August is back-to-school month for students across America, much as it was in Isabella’s lifetime. As teenagers prepared to fill their days with classes and studies, they also prepared their wardrobes.
Isabella knew what it was like for girls and their parents to shop for new wardrobes and school supplies. In the late 1800s/early 1900s, the right hat and a pair of new gloves were essential for a high school or college student. Luckily there were plenty of articles in newspapers and magazines to help students and their parents solve their back-to-school fashion dilemmas.
Isabella began her novel Doris Farrand’s Vocation with one of those fashion dilemmas:
What should college student Doris Farrand wear to a school reception where she and her classmates were being honored?
Doris was indifferent to the problem, but her sister Athalie took on the task of updating her wardrobe, because …
“unless somebody else planned her clothes for her, [Doris] would go in rags.”
Thanks to Athalie’s efforts, Doris had a new hat to wear to the ceremony.
Like Doris, Miss Esther Randall (in Ester Ried’s Namesake) also struggled to stretch her college wardrobe, sometimes beyond its limits. She had a picnic to attend, and, perhaps, an evening at the theater, and she hadn’t a thing to wear. Isabella summed up Esther’s lament:
“Wherewithal shall she be clothed?”
Poor Esther’s wardrobe was so limited, she once wrote home to her parents:
I don’t think I shall accept any more social invitations. I haven’t time for them—nor gowns, for that matter. Sometimes I feel like a queer little nun in my one good dress that has to do duty on all occasions.
Unfortunately for Esther, it was the fashion for young women to wear white to their college graduation. As much as Esther dreamed of having a white dress like the ones her wealthy college friends would wear, she knew such a gown was out of reach; her missionary parents could never afford to buy her one.
Like many of Isabella’s characters, Doris and Esther wore “made over” wardrobes. Doris’ sister Athalie could take an old shirtwaist, for example, and updated it with a new collar and cuffs she made herself.
Women’s magazines of the time often gave instructions on how to accomplish it. Here’s one such article from a 1907 issue of The Ladies Home Journal:
And Esther’s mother—being a skilled needlewoman—could refresh an old skirt by adding a new band of fabric to the hem, in much the same way as The Ladies Home Journal recommended in a 1908 issue:
But no amount of sewing or alterations could help Esther as graduation day neared. As much as she dreamed of graduating in a beautiful white gown, she knew she had only that one “good” dress to wear, which had already done faithful duty during two seasons.
She knew how utterly impossible it would be to buy a new white dress—so impossible she never even considered praying about the matter. But someone else prayed on her behalf!
If you’ve read Esther Randall’s story, then you already know whether or not she ever received her heart’s desire and got to wear that coveted white dress. If you have not yet read Ester Ried’s Namesake or Doris Farrand’s Vocation, you can click on the book covers below to learn more:
It’s safe to say that few places on earth celebrate fame more than the state of California.
When Isabella and her husband Ross moved to Palo Alto, California in 1901, she joined a community of talented authors, artists, musicians, and actors already in residence.
The California State Library had a system for documenting famous and notable residents through a series of biographical index cards.
Some of the cards date as far back as 1781. Each card detailed the names, birthplaces and accomplishments of artists, soldiers, statesmen, “and other notables.” In most cases, the cards were completed by the person in their own handwriting.
Here’s a biographical card completed by silent film star Douglas Fairbanks in 1916:
Interestingly, Fairbank’s education—first at a military school, then as an engineering major at Denver’s School of Mines—could not have been more contrary to his ultimate career as one of early Hollywood’s most beloved actors.
Author John Steinbeck was only 33 years old when he completed his card:
His most famous novels, Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, had not yet been published.
In 1906 the State of California asked Isabella to complete a biographical card.
In her own handwriting Isabella wrote out her personal information on the front of the card:
Name in full: Isabella Macdonald Alden
Born at Rochester, N.Y., on Nov. 3, 1841.
Father, Isaac Macdonald
Mother (maiden name in full), Myra Spafford.
