This month’s Free Read is “Her Opportunity,” a short story Isabella wrote about a young woman who was a member of the Christian Endeavor society.
Miss Emily Mason never passes up an opportunity to do a favor for someone; and if, while doing that favor, she has an opportunity to win a soul for Christ so much the better. But the latest recipient of Emily’s kindness may not be worthy of her efforts—at least, that’s what Emily’s friends say. How can Emily ever hope to know if the testimony she shared made a difference in the young woman’s life?
Isabella Alden was deeply involved in the Christian Endeavor movement that took root in America and swept around the world in the late 1800s. She regularly contributed to the Christian Endeavor newspaper; and she wrote about Christian Endeavor in of her novels Chrissy’s Endeavor, Her AssociateMembers, and others.
Isabella’s family was involved in Christian Endeavor, as well. Her niece, Grace Livingston Hill, served as president of a Christian Endeavor chapter. One of Grace’s early novellas was a Christian Endeavor story called “The Parkerstown Delegate;” and with her husband Grace published a guide for Christian Endeavor leaders that was widely used by C. E. chapters.
The Christian Endeavor Society held regular annual conventions in the U.S. that were very well attended by people from all over the country; but in 1896 the society held an international convention in Washington D.C. Thousands of Christians of all ages, nationalities, and denominations, descended upon the U.S. Capitol for five days of non-stop meetings, worship services, training classes, and Bible studies.
Isabella knew Washington, D.C. very well. She and her family lived there for three years when her husband served as assistant pastor of The Eastern Presbyterian Church, located just blocks from the Capitol building (read about her D.C. home here). In early 1896 the Aldens moved to New Jersey, just a short train ride away from Washington; so it’s entirely possible the Aldens attended all or part of the international convention that year.
The convention opened on Thursday, July 9 and ended the following Monday. Convention attendees were given a schedule of events and a map to help them travel from venue to venue, most commonly by foot.
Attendees braved the heat, the humidity, and the stifling crowds of fellow Endeavorers that thronged the mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol building.
On The Ellipse, located between The White House and the Washington Monument, enormous tents were erected where meetings and lectures were held.
Each tent was designed to hold hundreds of people, but some evening gatherings drew enormous crowds. At times there were so many people, and the interiors of the tents became so hot, the tent sides had to be raised to allow fresh air to circulate.
But of all the activities that took place over the five-day convention, there was one event that stood out and was talked about for months afterward.
On Saturday evening, July 9, a patriotic service was planned to take place on the east front of the Capitol Building.
The service was described as “a great song service” of patriotic songs and hymns led by a chorus of four thousand voices.
A photographer captured this image of the chorus assembling on the steps of the Capitol:
One newspaper enthusiastically wrote that the patriotic service was “grand music to listen to, and something to remember.”
At the conclusion of the service, the chorus, the Marine band, and the audience left the Capitol steps to march down the National Mall to the Ellipse, where they gathered at Tent Endeavor.
The song service was a tremendous success! While there was no official count, attendees believed there were just as many singers among the audience as there were on the Capitol steps.
If that’s true, there were over eight thousand people at the service, all raising their voices together in songs of praise!
What do you think it was like to sing hymns with thousands of other people?
Have you ever participated in an outdoor sing-a-long where your voices could be heard for blocks?
The Chautauqua Christian Endeavour Society should not be forgotten as a helpful influence in bringing not only the young, but all classes of people together, and making them acquainted. This society not only includes all members of the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavour who visit at Chautauqua, but also members of any denominational societies doing similar work.
Here, in the white-pillared Hall of Philosophy, they meet for an hour just at early evening, every week, and hold their prayer-meeting; and the voice of prayer and song or words of cheer, of comfort, of consecration, come from many. One other hour each week is also given to a conference, where the members compare notes on the best ways of working in various lines.
Last summer the plan was enlarged and a Working Committee formed. The grounds were divided into districts, and each Member of the Executive Committee became responsible for the work in one district; putting a topic card and notices in every cottage on the grounds, and giving to all strangers invitations to Meetings and Socials of the Society. Much good work was accomplished, and many strange young people made to feel at home.
There was also a room used as Headquarters, where were books and other literature relative to young people’s Christian work, and where could be found stationery and a quiet place to write or read. The registry book showed that a goodly number of young people availed themselves of this privilege.
This Society held an Autograph Social during the season in the parlours of the hotel, which was a great success.
