During Isabella’s lifetime women dressed modestly. Their clothing covered them from head to toe, with high collars at their necks, long sleeves that extended to their wrists, and skirts with hemlines that brushed the floor.
With so much of the body covered, a new gown—even one with a simple design—was a big investment. The average dress in 1900 took eight to twelve yards of fabric to construct.
But even with all that fabric, women’s gowns lacked one essential convenience modern women today take for granted: pockets.
When you think about all the things we carry in our pockets—from keys and eye glasses to reminder notes and smart phones—it’s hard to imagine life without those small but handy additions to our shirts, skirts, and pants.
So how did Isabella and other women of her time carry around small but necessary objects so they were always close at hand?
They used a chatelaine.
A chatelaine was a piece of jewelry with chains from which accessories were hung.
Some chatelaines were ornate and expensive; others were purely practical.
If you watched episodes of the TV show “Downton Abbey,” you may have seen Downton’s housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, wearing a plain and utilitarian chatelaine.
From her chatelaine she suspended a few essentials she probably used regularly throughout the day in such a large household: a small pair of scissors, and keys to the silver closet, perhaps, or maybe the wine cellar.
Some women customized their chatelaine for a specific purpose. For example, a seamstress or a mother who regularly found herself mending her children’s clothes might accessorize her chatelaine with needles, thread, and other sewing essentials.
This chatelaine carried (from left to right) scissors with a protective sheath, a scent bottle. sewing kit, and a whistle.
Inside the sewing kit was a dowel with thread, a small thimble, and a cylinder for holding needles.
Here’s another example of a silver-plated chatelaine customized with five sewing tools:
It was accessorized with a needle holder, a thimble, a pin cushion in the shape of a book, a tape measure, and a scissor sheath.
The chatelaine below was accessorized for a nurse, and contains (left to right) a pencil, an ivory notepad, pill box, scissors, tape measure, and a whistle.
Scent bottles were common components of a lady’s chatelaine. Because women’s corsets often left them short of breath or feeling faint from heat or exertion, a small bottle of smelling salts was essential.
Sometimes women filled the bottles with perfume, which they held to their nose to ward off foul odors that were common at a time before deodorants and reliable sewer systems. In such cases, these bottles were often called “vinaigrettes.”
A whistle was another common accessory. Since well-mannered ladies never raised their voices, even in times of danger or emergency, a whistle was the best way for a woman to summon help.
Many women added small bags to their chatelaines. Made of metal mesh, fabric or leather, they held handkerchiefs, coins, and eye glasses.
During Isabella’s lifetime, chatelaines were popular enough to draw criticism and comedy. One newspaper lamented the number of chatelaine accessories women were willing to wear, and printed this illustration of a wife who went a little overboard with her accessories:
The same publication poked fun at mothers who over accessorized their chatelaines:
But chatelaines came in all shapes and sizes. The lady in the photo below is dressed for the out of doors; her short chatelaine looks like a piece of jewelry and is accessorized with a watch and a whistle, among other things.
While many chatelaines were clipped to a woman’s belt or waistband, some small chatelaines were designed to be worn as a brooch. The young woman in the photo below is wearing a small chatelaine accessorized with a dainty little scent bottle.
Ladies in Isabella’s circle also used chatelaines. Here’s a photograph of Isabella and her family members at Chautauqua Institution. Seated left to right are Isabella’s husband Dr. Alden, Isabella, Mrs. Christensen, Isabella’s sister Julia Macdonald, Grace Livingston, and Dr. Hannah B. Mulford. Standing are Miss May Williamson and Isabella’s son Raymond.
A closer look at Julia and Miss Williamson shows that both ladies were wearing small chatelaines, although it’s difficult to make out what accessories they wore.
What do you think of chatelaines? Would you wear one?
If you had a chatelaine, what kind of accessories would you have?
A final note: Not all chatelaines were metal. An 1894 issue of The Youth’s Companion magazine published a simple pattern for a chatelaine you can make from fabric and ribbon. Click on the image below to see a larger version of the instructions.
When Isabella’s friend Frances Hawley wrote about the Aldens packing up their Chautauqua cottage, she ended her account by saying that the Aldens left for “a prolonged stay in the west.”