If married to whom? Rev. G. R. Alden
Place, Gloversville, N.Y.
Date, May 30, 1866
Where educated, Seneca Collegiate Institute – Ovid, N.Y.
Years spent in California, five
Residences in State, Palo Alto, Calif.
Present Address, 455 University Ave., Palo Alto, Calif.
(A state employee noted on the card Pansy’s date of death, August 5, 1930.)
The back of the card is also written in Isabella’s hand.
Published works and periodicals for which you have written:
I enclose with this card a printed list of my books. I was for 25 years editor of a juvenile monthly magazine – named The Pansy; and for the same length of time I was the Editorial staff of the Westminster S. S. Teachers. I am now on the Editorial staff of the Herald & Presbyter, Cincinnati, with which paper I have been associated for 33 years.
I have for the past twelve years had a department in the Christian Endeavor World — As to Clubs, etc. I have been honored by being elected to a number of local literary clubs, and to membership in the Women’s Press Association.
When Isabella completed this card in 1906 her novel Ester Ried’s Namesake was published. In the following years she would go on to publish Ruth Erskine’s Son, The Browns at Mount Hermon, FourMothersatChautauqua, and five more novels.
This sample of Isabella’s handwriting reveals a few things about her. For example, the distinctive way she forms her capital letters—especially C, M and H—indicates she was taught to write script in a style that was popular around 1850. In particular, she forms her capital letters with a finishing loop that could easily be mistaken for a lower case “a” or “o.”
In this handwriting example from the 1850 United States Federal Census, you can see the census taker had a similar slant to his writing and formed his capital letters in the same way Isabella did.
Her card also shows she was very proud of her work as editor of The Pansy and other Christian publications. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find a copy of the list of published works she referenced on her card; it would be interesting to see if there were any titles she listed that aren’t among Pansy’s known published works we’ve compiled!
Sometimes people who filled out the cards also submitted photographs, pertinent letters, and copies of published books. While there’s no record that Isabella submitted such items, it’s clear the State of California has an extensive and rich collection that would be interesting and fun for any researcher or fan to explore.
You can click on any of the images in this post to see a larger version.
All the world loves to play, and the characters in Isabella’s novels were no exception. Come springtime, many of Isabella’s characters headed outdoors to engage in some kind of sport for fun and relaxation.
Ester Randall and her friends played tennis in Ester Ried’s Namesake.
In What They Couldn’t, Professor Landis enjoyed neighborhood baseball games until his few leisure hours were overtaken by the duties of his profession.
On the other hand, Irene Burnham was a lady of leisure in Ruth Erskine’s Son. She had plenty of time to play tennis and golf.
By the time Irene Burnham appeared in the novel, lady golfers had been swinging their clubs for centuries. Mary Queen of Scots was said to be an avid golfer.
Legend has it Mary coined the term “caddie.” She also incurred the anger of her church and her subjects when, in 1567, she hit the links within days of her husband being murdered.
When Isabella was young, golf was a game of leisure and skill that few women could afford to play. But with the advent of public golf courses in the early twentieth century, more women began to take up the game.
In 1897 the first 7-hole tournament for ladies was held in Morristown, New Jersey.
In 1895 the first women’s amateur tournament was held in Hampstead, New York.
There was plenty of advice available for women who wanted to learn to play the game. That advice often focused on what women should wear on the golf course:
Other advice centered on women’s conduct on the links, as in this article from The Philipsburg Montana Mail, on Jul 22, 1898:
Isabella’s friend and fellow author Margaret Sangster published a book of etiquette in 1904, in which she included a chapter on how women should behave on the golf course.
One of Ms. Sangster’s comments suggests she may have thought golfing an unfeminine pastime. She wrote:
Now, we do not presume to dictate, but we must observe that the posture and gestures requisite for a full swing are not particularly graceful when the player is clad in female dress.
Ms. Sangster also worried that male golfers might see their scores suffer when there were women on the course:
If women choose to play at times when the male golfers are feeding or resting, no one can object; but at other times—must we say it?—they are in the way, just because gallantry forbids to treat them exactly as men.
