In 1895 Isabella and her family were living in May’s Landing, New Jersey, where her husband, Reverend Gustavus Alden, had charge of the Presbyterian Church.
While her husband was busy with his responsibilities, Isabella paid an early September visit to her hometown of Gloversville, New York.
Her son Raymond (age 22 at the time) and adopted daughter Frances (age 3) accompanied her.
The residents of Gloversville welcomed Isabella back with open arms, and—as they often did—they invited her to speak at one of their assemblies. The evening of Tuesday, September 17 was decided upon, and the local newspaper promoted the event:
The evening began with musical selections, then Isabella took the stage to “an outburst of applause.” She read one her stories, which the newspaper reported was titled “Miss Hunter.”
You may already be familiar with “Miss Hunter.” The character of Miss Priscilla Hunter was one of Isabella’s favorites, and she appeared in four of Isabella’s stories:
Miss Priscilla Hunter
People Who Haven’t Time and Can’t Afford It
The Man of the House
One Commonplace Day
But each of these stories and novels were published well before 1895, and the newspaper reported that Isabella read a brand new story, written specifically for the occasion, that featured a character named Miss Hunter. The newspaper account of the evening noted that the story was “interesting and kept the close attention of the audience,” but gave no additional details about the story.
On Thursday morning, September 19, Isabella left Gloversville and headed back to her home in New Jersey.
She also left us with questions: What was the story she read aloud to the audience at the Presbyterian church? Is there another Pansy story about “Miss Hunter” that has yet to be found?
Until the mystery can be solved, you can read more about the fictional character of Miss Priscilla Hunter—and the stories we she appeared in—by clicking here.
You can also click here to read about Isabella’s charming hometown of Gloversville, New York, and the business her father had there.
As the wife of a Presbyterian minister, Isabella moved house frequently, depending on when and where the Presbyterian Church assigned her husband. One of those moves occurred in 1876 when Isabella was 37 years old.
For a period of three short years (from 1876 to 1879), the Aldens lived in Greensburg, Indiana, where her husband had the ministry of Greensburg’s Presbyterian congregation.
In typical Pansy fashion, Isabella probably got right to work in her new community, serving the members of her husband’s congregation, writing stories intended to win souls for Christ, and speaking out on matters of importance to women.
In addition, Isabella maintained a very busy travel schedule. Here are just a few entries from her calendar that year:
Isabella was in Cincinnati, Ohio, delivering a lecture “for the benefit of the Benevolent Society.”
Her schedule took her to Indianapolis, Indiana, where she read a paper titled “What I Know about Boys” at the state’s annual Sunday-School Convention:
The first week of August saw Isabella at the Methodist Sunday-School Assembly at Lakeside, Ohio, where she was one of a number of teachers who led daily children’s classes throughout the week.
Isabella was in New York in her home town of Gloversville, where she read one of her short stories—“What She Said and What She Meant”—to an audience at the Baptist Church.
Isabella was back in Indiana, this time giving a temperance reading to an audience in Indianapolis, about forty-eight miles from her Greensburg home.
At a time when the fastest way to travel was by train or horse-drawn carriage, Isabella sure got around!
By the way, Isabella’s story “What She Said and What She Meant” was published in 1880 and you can read it for free! Just click on the book cover below to begin reading.
Isabella often modeled the characters in her books after family members and friends. That was the case with “Little Minie” who appeared in more than a dozen of Isabella’s novels under the names “Minie” or sometimes “Minnie.”
In real life, “Little Minie” was Myra Heaton, but her family—including her adoring “Auntie Belle”—called her Minie.
Minie was born on May 30, 1861, and was named for her grandmother, Myra Spafford Macdonald (Isabella’s mother).
Minie’s mother was Isabella’s older sister Mary; her father was George Heaton, a newspaper publisher.
You may remember that it was George who published the first story Isabella wrote. Titled “Our Old Clock,” it appeared in his newspaper when Isabella was just a child. (You can read more about that here.)
