A Perfect Gown

Do you enjoy seeing examples of clothing Isabella and her characters might have worn? This afternoon gown from the 1890s holds a little secret.

With its stuffed bodice and skirt made of ruffled rows that drape up into a small bustle at the back of the waist, it’s very typical of the 1890s style.

And the smocking at the shoulders and waist indicate the gown was tailored to exactly fit the lady who owned it.

But don’t let the muted tones of the fabric fool you. This gown holds a surprise.

If you look closely, you can see pink roses and cherubs—symbols of love—woven into the fabric design.

Doesn’t that make this the perfect gown for a young lady with summer romance on her mind?

Which of Isabella’s characters do you think would have worn this afternoon gown?

Thimbles and Love Stitches

Four farthings and a thimble,
Make a tailor’s pocket jingle.
—Old English Proverb

During Isabella’s lifetime, sewing and needlework were part of a woman’s daily life.

In her novel Workers Together; An Endless Chain Joy Saunders’ workbasket includes a “small gold thimble and her own blue needle-case.”

A 14k rose gold thimble dated 1903.

Some of Isabella’s female characters, like Mrs. Bryant, sewed every day because that’s how they earned their living.

A sterling silver thimble decorated with Lily of the Valley.

Other characters, like wealthy Miss Sutherland, plied their needles to create fancy table linens and delicate trims, like ruffles and laces.

A sterling silver thimble and case from the 1890s.

In Isabella’s stories, thimbles were sometimes utilitarian—little more than tools to accomplish a task.

An example is in Ester Ried’s Namesake (Book 7 of the Ester Ried Series), when the president of the Ladies’ Aid Society called the meeting to order by “tapping with her silver thimble on the table.”

Other times, Isabella used thimbles help us understand how a character was feeling, as in this description of Helen Randolph in Household Puzzles:

Helen was in absolute ill humor. Some heavy trial had evidently crossed her path. She sewed industriously, but with that ominous click of the needle against her thimble, and an angry snipping of her thread by the pert little scissors, that plainly indicated a disturbed state of mind.

An antique thimble holder by Tiffany.

More often than not, though, thimbles appear in Isabella’s stories in very sweet ways. One example is in Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant, when little Daisy Bryant’s mother surprises her with the gift of a sewing box on Christmas morning:

There had been intense excitement over that box; for, in addition to the spools, and the needle-book, gifts from mother, there had gleamed before Daisy’s astonished eyes a real truly silver thimble, of just the right size for her small finger.

A child-size thimble. The case is shaped like an iron; at its base is a tape measure (circa 1890).

Another example appears in the novel, Pauline, when Mr. Curtis shows his love for his fiancé Constance by preparing a sitting-room in his house just for her:

It all looked charming to him that evening, with the departing rays of the sun glinting the needle, Constance’s needle, and touching also his mother’s small gold thimble that lay waiting. He had taken steps toward the assurance that the thimble would fit. On the day after tomorrow, when they stood here beside his mother’s chair, he would tell Constance how he had brought the gold thimble to his mother one day, and she had said, with one of her tender smiles, “I will wear it, my son, whenever I am taking stitches for you; and someday you will give it to your wife, and tell her from me that it has taken love stitches for you all its life and must always be kept for such service.”

Filigree thimble over pink frosted glass.

Sometimes thimbles play a role in building bridges between Isabella’s characters, as in A New Graft on the Family Tree.

When Louise Morgan and her new husband move in with his family, she has difficulty winning over her resentful new mother-in-law, until she realizes they have a common interest: Needlework.

Presently she came, thimble and needle-case in hand, and established herself on one of the yellow wooden chairs to make button-holes in the dingy calico; and, with the delicate stitches in those button-holes, she worked an entrance-way into her mother-in- law’s heart.

18k gold thimble, from about 1860.

Rebecca Harlow Edwards finds herself in the same situation (in Links in Rebecca’s Life). She and her new husband live in the same house with her mother-in-law, and in the early days of marriage, Rebecca struggles to find a way to fit in. So, one afternoon . . .

. . . about the usual hour for calls, she went daintily dressed in a home dress for afternoon, and with a bit of sewing-work in hand, and tapped softly at the door of her mother’s room.

“Are you awake?” she asked, “and are you ready to receive calls, because I have come to call on you?”

