The Christian Calling Card

In 1922 Emily Post wrote, “with a hair-pin and a visiting card, [a woman] is ready to meet most emergencies.”

Do Good

There’s evidence of that maxim in Isabella Alden’s books. In several of her stories a simple calling card played a prominent role in the life of one of her characters.

Card Luke

In Spun from Fact, Jeanie Barrett had cards printed with only her name and this sentence in plain text:

“Are you saved by grace?”

Each time she gave away one of her cards, she did so with a purpose, and knew exactly how she wanted to engage that person in conversation about the straight-forward question printed on the card.

Spun from Fact Bible School training
A card used to announce dates and times of a Gospel worker’s upcoming speaking engagements.

In Workers Together; An Endless Chain, Dr. Everett’s calling card was printed on both sides. The front of the card gave the address and hours for his medical practice. On the other side he listed the times for Sunday worship services, Sunday School classes and weekly prayer meetings at the church where he was superintendent of the Sunday School.


In A New Graft on the Family Tree, John Morgan received a calling card that changed his life. He was hungry and homeless, hopping one rail car after another to find anyone who would feed him in exchange for doing some work.

Spun from Fact card00555_frJohn’s situation was desperate; he was weak from hunger when he came across neat-looking house, with a neat kitchen-door; he knocked at it, and asked for a bit of bread. A trim old lady answered it. To his surprise she invited him in and fed him a savoury breakfast. And while John ate, the old woman talked to him:

“Well, there are a good many homeless people in the world. It must be hard; but then, you know, the Master himself gave up his home, and had not where to lay his head. Did it for our sakes, too. Wasn’t that strange! Seems to me I couldn’t give up my home. But he made a home by it for every one of us. I hope you’ve looked after the title to yours, young man.”

No answer from John, The old lady sighed, and said to herself, as she trotted away for a doughnut for him:

“He doesn’t understand, poor fellow! I suppose he never has had any good thoughts put into his mind. Dear me! I wish I could do something for him besides feeding his poor, perishing body!”

The little old lady trotted back, a plate of doughnuts in one hand, and a little card in the other.

“Put these doughnuts in your pocket; maybe they’ll come good when you are hungry again. And here is a little card; you can read, I suppose?”

The faintest suspicion of a smile gleamed in John Morgan’s eyes as he nodded assent.

“Well, then, you read it once in a while, just to please me. Those are true words on it; and Jesus is here yet trying to save, just the same as he always was. He wants to save you, young man, and you better let him do it now. If I were you I wouldn’t wait another day.”

Card Proverbs

John waited until he left the woman’s house and was tramping down the street before he looked at the card she gave him.

It was a simple enough card, printed on it in plain letters these words:

“It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”

Then, underneath:

“I am the bread of life. He that believeth on me shall never hunger.”

Still lower on the card, in ornamented letters, the words:

“The Master has come, and calleth for thee.”

Then a hand pointing to an italicized line:

“I that speak unto thee am he.”

John thrust the card into his pocket and strode towards the village depot to board another train, unaware that the little card would eventually change his life.

Card Isaiah

You can still find examples of religious calling cards on ebay, Etsy and other Internet sites. But Isabella’s books demonstrated that religious calling cards by themselves were not enough to change a person’s life. In her stories, a calling card may have opened the door to a conversation about salvation, but it was the act of the person who gave the card—their kindness and concern for someone else—that turned those small pieces of cardstock into the means by which a soul was saved.


You can read more about the vagabond life John Morgan would have lead. Click here to read our previous post, The Fraternity of the Tramp.

Click on a book cover to read more about Isabella’s books mentioned in this post.

Cover_Workers Together v2   Cover_Spun from Fact   Cover_A New Graft on the Family Tree

Ladies Riding Cars

By 1900 streetcars were plentiful in large cities and were an accepted method of transportation about town. But riding the cars presented certain difficulties for ladies. There were, for instance, specific streetcar rules of etiquette for women. One of the primary rules was that ladies must refrain from riding the cars during peak commuting hours of the day, so they wouldn’t hinder men on their way to and from work.

Ladies’ conduct on streetcars had to be modest and lady-like at all times. Perspectives on Etiquette, an early book by Emily Post, admonished:

On the street, in streetcars, and in all public places, if your voice or conduct attracts attention you will be considered “loud,” “common,” vulgar.

That sentiment is in keeping with a scene Isabella Alden described in her book, Workers Together, where Miss Mason, the Sunday school teacher, observed one of her students, shop-girl Hester, behaving brazenly on the streetcar.

