A Perfect Partnership: Isabella and Daniel Lothrop

In additional to writing novels, Isabella Alden wrote articles and short stories for many different publications.

Her stories and articles were so popular she found herself in a unique position for a writer: She never had to submit her work for publication.

Instead, publishers went to her. Elias Riggs Monfort, the long-time editor of The Herald and Presbyter (a weekly Presbyterian newspaper), gave her a lifetime contract to publish any serials she wrote.

Elias Riggs Monfort, about 1870 (Wikipedia).

Mr. Montfort was such a fan of Isabella’s, he wrote to his friend, Daniel Lothrop, full of praises about Isabella and her stories.

Daniel Lothrop was the owner of D. Lothrop & Company, a Boston publishing house that specialized in books for young people.

Daniel Lothrop.

Daniel Lothrop had been a great reader from his childhood; while he was still a boy himself he developed an ambition to publish books specifically written for children—a novel idea at the time. Even more radical: he believed the books should be beautifully illustrated to serve the story and keep children’s attention.

An undated artist’s rendering of the D. Lothrop and Co. Publishing building in Boston, Massachusetts.

But he persisted, believing that it was possible to publish children’s books that were not only entertaining, but encouraged “true, steadfast growth in right living.”

The interior of D. Lothrop and Company.

He often said to the people in his employ: “I publish books to do good as well as to make money. I always ask first, ‘Will this book help the young people?’ rather than ‘How much money is there in it?’”

His long partnership with Isabella began around 1874. After Elias Monfort sang Isabella’s praises to him, Daniel Lothrop invited Isabella to contribute stories to be published in a small weekly Sunday School newspaper he published.

Little One’s Friend, one of D. Lothrop and Company’s beautifully illustrated books for children.

By 1877 that short weekly paper had grown considerably in size and content—and Isabella was its editor!

Called The Pansy, each issue was filled with inspiring stories, delightful illustrations, short poems, and descriptions of exotic and far-away places to spark children’s imaginations.

Isabella wrote a short story for each issue, and other members of her family did, too, including her husband, her sister Marcia, niece Grace Livingston, and later, once he was old enough, her son Raymond.

Another frequent contributor was Daniel Lothrop’s wife Harriett, who wrote under the pen name “Margaret Sidney.”

Author Harriet Stone Lothrop, who wrote under the name “Margaret Sidney.”

Isabella wrote that Mr. Lothrop always had “a very warm place in his great warm heart” for The Pansy magazine.

Not only was he fertile in suggestions calculated to make it better, but he was ready always to heartily second the suggestions of others, and to aid in carrying them out.

The Pansy Society in particular was very dear to him. He was interested in everything about the Society, from the content of the letters children wrote to the magazine, to the design of the badges that Isabella sent to Pansy Society members. Isabella said:

“It would be difficult—impossible, indeed—to tell you in how many ways he helped along the cause of truth and right in the world.”

Another common interest Isabella and Lothrop shared was the Christian Endeavor Society. From the early days of the Society, Daniel Lothrop saw an opportunity to use his publishing company to further the Society’s message. He recruited authors to write books of interest to Christian Endeavor members. Margaret Sidney, Faye Huntington, and Grace Livingston were among those who answered the call.

An 1897 newspaper ad showing new Lothrop books by the company’s prized authors.

Isabella’s novels, Chrissy’s Endeavor and Her Associate Members were written and published especially for C.E. members.


Isabella’s long partnership with Daniel Lothrop lasted almost twenty years. It ended when he passed away in 1892.

Isabella was heartbroken. In her memoirs she wrote:

“Mr. Lothrop was my true, strong, faithful friend all his life.”

She gently told readers in an issue of The Pansy about the passing of “our friend who loved us, and worked for us and with us.”

It’s impossible to know how many lives were influenced for good by Isabella’s partnership with Daniel Lothrop. Her books alone sold more than 100,000 copies a year, and The Pansy magazine had thousands of subscribers all around the world.

