The Christian Calling Card

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

Do Good

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

Card Luke

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

“Are you saved by grace?”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Card Proverbs

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

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

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

Then, underneath:

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

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

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

Then a hand pointing to an italicized line:

“I that speak unto thee am he.”

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

Card Isaiah

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


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

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

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

The Fraternity of the Tramp

In 1897 Isabella Alden wrote about the life of a tramp in her book, As In A Mirror. In doing so, she described a true cultural phenomenon. After the American Civil War, tramp life ranged across the nation, especially in the western states where winters were mild and the living was easy. In particular, California was a tramp’s paradise where a man could sleep free under the stars at night and pluck his breakfast from an orange tree in the morning. In some ways, tramps enjoyed a unique popularity similar to the cowboy; both emerged in the public mind as stereotypes of  carefree, rough-and-tumble adventurers who embodied the American spirit.

Tramp 03

But by the 1880s the tramp’s image began to fade and society began to see tramps more as lazy thieves. Tramps who dared to beg for a meal or a place to sleep often received an answer in the form of a double-barreled shotgun pointed their direction. Some towns passed laws prohibiting tramps from entering their borders, and there are stories of police officers standing by while townspeople stoned tramps gauntlet-style as they ran them out of town.

Tramp 01

As a result, tramps developed a method of communicating to each other whether a particular town or home was friendly to tramps. They chalked crude symbols on barns, fence posts and water tanks so the tramps who came after them knew what to expect.

Here’s how Isabella Alden described the practice in her novel, As In A Mirror. The book’s hero, John Stuart King, disguised as a tramp, encountered a woman who was openly fearful of him. As he tried to understand the woman’s reaction, he met a real tramp for the first time.

For a full hour his sympathies were entirely on the side of the tramp. Then he met one so repulsive in appearance that he instantly justified the woman who had been afraid of him. It was a new experience to be accosted as he was:

“Any luck that way, pal?” nodding in the direction from which he had come.

“I haven’t found any work yet, if that is what you mean,” spoken in the tone that in his former grade of life would have been called cold.

The man gave a disagreeable sneer. “Oh, that’s your dodge, is it?” he said. “I can tell you I’ve had worse trials in life than not finding work. Did you spot any of the houses?”

“Did I what?”

“Mark the houses where they treated you decent, and gave you coffee, or lemonade, or something? You must be a green one! Don’t you carry no chalk nor nothin’ with you to mark the places? Then you’re a hard-hearted wretch. If you can’t do so much for your fellow tramps as that, you ought to go to the lockup.”

The healthy, clean young man found himself shrinking from this specimen with a kind of loathing. Would it be possible for him to fraternize with such as he, even to study human nature?

Here are a few samples of the symbols tramps used to indicate whether fellow-tramps could expect to receive a sandwich or a spray of bird shot at a particular home or town:

Tramp 02-01


The people who live here have a gun


Tramp 02-02


Handcuffs; tramps here are sent to jail


Tramp 02-03


This is a safe place


Tramp 02-04


This campsite is safe from police


Tramp 02-05


You can get a hand-out here


Tramp 02-06


Dry town; no alcohol


Tramp 02-07


Liquor sold in this town


Tramp 02-08 ..

A policeman lives here


Tramp 02-09 ..

Vicious or biting dog


Tramp 02-10 ..

A woman lives here who is kind


Tramp 02-12 ..

Police eyes shut; this is a good town

..Tramp 02-11 

Police eyes open; this is a hostile town