“Really,” Mrs. Edwards said, half rising from her rocker, and looking bewildered, “this is an unexpected pleasure! Am I to take you to the parlor, where I usually receive my calls?”

“No,” Rebecca said, laughing, and trying to ignore the quick rush of color to her face. “I am to be a more privileged caller than that. I have brought my work, and intend to make a visit. I used to go to mother’s room and make a call very often.”

The elder Mrs. Edwards was almost embarrassed. It was very unusual for her to have any such feeling, and she did not know how to treat it.

Rebecca, however, had determined to pretend, at least, that she felt very much at home. She helped herself to a low chair and brought out her thimble, and challenged her mother-in-law at once to know whether her work was not pretty. As she did so, it gave her a strange sense of her unfilial life, as she remembered that that same bit of work had been the resort of her half-idle moments for some weeks, and that yet she had never shown it to Mrs. Edwards before.

It proved to be a lucky piece of work. It gave Mrs. Edwards an idea, and suggested a line of thought that was so natural to her that she forgot the embarrassment of the situation at once.

It’s a sure bet that Isabella Alden was herself a sewer. She may have plied her needle to hem an everyday handkerchief, or she may have used her talents to create fancywork items for her home. But it’s a testament to Isabella’s skill as a story-teller that she could make a simple, everyday item like a thimble figure so prominently in some of the most important scenes in her novels.

How about you? Do you enjoy sewing? Do you use a thimble when you sew? Is it plain and utilitarian, or decorative? Old or new?

Fred and Maria and Me

In her books Isabella Alden often mentioned the works of other authors she read and admired.

One such example was in Isabella’s book, Links in Rebecca’s Life. In that story, newly-married Rebecca Edwards was settling into her new life in the home of her very critical mother-in-law.

At breakfast one morning, Mrs. Edwards criticized Rebecca for drinTea_Party1king coffee that was too hot, in Mrs. Edwards’ opinion.

“I wonder at you, Rebecca, for drinking your coffee so hot; it is very bad for the teeth.”

Rebecca laughed in her old gleeful way, and replied:

“I am like ‘Fred and Maria and Me,’ I like my coffee ‘bilin’. Frank, did you ever read that delightful book?”

“Never heard of it. What an extraordinary title! Is it good?”

“It is capital,” Rebecca had said, ignoring, as Frank did, his mother’s question.

“Do you mean the book, or the title, my son?” Then she had turned to Rebecca. “Did you say that was the title? How very singular! One would suppose the editor would have corrected so remarkable a grammatical error as that!”

And Rebecca’s eyes danced as she answered, “It is by Mrs. Dr. Prentice, you remember. She is one of our most popular authors. I suspect she wanted the grammatical part of it to appear just as it did.”

Mrs. Prentiss did, indeed. Fred and Maria and Me was written by Elizabeth Prentiss in the perspective of an elderly woman from Goshen, Maine. The heroine, Aunt Avery, made generous use of the local Maine dialect.

Elizabeth Prentiss right
Elizabeth Prentiss

Throughout the story, Mrs. Prentiss’s characters used words like “t’wasn’t,” “your’n,” “p’inted” (instead of “pointed”), and other grammatically incorrect terms that would have made prim Mrs. Edwards swoon.

Originally, Fred and Maria and Me was published as a serial in Hours at Home: A Popular Monthly of Instruction and Recreation in 1865. When Elizabeth Prentiss first saw her story in the magazine, she wasn’t happy:

“I have jHours at Home magazineust got hold of the Hours at Home. I read my article and was disgusted with it. My pride fell below zero, and I wish it would stay there.”

But the reading public disagreed. Reviewers praised the story and declared Aunt Avery was “a very quaint and interesting type of New England religious character.”

Elizabeth Prentiss soon changed her mind about the story.

“Poor old Aunt Avery! She doesn’t know what to make of it that folks make so much of her and has to keep wiping her spectacles.”

The popularity of Fred and Maria and Me may have surprised Elizabeth Prentiss, but not the publishing industry. The story’s “quaintness, simplicity, and truthfulness” created such a demand that it was published as a book in 1867 to great acclaim. A second printing appeared in 1872, six years before Isabella wrote Links in Rebecca’s Life.

Stepping Heavenward cover 1907
1907 cover of Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss

Elizabeth Prentiss went on to write several books, including Stepping Heavenward, the classic story of a teenage girl’s Christian journey into womanhood. Stepping Heavenward is still widely read today. Click here to find out more about Stepping Heavenward.