Are you a lady golfer, or know someone who is?
What do you think of those determined lady golfers of bygone years who risked their “graceful” femininity to play the game—and the “gallant” men who played with them?
Four farthings and a thimble, Make a tailor’s pocket jingle. —Old English Proverb
During Isabella’s lifetime, sewing and needlework were part of a woman’s daily life.
In her novel Workers Together; An Endless Chain Joy Saunders’ workbasket includes a “small gold thimble and her own blue needle-case.”
Some of Isabella’s female characters, like Mrs. Bryant, sewed every day because that’s how they earned their living.
Other characters, like wealthy Miss Sutherland, plied their needles to create fancy table linens and delicate trims, like ruffles and laces.
In Isabella’s stories, thimbles were sometimes utilitarian—little more than tools to accomplish a task.
An example is in Ester Ried’s Namesake (Book 7 of the Ester Ried Series), when the president of the Ladies’ Aid Society called the meeting to order by “tapping with her silver thimble on the table.”
Other times, Isabella used thimbles help us understand how a character was feeling, as in this description of Helen Randolph in Household Puzzles:
Helen was in absolute ill humor. Some heavy trial had evidently crossed her path. She sewed industriously, but with that ominous click of the needle against her thimble, and an angry snipping of her thread by the pert little scissors, that plainly indicated a disturbed state of mind.
More often than not, though, thimbles appear in Isabella’s stories in very sweet ways. One example is in Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant, when little Daisy Bryant’s mother surprises her with the gift of a sewing box on Christmas morning:
There had been intense excitement over that box; for, in addition to the spools, and the needle-book, gifts from mother, there had gleamed before Daisy’s astonished eyes a real truly silver thimble, of just the right size for her small finger.
Another example appears in the novel, Pauline, when Mr. Curtis shows his love for his fiancé Constance by preparing a sitting-room in his house just for her:
It all looked charming to him that evening, with the departing rays of the sun glinting the needle, Constance’s needle, and touching also his mother’s small gold thimble that lay waiting. He had taken steps toward the assurance that the thimble would fit. On the day after tomorrow, when they stood here beside his mother’s chair, he would tell Constance how he had brought the gold thimble to his mother one day, and she had said, with one of her tender smiles, “I will wear it, my son, whenever I am taking stitches for you; and someday you will give it to your wife, and tell her from me that it has taken love stitches for you all its life and must always be kept for such service.”
Sometimes thimbles play a role in building bridges between Isabella’s characters, as in A New Graft on the Family Tree.
When Louise Morgan and her new husband move in with his family, she has difficulty winning over her resentful new mother-in-law, until she realizes they have a common interest: Needlework.
Presently she came, thimble and needle-case in hand, and established herself on one of the yellow wooden chairs to make button-holes in the dingy calico; and, with the delicate stitches in those button-holes, she worked an entrance-way into her mother-in- law’s heart.
Rebecca Harlow Edwards finds herself in the same situation (in Links in Rebecca’s Life). She and her new husband live in the same house with her mother-in-law, and in the early days of marriage, Rebecca struggles to find a way to fit in. So, one afternoon . . .
. . . about the usual hour for calls, she went daintily dressed in a home dress for afternoon, and with a bit of sewing-work in hand, and tapped softly at the door of her mother’s room.
“Are you awake?” she asked, “and are you ready to receive calls, because I have come to call on you?”
“Really,” Mrs. Edwards said, half rising from her rocker, and looking bewildered, “this is an unexpected pleasure! Am I to take you to the parlor, where I usually receive my calls?”
“No,” Rebecca said, laughing, and trying to ignore the quick rush of color to her face. “I am to be a more privileged caller than that. I have brought my work, and intend to make a visit. I used to go to mother’s room and make a call very often.”
The elder Mrs. Edwards was almost embarrassed. It was very unusual for her to have any such feeling, and she did not know how to treat it.
