so attractive is hers outside of book covers, and her sweet and winning ways won all the hearts of the household.
Frances also described the moment when she realized the Alden’s visit was quickly coming to an end:
When at the close of their visit we parted with them and realize that it might be long before we could again have her kindly sympathy or feel the warm pressure of his hand and see the merry twinkle of his eye, the delight that the pleasure of this visit had given us was tinged with sadness and we were loath to let them go.
It’s sad to think that when Isabella and her family left Chautauqua that October day, they did so knowing they might never again see the place they had loved so much for so many years.
Their departure marked the end of an era for Chautauqua Institution. But Isabella and Ross were ready to move on to the next chapter of their life together.
In the summer of 1890 Isabella Alden and her family were once again at her beloved Chautauqua Institution.
That year, attendance at Chautauqua was remarkable. The Evening Journal—a newspaper in nearby Jamestown, New York—reported on the size of the crowd in an article printed August 20, 1890:
Another Sunday at Chautauqua has come and gone, and yet the big crowd and its interest in everything continues.
There was plenty to be interested in. Chautauqua’s daily schedule included Bible lectures, practical daily living classes, entertainment, nature hikes, and plenty of opportunities for exercise.
An added attraction: that weekend Mr. Leland Powers, known as the “Dramatic wonder of America” presented a three-act comedy based on a story by Frances Hodgson-Burnett, in which he played all the parts!
The newspaper explained one major reason for the crowd size that weekend: more people were making longer stays at Chautauqua:
The outgoing stream has been large during the past week, and yet not enough to keep pace with the one pouring in. The outlet does not equal the inlet, and so the crowd grows larger. It will probably reach its culmination on Recognition Day, which will be Wednesday of this week.
“Recognition Day” is Chautauqua’s version of graduation for members of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. In 1890, all the C.L.S.C. members who successfully completed their four-year study course gathered at Chautauqua. Together they made a stately procession through the symbolic Golden Gate that stood near the Hall of Philosophy, and then they received their Chautauqua diplomas.
The same newspaper article reported:
Enthusiastic C.L.S.C’ers are coming in daily by droves, by swarms, by multitudes. Meetings of the various classes are held almost every day, and excitement is fast reaching its height. It seems scarcely possible that in another week the Chautauqua season of 1890 will be closed and the exodus will be begun.
Also on that Sunday morning, Isabella’s husband, the Reverend G. R. Alden, led a memorial service in honor of prominent Chautauquans who died during the preceding year.
What a very busy weekend at Chautauqua! That Sunday evening brought rain, which reduced the crowd size at the remaining events. After so much activity, the newspaper report describes for us a peaceful Sunday night:
A ramble about the grounds just after the sermon, even if it did rain, well repaid the discomfort. Every cottage, every tent, every room in every cottage and tent, gleaming with lights through the dismal mist, presented a scene unprecedented and well worth seeing. The chimes rung out another Sunday at Chautauqua.
“Nevertheless, she suffered herself to be persuaded to go for a walk, provided Eurie would go to Palestine….Flossy explained to her that she had a consuming desire to wander along the banks of the Jordan and view those ancient cities, historic now.” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)
Sometimes, I really, really wish I could take the Way Back Machine and latch onto Pansy’s group as they enjoyed the apparently mesmerizing lectures by a flamboyant Middle Eastern-born tour guide named Augustus Oscar Van Lennep. Not content to introduce the lakeside miniature Holy Lands that are a relic of Chautauqua’s Sunday School Assembly days, this enterprising, creative fellow dolled up in “Oriental” costume to give his lectures. That’s our man below, lounging in Rajah-like style, while his indulgent friends retain their upright Victorian postures.
Gus must have had an equally fun set of folks who joined him—witness his jolly crew of costumed believers at Palestine Park in 1875/6-ish. Can you imagine??? Oh, how much fun must that have been!
Alas, today the Park is largely neglected and used more as a family playground than an instructional living map.
I’ve been studying a 1920’s Bible Atlas by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut (Chautauqua lecturer, founding father, and big-time booster) to gain a working knowledge of the Holy Lands. As Dr. Vincent believed, I think understanding the topography and layout, relative distances and terrain of Palestine environs is extremely helpful when reading Scripture. I mean, when you see how far Gideon and his 300 brave soldiers had to track the Philistines, you really do understand why he was so angered when the locals wouldn’t give them any foods to keep their strength up!