George was a devout Christian, a temperance worker, and active in his church. This record from the First Presbyterian Church in Gloversville, New York shows George was elected as a Church Elder in 1864 and served in that capacity until his death in 1870.
Isabella was 23 years old and still living at home when Minie was born. Isabella called her “the special darling of our home.”
She forged a special bond with Minie, which was helped because Minie lived so close by. Isabella, her sister Julia and their parents lived in a large home in Gloversville. On adjoining lots were the homes of Isabella’s oldest sister, Elizabeth, who was married to Hiram Titus, and Mary, who was married to George Heaton.
Family members passed between the three houses often and with ease, which was especially fortunate. As Isabella later wrote of her mother, “no one in our family ever could get ready to do anything without grandma’s help.” If there was a large meal to prepare, travel trunks to be packed, or big cleaning jobs to be done, Isabella’s mother—as well as members of all three extended families—had only to go “next door” to ask for or offer help.
Isabella wrote that the Heaton home was “at the upper end of the garden” behind her house, so it was only a few easy steps to visit Minie, or gather her up to take her back to Isabella’s own home for a visit and some pampering.
Minie grew up loving Jesus and trusting God. When Minie’s parents had to take a week-long trip, Minie stayed with Isabella and “Auntie Belle’s” mother and father. As Isabella walked Minie through the garden to the Macdonald home to spend her first night there, wise little Minie gave Isabella this advice:
“Auntie Belle, you must say your prayers every night and morning, always, no matter if your mamma is away; because God isn’t away, you know—he never packs his trunk and goes on a journey.”
Isabella adored her Minie, and spent precious time with her every day.
When Isabella married the Reverend Gustavus “Ross” Alden in 1866, she chose Minie’s fourth birthday as her wedding day, and Minie enjoyed special privileges throughout the day. She even joined the bride and groom on their ride in a beautiful barouche to the train station after the ceremony and reception. Thereafter, Minie often visited Isabella and Ross, who lived not far away.
In 1870, when Minie was eight years old, Isabella’s father became ill, and it was clear to everyone in the family that he was dying.
Minie and Isabella spent most of their summer in Isaac Macdonald’s room, keeping him company and soothing him when needed. Isabella wrote:
It was her delight to fan him, to arrange the pillows for him, to read to him in her soft, gentle voice; to sing to him when he was restless and feverish.
Minie would recite many little pieces to him, but his favorite was:
Many kinds of darkness In the world are found; There’s sin, there’s want, there’s sorrow, So we must shine. You, in your little corner, And I, in mine.
Isabella’s father died on July 26, 1870, not long after Minie finished singing one of his favorite hymns to him. The entire family grieved, but Minie cheered Isabella with this perspective:
“Oh, Auntie Belle, if he could only have taken us all right up to heaven with him, how sweet it would have been.”
By 1875, Minie was a vibrant, active fourteen-year-old; but in December of that year, she, too, fell ill. She was sick only a week, Isabella later wrote. Minie died on December 30.
A week later, Isabella wrote of the loss of her “special darling” in a letter to her Pansy Society, which she published in The Pansy magazine.
“Last Thursday at midnight the Lord Jesus called our darling Minie. He wanted her to come up to His beautiful home to live. She was not one bit afraid to go, for she knew and loved Jesus, and remembered His promise that she should come up there some day.
“Minie is resting today and forever with Him. But, oh—we miss her so!
“Still, we cannot help being glad that she will never be sick, or afraid, or unhappy anymore; and that we are all invited to come and live if we choose in that beautiful world, by and by. I choose. Do not you? I have promised to follow His directions. Have you? I am surely going, are you?”
As always, Isabella turned her heartbreak into an opportunity to talk to her young readers about God’s promise of salvation through Christ.
She received many replies from young members of her Pansy Society, and later said, “I like to think that dear Minie has already welcomed precious friends to that eternal home. It is a joy to me to linger over the memory of the earthly life of this young disciple who was not quite fifteen when God called her home.”
Now you know what inspired Isabella to create a “Minie” character in her Ester Ried books, in her novels Chrissy’s Endeavor, Only Ten Cents, and so many others. In each story, Isabella paid a small tribute to her “special darling,” little Minie Heaton.