Here and there you might have seen some favourite professor backed up against the wall with a double semicircle of his devoted students about him, eagerly holding their cards up, and he writing as if for dear life. But it was everywhere noticeable with what heartiness each one entered into the spirit of the hour, and demanded a name on his own card in return for every one he gave.
From this gathering it was difficult to send the people home, even after the solemn night-bell had rung; and the small boy who collected the pencils was very sleepy when the last couples left the parlour, smiling and chatting of the pleasant evening spent.
And the chimes make a beautiful ending to a day at Chautauqua. Whether you are wandering by the lake shore, or through the lovely avenues, it matters not; they are sweet. Sweeter, perhaps, just a little, as they ring out over the water, calling you in from a moonlight row or yacht ride. “Bonnie Doon,” “Blue Bells of Scotland,” “Robin Adair,” “Long, Long Ago,” all the old airs, and by-and-bye growing more serious— “Softly Now the Light of Day,” “Silently the Shades of Evening,” “Glory to Thee, my God, this Night,” and the “Vesper” hymn for good-night.
In 1894, when Grace wrote this article, collecting autographs was a popular way to preserve memories of an event. It wasn’t until 1900 when Kodak introduced their Brownie box camera that the average American could commemorate travels, celebrations, and other events with photos they took themselves.
Did you enjoy this tour of Chautauqua through Grace’s eyes?
Hopefully, her words gave you a sense of what it must have been like to visit Chautauqua 127 years ago!
The Reverend Francis E. Clark, president of the World Christian Endeavor Union, said of Isabella Alden:
“Probably no writer of stories for young people has been so popular or had so wide an audience as Mrs. G. R. Alden, whose pen-name, Pansy, is known wherever English books are read.”
Indeed, Isabella enjoyed world-wide fame as an author. By the year 1900 she was selling over 100,000 books a year.
So it’s a little mystifying to see that in 1914, when she chose a new publishing house—M.A. Donohue & Company in Chicago—to publish Tony Keating’s Surprises, the publisher had so little knowledge of who she was, they spelled her name wrong on the book’s cover!
Luckily, that single error doesn’t detract from the pleasure of reading Isabella’s novella, Tony Keating’s Surprises. Here’s a brief description of the story:
For as long as Tony Keating could remember, people have been telling him he was bad, so it was little wonder he came to believe he was just so.
Over the years, Tony has become quite adept at living up to his reputation, by springing tricks and surprises on his parents, his sister, his teachers, and anyone else who happens to cross his path. Why, the entire town believes Tony Keating will come to no good.
Everyone, that is, except Lorena Stanfield. Being new in town, Lorena doesn’t know about Tony’s reputation as the town scamp. With her fresh perspective Lorena sees Tony’s potential for good. But will her gentle influence be enough to transform Tony’s life?
In additional to writing novels, Isabella Alden wrote articles and short stories for many different publications.
Her stories and articles were so popular she found herself in a unique position for a writer: She never had to submit her work for publication.
Instead, publishers went to her. Elias Riggs Monfort, the long-time editor of The Herald and Presbyter (a weekly Presbyterian newspaper), gave her a lifetime contract to publish any serials she wrote.
Mr. Montfort was such a fan of Isabella’s, he wrote to his friend, Daniel Lothrop, full of praises about Isabella and her stories.
Daniel Lothrop was the owner of D. Lothrop & Company, a Boston publishing house that specialized in books for young people.
Daniel Lothrop had been a great reader from his childhood; while he was still a boy himself he developed an ambition to publish books specifically written for children—a novel idea at the time. Even more radical: he believed the books should be beautifully illustrated to serve the story and keep children’s attention.
But he persisted, believing that it was possible to publish children’s books that were not only entertaining, but encouraged “true, steadfast growth in right living.”
He often said to the people in his employ: “I publish books to do good as well as to make money. I always ask first, ‘Will this book help the young people?’ rather than ‘How much money is there in it?’”
His long partnership with Isabella began around 1874. After Elias Monfort sang Isabella’s praises to him, Daniel Lothrop invited Isabella to contribute stories to be published in a small weekly Sunday School newspaper he published.
By 1877 that short weekly paper had grown considerably in size and content—and Isabella was its editor!
Called The Pansy, each issue was filled with inspiring stories, delightful illustrations, short poems, and descriptions of exotic and far-away places to spark children’s imaginations.