For Isabella and her family, “the west” meant California.
Their decision to make the journey had been in the works for some time. By autumn of 1901 the Aldens—Isabella, Ross, and their daughter Frances—were living in Philadelphia, and some key events had taken place in their lives:
Isabella’s husband Ross had retired from the ministry.
Isabella’s son Raymond had completed his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, and had already moved to Palo Alto, California
Isabella was beginning to feel the passage of time. She was about to turn 60 years old, and Ross was already 69.
Of her advancing age Isabella wrote:
I am really growing old very fast now, you know. It seems to me that I have changed a great deal lately. I cannot do anything as quickly as I once could and I tire very easily.
Their decision to retire to California was probably based on a number of things, the most important of which was that they had always been a tight-knit family; and with the exception of one or two short periods of time, they had always lived together as a family, too.
Since Raymond had already moved west, he might have written to them about California’s clean air and warm temperatures. And maybe he had written about the Presbyterian church he was attending and the welcome he received there. By November 1901 he was already teaching a Bible class at church.
A Cross-Country Trip
Whatever their reason for make a change, Isabella and Ross finished packing up their belongings at Chautauqua and immediately set out for California to join Raymond.
The first leg of their journey was probably from New York to Chicago. If they took one of the many “express” or “limited” trains, they would have made the journey in about 24 hours. From there, they would have taken a train to California.
A “limited” train, like the one in the ad below, would have taken a direct route from Chicago to San Francisco, and would have made as few stops as possible, bypassing many of the towns on the route.
On a “limited” train, their journey across the country would have taken about 66 hours, or almost three days. By contrast, travel on a regular train, making all the stops along the way, would have doubled their travel time.
By Christmas 1901 the Aldens were in southern California, staying with their friends, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Johnson.
Isabella’s fame followed her there. A local newspaper, The Los Angeles Herald, caught wind of her visit and arranged to interview her.
In addition to asking Isabella the usual questions (e.g. “How did you get the name Pansy?”) the article listed all Isabella’s work, and noted that in addition to writing novels, Isabella was still:
Editor of the Herald and Presbyter
Associate editor of Christian Endeavor World
Wrote stories every month for The Sunbeam (the Y.W.C.A. Gazette published in London)
Wrote for the Junior Christian Endeavor World
Composed Sunday-school lessons for the Presbyterian church’s “intermediate quarterly”
It’s no wonder Isabella was beginning to feel tired!
The article ended with news that Isabella was going to do a reading the following week from “an unpublished story,” titled David Ransom’s Watch (which was eventually published in 1905).
The interviewer must have asked Isabella what her plans were for the future, because the article ended with this prophetic sentence: “It is probable that the Aldens will make California their home.”
The Aldens continued their stay with the Johnsons through at least the end of January of 1902. Their visit was reported in the Los Angeles Times society page:
A New Life in Palo Alto
Sometime in early 1902 the Aldens left Los Angeles and returned to Palo Alto, and they settled into their new life in the Palo Alto community.
They joined the same Presbyterian congregation that had welcomed their son Raymond. By April, Isabella was in San Francisco where she delivered a speech on one of her passions: Mission work at home and abroad.
Around that time the Aldens also began a search for a home large enough to accommodate their entire family and expected houseguests. In the end, they decided to build a custom home that would satisfy their many and unique needs. They purchased property in Palo Alto, hired an architect, and began designing their dream home.
A few years later Isabella and Ross joined other Christians in attending the Mount Hermon Christian Camp when it opened in 1905.
Mount Hermon was the first Christian camp west of the Mississippi, and it must have reminded Isabella and Ross of Chautauqua’s early days. Isabella fell in love with the place. She wrote:
I wish I could give you a picture of Mount Hermon, a blessed place where I have spent precious weeks living out under the great redwood trees. It was wild and quaint and beautiful. I have many happy memories connected with it.
For the next few years they made annual trips to Mount Hermon until health concerns prevented them from traveling there.