She was also a talented poetess and penned lyrics for beloved hymns, including “More Love to Thee, O Christ.”

You can read Elizabeth Prentiss’s delightful book, Fred and Maria and Me and discover why Isabella Alden called it a “capital” story. Click on the book cover to begin reading now.

Cover_Fred and Maria and Me

Would you like to know more about Elizabeth Prentiss? Click here to read a very nice biography of her life and works.

Click on the link below to listen to her hymn, “More Love to Thee, O Christ”:

Follow this link to find out more about Links in Rebecca’s Life by Isabella Alden.


Rebecca’s Thread

When Rebecca Harlow married Frank Edwards in the book Links in Rebecca’s Life, she moved from the home of a loving, patient mother, into the home of a critical and resentful mother-in-law. From the moment of their acquaintance, Rebecca and her mother-in-law did not get along.

Woman embroidering 1909

Even before the wedding took place, Rebecca found herself dwelling “on each particular little slight, or what had looked like a slight, that she could call to mind. There were many of them, and she had treasured them well; so, long before she had reached the end, she felt as if she were doomed to be a martyr to the petty persecutions of Mrs. Edwards.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 04

Rebecca had a choice: she could respond to Mrs. Edwards with indignation and show “that she had a will and ways of her own, and that they must not be interfered with.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 06

Or she could take another path and pray for her mother-in-law, who was a “nominal Christian, at best,” and be a loving daughter-in-law and Christian witness.

“She dropped on her knees; and in the prayer that came from her heart’s innermost hiding-place she gave herself again to the Lord Jesus who had called her, and chosen her, and she entreated that she might feel the hand, the powerful hand with her always.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 05

Later in the book, when Mrs. Edwards became ill and had to remain in bed, Rebecca surprised her with a visit to her bedroom. Rebecca brought along her sewing, and managed to bite her tongue when her mother-in-law criticized her stitches.

Hearing her mother’s teaching pronounced wrong, and her handiwork awkward in the extreme, she made the healthful discovery that with a sufficient end to be gained, she could bridle her tongue. She even essayed to change her manner of putting the thread over the needle, and brought the result for inspection, which so mollified Mrs. Edwards that she agreed that as the work was so nearly done it would be a pity to change now, especially as she did the other so wretchedly. She even added that it certainly looked better made in that way than she should suppose it could.

So Rebecca stitched on in peace, putting the thread serenely in the way she had always put it, and heroically refrained from saying, “I think it is the only right way, and the other always looks horrid.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 09 strength

After that they had a pleasant talk, but the good mood was “decidedly periled once by a spool of thread.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 01 front v2Mrs. Edwards had brought out her sewing, and was taking very small stitches in a bit of cambric, when she said: “This is miserable thread. I thought I would try Clark’s once, as I heard you say that you always used it, but I shall never be so foolish again. It was very rough, and it costs a cent more a spool than Coates’.”

Now, neither of these ladies cared a pin’s worth whether thread was six or seven cents a spool, and yet Rebecca instantly said:

“Oh, no, you are mistaken in that. Clark’s can be had for half a cent less on a spool than the other kind, and I think it is much less likely to be rough. I never had a bit of rough thread of Clark’s in my life.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 02 v2“Your life is not a very long one and I dare say you have not used a very large quantity of thread. Young ladies situated as you were are not apt to. I suppose your mother did your little sewing while you did housework. But as to the price, of course, I convinced myself that I was correct before I said anything about it. Clark’s costs one cent more a spool than Coates’ does. I always get Coates’ for six cents, and this was seven.”

How exasperated Rebecca felt! She not use much thread! Had she not sewed by the hour, swift, even stitched many a time when Mrs. Edwards was sleeping or riding in her carriage? And didn’t she buy all the thread that was used in the family; and didn’t she know perfectly well that Clark’s thread was but six cents a spool? How was it possible for her to sit quietly by and endure such dreadful provocation as this! Talk about Jonah! His trials were nothing to hers.

