Tag Archives: John Remington Martyr

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:

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Downton Abbey Hair Styles

20 Oct

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:

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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.

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

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The Heroine of the Temperance Cause

31 Jul

Isabella Alden was a great campaigner for the temperance movement. She had seen for herself the consequences of an unregulated alcohol industry. Alcoholic drinks in her time were often far more potent than commercial beer, wine and distilled liquor we’re used to today, making them much more addictive. Sometimes alcoholic beverages were laced with other substances, like cocaine; and alcohol was openly marketed to children.

This short video by documentary film maker Ken Burns describes the influence of  liquor on America at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

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Isabella’s dear friend Theodosia Toll Foster (whose nom de plume was Faye Huntington) was another tireless worker for the cause of temperance. Many of her novels were written for publication by the National Temperance Society and described the impact of alcoholism on the lives of individuals and communities.

Cover_John Remington MartyrAnd in her own books, Isabella often wove stories around the impact alcoholism had on families. She and her sister Marcia Livingston co-authored the novel, John Remington, Martyr, which chronicled one man’s efforts to fight the power of the alcohol industry and its hold on society.

Isabella, Theodosia and Marcia, as well as Marcia’s daughter, Grace Livingston Hill, were active members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The W.C.T.U. began in 1874 as a “crusade” of 208 dedicated temperance workers.

The Baptist Church in Fredonia, NY. Here on December 15, 1873 208 crusaders met and organized the Women's Christian Temperance Union

The Baptist Church in Fredonia, NY. Here on December 15, 1873 208 crusaders met and organized the Women’s Christian Temperance Union

When Frances Willard was named the W.C.T.U.’s president in 1879, she inherited an organization comprised of several autonomous chapters with no unified action plan to achieve the group’s goal of reforming the distribution and sale of alcohol in America.

Up to that point, the organization was known for it crusades—bands of women visiting local saloons to pray and ask saloonkeepers to close their doors and stop selling spirits. For the most part, they were seen as teetotaling moral zealots.

An 1874 illustration of crusaders

An 1874 illustration of crusaders

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Frances Willard had a different vision for the organization. By profession she was a teacher. She was educated, dynamic, and persuasive; she used those talents to redefine the W.C.T.U. Knowing that America’s high rate of alcoholism was directly related to crime, sexual assault, poverty, and domestic violence, she redirected the organization to focus on social reform and political activism.

Frances Willard in an undated photo

Frances Willard in an undated photo

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She formed alliances with politicians, instilled a sense of sisterhood in W.C.T.U. members, and cultivated powerful and influential allies.

W.C.T.U. card from about 1912

W.C.T.U. card from about 1912

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Lewis Miller, co-founder of Chautauqua Institution and a multi-millionaire industrialist, was a staunch supporter of the W.C.T.U.; his wife Mary was one of the first members of the Ohio W.C.T.U., a well-organized and militant branch of the organization.

Mina Miller at about age 19

Mina Miller at about age 19

Their daughter Mina recalled how her mother, with other “dauntless women” visited saloons and pleaded with the male proprietors to close their doors. They were often subjected to insults and even had buckets of water thrown on them.

After Mina Miller married Thomas Edison, the great American inventor, she used her influence as “Mrs. Edison” to further the W.C.T.U.’s programs.

And what programs they were! W.C.T.U. members developed and taught temperance lessons to children in Sunday schools and visited drunkards in prison. They lobbied for free public kindergartens and prison reform. By 1889 W.C.T.U. chapters were operating nurseries, Sunday schools, homeless shelters, and homes for fallen women. Members supported labor reform, suffrage, disarmament, and the eight-hour work day.

The W.C.T.U. Marching Song

The W.C.T.U. Marching Song

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Isabella often wrote about the activities of the W.C.T.U. in her books. Most striking was her novel One Commonplace Day. In that story, a group of people come together on their own to help one family overcome the effects of alcoholism; and they employ many of the  W.C.T.U. methods to do so.

W.C.T.U. headquarters building at Chautauqua Institution, New York

W.C.T.U. headquarters building at Chautauqua Institution, New York

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Isabella and Frances Willard often lectured together, speaking before different chapters of the Sunday School Assembly and at regional Chautauqua locations.

Statue of Frances Willard in the United States Capital, Washington D.C.

Statue of Frances Willard in the United States Capital, Washington D.C.

By the time Frances Willard passed away in 1898 the W.C.T.U. was an acknowledged political and social force in the United States. Under her leadership the organization united women from varied backgrounds, educated them and empowered them to form one of the strongest and most influential women’s organizations in American history.

In 1905 a statue of Frances Willard was erected in National Statuary Hall at the United States Capital in Washington D.C. Her statue was the first honoring a woman to be chosen for the National Statuary Hall Collection.


Would you like to learn more about Frances Willard and the W.C.T.U.? Click here to visit the organization’s website.

Click on this link to read more about the statue of Frances Willard in Statuary Hall at the United States Capital.

Grace Livingston Hill wrote a short biography of Frances Willard’s early years. Click here to read her 1909 article.

You can watch the full 90-minute Ken Burns documentary “A Nation of Drunkards” here:

Now Available: The Remington Books

7 Jul

In this series, a young minister and his family face the blessings and challenges of serving the Lord.

Cover_Aunt Hannah and Martha and John resizedAunt Hannah and Martha and John

Hannah Adams raised her nephew John to be a good, Christian man; so when newly-ordained John accepts a job ministering to a congregation only a few miles away, Hannah couldn’t be happier—or prouder.

John Remington begins pastoring at the Belleville church with his new bride, Martha at his side. And what John and Martha lack in experience, they make up for with enthusiasm. In the face of nosy neighbors and church gossips, they’re certain their faith and vigilant prayer will carry them through. But when the congregation misunderstands Aunt Hannah’s act of kindness, their faith will be tested in ways none of them could have imagined.

 Click here to read sample chapters for your Kindle, PC or mobile device.

 

Cover_John Remington Martyr 02 resized

John Remington, Martyr

What would you risk to follow your conscience?

In Book 2, John Remington assumes a new pastorate in a large city, where the congregation welcomes John and his growing family with open arms. But when his deep Christian convictions cause him to run afoul of one of the church leaders, John finds himself the target of dark forces that will stop at nothing to silence his message.

But John isn’t about to back down from a cause he believes to be just. He’s certain God will keep his loved ones safe . . . until his enemies gain an advantage that tests John and Martha’s faith in a way they never imagined.

Click here to read sample chapters for your Kindle, PC or mobile device.

View a list of Isabella Alden’s available titles here.

 

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

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