They had formed a perfect partnership. Both Isabella and Daniel Lothrop must have been proud of their accomplishments and the knowledge that they always produced books and stories that were consistently wholesome, pure, and elevating.

You can learn more about The Pansy magazine, The Christian Endeavor Society, and The Pansy Society by reading these previous posts:

The Pansy Magazine

The Christian Endeavor Society

The Pansy Society

Something Sweet and Sticky

With a few exceptions, the women in Isabella’s stories spent a lot of time in the kitchen. One hundred years ago when Isabella wrote her novels, keeping house for her family was a woman’s primary concern; and preparing food filled up the majority of her waking hours.

Magazine illustration of a 1913 kitchen.


Chrissy Holmes Hollister was a something of an exception to the rule. Although she could easily afford to hire someone to do the daily cooking, Chrissy’s mother had taught her how to properly manage a kitchen. Chrissy had also been taught to bake a decent loaf of bread and prepare a delicious meal when needed.

Cover illustration for a 1908 cook book.


In Her Associate Members Chrissy’s husband Stuart was struggling to recover from an illness. On doctor’s orders, Chrissy and Stuart removed to a warm southern state to pass the winter; but Chrissy had a hard time finding a boarding house that was well-run and could serve palatable meals to her invalid husband.

Vacancy sign on an Alabama boarding house in 1936.


In the boarding house they finally settled in, Chrissy found the food so distasteful, she negotiated with her landlady, Mrs. Stetson, for permission to make Stuart’s meals herself.

A model kitchen in 1921; from an issue of Ladies Home Journal magazine.


Soon Chrissy’s trips to the chaotic and messy kitchen to prepare a cup of beef tea for her husband became opportunities for her to teach Mrs. Stetson to run her kitchen more efficiently. That’s when she discovered how much Mrs. Stetson disliked having to cook for her boarders.

“What in the name of wonder will I get for dessert?” Mrs. Stetson pronounced the word as though she were speaking of the plains of Sahara. “I wish to the land folks didn’t have to have dessert every blessed day of their lives! It hasn’t got any reason nor sense in it, to my way of thinking. Eat a good big dinner of roast beef, and two kinds of potatoes, and beans, or something, and pickles and bread and jelly, and everything they can get, and then begin all over again, with fresh plates and all, and swallow down something sweet and sticky. I’d like to know who first got up such a ridiculous fashion, anyway! But there is no use in talking; folks do it, and so I s’pose folks will keep on doing it to the end of time. But I don’t know more than the babes in the woods what to have, nor how to make it.”

Mrs. Stetson’s lament gave Chrissy an idea. Since her arrival she had been patiently waiting for an opportunity to do something nice for overworked Mrs. Stetson, and she now saw an opportunity:

“Mrs. Stetson, I have been looking at some beautiful lemons while I was at work. Do your boarders all like lemon pie, and do you care to have me make some for dessert?”

Mrs. Stetson didn’t hesitate in answering:

“Like lemon pie? I should say they did. Every last one of them looks as though he had had a fortune left him when he sees a piece coming!”

An illustration of a variety of desserts from a 1911 cookbook.


So Chrissy set to work preparing her ingredients, while Mrs. Stetson sat back and had a much-needed rest.

Although Chrissy made it sound as if it were easy to whip up a lemon pie, dessert making was a tricky business.

Ovens in those days did not have thermostats, and cooks who followed printed recipes had to know what it meant when a recipe called for a “quick oven” instead of a “moderate oven.”

A 1917 recipe for Strawberry Shortcake with instructions to bake the cake in a “moderate” oven.


Stove-top cooking had its challenges, too. Burners had no gauges to modulate high, low, or medium heat; cooks controlled the level of heat with the amount and type of wood they fed their stove. One too many pieces of wood on the fire or one too few, and a cook could easily scald the contents of a pot, or undercook a sauce on a burner that wasn’t hot enough.

If you’d like to get a sense of what it was like to cook and bake in Isabella’s time, visit A Hundred Years Ago, a blog that prints old recipes, then updates them for today’s cook.