Through all these new experiences Isabella kept busy writing books. Between 1901 and 1908 she published eight books, most of which were written with her adult readers in mind:
Mag and Margaret: A Story for Girls (1901)
Unto the End (1902)
Doris Farrand’s Vocation (1904)
David Ransom’s Watch (1905)
Ester Ried’s Namesake (1906)
Ruth Erskine’s Son (1907)
The Browns at Mt. Hermon (1908)
Isabella Returns to Chautauqua
Isabella also found time to return to Chautauqua on probably two occasions, where she stayed with friends or relatives who had cottages there.
In May 1912 Isabella and Ross traveled to New York, where they first visited her dear friend Theodosia Toll Foster (who co-wrote a number of books with Isabella under the nom de plume Faye Huntington). It is very possible the Aldens went from there to Chautauqua in June when the 1912 season commenced.
In 1914 the Aldens were again at Chautauqua, where Isabella and her niece, Grace Livingston Hill were among the authors honored at a C.L.S.C. reception.
By August of that year they were back home in California, where they were “welcomed by many of their friends.”
It’s possible Isabella visited Chautauqua again in the years following, but no record of those visits survives.
Whether Isabella visited Chautauqua again or not, her friends at Chautauqua and in New York certainly kept track of her as a favorite daughter. In 1916 the newspaper in Rome, New York (located near the town in which Isabella was born and raised) covered Isabella and Ross’s golden wedding anniversary celebration with this article:
The article’s mention of their prominent place in Palo Alto society is a testament to the loving friendships the Aldens formed in their new home in California.
Isabella Alden taught Sunday school for decades. It was one of her favorite things to do, and she was widely considered to be an expert in the field of teaching very young children about the Bible.
Her favorite age-group to teach was what she called the “infant class”—children who were not yet old enough to read, or were just beginning to read.
She wrote many articles and regularly conducted classes on how to teach children about the Bible and God’s promise of salvation through Christ.
She once said:
“My ideal Sunday school classroom is bright, well ventilated, curtained, carpeted, with low, easy seats, flowers on the desk and in the windows, ornamental pictures on the walls, a good sized portable revolving blackboard in a central position, maps and charts and diagrams, and whatever else will help to illustrate Bible truths gathered into that pleasant spot.”
While that may have been her ideal Sunday school classroom, the truth was that Isabella often taught her little students over the vestibule of a dingy old church. Instead of ornamental pictures on the walls, more often than not she had to use pictures cut out of a Bible dictionary to help illustrate her lesson, and a broken slate for a blackboard.
But Isabella did not suffer those situations for very long. She knew how to brighten a dingy spot and make it attractive:
“Home pictures and flowers are cheap, and tact and patience can transform any sort of a place into something like beauty. I always have the best room I can get, and make it as attractive as possible.”
Once Isabella had the physical location of her Sunday school under control, she was free to concentrate on teaching her little ones.
When she was just starting out, she once had a class that began very badly. The wee ones were afraid to even whisper, and she could not coax them to repeat their verses no matter how hard she tried. When she tried to talk to each little scholar individually, they were so frightened, they began to cry. Clearly, there was no point in trying to coax them into singing a little hymn. So what did Isabella do?
The next week she brought with her half a dozen little girls from her regular schoolroom where she was teaching during the week.
“These little ones were good readers, some of them, but with pretty childlike ways. They knew their lessons and were not afraid to say so, and they sang like birds. The consequence was that my timid ones soon caught their spirit, and my class of infants which bade fair to be a dismal failure became a success.”
What do you imagine it was like to be in Isabella’s Sunday-school class? She gave us some hints in one of the articles she wrote about teaching. Here’s the agenda she typically followed:
Roll call Prayer Collection Singing Five minutes talk about the hymn just sung Distribution of cards for next Sabbath’s lesson Reading those cards in concert Singing Distribution of papers Recitation of verses
She liked to keep the opening prayer brief; just a few simple sentences which she had the children repeat after her. Then they would close with the Lord’s Prayer in concert.
If any of the children remembered to bring their pennies for the collection, Isabella taught them to repeat this little verse as they deposited them in the plate:
Small are the offerings we can make, But thou hast taught us, Lord, If given for the Savior’s sake, They lose not their reward.
Since the majority of her students were too young to read, Isabella found ways to teach them Bible verses and poems to illustrate a short lesson. One of her favorites was a poem that many children still learn today:
Two little eyes to look to God, Two little ears to hear his Word, Two little feet to walk in his ways, Two little lips to sing his praise, Two little hands to do his will, And one little heart to love him still.