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 12 strengthBut this very reference to Jonah calmed her. What sort of weakness was it that could not keep one’s temper with that mother over a spool of thread! Instantly she resolved to ignore the whole subject of thread, and with rare tact asked, suddenly:

“Oh, did you know how to make that lace-work that they used to have on French embroidery? Then will you show me how to do it some time? I always thought it was so pretty, and I never had a chance to be with anyone who knew how to do it before.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 13In short, with constant care, and many references to Jonah and his trials, Rebecca got through with that afternoon, and heard the dinner-bell ring, and heard her husband’s step on the stair, and rolled up her embroidery, which she began to hate, with a little sigh of satisfaction.

She was just a little nearer to feeling as if she might, sometime, feel at home in her mother’s presence. She had a little bit of comfort, too, in that lady’s exclamation:

“Is it possible that it is dinner time? I hadn’t an idea that it was so late.”


Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 11

So, as a result of a spool of thread, a tentative truce was struck between Rebecca and Mrs. Edwards.

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 15 ClarksAs Rebecca went down to dinner, she realized a deeper insight into the depth of their own heart than she ever had before. She realized she was stronger because she had recognized her own weakness; and because she had not relied on herself to keep her temper with her Mrs. Edwards, but had relied the Rock of Strength.

And Rebecca continued to rely on that Rock of Strength as she built a relationship with her mother-in-law throughout the story.



Click here to read a post by Victoriana Magazine about ladies’ sewing baskets.

Click here to visit the Coats & Clark website to read the history of their companies.

Pansy’s now on Pinterest!

Click this link to see more vintage sewing and thread advertisements on Pansy’s Pinterest board.

Cover_Links in Rebecca's LifeClick here to learn more about Links in Rebecca’s Life by Isabella Alden.




A Woman’s Voice

Colored drawing of a country church displayed above the word Prayer In her memoirs, Isabella Alden wrote about the first time her father and mother visited her after she was married. It happened when Isabella’s minister husband was new to his church and was working hard to make the Wednesday prayer meetings a success. He wanted the prayer meeting attendees to participate, so on Sunday mornings he would announce from the pulpit the topic for the Wednesday meeting. He asked everyone to come on Wednesday with a Bible verse that supported or illustrated the topic.

One Tuesday, Isabella’s mother and father arrived unexpectedly for a visit. The next evening Isabella proudly escorted her parents to the church and sat beside her father as her husband, Reverend Alden, led the prayer meeting. But something happened that forced her to make a terrible choice.

Her father had always strongly opposed women speaking in public and that opposition extended to prayer meetings.

Yet Isabella had prepared a Bible verse to recite aloud if necessary to help and support her husband. None of the other attendees were responding to Reverend Alden’s call to participate and an uncomfortable silence stretched on for several minutes. Isabella wrote:

“I sat in distressed silence for several minutes; so did everybody else. Suddenly I looked at my husband. I had promised him, had even talked with him about some of the thoughts that I wanted to present. What must he think of me now?

“Oh, Christ!” I prayed in my heart. “Tell me what to do!”

And the answer came, she said, as plainly as spoken words. She broke the silence and recited aloud the verse she had prepared:

“Thus saith the Lord who created thee:
 “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.”

As soon as she finished, others followed in quick succession, and the prayer meeting continued on.

But Isabella was keenly aware that her father never said a word to her about the meeting or the verse.

“He was kind and tender toward me, but graver than usual; I had a feeling that I had hurt him by showing no respect for his opinions.”

Her mother and father left early the next morning and never visited the Alden home again.

A black and white illustration of a woman in Victorian era dress speaking before an audience of men and women.That was an experience that stayed with Isabella. In fact, it made such an impression on her that she described that scene—in different ways—in many of her books.

In Workers Together: An Endless Chain, Miss Joy Saunders knew that the church she belonged to “believed in woman’s sphere, and desired her to keep strictly within its limits” and “on no account to let her voice be heard” in its religious meetings.

But when Joy followed her conscience and spoke a simple verse in an otherwise very quiet prayer meeting, she “set in motion forces that are pulsing yet” because the verse she recited touched so many hearts.

Profile of a young woman standing in church. Behind her is a stained glass window; but instead of Christian icons, the window  features faces of people looking down upon her, some forwning, some laughing.


Rebecca Harlow, the heroine of Links in Rebecca’s Life, was well aware that people in her church thought women and girls should keep silent when they were at prayer meeting. But after one of those long “awful pauses” in which no one at the meeting said a word, Rebecca spoke up and asked the people to pray for a friend who was in temptation.

