Tag Archives: John Heyl Vincent

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).

Pansy’s Impromptu Interview

30 Jan

In addition to writing stories and novels, editing a children’s magazine, and giving lectures on women’s topics that were dear to her heart, Isabella wrote Sunday-school lessons for children.

Photo of Isabella Alden about 1880 (age 39)

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Her published lessons were well-regarding and widely adopted by many denominations. Several publications printed her lessons each month, and dedicated Sunday-school teachers across the country employed them every Sunday morning.

Isabella had been trained as a teacher; that’s how she earned her living prior to her marriage to the Reverend Gustavus Alden.

An August 1861 ad in the Oneida (NY) Sachem for Oneida Seminary

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It’s little wonder, then that Isabella was regarded as an expert in her field, and often found herself giving impromptu talks about the proper methods of teaching Sunday-school, particularly for younger children (which were often called the “infant class”).

The May 1877 issue of Sabbath School Monthly magazine printed a letter submitted by a reader who had the pleasure of hearing Isabella give just such a talk. The reader had been at the Sabbath School Conference in Indianapolis earlier in the year, and was in the audience when Isabella was brought on stage to answer questions.

You can read the letter to the editor by clicking on the image below, or scroll down to read a transcript:

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LETTER FROM INDIANAPOLIS

Messrs. Editors:
Many in our city who have enjoyed the writings of your special contributor, Mrs. Alden—our dear “Pansy”—had the opportunity, last week, of seeing her and of hearing her talk.

After the urgent solicitation of Dr. Vincent, who conducted a Sunday-school Congress of the M. E. Church, she consented to reply to questions on infant-class teaching.

To the first, “Should the infant class be present at the opening of the school?” she answered: “They should feel that the Sunday-school, and all that pertains to it, belongs to them.”

“What if the opening exercises are too lengthy?” She said that there might be folding doors, so that the rooms could be thrown together—that she had shut her doors when she had enough.

“Should there be a division of the class, and a teacher for each division?” She replied that one of the many difficulties that would result from it would be the desire to go from one class to another. This question is answered conclusively in last week’s chapter of her serial.

It was asked: “If I can not visit all my class, what can I do?” “You can send a messenger; some one who will make a pleasant and good impression, with a message of love, or a token of love, such as a flower.” She had been surprised to see how little things sent by a teacher were cherished by children.

She was desired to speak of blackboard teaching and we were convinced that her kind of object lessons would give a definite idea to the mind of a child. A heart on the blackboard, with a red crayon mark around it, and the word “clean” printed upon it, would indicate that it was washed in the blood of Christ.

As to memorizing verses, she told of the conductor’s punch that had been used by some teachers, making a round hole in the card for a perfect recitation, and a hole not round for an imperfect one, and how the child would work for that round hole.

Three different train conductor ticket punches and the hole shapes they make.

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To the question, “How shall I secure a regular attendance?” she replied, “Do the best you can.”

To the many that wish they could see Mrs. Alden, I would say that you would find in her a friend. She is a small lady; her face very bright, with delicate features; good teeth, rosy color; dark brown hair; very small hands. She dresses in good taste; very neatly. These items are not needed to add to the interest of her books, but they may satisfy some wonderings concerning their author.

Don’t you love the writer’s physical description of Isabella (she has “good teeth”!)?

When Isabella gave her impromptu talk in 1877 she was 35 years old, and a seasoned public speaker who seemed to make a very good impression on her audience.


You can read these previous posts about Isabella’s experiences as both a student and a teacher at Oneida Seminary:

BFFs at Oneida Seminary

The Accusation

Free Read: The Book That Started It All

New Free Read: The Chautauquans

22 Mar
Bishop John Heyl Vincent

Bishop John Heyl Vincent

John Heyl Vincent co-founded Chautauqua Institution based on one over-riding theory:

Life is one. Religion belongs everywhere. Our people, young and old, should consider educational advantages as religious opportunities.

With this in mind, he set out to prove that education was the right—and the responsibility—of all people, not just the privileged few. To Bishop Vincent, no man had the right to neglect his personal education “whether he be prince or ploughboy, broker or hod-carrier.”

He created the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (“C. L. S. C.”) as a means of bringing education to people, thereby eliminating geography or personal circumstance as barriers to learning. And he made it easy and inexpensive for people to form C. L. S. C. “circles” in their own towns. Circles popped up across the country in every possible venue: house, shop, farm and market; anyplace people could gather to exchange curriculum books and discuss what they’d read.

One of those C. L. S. C. members was author John Habberton. He was a popular writer in the late 1800s, most famous for his children’s book, Helen’s Babies. He was a frequent visitor to Chautauqua Institution and served as president of the C. L. S. C. class of 1894.

Helen's Babies by John Habberton (1899 edition)

Helen’s Babies by John Habberton (1899 edition)

Like Isabella Alden, he was inspired by the Chautauqua ideal; he knew from experience the good that resulted from the C. L. S. C. curriculum. And like Isabella, he wrote a book about his experiences.

Cover The ChautauquansHis novel The Chautauquans tells the story of the residents in a small town who come together to form their own C. L. S. C. chapter. It’s a charming story you can read for free. Just click on the book cover to start reading.

You can also find out more about Bishop John Vincent’s ideas that inspired the creation of Chautauqua Institution and the C. L. S. C. His book The Chautauqua Movement is available for free on Google Books. Click on this link to read it.

 

Chautauqua Advice from Bishop Vincent

13 Jul
John Heyl Vincent

John Heyl Vincent

By 1890 the Summer Assembly at Chautauqua Institution was in its seventeenth year. Its success inspired similar assembly locations on four continents. People who could not travel to the original New York location could attend an assembly in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri or forty other locations across the United States.

Bishop John Heyl Vincent (Chautauqua’s co-founder) believed everyone could benefit from even a few days at a Chautauqua assembly.

He wrote an article for an 1890 issue of The Chautauquan magazine in which he gave plenty of advice for anyone planning to undertake the trip for the first time.

Chautauqua camping in 1908

Chautauqua camping in 1908

Here’s the advice he gave about tent kife:

If you live in a tent, remember a little fact that some innocent and unconscious souls so easily forget, or which, perhaps, they never knew: tent lights cause most curious shadows on tent walls; and folks outside, if they happen to pass, see some ludicrous pantomimic shadow effects, which, if the lights were lower, might be lost. “Let the lower lights be burning,” or study the laws of light and abridge the unprogrammed entertainments of the Assembly.

Tent Shadows

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Faith, romance, and a place to belong

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Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Britt Reads Fiction

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

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