According the Pansy’s many charming references to the Palestine Park, students were treated to not only the basic layout, but tiny townscapes and identifying plaques dotted the carefully crafted map. Bible verses connecting each significant stop provided context—and reasserted the importance of the location for the Christ-following traveler.
Today, in an effort to keep the residual charm of the place, small cast iron plaques are embedded along the landscape—they’re kept painted and somewhat landscaped. I understand there’s a “tour” each Sunday night and I hope to attend it someday.
I paced off various Bible place names made familiar by my Old Testament studies and was genuinely surprised to see how concentrated a radius these events encompassed. Here’s Jerusalem in relation to the Mount of Olives, only a stone’s throw from Bethany.
Mount Hermon in the distance provides the perfect “king of the hill” locale for the resort’s kiddie population. The impressive crevasse made me wonder if erosion hadn’t made the Jordan Valley a bit too deep?
“Here we are, on ‘Jordan’s stormy banks…I suppose there was never a more perfect geographical representation than this.” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)
Compared to the vintage postcards you’ll find in this blog’s archived Chautauqua posts (see the links at the conclusion of this post), I’d say the accuracy factor might be off a bit these days.
I found it charming that Jericho was in “ruins”—the flat-topped ancient buildings crumbled and scattered, like those of Hebron (though I’m not certain these ruins were intentional.)
Is someone is tending Jacob’s Well? Even on the dry day I visited, it was filled with water.
My favorite? The truly little town of Bethlehem.
I read the plaque as I exited the park, wistful at the thought of those tent-dwelling Sunday School teachers, nestling eagerly beside the “Mediterranean Sea” and along the shores of the Jordan, to understand more about the lands their spiritual ancestors walked.
What would they make of this rarely visited, gently poignant reminder of the Park’s original purpose? Today, no Bible markers or tablets grace the small stony stand-ins, no tiny replica buildings remain to represent scenes from the life of Jesus as they did in Pansy’s time. I turned my gaze to Chautauqua Lake, imagining the steamer pulling up to the nearby dock and unloading four lively 19th century girls, eager for fun, not knowing they would never be the same, thanks to their time in this beautiful place.
“Now, the actual fact is, that those three people wandered around that far-away land until the morning vanished … They went from Bethany to Bethel, and from Bethel to Shechem, and they even climbed Mount Hermon’s snowy peak and looked about on the lovely plain below. In every place there was Bible reading …” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)
Thanks for allowing me to share these mementos with you of my all-too-brief Chautauqua visit. My hope and prayer is to return soon to follow further in Isabella’s footsteps.
My fascination has led me to launch a tribute Chautauqua Literary & Science Circle reading plan—I’m pairing 19th century texts with contemporary works and next August, I hope to carry the Pansy Year banner in the Recognition Day parade. Interested readers can follow along with my literary journey at my blog, The Hall in the Grove.
Dusting off my sandals, Karen
If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:
Karen Noske joins us again to share photos and descriptions of the Chautauqua landmarks she explored this summer, with Isabella Alden’s novels in mind. Welcome back, Karen!
My next objective was the Hall of Christ, as there was an archival lecture to be given momentarily on one of the most influential early religious leaders at Chautauqua, the renowned Shailer Mathews.
I imagined how Isabella might have felt, sitting in this arena, listening to contemporary reflections on the man whose influence changed the course of the Institute in so many ways.
“The Hall of the Christ, is first of all, to stand in the center of Chautauqua to represent Christ as the center of all learning and all true living; the Key to the true and eternal wisdom…a Hall where Jesus Christ is enthroned; where only his story is allowed; told in print and picture and sculpture and the human voice. Isn’t it grand!”
(Four Mothers at Chautauqua)
The workmanlike interior of the unprepossessing Hall of Christ makes me wonder if there haven’t been many changes to it over the years.
The general atmosphere is one of beneficent neglect and exhaustion. A magnificent organ dominates the stage—sadly, it was eclipsed by the speaker’s screen and I only got this tantalizing glimpse of it.
Engrossing as the lecture was, I was glad to make my way out towards my next objective—the centerpiece of Chautauqua for Isabella and, as it turned out, for me.
The Hall in the Grove
Directly adjacent to the Hall of Christ is the cherished “Hall in the Grove.” I recognized it immediately by its prominence and its beauty:
“If you have up to this time been even a careless reader of this volume, you have doubtless discovered that the center of Chautauqua life was the ‘Hall in the Grove.’ A beautiful grove, with trees old enough and grand enough to be worthy of their baptismal name—”St Paul’s Grove.” White-pillared, simple, plain, yet suggestive of such a brilliant past and hinting of such a glorified future … this bit of green and white, with a glimmer of lake between.”