That was all she said and though she couldn’t see anything wrong in her words, she knew there were some in the room who “thought it was out of taste.”

And when Ester Ried attended her first prayer meeting in New York, she was astonished by the proceedings:

“Now,” said the leader briskly, “before we pray, let us have requests.” And almost before he had concluded the sentence a young man responded.

“Remember, especially, a boy in my class, who seems disposed to turn every serious word into ridicule.”

“What a queer subject for prayer,” Ester thought.

“Remember my little brother, who is thinking earnestly of those things,” another gentleman said, speaking quickly, as if he realized that he must hasten or lose his chance.

“Pray for everyone of my class. I want them all.” And at this Ester actually started, for the petition came from the lips of the blue-ribboned Fanny in the corner. A lady actually taking part in a prayer meeting when gentlemen were present! How very improper. She glanced around her nervously, but no one else seemed in the least surprised or disturbed; and, indeed, another young lady immediately followed her with a similar request.

Illustration of a young woman going to her seat in church, with the yes of several members of the congregation following her.
An American Girl in Church
by Howard Chandler Christy


In Ruth Erskine’s Crosses, Isabella described the reaction when Ruth’s half-sister spoke up at the weeknight prayer meeting:

The words she uttered were these: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now, if it is your fortune to be a regular attendant at a prayer-meeting where a woman’s voice is never heard, you can appreciate the fact that the mere recitation of a Bible verse, by a “sister” in the church, was a startling, almost a bewildering innovation. Only a few months before, I am not sure but some of the good people would have been utterly overwhelmed by such a proceeding. But they had received many shocks of late. The Spirit of God coming into their midst had swept away many of their former ideas, and therefore they bore this better.

A Happy Ending:

Not long after that Wednesday night prayer meeting when Isabella spoke out in front of her parents, her father became very ill and she traveled to his home to be with him in his final days. One evening she was alone with her father when he said, unexpectedly:

“Thus saith the Lord who created thee.”

He explained to Isabella that he well remembered that Wednesday night prayer meeting and the verse she recited.

“The first time I ever heard it, your beloved voice gave it to me,” he said. “I can’t begin to tell you what [those words] are to me now, lying here. ‘Fear not; for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.’”

That was the last private talk Isabella had with her father and she cherished the memory of it.

“I thank the dear Lord,” she later wrote, “that one night He gave me courage to repeat words which brought joy to Father’s heart.”

Click on the “Isabella’s Books” tab at the top of this page to read more about the books mentioned in this post.

Frank Beard’s Chalk Talk

Chalk Talk

Frank Beard was one of the most popular lecturers at Chautauqua Institution. His Chalk Talk lectures drew standing-room-only crowds because of their pitch-perfect blend of humor, art and Biblical truths.

Black and white sketch of the artist Frank Beard.In an 1895 interview, Frank recalled how his Chalk Talks came to be:

“I was a young artist in New York, and had just been married. My wife was an enthusiastic churchgoer; and a great deal of our courtship was carried on in going to and from the Methodist church. The result was that I struck a revival and became converted. This occurred shortly after I was married, and like other enthusiastic young Christians, I wanted to do all I could for the church.”

Soon after he joined the church, the congregation put together an evening of entertainment. The ladies, knowing of his talent, suggested that Frank draw some pictures as part of the program. Frank agreed, but he felt that just standing in front of an audience and sketching without saying anything about the pictures “would be a very silly thing.”

He decided instead to make a short talk and draw sketches to illustrate his points. The talk was to be given as part of a Thanksgiving celebration, and Frank later joked that he rehearsed in front of his wife, his mother-in-law, and the turkey. “Well, my wife survived, my mother-in-law did not die while I was talking, and the turkey was not spoiled.”

Black and white sketch of Frank Beard drawing at an easel. Seated in chairs watching are a young woman, an older woman and a plucked, headless turkey strapped in the third chair.

When he gave his talk in front of the congregation, it was a great success. Soon, other churches asked him to repeat his talk, and in very short order he had more invitations to speak than he could ever hope to accept. His wife suggested charging a fee for each lecture, hoping that the cost would deter organizations from inviting him to talk at their functions. So Frank dutifully began charging $30 per talk. The requests continued to pour in. He increased his fee to $40, then $50, but his talks continued to be in great demand.