Recently, A Hundred Years Ago took a 1916 dessert recipe for Baked Rice Pudding and updated it with instructions that make it easy for you to make the creamy, sweet delight today.

In previous posts, One Hundred Years Ago has also printed old recipes for making candies and fudge, then tweaked them, of course, to also print updated versions of the original recipes.

Illustrations of chocolate candies from a 1911 cookbook.


One thing that becomes clear as you read through those old recipes is the amount of time cooks must have spent stirring, beating and whipping their ingredients together. Since they didn’t have the luxury of our modern-day mixers and blenders, it’s easy to understand why Mrs. Stetson grew to hate making desserts each day for her boarders.

But Mrs. Stetson’s life was about to change, because Chrissy soon became not only Mrs. Stetson’s new boarder, but her friend, too. And as Chrissy helped Mrs. Stetson implement simple changes in her kitchen that made her life easier, Chrissy kept watch for a chance to make over Mrs. Stetson’s heart, as well.

Downton Abbey Hair Styles

In her novels, Isabella Alden often described a character’s hair style as an indicator of the character’s personality and lot in life.

Lady Sybil Crawley's hair; Downton Abbey
Lady Sybil Crawley’s hair; Downton Abbey

For instance, Mrs. Carpenter, who took in laundry to support herself and her husband in Her Associate Members, dressed very plainly, “her hair stretched back as straight and as firmly as comb and hairpins will accomplish.”

By contrast, this is how Isabella described wealthy Elsie Chilton in John Remington, Martyr: “Elsie Chilton, dressed in brown, her gold hair in a knot below a jaunty little brown cap, escaping here and there in waves and rings about her forehead.”

There was quite a difference between the two women’s hairstyles. Elsie wore her hair in a fashion that proclaimed her to be a lady of leisure. As a general rule, the more elaborate the hairstyle, the higher the probability someone dressed the lady’s hair for her.

Lavinia Swire, Downton Abbey
Lavinia Swire, Downton Abbey

If you’ve watched the TV shows Downton Abbey, Selfridges, or The Paradise—all set in the early 1900s—you may have marveled over the elaborate hairstyles worn by the female characters.

Cora, Countess Grantham, Downton Abbey
Cora, Countess Grantham, Downton Abbey

Ladies of rank—like Downton’s fictional Countess of Grantham and her daughters, Mary, Edith and Sybil—employed maids to dress their hair for them every morning; but the heroines of Isabella Alden’s books lacked such privileges. They had to dress their hair themselves, and it was not an easy task to achieve the fashionable hair styles of the early 1900s.

Lady Mary Crawley, Downton Abbey
Lady Mary Crawley, Downton Abbey

Ladies’ magazines often published pictorials instructing women on how to create the latest hairstyles. Below are step-by-step instructions for assembling intricate coils and puffs, as featured in a 1911 edition of The Woman’s Home Companion magazine:

Photo 01

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Not every woman had thick, lush hair like the model in the instructions. Ladies with hair of a finer texture often augmented their own hair with purchased hair pieces.

Hair on Approval

Ladies could purchase hair pieces in different lengths they could style along with their own hair. This ad, from the same 1911 magazine, offered to ship high class hair “on approval” to women.

Photo 11

And this ad proclaimed, “Send no money” to order human hair, either in different lengths or clusters of puffs:

Photo 12

Lady Entrepreneurs

Woman in BonnetThe heroine in an Isabella Alden book was a strong woman. She may not have known how strong she really was; but when trouble struck, it was the heroine of the story who stepped up and took action in order to save the family.

That’s what Claire Benedict did in Interrupted. She bravely took on the responsibility of supporting her mother and sister by taking a job as a music teacher in a far-away city.


Ad in The Daily Pioneer, Bermidji, MN, December 4, 1903
Ad in The Daily Pioneer, Bermidji, MN, December 4, 1903


In Four Mothers at Chautauqua, Isabel Bradford also decided to teach. She opened a School of Expression where she taught physical exercise techniques and grace of movement to women in New York City.

