When Isabella wrote her short story “Their Day at the Beach” in 1909, she based her story on personal experience.
It was common practice at the time for physicians to prescribe a change of climate for certain medical conditions, particularly ailments of the skin and respiratory system.
Isabella’s son Raymond suffered his entire life from a chronic condition that caused Isabella and her husband to consult numerous doctors in search of a cure. Ultimately their search took them to Florida, where they hoped the sunshine and moderate climate would benefit their son.
There’s a special reason they chose Florida over any other southern state: in 1885 a new Chautauqua Assembly opened on Florida’s gulf coast. Located in what is now Defuniak Springs, the Assembly was built around Lake De Funiak (as it was then called), a naturally circular-shaped lake about a mile in circumference.
The Aldens found the location very much to their liking. The climate was delightful; the temperature rarely rose above ninety degrees, fruit trees and forests grew in abundance, and a gentle gulf breeze meant the dry air always felt fresh and pure.
The Florida Chautauqua officially opened on February 18, 1885, and the Aldens were there!
As they did in New York, the Aldens built a small house on the Florida Chautauqua grounds and promptly named it Pansy Cottage.
Their cottage faced the lake and gave the Aldens a lovely view of the lake shore and the promenade.
With her usual energy, Isabella dove into the Florida Chautauqua experience. Many of the Chautauqua New York programs were duplicated here: A school of Greek, a kindergarten, a school of cookery, an art school, and the C. L.S.C. all took root in the new Florida location. There was even an amphitheater and a Hall of Philosophy.
The most marked difference between the two Chautauquas was duration. While the New York assembly remained open for three months every summer, the Florida Chautauqua packed as many speeches, studies and classes as possible into a thirty-day assembly.
When the first Florida assembly came to an end in March 1885, The Aldens began to entertain the idea of staying in Florida for the remainder of the winter months. Eventually, they decided to settle in Winter Park, not far from Orlando, where they built a large home they also named Pansy Cottage. (You can read more about her Winter Park home by clicking the link at the end of this post.)
Isabella’s charming cottage in Defuniak Springs still stands today!
The city of Defuniak Springs has erected a plaque to commemorate its history. The plaque reads:
People of all economic backgrounds enjoyed the Florida Chautauqua Assembly with a small daily entry fee or a week-long hotel stay. More affluent members built homes o n these once-gated resort/campus grounds, allowing them proximity to the activities of the Winter Assembly. Author Isabella MacDonald [sic] Alden, with the penname [sic] Pansy, was among these.
Alden wrote more than 100 Christian books during her lifetime. She worked with her husband, Rev. G.R. Alden, editing a children’s magazine—The Pansy. Several of her books, such as Ester Ried, were based on personal experiences; others, like Chautauqua Girls series were inspired by her interest in the Chautauqua movement. Her books were enormously popular during the late 19th century. In 1900, sales were estimated at around 100,000 copies annually. Some titles were translated into several languages, including French, German, Russian, and Japanese. (Alden was also the aunt of author Grace Livingston Hill.) Alden was intimately involved in the Chautauqua movement. She was a graduate of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, Class of 1887, which was appropriately named the Pansy Class. Alden was an instructor of primary teaching skills during the first years of the Florida Chautauqua.
Alden leased (and later purchased) this lot in her own name in 1885, unusual for a married woman at that time. The May 1885 Chautauquan makes reference to Pansy building as one of the pretty cottages around Lake DeFuniak. Due to her son’s ill health, the family made Winter Park, Florida their permanent home in 1886, building another house there also known as Pansy Cottage. The latter house was torn down in 1955, so Pansy Cottage in DeFuniak Springs is now the only Pansy Cottage.