Behold, directly opposite to her, sat the girl with the queer bonnet! Queer it certainly was. Not merely the queerness of bad taste in selection, but that worst form of queerness—an attempt at being stylish, which, in this case, resulted only in a profusion of bright, cheap flowers, mingled with yards of bright ribbon of contrasting hue, so arranged that the whole effect was exasperating to refined taste. There were more serious defects about the girl than an ill chosen bonnet. She was a loud-voiced girl, who talked much and laughed much, and was altogether so very familiar with the young man in the gay neck-tie who stood before her, holding on by the strap, that Miss Mason shuddered as she listened.

Later, Miss Mason criticized Hester to the Sunday school superintendent:

“I don’t like the girl’s appearance. She is one of the loud-voiced, gay sort; converses on the street-car in a tone loud enough to be heard by all the passengers.”

There were other rules for ladies. Miss Leslie’s 1864 book, The Ladies’ Guide to True Politeness and Perfect Manners gave the following instructions:

If, on stopping an omnibus, you find that a dozen people are already seated in it, draw back, and refuse to add to the number; giving no heed to the assertion of the driver, that “there is plenty of room.” The passengers will not say so, and you have no right to crowd them all, even if you are willing to be crowded yourself—a thing that is extremely uncomfortable, and very injurious to your dress, which may, in consequence, be so squeezed and rumpled as never to look well again. 

It is most imprudent to ride in an omnibus with much money in your purse. Pickpockets of genteel appearance are too frequently among the passengers. 

If you are obliged to have money of any consequence about you, keep your hand all the time in that pocket.

No lady should venture to ride in an omnibus after dark, unless she is escorted by a gentleman whom she knows. She had better walk home, even under the protection of a servant. If alone in an omnibus at night, she is liable to meet with improper company, and perhaps be insulted.

Marion Harland’s 1914 book, Complete Etiquette advised:

One of the things that most women need to learn is the correct way of getting off a street-car, which is to step off with the right foot, facing front, which saves awkwardness in every case and sometimes, if the car starts too soon, an accident.

Why was this bit of helpful instruction so important? By 1910, women’s fashion had changed dramatically. Gone were voluminous skirts measuring three to four yards of fabric at the hemline. Instead, ladies’ skirts were close fitting with sometimes only a single yard of fabric at the hem. Called “hobble skirts”, these skirts were cinched at the ankles and often cinched at the knees.

Cartoonists lampooned the fashion, ministers decried them from the pulpit, and newspaper editors vilified women who wore them. The editor of the Monroe City Democrat in Missouri pronounced:

“Wearing a hobble skirt will make the sweetest girl resemble the stopper to a vinegar cruet.”

Women’s skirts had always posed a danger on streetcars; they got caught in doorways and their volume often blocked a woman’s view of steps and other hazards. Women often complained of the difficulty and immodesty they suffered in riding public transportation.

This newspaper photo of a lady in a wide-hemmed skirt (pre-dating the hobble skirt fashion) shows the difficulty women had climbing aboard streetcars and navigating steps that often measured 15″ to 20″ high.

But it wasn’t long before the introduction of hobble skirts had a disastrous impact on the street-car system. Cars stopped running on efficient schedules because ladies wearing the slim skirts blocked car doors while trying to hike their skirts up sufficiently to allow them to climb into the cars.

Image from the February 1914 issue of The Woman's Magazine

In subways, women were injured when they tried to step across the gap between the train and the subway platform and their feet slipped into the open space.

During rush hours, women who could not walk rapidly because of their skirts found themselves carried along by the force of the crowd behind them, or—even worse—pushed to the ground and trampled. In New York, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company was inundated by lawsuits from women who had been injured while entering, exiting or riding on cars.

Image from the June 1914 issue of The Woman's Magazine.

The problem reached such a pitch that the New York transit company designed and implemented a new model of streetcar to accommodate women. Called Hobble Skirt Cars, they were constructed lower to the ground and featured one wide, sliding door set in the middle of the car. Passengers boarded by climbing a single step that was only six inches from the ground.

New York City Hobble Skirt Cars running up Broadway
New York City Hobble Skirt Cars running up Broadway from a postcard circa 1914


Close-up of a New York Hobble Skirt car
Close-up of a New York Hobble Skirt car

The car design was a vast improvement and was so successful, more cars were ordered. By 1912 New York City ran Hobble Skirt Cars up and down Broadway and the engineering trend spread across the nation.

Photo from Chicago's The Day Book dated April 10, 1912
Photo from Chicago’s The Day Book dated April 10, 1912

The reinvented cars were a great relief for women, but their troubles weren’t over. Click on the link below to read an article from 1922—a time when women wore much shorter skirts with much wider hemlines. Even in 1922 ladies still struggled to use public transportation. The Evening World 1922-06-21 New York step height

All fashion plates in this post are from 1914 issues of  The Woman’s Magazine.

Click here to read more about “riding the cars” and public transportation in Isabella Alden’s day.