Borax ad 1915 cleaning laces

And in Pauline, Constance Curtiss supported herself (after rashly running away from her husband) by offering a variety of homemaking services, from laundering cuffs and collars to canning fruits and vegetables for busy housewives.

At the time Isabella’s books were written, women, as a rule, weren’t trained to take their place in the business world. They couldn’t vote and in many states they couldn’t own property. It was unusual for a woman to own her own business and even more unusual for her business to  succeed.

Buffalo NY Courier 1892
A news item in an 1892 edition of the Buffalo Courier, expressing surprise that a woman could 1) own a business, and 2) be successful at it


Starting a business that involved working in other people’s homes—as Constance Curtiss did—or opening an exercise studio—which was Isabel Bradford’s plan—may have been viable for some women; but for a few Alden heroines, working outside the home posed a problem. For starters, opening a shop or renting studio space required investment capital, as this ad in a 1908 edition of The Delineator magazine shows:

The Delineator ad Jan 1903

In other instances the heroines lacked marketable skills or they had unique family responsibilities that demanded they remain at home.

That was the case with Joy Saunders in Workers Together. Her very protective mother didn’t want to see her lovely daughter toil for wages out in the world; but with hard work and clever management, Joy and her mother ran a flourishing boarding house.

In Household Puzzles and its sequel, The Randolphs, Maria Randolph supported her entire family by running a laundry business out of her kitchen.

1864 ad for a clothes wringer
1864 ad for a clothes wringer


Constance Stuart did laundry, too. In the book Pauline, Constance specialized in laundering women’s delicate lace collars and cuffs, and she had a knack for laundering worn curtains and old linens so they looked almost brand new.

Illustration of Ladies' Collar and Cuff. From Myra's Threepenny Journal, March 1882
Illustration of a ladies’ collar and cuff. From Myra’s Threepenny Journal, March 1882


And in Her Associate Members, Mrs. Carpenter earned a living by ironing other peoples’ clothes in her sparse little kitchen.

Sad Irons

Doing laundry and ironing as a way to earn money was fairly common for women in Isabella Alden’s time. That’s because doing the laundry was such time-consuming work, even for small families, that homemakers across the country struggled to accomplish the task on their own. Modern conveniences, like wringers and ironing machines did little to ease the load.

Trade card from the 1880s
Trade card from the 1880s


“Monday is the washing day of all good housekeepers,” declared The Household, A Cyclopaedia of Practical Hints for Modern Homes. This book, published in 1886, promised to make washing day easier by setting out step-by-step instructions for accomplishing every phase of the task: from making starch to eradicating fruit stains and bleaching white goods.

The Household pg 229 ed


The volume of laundry to be done was often staggering. In Victorian-age America people wore layers of clothing, beginning with long drawers and undershirts for men; corset covers, chemises, drawers and petticoats for women. Often these items were made of wool, which made them extremely heavy once they were wet.


1882 magazine ad showing the detail and trimmings on underclothing. Click on the image to see a larger version.


Over these layers they wore shirts and shirtwaists, trousers and skirts, jackets and coats. Collars and cuffs gave the finishing touch to every outfit, but because collars and cuffs were easily soiled, they were changed a minimum of two or three times a day. Collars and cuffs also required the most care and skill in laundering.

An 1882 ladies' magazine Illustration
Illustration of a ladies’ collar in an 1882 fashion magazine.


Men’s collars and cuffs were heavily starched until they could stand on their own. This paragraph from The Household instructed homemakers on how to make and apply the starch:

The Household starch ed


With such heavy starch, the best laundresses knew that men’s collars and cuffs had to be ironed over a rounded form; otherwise, if ironed flat, they were likely to crack when they were fitted around the throat or wrist.

A 1905 Street Car advertisement
A 1905 Street Car advertisement


Women’s collars and cuffs were just as challenging to launder and finish. Fluted fabric was a popular detail in ladies’ fashion, and it was difficult to keep the flutes crisp and well-shaped after washing.

A Chemisette with Lace and Fluting, ca. 1882
Illustration of a Chemisette with lace and fluting, from a 1882 ladies’ magazine.


