Tag Archives: Ester Ried’s Namesake

A Stranger in New York

28 Mar

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.

A 1908 theater poster for Guiseppe Verdi’s opera, “Aida.”

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.

“Beverly” was a popular play in 1904. It was based on the best-selling novel of the same name by George Barr McCutcheon. Renowned artist Harrison Fisher created the poster artwork.

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.

In 1898 “The Sorrows of Satan,” based on the best-selling novel by Marie Corelli, was a moralistic play with a Faustian theme.

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.”

“The Curse of Drink” was a 1904 temperance play that portrayed one man’s addiction to drink, and it’s affect on his family.

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.

“Alice Sit by the Fire” was a sweet, wholesome play written by J. M. Barrie, the author of “Peter Pan” and “The Little Minister.” Actress Mary Shaw starred in the 1907 production.

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.

“The Shoemaker” was a heart-warming 1907 play that promised it’s audience “tears and laughter.”

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.

This innocuous-looking ad for a new play, “A Stranger in New York” appeared in an 1890 Brooklyn, New York newspaper.

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.

This poster for “A Stranger in New York” may look innocent by today’s standards; but in 1890 it was quite risqué. Ladies did not lift their skirts to show their ankles; nor did they allow men to put their arms around them in a familiar manner.

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.

Another poster for “A Stranger in New York.” The image includes every possible element that was contrary to Christian standards of the time: women wearing short skirts and scandalously revealing leotards, cigars, wine, and flirtatious behavior.

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).

iPhones and Isabella

20 Sep

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.

Inventor Alexander Graham Bell

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Although the early Bell telephones certainly transmitted sound, they only worked between two locations that were hard-wired to each other.

An illustration of Bell demonstrating his invention in 1877

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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.

An 1890 illustration of women working a switchboard at a telephone exchange.

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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.

An early telephone exchange, about 1898

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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.

Switchboard operators at the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company near Washington, D.C.

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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.

A 1911 photograph of a switchboard telephone operator.

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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.

Switchboard operators in 1914

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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.

Switchboard operators in an office, about 1910.

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.

Blowing kisses over the phone, 1908.

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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.

This Bell Companies business card for the Philadelphia area cites the number of installations locally and nationally. The blank space was filled in by an installation or service subcontractor with his own contact information.

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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:

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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:

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cake of Sapolio

16 Aug

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 02

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.

Sapolio 1909

And there was the large Sapolio cake for household cleaning purposes, which was the company’s most popular product.

Sapolio 01

Isabella mentioned the product more than once in her descriptions of the busy ladies’ efforts to clean the room in which they worshipped.

Sapolio 08

The ladies used Sapolio to scrub the floors and polish the globes on the gas lamps.

Sapolio 06 v 2

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 05

Sapolio was “probably the best advertised product” in the country, according to Time Magazine. Sapolio ads appeared in magazines, newspapers, and trade cards.

Sapolio 07

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.

Sapolio from San Antonio Daily Express 1890 02-21

Their advertising campaigns appealed to homemakers and housekeepers, ladies of leisure and scullery maids.

Sapolio 12

The advertising paid off. From the 1890s to 1920s, Sapolio was the best-selling cleaning product in America.

Sapolio 10 1909

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.

Sapolio 04

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.

Sapolio 11

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.

Fan Mail and Ester Ried

9 Aug

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!

Isabella Alden in an undated photograph.

Isabella Alden in an undated photograph.

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!

An early cover for Ester Ried

An early cover for Ester Ried

But the fan mail Isabella received most often was about her book Ester RiedEster Ried was incredibly popular and prompted scores of readers to send Isabella letters thanking her for the book’s message.

New cover for the 2016 release of Ester Ried

New cover for the 2016 release of Ester Ried

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.

Cover_Julia Ried

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.

Cover_The King's Daughter

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.

Cover_Wise and Otherwise

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.

Cover_Echoing and Re-echoing

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.

Cover_Ester Ried Yet Speaking

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.

Cover_Ester Rieds Namesake

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.

Boxed set e-book cover for Ester Ried, the Complete Series.

Boxed set e-book cover for Ester Ried, the Complete Series.

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.

Writer Jenny Berlin

Faith, romance, and a place to belong

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Britt Reads Fiction

Reviews and giveaways for Christian fiction and sweet, clean fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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