Newspaper announcement of a Freank Beard lecture from the 10 Mar 1890 edition of the Rock Island Argus
Announcement in the March 10, 1890 edition of the Illinois newspaper, The Rock Island Argus

That was the birth of the Chalk Talk, and Frank soon hit the lecture circuit. He was one of the first speakers at Chautauqua Institution in New York; and he lectured at many of the daughter Chautauquas. This 1899 clipping from the Los Angeles Herald recounts Frank’s Chalk Talk at the Long Beach Chautauqua (which named July 19, 1899 Frank Beard Day):

Announcement of Frank Beard Day at the Long Beach Chautauqua; from The Los Angeles Herald, 20 Jul 1899
Announcement of Frank Beard Day at the Long Beach Chautauqua; from The Los Angeles Herald, 20 Jul 1899

The topics of his Chalk Talks ranged from morality tales to stories from the Bible, each told in a casual, funny, but reverent, way. He knew that people who wouldn’t listen to a “sermon” would listen to his Chalk-Talk if the truths were presented in an entertaining fashion.

In Four Girls at Chautauqua, Eurie Mitchell proved that very point. Eurie was so opposed to listening to “sermons” at Chautauqua, she refused to go to any of the lectures; but when she heard about Frank Beard’s caricatures, she decided to go see him for herself.

If you have never seen Frank Beard make pictures, you know nothing about what a good time she had. They were such funny pictures! Just a few strokes of the magic crayon and the character described would seem to start into life before you, and you would feel that you could almost know what thoughts were passing in the heart of the creature made of chalk. Eurie looked and listened and laughed.

In Isabella’s book, Frank’s Chalk Talk was able to do what no other lecture at Chautauqua could: reach Eurie’s heart and lead her, ultimately, to salvation through Christ.

“Pictures can often tell stories quicker and better than words,” Frank once said, “and I believe that cartoons can be used in the service of religion, righteousness, truth, and justice.”

Black and white drawing of a man standing at a blackboard drawing a circle by moving his arm in a wide round motion

To prove his point, he once asked, “If you were commissioned to teach a child the nature of a circle, would you begin by stating that a circle is an area, having for its center a point, and bounded by a circumference in the nature of an endless imaginary line, which at all points is at an equal distance from the center? No! You would do nothing of the sort, but you would [show] its nature and properties [by drawing a circle] in black and white.”

Sometimes the subjects of his Chalk Talks were very simple. He told a story, for example, of how a blackboard and chalk could be used to teach a Sunday-school class of young children who had never before seen the Christian symbol of a cross inside the shape of a heart. He started by drawing the simple outline of a heart on the blackboard.

A simple sketch of a heart-shape in white chalk against a black background“What is this?”

“A heart!”

“Yes, a heart. Now, I mean this to represent a particular heart—I mean it for my heart. What is it now?”

“Your heart!”

“Don’t forget that. Now, see what else I will draw.” And he drew a child’s face within the heart.

“Now what have I made?”

Drawing in white chalk of a child's face inside the shape of a heart“A little boy!” “A little girl!” “A little child!” Variously cried the children.

“Yes, a little child; but where is the child?”

“In the heart.”

“In the heart?”

“In your heart.”

“That’s right. Now, what does it represent? When I tell you that I have a little child in my heart, what does it mean?”

A chalk sketch of a cross inside the shape of a heart against a black background“You mean you love the child.”

“Exactly. Now I will rub out the child and put a cross in the heart. What does that mean?”

“You love the cross.”

Then he went on to explain in a simple way what loving the cross meant.

He also shared an example of one of his lessons for older children and adolescents. He used this lesson to illustrate the concept of the narrow Christian path described in Matthew 7:13-14:

A young man is attracted by the appearance of beauty and the pleasure along the broad way. Timidly at first, for he is not bad and rather fears evil—but he loves play and pleasure—so he steps into it. He knows it is not the right way to take but he thinks to himself:

Chalk drawing of the head of a nicely-dressed young man wearing a hat.

“After a while, after I have had a good time, I will go over to the right path and come out all right after all.”

Chalk Drawing of the head of a frowning young man wearing a hat and smoking a cigarette

Frank went on to explain how the young man fell in with evil companions and was drawn further away from the good path.

Chalk drawing of the head of an old man with disheveled clothes and hat, smoking rumbled cigarette.

The young man learned to smoke and chew tobacco and read books “which mislead and give us wrong notions in life, that make heroes of scamps, thieves and liars.”