And she taught them to “point to the different portions of their body indicated by the words they speak.”
She always selected a verse for the children to memorize. She read the verse with her students aloud and reread it until the bright ones could repeat it from memory; then she talked about the verse with her class, and stressed the importance of reciting the verse correctly. The following week, she used that verse as the foundation for her lesson.
“I like to cluster my talk [around] one personal practical thought that will make clear the fact that the story is for each little boy and girl who hears it. “
Her “talk” was, in reality, a story. She used illustrations from little ones’ home, school and playground experiences to build a relatable story. Then, when she reached the point of the story when the lesson was to be revealed, she let her class bring in the verse they had learned the week before.
“The delight which little children feel in discovering that what they have learned fits in with what their teacher is telling them a story about, can only be appreciated by those who see it.”
When it was time to close the lesson it was her preference that no books or pictures should be distributed.
“No outside matter should be allowed to come in between the pupils and the impression earnestly sought to be made.”
She did not even like to close with singing unless she found a hymn that had a clear connection with the lesson.
“I like better to close with a very brief prayer woven out of the words of the golden text, and so send the little ones away with a sweet and clear impression of the Bible lesson of the day.”
Isabella used the same method in crafting her stories for young people and adults. She chose a Bible verse and a lesson or theme she wanted to communicate about a specific verse, and wove a story around it. It was a process that served her well for the one-hundred-plus novels she wrote in her lifetime!
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 14!
The 2018 summer season at Chautauqua Institution opened on Saturday, June 23. Over the next ten weeks, travelers will be planning trips to the great summer assembly, either by car (using a GPS app on their phone for guidance), by air (landing at nearby Chautauqua County Airport at Jamestown), or train (Amtrack tickets can be purchased online or via a smart phone app).
Travel to Chautauqua has changed a lot in the 142 years since Isabella Alden wrote Four Girls at Chautauqua. Back in 1876, the only way her lead characters in the story—Eurie, Ruth, Marion, and Flossy—could get to Chautauqua was by train. And preparing for their trip wasn’t as easy as tapping an icon on a smart phone.
The first decision the ladies had to make was how much luggage to take. Practical Marion began the conversation:
“Ruth, are you going to take a trunk?”
Ruth roused herself from the contemplation of her brown gloves to say with a little start, “How you girls do rush things. Why, I haven’t decided yet that I am going.”
“Oh, you’ll go,” Marion Wilbur said. “The question is, are we to take trunks—or, rather, are you to? Because I know I shall not. I’m going to wear my black suit. Put it on on Tuesday morning—or Monday is it that we start?—and wear it until we return. I may take it off, to be sure, while I sleep, but even that is uncertain, as we may not get a place to sleep in; but for once in my life I am not going to be bored with baggage.”
“I shall take mine,” Ruth Erskine said with determination. “I don’t intend to be bored by being without baggage. It is horrid, I think, to go away with only one dress, and feel obliged to wear it whether it is suited to the weather or not, or whatever happens to it.”
The truth of the matter was that Marion—who barely supported herself on a teacher’s salary—didn’t own enough clothes to fill a travel trunk.
Besides, paying an expressman to deliver her trunk to the station, tipping baggage porters, and checking her trunk through to Chautauqua, was far beyond the cost of what Marion could afford.
As the eldest child of a hard-working doctor, Eurie Mitchell’s travel budget wasn’t much larger than Marion’s.
Ruth Erskine and Flossy Shipley, on the other hand, were wealthy enough to insist on first-class accommodations in all her journeys. In all likelihood, they would have taken more than one trunk, each, as well as other pieces of luggage. Here’s why:
Luggage was much different in 1876 than the pull-suitcases and travel totes we use today.
For starters, different trunks or cases were made to accommodate different types of clothing and belongings.
For example, the average skirt of a woman’s dress in 1876 was made from about 8 to 10 (or more) yards of fabric. Underneath, women wore petticoats made up of an equal amount of material. These skirts, dresses, and undergarments took up a lot of room, and were usually packed in a dress trunk.