Laces were easily scorched if an iron was too hot and they were just as easily discolored if they were pressed with an iron that wasn’t perfectly clean.

An 1882 illustration of a linen and lace collar
An 1882 illustration of a linen and lace collar


With so much preparation required and a good deal of heavy lifting, it usually took two women working all day to get the laundry done in an average household. And if the lady of the house didn’t have a family member or neighbor to help her, she often hired a portion of the work out.

Borax ad 1915

But finding a good laundress was a challenge. Isabella Alden commented on that fact in The Randolphs:

While the world seems to be full of people who are willing to teach our children to strum on the piano, to draw impossible-looking trees and people, to jabber in a dozen different tongues, the lamentable fact remains that in every town and city it is really a difficult matter to get one’s collars and cuffs starched and ironed decently without paying a fabulous price for it.

Ironing-Three Ladies

The need for an extra pair of hands on laundry day opened the door for talented and hard-working women like Constance and Maria to earn a living.

To promote her new business, Constance Curtiss washed and mended the curtains that were “just falling to pieces before our eyes” in her landlady’s house, much to the landlady’s amazement:

“The girl darned them and washed them and rinsed them in starch water and stretched them till they looked as though I had put my hand in my pocket and paid for them out of the store, as I expected to. She does beat all!”

The landlady was so impressed she told her friends and neighbors of Constance’s skill. In very short order, Constance had more work than she could handle and had to write polite notes every evening to decline any new engagements.


In Household Puzzles, Maria Randolph started her laundry business after her brother Tom told her that his co-workers admired his clothes:

Tom needed assistance in the matter of a button and was glad to find Maria at liberty for a minute to sew it on. During the operation he laughed outright at his own thoughts, and then proceeded to explain.

“One of my brother drivers came to me last night for a confidential chat. I wish you could have seen his puzzled and important face. He is that Jerry that you think is so good-natured. What do you think he wanted?”

“I’m sure I don’t know. This button has split in two, Tom.”

“Well, here’s another. I couldn’t imagine what he was coming at. He called me aside and looked so important. He begged my pardon for troubling me—they are all remarkably polite to me—and he said that four or five of them had been having a time with their washerwoman because she didn’t use starch enough. They’re wonderfully particular fellows on Sunday. She ironed in wrinkles, too, he said; and then, after considerable stammering, he managed to get out that a number of them had been talking over the immaculateness of my linen, and had decided to get me to negotiate with my washerwoman, whoever she was, to see if she would do their work. The poor fellow was utterly crestfallen when I told him that my laundress was my sister.”

Industrious Maria saw an opportunity to earn money to pay for the medicine and medical care her father needed.

So she washed and ironed for the street-car drivers exactly as she had planned to do. They had few clothes to spare for the wash, but it must have been a delight to them to see the smoothness and whiteness of those few. Maria took great pains with them for two reasons: one, because she liked to hear Tom tell of their exclamations of delight, and the other, that she had a habit of doing well what she did at all. This new way of earning money was very helpful, and added not a little to the comfort of the invalid who was slipping away from them in such a quiet fashion. Sometimes it took all her resolution and a fond remembrance of how much her father enjoyed the oranges and strawberries to keep her heart in the work.

Doing a family’s laundry alone was a strenuous task and in Maria Randolph’s case, the hard, physical labor of the work took a toll on her health. But the work also had its rewards.

As Maria had a great deal of pride of execution, and an indomitable determination, and a secret plan to make herself and her father independent thereby, she worked with a will.

Before long, Maria’s business expanded enough so she could hire several “hard-working girls who were glad to be taught that which she had worked out by her own wits and the help of her eyes when she visited certain famous laundries.”

A 1910 Laundry Class for Girls
A 1910 laundry class for girls


As part of their laundry duties, Maria probably taught her employees the proper way to fold clothes for customers. These plates from a laundry manual published in 1900 illustrate the correct procedure for folding drawers, shirts, and night clothes:

Laundry Manual 1900 Plate No 3


Laundry Manual 1900 Plate No 6


Laundry Manual 1900 Plate No 2


And though her family and friends were appalled when Maria decided to advertise her business, she was proud to hang a small sign outside her home, “tacked in a conspicuous spot, and the letters on it were unmistakably clear and plain:

Marias Sign 2


Would you like to know more about sad irons and how they were used? Click here to view an article at Collectors Weekly.