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Isabella had a special bond with her father, Isaac Macdonald. She might even have been what we would call in today’s world a “daddy’s girl.” But the truth was that her father was undoubtedly the single most influential person in her life when she was growing up.
In his younger years Isaac Macdonald earned his living as a farmer, but with a wife and six children to support, he left farming and established a box-making business in Gloversville, New York.
Many years later, after Isabella became a best-selling author, a Gloversville newspaper wrote a brief article about her early years in that town. The writer of the article briefly mentioned her father:
Isaac was a box maker, and if his boxes are any index to his character, he was staunch and worthy. He lies in our pleasant cemetery, but there are boxes still in use made by his faithful hands.
It’s a brief paragraph, but with its use of the words character, worthy, and faithful, we get a glimpse of Isaac Macdonald’s reputation among his neighbors and friends.
In the many stories and anecdotes Isabella shared about her father, she paints a picture of a loving man of immense faith.
In his home circle, he ably fulfilled his role as provider, protector, leader and teacher. He was eternally patient with his children and grandchildren; and he instilled in them an unbreakable faith in God and His Word.
Most of all, Isaac valued honesty, a fact Isabella illustrated in a story that took place when she was an adult and her young niece Minie was staying at the family home.
Isabella’s sister Julia teasingly told little Minie that she was going to serve butterflies and caterpillars for tea, which greatly shocked and upset the little girl. Julia, however, thought Minie’s reaction was funny; she told the story to the family later that day “with many descriptions of Minie’s shocked tones and looks, and much laughter.”
Only Isaac looked grave. When the laughter was over he said to Julia:
“How many years do you suppose it will be before Minie will discover that you haven’t told her the truth?”
“The truth!” said Julia, in surprise. “Why, of course it wasn’t truth. It was only in fun, you know. Whoever supposed that the absurd little monkey would believe it?” and she laughed again at the thought.
“But, you see, she did believe it,” Isaac said. “She believed it because you told it to her. She has great faith in your word, you see. I would be very careful not to give that faith a shock if I were you.”
“Why, dear me!” Julia said, with puzzled face; “I never thought about its being anything serious. Don’t you think it is right to say anything in fun to a child?”
“I don’t think it is right to say anything but the truth to anyone,” Isaac said, emphatically; “least of all to a child.”
Isabella never forgot the lesson.
Isaac’s teachings with Isabella extended beyond those that would shape her character. In an interview with The Ladies Home Journal, Isabella said that it was her father who taught her to write at an early age.
He was the first to encourage her to keep a diary; and he also taught her to take notes during their minister’s sermons on Sunday morning. Together they would review her notes, and he encouraged her to use her own imagination to expand on them and weave stories from the lessons and bits of wisdom she had recorded.
That early discipline soon bore fruit. When she was about seven or eight years old Isabella wrote a story about the family clock (read more about her story here).
Her story was published in the local newspaper (coincidentally, the newspaper was owned by her sister Mary’s husband and little Minie’s father). Isaac insisted that the story be published under a pseudonym, saying:
“We don’t wish anyone to know that you wrote it, and so we will sign it, Pansy, for pansy means tender and pleasant thoughts, and you have given me some thoughts that are tender and pleasant.”
This incident, too, offers a glimpse into Isaac Macdonald’s character, and his desire to protect his daughter from public scrutiny and the hazards of fame.
Thereafter, Isabella was often writing or telling a story. Her books Four Girls at Chautauqua and Ester Ried made “Pansy” a household name around the world. It was while she was writing EsterRied that her father became ill.
Isabella mentioned that when she was young, she always hoped she would never have to tend to anyone who was sick; she thought it would be “so dreadful to look at anybody knowing that he was soon to die.”
But she found it made a difference who the sick person was, and how he felt about death himself. Her father, she knew, wasn’t afraid of dying. He used to say to her:
“It is nice to have my children all about me, and it seems sad sometimes that I must go and leave them—sad for them, I mean. But what a blessed thing it will be when we all get up there where none of us will have to go away any more. It will be vacation there all the time, won’t it?”