Shirtwaists, jackets, and suits went into a wardrobe trunk, where they could hang properly and minimize creasing and folds.
Hats and bonnets were transported in boxes designed to protect their shape and prevent damage to ornaments.
Lotions and toiletries went into yet another case, fitted out with compartments for bottles and toothbrushes, and powders.
Items a traveler might need to keep handy, such as clean handkerchiefs, fresh collars or cuffs, and possibly, a change of shirt waist, were carried in a valise or grip.
Some ladies also used tourist Cases to pack things to carry on the train and keep with them. Tourist cases looked very much like the small suitcases that were in use in the 1950s and 60s. The young women pictured in the photo below all have tourist cases (and one very large trunk!).
For a lady traveling in the late 18th and early 19th century, traveling was not a casual business. It took planning, if she wanted to arrive at her destination looking fresh and effortlessly gowned.
In 1904 The San Francisco Call newspaper published a full-page article on how to properly pack a trunk. The article was filled with plenty of practical, and not-so-practical, advice:
Making a trunk look nice is a distinct art.
A lady’s skirt should never have a front fold.
The author of the article was a professional packer of trunks. She tells the story of a phone call she received from a client:
“I want you to pack my trunks,” said she, “so I can catch the midnight train.”
“How many trunks are there?” I asked.
“There are twenty-seven,” said she, “and several boxes and suit cases, and the wagon is to call for them at five o’clock.”
Twenty-seven trunks! By comparison, Marion, Eurie, Ruth, and Flossy traveled light when they set off for Chautauqua!
In 1912 Isabella Alden published her novel The Long Way Home. She was 71 years old at the time.
She had begun a trend about ten years before of writing books directed toward adult readers. It began with Mara, her most controversial novel. Mara (published in 1902) was about a young woman who inadvertently married a man who practiced polygamy.
Unto the End told the story of a young wife’s dilemma when she discovered her husband’s infidelity; it was published the same year.
For several years thereafter Isabella regularly published new novels with her adult readers in mind:
1904 – Doris Farrand’s Vocation
1905 – David Ransom’s Watch
1906 – Ester Ried’s Namesake
1907 – Ruth Erskine’s Son
1908 – The Browns at Mount Hermon
1911 – Lost on the Trail
In each book, Isabella tackled important and emotional topics. She wrote about young women who wanted to be judged on their own merits, instead of on their wealth and social standing (or lack thereof).
She also wrote about women who sought real purpose in their lives by working to make a difference in the world in Jesus’ name.
She even wrote about one woman’s struggle to love an unlovable daughter-in-law (in Ruth Erskine’s Son).
Isabella continued that trend with The Long Way Home. The story is about Andy and Ilsa, a young couple in love, and their impetuous decision to marry. They exchange marriage vows on the very day Ilsa graduates from high school!
It isn’t long before their hasty decision—combined with a selfish streak in one and a lack of understanding in the other—begins to lead Andy and Ilsa down a path that may undermine their marriage vows.
In her adult books Isabella often wrote about the strain and unhappiness that results when a husband and wife do not share the same religious views, and she explores that premise in this story.
In The Long Way Home, Andy is given many opportunities to choose to follow Jesus Christ, but each time he takes a different path because his eagerness to please Ilsa overrides the callings of his own conscience.
Ultimately, the very fact that Andy and Ilsa failed to place God at the center of their union turns out to be one of the great wedges that threatens to drive them apart.
As the title suggests, Isabella finally brings her characters “home” and they have their happily ever, but only after Andy and Ilsa learn to put their trust in God before each other.
The Long Way Home is now available as an e-book for only 99 cents! You can find it at these bookseller sites:
You can learn more about Isabella’s books mentioned in this post by visiting her Books page.
In 1915 Isabella’s niece, writer Grace Livingston Hill, was profiled in The Book News Monthly magazine.
The magazine printed two articles, the first of which was written by Grace’s long-time friend Hilda von Markhen. Hilda described Grace’s “workshop” for writing: an ample, business-like desk at the sunshiny side of an upstairs room. On the desk was her typewriter and a few necessary reference books; behind her was a glass door which led to a small un-roofed upper porch set in the midst of trees in which played birds and squirrels.