(The Hall in the Grove, page 286)
A talk by the very popular Bill Moyers (of CBS News fame) was just finishing up, so I crept in around the edges and starting following the elaborate and beautiful mosaics that frame the lecture hall’s floor.
“All was quiet there. The sunset meeting which had been held in that white, still place was closed sometime since, and their feet, as they stepped on the floor, resounded throughout the vacant Hall.”
(The Hall in the Grove, page 240)
I was delighted to find the shield of Pansy’s Class of 1887 in a place of genuine honor—nestled around the corners of the lectern.
The lectern platform itself is still a modest affair, virtually unchanged since Pansy’s class approached to celebrate their graduation. Let’s join Paul Adams from The Hall in the Grove here:
“Arrived at the white, quiet building, he entered it with soft tread, and, under an impulse which he did not in the least understand, uncovered his head. He stepped softly onto the platform, drew the armchair, which was the seat of honor, forward a trifle, and settled himself in it. Then he brought up before him in review the many and varied and wonderful experiences which the weeks had brought him in connection with that spot … Then he got down from the professor’s chair and … after a silent last look at the Hall, he walked home with Joe, they two speaking words together that were better than marble columns or millions of money, for they represented manhood.”
(The Hall in the Grove, page 382)
In The Hall in the Grove, Isabella shares a peek into her heart:
“…the gleaming pillars of the Hall of Philosophy rose up before him; something in the purity and strength and quaintness seemed to have gotten possession of him. Whether it was a shadowy link between him and some ancient scholar or worshiper I cannot say … but treading the Chautauquan avenues for the first time … his young heart thrill[ed] with a hope and a determination, neither of which he understood, every time he saw those gleaming pillars.”
(The Hall in the Grove, page 198)
When Caroline Raynor (another character in The Hall in the Grove) objects to the Hall being made in the style of a Temple of Minerva, she is vigorously corrected by her soon-to-be suitor, Robert:
“I like it exceedingly. Let the beautiful white temple be rescued from its heathen desecration and dedicated to the service of the good and true God our Father, and his Son Jesus Christ.”
I passed an ancient oak near one of entrances that was garmented in ivy and wondered … if I parted the ivy, would I find a lichen-crusted carving in the tree reading “Vine, 22, 1887”? (Eighty–Seven, page 12.)
I surely saw what Dr. Winter Kelland did when …
“he and Vine walked … around under the hill, and up the hill, and come out beside the white-pillared hall and stopped under one of the tallest trees, and looked about them, and were silent. Dr. Kelland took off his hat and looked up reverently to the very top of the tall tree, beyond the top, into the blue of heaven.”
(Eighty-Seven, page 318)
As I walked reluctantly away from the Hall, I looked up and felt sure I was seeing the same trees, the same sky, the same view Pansy enjoyed in Four Girls at Chautauqua:
“None of all … who spent the day within the shadow of that sweet and leafy place have surely forgotten how the quaint and quiet beauty of the place and its surrounding fell upon them; they know just how the birds sang among those tall old trees; they know just how still and blue and clear the lake looked as they caught glimpses of it through the quivering green of myriad leaves …”
(Four Girls at Chautauqua, page 180)
Next time, Karen makes a little visit to the Chautauqua Post Office before trekking to the “Holy Land.”
If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:
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.
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.
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.
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.
She also taught men’s classes in physical culture, such as fencing and Greek Posture:
And when she wasn’t teaching at the college, she taught physical culture classes at 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.”
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.
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.”
In the summer of 1885 inventor Thomas Alva Edison was a rock star in American culture.
Americans admired his intelligence and strong work ethic. They revered him for inventing products that made the average American’s life easier and more enjoyable.
He was affectionately called “The Wizard;” reporters and photographers followed him wherever he went; and authors wrote imaginative stories endowing Edison with cartoon-like super-hero powers (at the bottom of this post you can read an example).
In the summer of 1885 Edison was 38 years old. He was touring Mount Washington, New Hampshire with a party of friends, when a reporter asked him for a quote for his newspaper.
This was not an unusual occurrence; reporters were used to Edison spontaneously offering up heady scientific thoughts or pithy quotes for them to print.