Read our previous post about The School of Expression that inspired Isabel Bradford in Four Mothers at Chautauqua.

Click here or return find out more about Isabella’s Books mentioned in this post.

Chrissy’s Endeavor Pin

.  Logo Young Peoples Society of Christian Endeavor

When Chrissy Hollister arrived to spend the summer with her friend Grace, she was shown to a guest room that was decorated in blue and white and was “just as sweet and cool and charming as it can be.”

Presently her eyes rested on the blue satin pincushion, covered with white lace. Across it lay a ribbon—a badge of some sort. Chrissy laughed as she noticed that even the ribbon, which had evidently been dropped there by accident and forgotten, partook of the general character of the room, being of white satin, and bearing on its surface, painted in delicate tints of blue, five mystic letters: “Y. P. S. C. E.”

Victorian pin cushion smallChrissy studied them curiously, admiring the graceful curves of the rustic work, but wondering much what those letters could represent.

As Chrissy would later discover in a rather embarrassing way, those initials stood for Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor. She would also discover just how important that distinctive pin was.

The design of the official Christian Endeavor emblem is attributed to Reverend Howard Benjamin Grose, a Baptist minister and editor of The Home Mission Monthly magazine. As a Christian Endeavor trustee, he felt strongly that the Society needed to adopt an official emblem, but the designs he’d seen were either too elaborate or expensive to produce. He wanted a simple design and felt, given the long name of the organization, the letters C and E should be made prominent.

Reverend H. B. Grose
Reverend H. B. Grose


Reverend Grose began to doodle, putting the C and E together in different ways:

Pin sketches

He proposed sketch No. 9 to the trustees, and the monogram pin was unanimously adopted in 1887.

The C embraces the E. The Endeavor is all within the Christ.

Christian Endeavor_PinMany emblems are more showy, more glittering, more ornamental, perhaps; but I see none that satisfies me so well, or that awakens so many feelings of affection, gratitude, consecration, and hope,  as the strong, simple, speaking monogram in which the E that means Endeavor is made sublimely significant by the encompassing C that marks it all as Christian.

—Rev. Francis Bell, Founder, the Society of Christian Endeavor


Once adopted, the Christian Endeavor emblem remained unchanged for generations. The distinctive design was enhanced only slightly for pins produced for the children’s society and Christian Endeavor organizations in other countries, such as this pin from Scotland:

Christian Endeavor_Pin Junior    Christian Endeavor_Pin Scotland

The ribbon badge Chrissy saw in the guest room at Grace’s house may have been a local Christian Endeavor badge. Many state and local societies adopted their own unique Christian Endeavor colors, which they wore as ribbons on their lapels. The ribbons were usually printed or embroidered with the state name, as well as the initials Y.P.S.C.E. and the words Christian Endeavor.

Ribbon badges were also created to commemorate Christian Endeavor annual conferences. Below is an example of the badge worn by attendees at the 1892 annual conference in New York:

Christian Endeavor Badge 1892 New York

And this badge is from the 1909 national convention in Minnesota:

Christian Endeavor Badge 1909 Convention

After Chrissy became a Christian and organized a Christian Endeavor Society in her own town, she learned the power of the little pin while riding the streetcar one day:

A plainly-dressed girl of about her own age, with a good earnest face, sat opposite her, watching her with an intentness that was only excusable because of the absorbed and almost tender light in the girl’s eyes, which lifted her act far above the commonplace stare. At last, seeming to have gathered courage for a resolve, she arose and took a vacant seat beside Chrissy.

“I beg your pardon,” she said in low, well-bred tones, “may I speak to you? I am a stranger, but I see that we are kindred.” Touching as she spoke, the tiny silver badge she wore, bearing the magic letters “C. E.,” and glancing significantly at the corresponding one of gold, which fastened Chrissy’s linen collar.