Rebecca, however, had determined to pretend, at least, that she felt very much at home. She helped herself to a low chair and brought out her thimble, and challenged her mother-in-law at once to know whether her work was not pretty. As she did so, it gave her a strange sense of her unfilial life, as she remembered that that same bit of work had been the resort of her half-idle moments for some weeks, and that yet she had never shown it to Mrs. Edwards before.
It proved to be a lucky piece of work. It gave Mrs. Edwards an idea, and suggested a line of thought that was so natural to her that she forgot the embarrassment of the situation at once.
It’s a sure bet that Isabella Alden was herself a sewer. She may have plied her needle to hem an everyday handkerchief, or she may have used her talents to create fancywork items for her home. But it’s a testament to Isabella’s skill as a story-teller that she could make a simple, everyday item like a thimble figure so prominently in some of the most important scenes in her novels.
How about you? Do you enjoy sewing? Do you use a thimble when you sew? Is it plain and utilitarian, or decorative? Old or new?
If you’ve read Isabella’s novel Ester Ried’s Namesake, you probably remember Esther Ried Randall’s reaction when handsome Professor Langham invited her to join a party he was organizing.
His plan was to drive a group of friends to the city to spend the day, then treat everyone to an evening show at the theater.
Poor Esther! She wanted so much to drive to town and spend a day shopping and seeing the sights; but her loving Christian parents had taught her that good Christians did not attend theater performances.
With her parents’ scruples in mind, Esther declined the professor’s invitation, saying:
“I may as well tell you plainly that I do not attend the theater.”
“Oh, is that all? As a rule I think I may be said not to do so myself. But isn’t it drawing the line rather closely, being in fact what might be called Puritanical, not to go at all?”
There was an amused smile on his face and a note of amused toleration in his voice. Still, Esther might have answered him quietly but for that word “Puritanical.” Over that she flamed.
Doris Farrand struggled with the same issue when her boyfriend Richard invited her to attend a play with “a splendid moral lesson” in the book Doris Farrand’s Vocation.
When Doris declined his invitation, Richard couldn’t understand her reason; neither could Doris’s sister, Athalie, who told Doris:
“It seems narrow-minded to object to [theater-going] these days. Why, Doris, the very best people go to this particular play.”
Doris’s boyfriend was a seminary student; he was studying to be a minister. Surely, he argued, he was a better judge of what was right and wrong; surely Doris should trust his judgment and go with him to the theater.
But in the end, Doris stood firm in her decision to remain at home, which didn’t please Richard at all.
Esther Randall also stayed at home, and struggled with the idea of living by her parents’ “hated scruples.” She felt she was missing out on all the fun in life, merely because her mother and father had some old-fashioned ideas.
Esther’s best friend told her:
“You live in a little narrow space all hedged about with ‘Thou shalt nots’ or ‘I must nots,’ and that seems to be all there is of your religion.”
Esther couldn’t have agreed more!
In the book, Isabella describes Esther’s struggles in a very compelling way. Isabella understood what it was like to be young and want to go where her friends went and do that they did.
But as a Christian, Isabella was very aware of the example she set for her family, friends, and acquaintances.
And because her husband was a minister, Isabella knew members of the congregation scrutinized her behavior—some did so to take inspiration, and others to find fault.
Whatever their reasons, Isabella knew people watched her, and she was careful to set what she hoped was a good and clear example of Christian living.
She often mentioned Romans 14:15-16 as her guide:
For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.
Therefore, do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.
Isabella knew those verses weren’t just about food; they applied to anything a Christian might do or say that could influence others.
She knew that if a non-believer—or a new or struggling Christian—should see her entering a theater to see a morality play, that non-believer might assume that she went to other plays, as well, and that she considered any theater production to be acceptable.
Isabella didn’t want to run that risk, so she made it a rule in her life not to attend the theater for any reason.
She wasn’t alone in setting that standard. In 1892 Methodist Bishop John Heyl Vincent (a co-founder of Chautauqua Institution) published a short book titled Better Not.