In addition to describing Grace’s workspace, Hilda told the story of how Grace’s first books were published. Sprinkled throughout the article are hints of Grace’s strong Christian beliefs and the work Grace did for those in need, the Sunday school classes she taught, the children Grace “adopted,” and her commitment to The Christian Christian Endeavor society.
The second article was written by Norma Bright Carson and provides some insight into Grace’s personality and the impression she made on the article’s author.
You can read both articles right now by clicking on the image below.
Frank Beard was one of the most popular lecturers at Chautauqua Institution. His Chalk Talk lectures drew standing-room-only crowds because of their pitch-perfect blend of humor, art and Biblical truths.
In an 1895 interview, Frank recalled how his Chalk Talks came to be:
“I was a young artist in New York, and had just been married. My wife was an enthusiastic churchgoer; and a great deal of our courtship was carried on in going to and from the Methodist church. The result was that I struck a revival and became converted. This occurred shortly after I was married, and like other enthusiastic young Christians, I wanted to do all I could for the church.”
Soon after he joined the church, the congregation put together an evening of entertainment. The ladies, knowing of his talent, suggested that Frank draw some pictures as part of the program. Frank agreed, but he felt that just standing in front of an audience and sketching without saying anything about the pictures “would be a very silly thing.”
He decided instead to make a short talk and draw sketches to illustrate his points. The talk was to be given as part of a Thanksgiving celebration, and Frank later joked that he rehearsed in front of his wife, his mother-in-law, and the turkey. “Well, my wife survived, my mother-in-law did not die while I was talking, and the turkey was not spoiled.”
When he gave his talk in front of the congregation, it was a great success. Soon, other churches asked him to repeat his talk, and in very short order he had more invitations to speak than he could ever hope to accept. His wife suggested charging a fee for each lecture, hoping that the cost would deter organizations from inviting him to talk at their functions. So Frank dutifully began charging $30 per talk. The requests continued to pour in. He increased his fee to $40, then $50, but his talks continued to be in great demand.
That was the birth of the Chalk Talk, and Frank soon hit the lecture circuit. He was one of the first speakers at Chautauqua Institution in New York; and he lectured at many of the daughter Chautauquas. This 1899 clipping from the Los Angeles Herald recounts Frank’s Chalk Talk at the Long Beach Chautauqua (which named July 19, 1899 Frank Beard Day):
The topics of his Chalk Talks ranged from morality tales to stories from the Bible, each told in a casual, funny, but reverent, way. He knew that people who wouldn’t listen to a “sermon” would listen to his Chalk-Talk if the truths were presented in an entertaining fashion.
In Four Girls at Chautauqua, Eurie Mitchell proved that very point. Eurie was so opposed to listening to “sermons” at Chautauqua, she refused to go to any of the lectures; but when she heard about Frank Beard’s caricatures, she decided to go see him for herself.
If you have never seen Frank Beard make pictures, you know nothing about what a good time she had. They were such funny pictures! Just a few strokes of the magic crayon and the character described would seem to start into life before you, and you would feel that you could almost know what thoughts were passing in the heart of the creature made of chalk. Eurie looked and listened and laughed.
In Isabella’s book, Frank’s Chalk Talk was able to do what no other lecture at Chautauqua could: reach Eurie’s heart and lead her, ultimately, to salvation through Christ.
“Pictures can often tell stories quicker and better than words,” Frank once said, “and I believe that cartoons can be used in the service of religion, righteousness, truth, and justice.”
To prove his point, he once asked, “If you were commissioned to teach a child the nature of a circle, would you begin by stating that a circle is an area, having for its center a point, and bounded by a circumference in the nature of an endless imaginary line, which at all points is at an equal distance from the center? No! You would do nothing of the sort, but you would [show] its nature and properties [by drawing a circle] in black and white.”
Sometimes the subjects of his Chalk Talks were very simple. He told a story, for example, of how a blackboard and chalk could be used to teach a Sunday-school class of young children who had never before seen the Christian symbol of a cross inside the shape of a heart. He started by drawing the simple outline of a heart on the blackboard.
“What is this?”
“Yes, a heart. Now, I mean this to represent a particular heart—I mean it for my heart. What is it now?”