But on this particular day, Edison took the newspaper reporter’s pencil and pad and wrote on it:
Miss Mina Miller of Akron, the most beautiful woman in Ohio, is today a guest of Mount Washington.
It was a stunning revelation: The Wizard of Menlo Park—known for being so focused on his work that he usually slept in his laboratory rather than going home to his family—had a romantic streak! But who was Mina Miller?
Mina Miller was the 19 year old daughter of Lewis Miller, co-founder of the Chautauqua Institution and an inventor himself. He had made a fortune designing and manufacturing farm equipment.
That summer Mina was one of Edison’s party touring Mount Washington. She had just graduated from a ladies’ boarding school in Boston and was pursuing her music studies when she met Edison through an introduction in a mutual friend’s drawing room. Edison fell instantly in love.
A widower, Edison had been married before to Mary Stillwell, a young woman who worked in his laboratory. An 1896 article in a Louisiana newspaper described his courtship of Mary:
While Edison’s first marriage may have had a very practical beginning, his second marriage was undoubtedly a love match.
Edison himself joked that he was so distracted by thoughts of Mina, he was almost run over by a street car. When Mina and the rest of the Miller family removed to Chautauqua Institution for the summer, Edison followed, determined to win Mina’s heart and the good opinion of her parents.
He taught her Morse Code so they could converse privately when other people were around. It was while they were riding in a motor car with friends that Edison tapped out his marriage proposal on the palm of Mina’s hand. She tapped out her acceptance.
Six months later they were married in Mina’s home in Akron, Ohio. Newspapers of the time described every detail, from the cost of the floral decorations, to a description of the extravagant wedding gifts they received.
America embraced the new Mrs. Edison with the same spirit in which they admired Thomas Edison. Newspapers described her as “young and fine looking,” “vivacious,” “brilliant,” and “sweet.”
Edison proved to be a thoughtful and attentive husband, even though he still worked long hours on his inventions and many business endeavors. He built Mina a new home, which they named Glenmont. Mina decorated the home with exquisite taste and filled the rooms with music and friends.
Because her father was a noted inventor, Mina knew the peculiarities of living with someone who worked when inspiration struck. When her husband spent whole days and nights at a time in his laboratory, Mina didn’t complain; instead, she slept on a cot near his workbench so she could be with him.
She was active in the Temperance Movement, and served on committees, councils, and boards for charities and civic causes.
Mina also succeeded in one area where many others failed: She got Thomas Edison to take time off from his work and relax. They were frequent visitors to Chautauqua, and often stayed at the Miller cottage. They invited friends to stay with them, and entertained Henry Ford and his wife on a number of occasions.
Edison, who never went to college, joined the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, and was a member of the “Edison Class” of 1930. No mention was made in the press about whether Mr. Edison walked with his class on Recognition Day.
The Edison’s happy marriage lasted 45 years until Thomas Edison’s death in 1931. Mina died in 1947.
They are buried side-by-side at Glenmont (now a property of the National Park Service), where thousands of people visit to pay their respects to the Wizard of Menlo Park and his brilliant wife.
Would you like to read more about Mina Miller Edison? Click here to visit EdisonMuckers.org. Be sure to scroll to the end of the post where you can see some of the Edison family recipes. You can also download a very nice biography of Mina Miller Edison by John D. Venable that contains several seldom-seen photographs.
John Heyl Vincent co-founded Chautauqua Institution based on one over-riding theory:
Life is one. Religion belongs everywhere. Our people, young and old, should consider educational advantages as religious opportunities.
With this in mind, he set out to prove that education was the right—and the responsibility—of all people, not just the privileged few. To Bishop Vincent, no man had the right to neglect his personal education “whether he be prince or ploughboy, broker or hod-carrier.”
He created the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (“C. L. S. C.”) as a means of bringing education to people, thereby eliminating geography or personal circumstance as barriers to learning. And he made it easy and inexpensive for people to form C. L. S. C. “circles” in their own towns. Circles popped up across the country in every possible venue: house, shop, farm and market; anyplace people could gather to exchange curriculum books and discuss what they’d read.
One of those C. L. S. C. members was author John Habberton. He was a popular writer in the late 1800s, most famous for his children’s book, Helen’s Babies. He was a frequent visitor to Chautauqua Institution and served as president of the C. L. S. C. class of 1894.
Like Isabella Alden, he was inspired by the Chautauqua ideal; he knew from experience the good that resulted from the C. L. S. C. curriculum. And like Isabella, he wrote a book about his experiences.