In his book Bishop Vincent explained why Christians should ask themselves hard questions about their actions, and whether those actions were harmful or helpful to a soul who may follow their lead.
Isabella agreed with Bishop Vincent’s position, and even mentioned his book Better Not in her story of Esther Ried Randall’s struggle with “scruples.”
She hoped that young Christian women who read Esther’s story would be inspired to keep those two verses in Romans foremost in their minds whenever they planned an evening entertainment with friends and family.
You can read Bishop Vincent’s book Better Not for free! Click here to find it on Google Books. Then click on the red “Ebook – Free” button to read it on your phone or table, or to download it as a pdf.
And you can click on the book cover to find out more about Ester Ried’s Namesake (Book 7 in the Ester Ried Series).
Last week Apple unveiled its new iPhone with the latest innovations in communication technology. Its release came 130 years after Isabella Alden first mentioned the telephone in the plot of one of her novels.
As convenient and indispensable as phones have become in our modern age, the same could be said of telephones in Isabella’s time. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, telephones changed the way Americans lived.
Isabella was 35 years old when Alexander Graham Bell patented his version of the telephone in 1876; but that first model had very limited capabilities.
Although the early Bell telephones certainly transmitted sound, they only worked between two locations that were hard-wired to each other.
Then, in 1878, a man named George Coy invented the telephone exchange and immediately turned the telephone into a much more practical invention.
Instead of telephone lines being strung between two locations as Bell had envisioned, Coy’s exchanges linked any number of telephones to a single point: a switchboard.
At the exchange, legions of trained switchboard operators used a series of cords and sliding keys to connect and reroute incoming calls to other telephones linked to the exchange.
Thanks to those exchanges, telephone line construction exploded with growth over the next few years. By 1880, there were 47,900 telephones across America. By 1881, telephone service between Boston and Providence was established. By 1892, a telephone line had been constructed between New York and Chicago; and two years later New York and Boston were connected.
Another benefit of those exchanges: jobs. As telephone service expanded, more and more trained switchboard operators were needed to connect calls; and the majority of the operators hired were women.
When Isabella published her novel Eighty-Seven, she included a character who worked as a switchboard operator. Her name was Fanny Porter, and she worked in the Dunbar Street Telephone Office. Another character in the story described Fanny as …
… a bright, pretty girl, young, and quite alone here. She lives in a dreary boarding-house, and used to have some of the most desolate evenings which could be imagined.
Fortunately, not all switchboard operators lived and worked under such conditions. While the majority of switchboard jobs required working for a Bell Telephone Company, there were other positions available. For example, some large businesses that required multiple telephone extensions were equipped with their own exchanges and hired operators to run them.
In fact, businesses were the foremost users of the telephone in the late 1890s. That’s because, in general, phones were too expensive for individual homeowners to install and maintain; but Mr. Mackenzie, the wealthy businessman in Isabella’s novel Wanted, could afford to have a telephone in his home.
In fact, the telephone plays a small but pivotal role in the story. When Rebecca Meredith, the novel’s heroine, first meets Mr. Mackenzie, she thinks he’s hateful and selfish, until she mentions one evening that his young daughter is a little hoarse. To her surprise, Mr. Mackenzie immediately telephones the doctor and …
… administered with his own hand the medicine ordered. Even after the doctor had made light of fears and gone his way, the father sat with his finger on Lilian’s small wrist and counted the beats skillfully and anxiously.
After witnessing his tenderness for his daughter, Rebecca begins to change her opinion about Mr. Mackenzie.
In her 1892 book, John Remington, Martyr, Aleck Palmer was also a young man of great fortune; he, too, had a telephone in his home and business, which caused Mrs. Remington some concern. You see, she was intent on playing matchmaker between Aleck Palmer and her friend Elsie Chilton and invited the unsuspecting couple to dinner without letting either know the other had been invited. As Mrs. Remington explained to her husband:
Elsie is getting to be such a simpleton that I am afraid she would run home if I should let her know he was coming; and as for him, he is developing such idiotic qualities in connection with her, that I feel by no means certain he would not get up a telephone message or something of the sort to call him immediately to the office, if he should know before the dinner bell rang that Elsie was in the house.