When her father fell ill in the summer of 1870, Isabella spent as much time with him as she could, and often read to him from his Bible. She described it as a large-print Bible, all full of leaves turned down and verses marked.
She said there was no need to ask which verse was his favorite; he had left “marks of his love” all through the book.
One afternoon when Isabella was with him, she read verses here and there as her eye caught his different markings:
“And they shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads.
“And there shall be no night there.”
“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with Songs, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.”
And there was this verse:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed thee. I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine.”
During that summer of Isaac Macdonald’s illness, Isabella was writing Ester Ried.
Her father, as always, was interested in her writing progress; but he showed particular interest in the story of Ester Ried. He told Isabella that “he prayed that it might be a blessing to some young life.” Sadly, he passed away on July 26, 1870, before Isabella finished writing the novel.
Isabella later wrote:
“It was while the tears were gathering thick in my eyes as I looked out upon his grave that I wrote the last chapter of the book, feeling that my closest, strongest friend and critic, and wisest helper had gone from me.”
Isaac Macdonald’s prayer for Ester Ried was answered over and over again. Ester Ried was a great success and proved to be a blessing to generations of girls and young women who read it.
Isabella’s love for her father was evidenced in the books she wrote. She used him as the model for many of her male characters who were wise in judgment and strong in faith.
You’ll catch glimpses of him in Dr. Deane in Wanted and in Dr. Everett in Workers Together; an Endless Chain.
You can read more about the special bond between Isabella and her father Isaac Macdonald in these posts:
Here’s some little-known trivia about Isabella’s family, beginning with Isabella’s mother, Myra Spafford.
Myra was close to her sister Julia; they were born only a year apart in Canaan, near Johnstown, New York.
Myra and Julia’s father (Isabella’s grandfather) was Horatio Spafford. Horatio was a teacher, inventor, author, and—for a few years—a newspaper publisher.
When she was still a teenager, younger sister Julia married Duncan Macdonald, who also grew up in Johnstown, not far from the Spaffords.
Like his new father-in-law, Duncan was a newspaperman. He was famous for his work as a journalist; and his newspaper, The Schoharie Free Press, was well-known throughout the state of New York.
A few years after Julia’s marriage to Duncan Macdonald, Myra married Duncan’s brother, Isaac.
Myra and Isaac went on to have seven children—the sixth of which was Isabella Macdonald Alden.
Myra and Isaac, Julia and Duncan, lived very near each other and raised their children together in Johnstown, New York.
And just as they lived their lives together, they also went to their final rest together. Myra and Isaac are buried near Julia and Duncan in the Johnstown Cemetery.
A generation later, Isabella’s family welcomed another pair of siblings to the family. Isabella’s eldest sister Elizabeth married Hiram Titus in 1843. They set up house in Gloversville, not far from Isaac Macdonald’s box-making factory, and had eleven children.
Then, not long after, Isabella’s older brother James married Hiram’s sister Sarah, and they had five children.
In her memoirs, Isabella often mentioned how much her family meant to her, and how close they remained over the course of their lives. Her niece, Grace Livingston Hill, also wrote about their bond, and how they all spent time together as one family.
The days were one long dream. Hard work? Yes, but good fellowship. Everybody working together with a common aim, and joy in the work and the fellowship!
You can read more about Isabella’s family and her life in the Johnstown/Gloversville area in these posts:
Isabella Alden’s series of books about the Ried family were her most popular novels. In Julia Ried, book 2 of the series, the Ried family falls on hard times, and daughter Julia decides to strike out on her own. She takes a job as a bookkeeper in a paper box factory in the neighboring town of Newton.
In choosing Julia’s career, Isabella was on solid ground. She was able to write convincingly about Julia’s job and work environment, because Isabella’s father, Isaac Macdonald, operated a paper box factory in Gloversville, New York.
Gloversville, the little village where Isabella grew up, was celebrated for its glove-making industry.