Isabella wrote a short story for each issue, and other members of her family did, too, including her husband, her sister Marcia, niece Grace Livingston, and later, once he was old enough, her son Raymond.
Another frequent contributor was Daniel Lothrop’s wife Harriett, who wrote under the pen name “Margaret Sidney.”
Isabella wrote that Mr. Lothrop always had “a very warm place in his great warm heart” for The Pansy magazine.
Not only was he fertile in suggestions calculated to make it better, but he was ready always to heartily second the suggestions of others, and to aid in carrying them out.
The Pansy Society in particular was very dear to him. He was interested in everything about the Society, from the content of the letters children wrote to the magazine, to the design of the badges that Isabella sent to Pansy Society members. Isabella said:
“It would be difficult—impossible, indeed—to tell you in how many ways he helped along the cause of truth and right in the world.”
Another common interest Isabella and Lothrop shared was the Christian Endeavor Society. From the early days of the Society, Daniel Lothrop saw an opportunity to use his publishing company to further the Society’s message. He recruited authors to write books of interest to Christian Endeavor members. Margaret Sidney, Faye Huntington, and Grace Livingston were among those who answered the call.
Isabella’s novels, Chrissy’s Endeavor and Her Associate Members were written and published especially for C.E. members.
Isabella’s long partnership with Daniel Lothrop lasted almost twenty years. It ended when he passed away in 1892.
Isabella was heartbroken. In her memoirs she wrote:
“Mr. Lothrop was my true, strong, faithful friend all his life.”
She gently told readers in an issue of The Pansy about the passing of “our friend who loved us, and worked for us and with us.”
It’s impossible to know how many lives were influenced for good by Isabella’s partnership with Daniel Lothrop. Her books alone sold more than 100,000 copies a year, and The Pansy magazine had thousands of subscribers all around the world.
They had formed a perfect partnership. Both Isabella and Daniel Lothrop must have been proud of their accomplishments and the knowledge that they always produced books and stories that were consistently wholesome, pure, and elevating.
You can learn more about The Pansy magazine, The Christian Endeavor Society, and The Pansy Society by reading these previous posts:
Isabella Alden was one busy lady! In addition to writing novels and short stories, she wrote Sunday school lessons for teachers, and edited The Pansy magazine for children.
Along the way, she also wrote articles for many different Christian publications, including the monthly magazine Christian Endeavor World. Her good friend Amos R. Wells was the long-time editor of Christian Endeavor World, and through their mutual commitment to both the magazine and the Christian Endeavor movement, Isabella and Amos became good friends.
Their friendship was strong enough to withstand a good bit of teasing. In 1902 Amos published a new book of poems for children, titled Rollicking Rhymes for Youngsters.
Isabella promptly obtained a copy of the book and wrote a delightful tongue-in-cheek review , which was published in American newspapers on December 18, 1902:
Dear Mr. Wells:
I owe you a grudge; you have robbed me of an entire morning, and of no end of pocket money! Yesterday, just as I was seated in my study, all conditions favorable for work, the mail brought to me a copy of your latest book, “Rollicking Rhymes for Youngsters.”
I meant only to look at the covers and the type, and wait for leisure; but I took just a peep at the first poem and indulged in a laugh over a droll picture or two, then “Carlo” caught me, and we went together, “over the fields in the sunny weather.” On the way I met the “little laddie of a very prying mind” and—you know the rest.
It is the old story; somebody tempted me, and I fell. How could I remember that the morning was going, and the typewriter waiting, and the editor scolding? I never stopped till I reached the suggestive lines, “Two full hours ago, believe me, was this glorious day begun.” Alas for me, the morning was gone!
How delightful in you to write that which the children and their elders can enjoy together, not one whit the less because, sandwiched all throughout the fun, are charming little lessons that will sink deep into young hearts, and bear fruit. How cruel in you to write a book which a million weary mothers will have to read, and re-read and read again?”
Yours sincerely, Isabella Macdonald Alden.
Amos Wells probably had a good laugh over Isabella’s clever “mock review” of his new book, and Isabella probably enjoyed the chance to support her friend and fellow author (and indulge in some good-natured teasing at the same time).
You can also read many of Amos’ other books online. Like Isabella, he was a prolific writer and published more than 60 titles during his lifetime. And like Isabella, he had a passion for properly educating the men and women who taught Christian Sunday-school lessons; he wrote many books, pamphlets, and articles on the topic. Click here to read some of Amos’ other titles.
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.