But by the time the 20th Century dawned, the demographics and cost of telephone usage changed dramatically. Telephone companies had connected most major cities and strung sufficient telephone lines across the country to bring costs down, and phone company executives began to set their sights on a new goal: providing service to residential customers.
At first, advertising to consumers stressed the obvious: keep in touch with friends and family.
Then, in 1910 the Bell Telephone Companies developed several strong marketing campaigns that offered different reasons why every home should have a telephone. One campaign was directed specifically at the lady of the house.
The ads had strong visual cues, like this one illustrating how a phone in the home meant a family could summon a doctor quickly:
The series of ads was printed in magazines and on postcards, showing how a Bell telephone …
… keeps travelers in touch with home …
… guards the home by night as well as by day …
… summons help during household emergencies …
… relieves anxieties over a loved one …
… and quickly helps arrange replacements when servants fail you.
The ad campaigns were extremely successful. People began to think of telephones as an essential tool for the home, instead of a mere convenience. Soon, telephone companies across the country were installing residential telephones at an astonishing pace.
And after each new installation was complete, telephone residential customers notified friends and family of their new phone number by sending out cards like these:
Soon telephones became not only an essential device for the home, but a convenient tool for the lady of the house. In Ester Ried’s Namesake, published in 1906, Ester Randall worked as a cook in the home of the Victor family. And being a stylish family, the Victors, of course, had a telephone, which Mrs. Victor used regularly, as in this scene where she explained to Ester her plans for dinner:
We’ll make the dinner light and easy to manage; just a steak and some baked potatoes and canned corn. Did you say there was no corn? Oh, I remember, you told me yesterday, didn’t you? Well, just phone for it. Call up Streator’s, they are always prompt; tell them they must be. And we’ll just have sliced tomatoes with lettuce for salad; all easy things to manage, you see. As for dessert, make it cake and fruit—strawberries, or peaches, it doesn’t matter which. Why, dear me, that dinner will almost get itself, won’t it?
It’s amazing to think that Isabella Alden saw the development of one of the greatest inventions of the Twentieth Century. In her time the telephone was innovative and exciting. It opened new avenues of jobs for women and changed the way people interacted with each other; and Isabella reflected those changes in her novels and stories that we still read and appreciate today.
You can read more about Isabella’s novels mentioned in this post by clicking on the book covers below:
When the ladies of the 10th Street Church set out to clean the sanctuary in Ester Ried’s Namesake, they armed themselves with pails, brooms, dust-cloths and … Sapolio.
Sapolio was the brand name of a bar soap manufactured by Enoch Morgan’s Sons Company. There was Hand Sapolio for everyday use in the toilet and bath.
And there was the large Sapolio cake for household cleaning purposes, which was the company’s most popular product.
Isabella mentioned the product more than once in her descriptions of the busy ladies’ efforts to clean the room in which they worshipped.
The ladies used Sapolio to scrub the floors and polish the globes on the gas lamps.
Ads for Sapolio claimed their product could do much more:
It will clean paint, marble, oil cloths, bath tubs, crockery, kitchen utensils, windows, etc.
It will polish tin, brass, copper and steel wares of all kinds.
Sapolio was “probably the best advertised product” in the country, according to Time Magazine. Sapolio ads appeared in magazines, newspapers, and trade cards.
Their ads were inventive, entertaining, and often elaborate.
Click this link to see one of their full-page newspapers ads from 1889 in the Omaha Daily Bee.
Their advertising campaigns appealed to homemakers and housekeepers, ladies of leisure and scullery maids.
The advertising paid off. From the 1890s to 1920s, Sapolio was the best-selling cleaning product in America.
And then Sapolio executives made a fatal mistake. They believed their product was so well ensconced in the minds of the buying public, they stopped advertising.