Between 1890 and 1950, Gloversville supplied nearly 90 percent of all gloves sold in the United States.
Besides the many “skin mills” and glove manufacturing business in the little village, the industry spawned a host of supporting businesses, such as box makers, tool and die manufacturers, and dealers in buttons and threads.
Isabella’s father, Isaac Macdonald owned one of four or five box-making factories in Gloversville. While there’s no record that Isabella ever worked in her father’s factory, she had a good grasp of the working conditions, and she conveyed her thorough knowledge of the business in Julia Ried.
In Julia Ried, Isabella gave lively descriptions of the “shop-girls” who folded and pasted the cardboard boxes together. According to Frank Hooper, one of those shop-girls in the book, they worked ten hours a day, six days a week.
Pasting cardboard boxes together was a sticky, messy, exhausting job; but it was a job that was often performed by women and children.
Small boxes especially—like those that contained gloves for ladies and children—needed to be assembled and pasted by women or children with small hands.
Yet in the glove-making industry—and its supporting businesses—women and girls earned half as much as men.
The work could be dangerous. Accidents were common, and some injuries could be severe.
Isabella drew on her knowledge of the box-making business to create some of her most beloved characters. The characters of Frank Hooper and Jerome Sayles (whose father co-owned the box factory in the story) made return appearances in other books in the Ester Ried Series.
You can learn more about Gloversville, Isabella’s home town, by reading these related posts:
Isabella Alden was a busy woman. She had full-time duties as a minister’s wife, visiting members of the congregation, leading ladies’ prayer meetings, organizing mission bands, and teaching Sunday school classes. She wrote stories for and edited The Pansy magazine every month—all this at a time when she was producing an average of two books a year!
Somehow, she also found the time and energy to lecture before large audiences at Sunday School conventions, Chautauqua Assemblies, and women’s groups. She regularly addressed members of local CLSC chapters and traveled the country to meet with devoted readers of her books and The Pansy magazine.
This notice of one of Isabella’s lectures appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York) on January 14, 1882:
And this announcement for one of Isabella’s addresses before a Sabbath-school convention appeared in The Bloomfield Record (New Jersey) on March 11, 1882:
When she could, Isabella combined her speaking engagements with visits to family and friends. That was the case in 1878 when she visited her home town of Gloversville, New York.
Years before (in 1866) Isabella married Reverend Gustavus “Gus” Alden and moved away from Gloversville; but her family remained in the area and she visited them as often as possible. In that late summer of 1878, she was able to visit her family in combination with an author speaking tour.
Isabella had just finished writing a short story she called, “People Who Haven’t Time.” The story was not yet published but she was ready to share it with her fans.
On Friday, September 20, 1878, she appeared at the Gloversville Baptist Church to give a public reading of the story.
The local paper, The Gloversville Intelligencer, announced the event and encouraged attendance:
In the next edition, the newspaper gave a full account of the evening and proudly listed the many accomplishments of Gloversville’s favorite home-town girl. Here’s the full 1878 article from The Gloversville Intelligencer:
The story Isabella read at the church that night would eventually be given a final edit and named “People Who Haven’t Time and Can’t Afford It.” In 1880 the story was published in a volume that included another Pansy short story, “What She Said … and What She Meant.”
There are other accounts of Isabella reading her stories before audiences. For example, in 1879 she appeared before a Sunday-School convention in New York to read an original story:
And in 1895 she read her story “Miss Priscilla Hunter” to an audience at the Presbyterian church to help raise funds for the Young Ladies’ Missionary society:
If you haven’t yet read Isabella’s story, “What She Said . . . and What She Meant,” you can read it for free. Click here to begin reading the stories mentioned in this blog post.
Isabella Alden called Gloversville, New York her home town. And Gloversville, in turn, proudly published Isabella’s accomplishments in the local newspaper and ensured her books were prominently displayed in the town library.