Chalk Ddawing of the head of an old man, hunched over, wearing disheveled clothes and hat.

As Frank continued the lesson, he amended and enhanced his original drawing to show the progressive results of the choices the young man made in his life.

Wherever he gave his Chalk Talks, he was well received, and his reputation grew. But not everyone was a fan of using a blackboard and chalk as teaching tools in the Sunday-school. Frank shared a story about one church that decided to use a man in their congregation—they assumed he had talent because he was a sign painter by profession—to illustrate Sunday-school lessons. The man decided to illustrate the story of Samuel as a child, entering the apartment of the high priest Eli in answer to his summons. His efforts were not well received.

Chalk drawing of Samuel running towards Eli who is in bed.

“Some objected to the bed-posts,” Frank said. “Some didn’t exactly know why, but the drawing didn’t conform to their idea of Samuel at all, and, more over, Eli’s nose was out of proportion.”

Chalk drawing of the Bible story of David and Goliath

The man’s next attempt didn’t fare any better, when he drew Goliath about thirty-five feet high in proportion to David. In fact, the congregation didn’t like anything at all about the poor sign-painter’s efforts at the blackboard.

Isabella Alden’s book Links in Rebecca’s Life featured a character who also disliked Chalk-Talk style lectures. She was a Sunday-school teacher who hated chalk and blackboards.

“They are such horrid dusty things. You get yourself all covered with chalk, and just ruin your clothes. I can hardly wear anything decent here as it is. If I had a blackboard, I should give up in despair.”

“I should think it would be a great help in teaching children,” Rebecca said.

“Well, I don’t know. What could I do with it? I don’t know how to draw, and as for making lines and marks and dots, I am not going to make an idiot of myself. What’s the use?”

But Frank Beard believed no special talent was required for a teacher to incorporate chalkboard drawings into Sunday-school lessons.

“Many are apt to think some extraordinary genius is necessary to fit a teacher to use the blackboard,” he said. “It is a mistake. You can teach better with a pencil than without. You can learn to draw far better than you ever imagined possible.”

Drawings of two different versions of a church and a cross; one version showing the wrong perspective and one version showing the correct perspective.
Illustrations from Frank’s book showing the right (Figures 43, 45) and wrong (Figures 42, 44) way to draw an image in perspective.

In 1896 Frank published a book for Sunday-school workers; in it he gave simple instructions for using the blackboard to illustrate Bible lessons.

Example of a simple but artistic way to write "The Lord is my shepherd" in chalk on the blackboard

Two examples of chalk talk methods for writing "what a friend we have in Jesus" on the chalkboard.

His book included how-to’s on perspective, lettering, and using easy-to-draw symbols as illustrations. Here are some of the symbols he illustrated:

Drawing of a crown with the word "Honor" written below. Drawing of a key with the word "Knowledge" written below. Drawing of a star with the word "Promise" written below. Drawing of a cross with the word "Salvation" written below. Drawing of an ancient oil lamp with the word "Wisdom" written below.

The purpose of writing the book, he said, “is to show how the blackboard can be used in the Sunday-school, and to furnish such instruction in drawing upon it” so it can be done in the most effective way.

drawing of a Victorian-era woman darwing with chalk on a blackboard in front of children seated on chairs in front of her
Illustration from Frank Beard’s book, Chalk Lessons

He was quick to say that he didn’t want the blackboard to monopolize the Sunday-school or supplant other useful forms of instruction. But, if used correctly, Frank Beard proved that the blackboard—and Chalk Talks—could be the “instrument which proves effective as a means of winning souls to Christ.”



"Taught by Pictures." "Frank Beard believes in the cartoon in religion." A Chat with the Artist." "How He Came to Invent the Chal Talk." "War-Time Caricatures"In 1895 Frank Beard gave an interview to the Washington D.C. newspaper The Evening Star. Click on this image to read the interview in which Frank tells how he invented the Chalk Talk:



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Cover Box Set books 1-3 Click on the book cover to learn more about Four Girls at Chautauqua.


The Evils of Baking Powder

Learning to live with her mother-in-law was an understandable challenge for Rebecca Edwards, but never more so than when Mrs. Edwards’ constant criticisms and complaints drove her cook to quit on the very day guests were expected for dinner.