“Don’t forget that. Now, see what else I will draw.” And he drew a child’s face within the heart.
“Now what have I made?”
“A little boy!” “A little girl!” “A little child!” Variously cried the children.
“Yes, a little child; but where is the child?”
“In the heart.”
“In the heart?”
“In your heart.”
“That’s right. Now, what does it represent? When I tell you that I have a little child in my heart, what does it mean?”
“You mean you love the child.”
“Exactly. Now I will rub out the child and put a cross in the heart. What does that mean?”
“You love the cross.”
Then he went on to explain in a simple way what loving the cross meant.
He also shared an example of one of his lessons for older children and adolescents. He used this lesson to illustrate the concept of the narrow Christian path described in Matthew 7:13-14:
A young man is attracted by the appearance of beauty and the pleasure along the broad way. Timidly at first, for he is not bad and rather fears evil—but he loves play and pleasure—so he steps into it. He knows it is not the right way to take but he thinks to himself:
“After a while, after I have had a good time, I will go over to the right path and come out all right after all.”
Frank went on to explain how the young man fell in with evil companions and was drawn further away from the good path.
The young man learned to smoke and chew tobacco and read books “which mislead and give us wrong notions in life, that make heroes of scamps, thieves and liars.”
As Frank continued the lesson, he amended and enhanced his original drawing to show the progressive results of the choices the young man made in his life.
Wherever he gave his Chalk Talks, he was well received, and his reputation grew. But not everyone was a fan of using a blackboard and chalk as teaching tools in the Sunday-school. Frank shared a story about one church that decided to use a man in their congregation—they assumed he had talent because he was a sign painter by profession—to illustrate Sunday-school lessons. The man decided to illustrate the story of Samuel as a child, entering the apartment of the high priest Eli in answer to his summons. His efforts were not well received.
“Some objected to the bed-posts,” Frank said. “Some didn’t exactly know why, but the drawing didn’t conform to their idea of Samuel at all, and, more over, Eli’s nose was out of proportion.”
The man’s next attempt didn’t fare any better, when he drew Goliath about thirty-five feet high in proportion to David. In fact, the congregation didn’t like anything at all about the poor sign-painter’s efforts at the blackboard.
Isabella Alden’s book Links in Rebecca’s Life featured a character who also disliked Chalk-Talk style lectures. She was a Sunday-school teacher who hated chalk and blackboards.
“They are such horrid dusty things. You get yourself all covered with chalk, and just ruin your clothes. I can hardly wear anything decent here as it is. If I had a blackboard, I should give up in despair.”
“I should think it would be a great help in teaching children,” Rebecca said.
“Well, I don’t know. What could I do with it? I don’t know how to draw, and as for making lines and marks and dots, I am not going to make an idiot of myself. What’s the use?”
But Frank Beard believed no special talent was required for a teacher to incorporate chalkboard drawings into Sunday-school lessons.
“Many are apt to think some extraordinary genius is necessary to fit a teacher to use the blackboard,” he said. “It is a mistake. You can teach better with a pencil than without. You can learn to draw far better than you ever imagined possible.”
In 1896 Frank published a book for Sunday-school workers; in it he gave simple instructions for using the blackboard to illustrate Bible lessons.
His book included how-to’s on perspective, lettering, and using easy-to-draw symbols as illustrations. Here are some of the symbols he illustrated:
The purpose of writing the book, he said, “is to show how the blackboard can be used in the Sunday-school, and to furnish such instruction in drawing upon it” so it can be done in the most effective way.
He was quick to say that he didn’t want the blackboard to monopolize the Sunday-school or supplant other useful forms of instruction. But, if used correctly, Frank Beard proved that the blackboard—and Chalk Talks—could be the “instrument which proves effective as a means of winning souls to Christ.”
In 1895 Frank Beard gave an interview to the Washington D.C. newspaper The Evening Star. Click on this image to read the interview in which Frank tells how he invented the Chalk Talk:
Click on the book cover to learn more about Links in Rebecca’s Life.
Click on the book cover to learn more about Four Girls at Chautauqua.
I have often looked forward to an evening gathering with eager interest and thankfulness, because of the opportunity for meeting some there whom I could not catch elsewhere and saying a word for my Master.