His novel The Chautauquans tells the story of the residents in a small town who come together to form their own C. L. S. C. chapter. It’s a charming story you can read for free. Just click on the book cover to start reading.
You can also find out more about Bishop John Vincent’s ideas that inspired the creation of Chautauqua Institution and the C. L. S. C. His book The Chautauqua Movement is available for free on Google Books. Click on this link to read it.
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:
By 1890 the Summer Assembly at Chautauqua Institution was in its seventeenth year. Its success inspired similar assembly locations on four continents. People who could not travel to the original New York location could attend an assembly in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri or forty other locations across the United States.
Bishop John Heyl Vincent (Chautauqua’s co-founder) believed everyone could benefit from even a few days at a Chautauqua assembly.
He wrote an article for an 1890 issue of The Chautauquan magazine in which he gave plenty of advice for anyone planning to undertake the trip for the first time.
Here’s the advice he gave about tent kife:
If you live in a tent, remember a little fact that some innocent and unconscious souls so easily forget, or which, perhaps, they never knew: tent lights cause most curious shadows on tent walls; and folks outside, if they happen to pass, see some ludicrous pantomimic shadow effects, which, if the lights were lower, might be lost. “Let the lower lights be burning,” or study the laws of light and abridge the unprogrammed entertainments of the Assembly.
There were many beloved traditions at Chautauqua Institution, and Isabella Alden often described them in her books.
“Do you know the Chautauqua salute?”
Burnham Roberts asked the question of Hazel Harris in Four Mothers at Chautauqua.
“Then you understand what a strange effect is produced by the simultaneous flutter of countless white handkerchiefs. Can you imagine what it would be to see at least five thousand of them held aloft motionless for a single solemn minute, the only sound in the great assembly coming from the great organ softly tolling out a requiem? That is the way they paid tribute to the Bishop’s co-laborer, and to other great souls who put their shoulders to the wheel in the early days of the enterprise. I never saw a more impressive sight in my life.”
And in The Hall in the Grove, Carolyn Raynor was enchanted upon seeing the Chautauqua salute for the first time:
Well she might exclaim. To one like her who had never seen it before, the sight was simply glorious; and to one who has never seen it at all, the effect is indescribable; yet the cause was simple enough. A flutter of what looked like millions and millions of white handkerchiefs!
“The Chautauqua salute,” said Mr. Masters composedly, his eyes shining their satisfaction. “Isn’t it a singular scene?”
“A summer snow-storm down among the flowers and the grasses and the full-leaved forest trees,” said Caroline.
In The Story of Chautauqua, Jesse Lyman Hurlbut told how the salute came to be.
On the 1877 program was a speaker named Mr. S. L. Greene from Ontario, Canada. Mr. Green was deaf and mute. Reverend Hurlbut described how Mr. Greene addressed the great audience in pantomime in the Auditorium under the trees:
He spoke in the sign-language, telling several stories from the gospels; and so striking were his silent symbols that everyone could see the picture. We were especially struck with his vivid representation of Christ stilling the tempest.
When Mr. Greene finished, the audience of “at least two thousand” burst into enthusiastic applause; but Dr. Vincent stopped them.
“The speaker is unable to hear your applause. Let us wave our handkerchiefs instead of clapping our hands.”
In an instant the grove was transformed into a garden of white lilies dancing under the leaves of the trees. Then and there the Chautauqua salute of waving handkerchiefs was adopted as a token of special honor, used only when called for by Dr. Vincent in person.
And Dr. Vincent insisted that the salute—which was a distinct and rare honor—“should be of the whitest, purest, intensest kind.” He likened the salute to lilies, and soon the gesture came to be known as The Blooming of the Lilies.
In later years, as Chautauqua Institution grew, the size of the Amphitheatre audience grew as well. By 1884, it wasn’t unusual to have six thousand people gathered in the Amphitheatre to give the Chautauqua salute to some distinguished individual:
“Six thousand lily-white handkerchiefs waving a salute of honor, vigorously expressing the joy of the Chautauqua hearer, is a sight long to be remembered by those who participate therein,” wrote Reverend Hurlbut.
A crowd of ten thousand greeted Theodore Roosevelt with the Chautauqua salute when he arrived on August 19, 1899 to “preach the gospel of intelligent work” in the vast Amphitheater.
Poet May M. Bisbee was so enthralled seeing the Chautauqua Salute for the first time, she wrote a lovely poem about the experience. Click on the image to see a larger version you can read and print.