In the short-term they might have saved money, but in the long-term the decision proved disastrous. Sapolio soon disappeared from store shelves and customer’s homes. Buyers turned to the competition, and Sapolio sales never recovered. The company that made Sapolio was almost destroyed; eventually they sold what was left of the business to a South American company.
Today Sapolio products are still sold in South America (especially Peru and Chile) and they get rave reviews; but Sapolio will never again enjoy the popularity it once had when Isabella Alden wrote about in the pages of Ester Ried’s Namesake.
At the height of her popularity, Isabella Alden was one of the most widely-read authors in the world. One of the things that made her so popular—and unique—was the varying ages of her readers: she had just as many children who were dedicated fans of her books as she had adult fans. And they all wrote letters to her.
She received letters by the thousands, addressed to her publisher, to her home, and to the offices of her magazine, The Pansy. And she answered them all!
Some fans wrote to request her autograph and a photo. Others asked for advice on how to become a great author or they sent their own manuscripts and asked for her opinion.
Some asked for advice on other topics, from how to get a good husband to the best way to stop fingernail biting. One fan even asked for pieces of her best dress so they could be sewn into a patchwork quilt the fan was sewing!
But the fan mail Isabella received most often was about her book Ester Ried. Ester Ried was incredibly popular and prompted scores of readers to send Isabella letters thanking her for the book’s message.
Fans wrote to Isabella about how they saw themselves in Ester’s struggles and her impatience with life’s daily annoyances. But mostly, readers identified with the lessons Ester learned; they took to heart the promise that God would bring peace and happiness to their lives, if only they trusted in Him.
What started as a single book soon blossomed into an ongoing series. The Ester Ried series gave fans of the original book glimpses into the lives of the characters they loved. Readers grabbed up each new story about the Ried family members and their trials as they grew up, married, and learned to trust God to help them through a sometimes difficult world.
Two years after Ester Ried was published came Julia Ried, a sequel that focused on Ester’s younger sister Julia and the lessons she learns about faith in times of temptation. It also brought readers up to date on Abbie Ried’s story after the tragic turn her life took in Ester Ried.
The following year Isabella published the third book in the series, The King’s Daughter. In this book Isabella introduced the character of Miss Dell Bronson. Unlike Ester or Julia, Dell was rock solid in her faith and trusted God in her daily life, but she still had challenges to face. And she still had lessons to learn in Wise and Otherwise, the next book in the series.
Isabella commissioned her best friend Theodosia Foster to write book five. Echoing and Re-Echoing (written under Theodosia’s pen name Faye Huntington) centers around Ralph Ried, Abbie’s brother, who, as a new minister, struggles to reach his flock through his Sunday sermons.
Isabella’s fans particularly loved the sixth book in the series, Ester Ried Yet Speaking, because it included the character of Flossy Shipley. Flossy was originally introduced to readers in Four Girls at Chautauqua. In Ester Ried Yet Speaking readers got to find out what happened to Flossy after her marriage to Evan Roberts. They also met Dr. Everett, Hester Mason, and Joy Saunders, who were the main characters in Isabella’s later book, Workers Together; An Endless Chain.
Isabella waited nine years before she published Ester Ried’s Namesake. It was intended to be the last book in the series, but fans wrote to beg for more.
Even Isabella’s niece, Grace Livingston Hill, encouraged her to write “one more long story.” Grace suggested she write about Ester Ried’s granddaughter or great-granddaughter, and thereby reach an entirely new generation of readers with the original book’s message.
But by that time, Isabella was 86 years old and in failing health. One more “long story” was beyond her abilities, she told Grace. “You have altogether too high an opinion of me.”
Many fans of the series think the Ester Ried books are perfect, just as they are; the only difference is that today’s readers have the option to read the books electronically. A new generation of Ester Ried e-books is available on Amazon and other e-book retail sites.
Have you read the books in the Ester Ried Series? Which book is your favorite?
You can click on any of the book covers in this post to find out more about each title.