Gloversville is a small community nestled in the foot of the Adirondack Mountains. It was settled soon after the American Revolution in 1783. Originally, it was called Stump City because the early settlers felled so many of the surrounding hickory trees, leaving just their stumps behind. In those days, Stump City had about 100 residents and only 14 houses.
But in the early 1800s a change took place. An enterprising citizen began a leather tannery, which quickly expanded to add a leather mitten manufacturing business. By 1830 there were about 100 people living in Stump City, most of them involved in the leather business. Residents began calling the place Gloversville, as a tribute to the merchandise that was proving to be very profitable for them.
By 1857 the village of Gloversville had over 3,000 residents and was the leading supplier of gloves in the country. The village mills were responsible for 80% of the leather gloves sold and worn in the U.S. The village’s prosperity attracted more residents and new businesses.
Isaac Macdonald, Isabella’s father, earned his living as a supplier to the leather mills. He owned a paper box factory that sold the containers used by leather mills to ship their finished goods to stores and wholesalers across the country.
In the mid-1880s residents cast their ballots on the question of whether the thriving village should incorporate as a city. At the same time, a few residents began a campaign to change the name from Gloversville to Kingsborough.
Kingsborough is a name that runs consistently through the community. There’s a Kingsborough church and tree-shaded Kingsborough Avenue, a pretty thoroughfare that spans the length of Gloversville.
And the Kingsborough Hotel was a grand building that any town would be proud of. In fact, many residents thought the name Kingsborough would fit the town like, well, a glove.
Isabella Alden had her own opinion about the name the newly-chartered city should adopt. Here’s an article she wrote for an 1888 local magazine that explained her recommendation:
A City Founded by a Deer
Now, I am going to tell you how this deer, or one that looked like it, founded a city. Of course, you’ll believe what I tell you because I was there and saw it done, having been born there.
Rome, you know, was founded by Romulus; that is to say, he was the “chief spoke in the wheel” when it began to be. Maybe there would never have been built so much as a hut, but for the wide-awake Romulus.
Some years ago, and 150 miles north of New York and about 50 miles west of Albany, there lived a few families in a placed called “Stump City.” It was wild and cold in the winter, almost as Greenland. I have often seen the snow there six feet deep!
Oh, the long and dreary winter! Most of the land was as poor as the snow was deep.
Now this was the very spot where our city was “builded together.” And it was done by the deer, as was said. And it was on this wise: one of those neighbors came home with a deer skin and another neighbor happened in at the time and they said, “What’s the use of a deer skin unless it is tanned and dressed?” So they dressed it after a fashion.
The next thing was to make mittens out of it. And they did that after a fashion, too.
But no sooner were the mittens made than everyone in the neighborhood wanted a pair.
So other skins were bought and they were soon turned into mittens and gloves and moccasins, after a better fashion. And distant neighbors heard of the wonderful wares for the hands and feet in the winter and they came miles to get them.
Then poor cold “Stump City” with its three or four families began to look up. Every man, woman and child went into the business. Even then they could not supply the demand.
Distant towns sent word. “We want some.” Then peddlers started out with horse and sleigh in mid-winter, often with a great load of the precious wares tied with buckskin strings in dozens, and all packed nicely in a big box, so neither snow nor thieves could harm them. Away they would dash, east, west, north, south.
A real city now occupies the place of “Stump City” and its name is Gloversville. It is one of the finest towns in all the great State of New York.
Go through the streets and you’ll be surprised to see how busy every man, woman and child still is. It’s one of the last places to go if you want to . . . rust.
There are machines and machines—often many in the same house, and from early morn till long after sunset they hum and buzz till you’d think everybody and the very air would go crazy. No one goes crazy, however; the hum has become sweetest music to Gloversvillians. It annually makes money for them to the tune of millions, and I am glad to say they pour thousands of it into the Lord’s treasury.
So much for what the deer did. The place should be called Deerville. Go and see it.
As entertaining as it was, Isabella’s story didn’t convince voters to change the town’s name to Deerville . . . but the people who pushed for naming it Kingsborough were disappointed, as well. The citizens voted to keep the name of Gloversville and Isabella’s home town continues to thrive to this day.