There was an instant clasping of hands, and an exchange of cordial smiles.

The plainly-dressed girl explained that a friend of hers had attended a Christian Endeavor meeting—the very Christian Endeavor Chrissy organized in her town.

‘And she liked it all so much, that she came home and told about it, and did not rest until she had started a society out of our class in Sunday school. I joined as an associate member, because I was ready to do whatever the others did, but I got acquainted in that society with Jesus Christ. I signed the pledge, and gave myself to Him forever; and I’ve had a good winter.”

Chrissy was surprised and humbled to know that her efforts resulted in a soul being won for Christ. “Unfaithful, unreliable in every way, yet He had used her in the harvest field!” wrote Isabella Alden.

Posing in the shape of the CE monogram ca 1898
Members of two Christian Endeavor Societies pose on the steps of Antioch College in the shape of the CE monogram, circa 1895.


Isabella and her husband, Reverend Alden were tireless workers for Christian Endeavor. Isabella featured the society in her books Chrissy’s Endeavor, Her Associate Members, Pauline, and What They Couldn’t. She also wrote several short stories about Christian Endeavor: One Day’s Endeavoring and A Christian Endeavor Revenge were published in the Christian Endeavor magazine, The Golden Rule. And her book Grace Holbrook was a compilation of several short stories that illustrated the principles of Christian Endeavor for children.

You can learn more about today’s Christian Endeavor by clicking here to visit their site.

Click on the book covers below to find out more about the books mentioned in this post.

Cover_Chrissys Endeavor v3    Cover_Her Associate Members v2 resized

Cover_Pauline    Cover_What They Couldnt 02 resized


A Dose of Beef Tea

In the latter half of the 18th Century and the early 19th Century, illness of any kind was not to be taken lightly. A simple head cold or case of influenza, if not properly cared for, could easily prove fatal.

Isabella Alden illustrated the point in her novel Jessie Wells, when Jessie’s friend Mate came down with a cold and died within days of complications from a fever.

Nurse with medicine bottles

Illness, disease and death were topics Isabella Alden regularly dealt with in her books; but she also gave insight into the remedies of the time. Patent medicines were widely available but home cures were even more popular. (You can read a previous post about the Molasses Cure by clicking here.)

By far the most popular cure Isabella mentioned in her books was beef tea, and for good reason. Beef tea was more frequently prepared for invalids and patients than any other curative. In 1863 The New York Times published an article about care Union soldiers received during the Civil War, citing their “beef-tea diet” as part of “their daily fare in hospital, its excellence and variety, and the admirable arrangements for their comfort.”

Illustration of invalid cookery from The Book of Household Management.

 An 1886 article in Arthur’s Home Magazine called it “the food which is perhaps more valuable and more frequently prepared for invalids than any other.”

“When first supplied in cases of weakness, beef-tea is usually taken with great relish. It seems to give strength and to supply just what is wanted, and a patient will look for it and enjoy it heartily.”

Woman holding tea cup and saucer

.That was certainly the case in Workers Together: an Endless Chain. In the story Mrs. Saunders took a sick young man named Robert into her boarding house. Following doctor’s orders, she immediately began nursing Robert with doses of beef-tea:

The new nurse was ready-handed and cheerfully authoritative. She tucked a fine damask napkin under her patient’s chin, and skillfully fed him with spoonfuls of beef-tea from a solid silver teaspoon. When she decided that he had taken nourishment enough, she whisked away spoon and cup without question, straightened the bed-clothes, beat up another pillow and arranged it dexterously under his head, telling him, meantime, that he looked better already, and that he must keep up good courage, which was always half the battle in everything. Then she drew down the shades, and told him to mind the doctor and go to sleep; and assuring him that Tommy, the bell-boy, should sit just outside the door and would hear if he but just touched the little silver bell by his side, she disappeared before Robert had time to reflect on the questions that he wanted to ask her.