Links in Rebeccas Life-Baking Powder ad 1912
A 1912 advertisement

Sensing the woman’s dilemma, Rebecca confidently said:

“I can get dinner—as good a one as Mr. Romaine gets at a New York boarding-house, I dare say. Just install me in the kitchen for the day, and see what I can do.”

Mrs. Edwards had no choice but to accept Rebecca’s offer . . . even if her acceptance was somewhat ungracious.

Here’s how Rebecca described her day in her mother-in-law’s kitchen:

Links in Rebeccas Life-Baking powder card 1895
1895 Trade Card

 Mrs. Edwards was there, looking distressed and perplexed over every single thing that I touched. It was in vain that I assured her that I was perfectly well acquainted with legs of lamb, and that I had cooked as many fishes as there were in the sea, and that the summer Mrs. Demarest, of Boston, boarded with us, she asked me for the recipe for our fish sauce, because it was the best she ever tasted.

 With the question of dessert came up new trouble. It so happens that, not having had much time for studying the accomplishments common to girls, I gave much time and fuss to the getting up of especially dainty desserts. During the season we kept those dreadful Boston boarders I really became an adept at that sort of work.

1895 British advertisement

 But Mrs. Edwards didn’t believe it. She hovered over those eggs and that butter and sugar, and was sure I had too little butter and too much powder, and not the right kind of flavoring. I became almost distracted. Several times my tongue fairly ached to drop egg-beater and spoon, and say: “Well, now, Mrs. Edwards, if you understand this business better than I do, please attend to it, and I will go and take my ride.” I am so glad I didn’t do it.

 We nearly quarreled over the merits of soda and cream of tartar versus baking powder. Mrs. Edwards is certain that powder is an out-growth of this degenerate age; says the cake is neither so nice-looking nor so delicate that is made of it; that she always tastes the powder, and that she would never use it, if she went without cake. I was really obliged to be firm in that, for I understand the art of making cake with powder, and I don’t know how to make it with those other vile articles that must be balanced just so or they make a fuss.

Links in Rebeccas Life Kitchen baking powder front 1890
An 1890 trade card.

Still, I might have got along without saying: “So far as that is concerned, I can tell at the first mouthful whether there is cream of tartar in cake. I always taste it.”

Whenever I say anything of that sort, Mrs. Edwards is sure to remind me of my youth.

 “Young people are, and always have been, remarkable for their discernment,” she said, very dryly. “Their mothers managed to make very palatable cake with the despised stuff before they were born, and long afterward. But as soon as the daughters get so they can stir up a gingerbread they, of course, know more than their elders ever did.”

Links in Rebeccas Life-Baking flour trade card 1890
Perhaps another symptom of a degenerate age. An 1890 trade card for self-rising flour.

Now, what had that to do with the subject under discussion? I am sure I can’t see.

The simple truth is that Mrs. Edwards can’t even stir up a gingerbread. She knows nothing about cake-making; she has never been obliged to know. And I confess myself unable to see why, because a person has lived sixty years, she should be deferred to by one who has only lived twenty years, on a subject of which she knows nothing, while the other has given six or eight of her twenty years to the learning of that subject.

I wanted to tell my respected mother-in-law that such was my opinion, but I forbore, and meekly asked her if Jane, the second girl, could be trusted to set the table, or whether she would rather have me do it.

Rebecca’s dinner was a success. The guests ate serenely, and Mrs. Edwards, after the first taste, lost her anxious expression and regained her quiet composure that was so much admired in the fashionable world. In the end, Mrs. Edwards discovered that Rebecca really could cook a delicious dinner and Rebecca discovered that she could keep her temper in the face of her mother-in-law’s taunts and complaints.Cover_Links in Rebecca's Life 2 resized

You can read more about Rebecca Edwards’ life with her mother-in-law in Links in Rebecca’s Life.

Links in Rebecca’s Life

Links in Rebecca’s Life is now available on Amazon!

Rebecca Harlow is an eager and tireless worker for the church. She never misses a prayer meeting, she dutifully prepares for each Sunday school lesson, and she schedules social calls with friends to encourage them to attend church.

But not all lessons are learned on Sunday; and not all Christian witness is delivered by appointment. When her careless words spread like wildfire through town, Rebecca must learn that it’s her everyday actions that have the power to influence others for Christ.

Click on the cover to read sample chapters on Amazon and learn more about Links in Rebecca’s Life.