Tea Cup Vine-GraphicsFairy

In Her Associate Members, Chrissy Holmes served her husband a cup of beef tea every night to help him recuperate from an illness. When she found out her neighbor Mrs. Carpenter was ill, too, Chrissy took some of the beef tea to her:

“I should recommend some beef broth for a change, and fortunately I put into my basket a bottle of some which I made fresh today for my husband. I brought my little spirit-lamp along also, to heat it on, for the day is so warm I thought you might not have any fire.”

While she spoke she busied herself in getting out the bottle and  lamp, and a delicate china cup, tinted in pale blue. Mrs. Carpenter watched her with severe eyes.

“Mrs. Holmes,” she said, at last, “there isn’t the slightest need for that, and I wish you wouldn’t. If you think you make me more comfortable doing it, you don’t. I would much rather be let alone; I’m not used to being taken care of. I have had no care since I was a young girl, and I never expect any again. I don’t want it. All I ask of this world is a chance to work and be let alone.”

Tea cup floral


Chrissy did not react to Mrs. Carpenter’s ungrateful comments.

In silence she poured out and administered the beef tea once more, standing silently by while the contents of the cup were being drained again and pronounced very good.

“I can feel that it is giving me strength,” said Mrs. Carpenter, as she returned the cup; “and I am obliged to you, though I’ve almost forgotten how to express such feelings.”

Armour & Company advertisement, 1900.

Beef tea was widely believed to give strength to the ill, but by the 1880s the medical community began to frown on it as a cure.

“Beef tea is a stimulant rather than a food. A person may be hungered to death on it,” declared J. Milner Fothergill, M.D., in an 1880 paper to the Royal College of Physicians in London.

But by that time, belief in the healing powers of beef tea was deeply entrenched in public lore, helped in large part by the manufacturers of beef extracts. The products were a boon to homemakers, since making beef tea in the kitchen was time consuming and wasteful (a pound of beef yielded barely a pint of tea.)

Recipe Beef Tea


This 1896 trade card for Armour’s Extract of Beef promotes the product’s use in making soups.

Armours Extract trade card 1896 front    Armours Extract trade card 1896 back

But in other ads, the same company also promised health benefits to people who used their product, as this 1895 magazine ad shows:

Armour's print ad 1895

In the 1860s a whiskey distiller in Cincinnati, Ohio began producing a “tonic elixir and liquid extract of beef” they claimed could cure “female diseases,” indigestion, and weaknesses of all kinds.

R&T Tonic Elixir ad, 1870

American companies like Cudahy Packing Company and Armour & Company—which originally manufactured beef products to make broths, soups, and gravies—boosted their sales by claiming healing properties in their products.

Cudahy's Rex Brand Fluid Beef trade card front      Cudahy's Rex Brand Fluid Beef trade card interior

Johnston’s Fluid Beef, which originated in Scotland, took great care to publish testimonials in America that strengthened their health claims:

Johnstons Fluid Beef testimonial

Soon other companies like Liebig Company followed suit. They promised good health, strength and vitality to individuals who consumed their product.

Liebig Trade Card 1885      Liebig ad 1899

Bovril, a British product developed by Johnston’s Fluid Beef of Scotland, didn’t promise simply to cure American consumers of disease. They went one step further and promised to prevent disease.

Bovril benefits ad undated

Bovril’s advertising to Americans typically featured images that reinforced their claims of strength, vitality and energy. Strong, charging bulls, healthy, masculine men and beautiful, energetic women graced Bovril’s advertisements.

Bovril Steer undated    Bovril Steer ad card

Bovril trade card 1903    Bovril Swimmers

Bovril British Navy ad 1903     Bovril Sailor ad 1903

And this ad conveyed a subliminal message that if Bovril was used in hospitals throughout the world, the product’s health claims must be true.

Bovril ad hospitals

Today Bovril is still marketed around the world, although the company no longer makes inflated health claims based on dubious scientific testimony. The product has a loyal following, particularly among fans of football (that’s soccer to us in America), who take it along as a hot drink to sip while cheering on their favorite team on chilly mornings.

Bovril Today
The distinctive Bovril pot.