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Isabella Goes West!

6 Nov

This is Part 2 of a story about Isabella’s farewell to Chautauqua in the Autumn of 1901. You can read Part 1 by clicking here.

When Isabella’s friend Frances Hawley wrote about the Aldens packing up their Chautauqua cottage, she ended her account by saying that the Aldens left for “a prolonged stay in the west.”

For Isabella and her family, “the west” meant California.

Their decision to make the journey had been in the works for some time. By autumn of 1901 the Aldens—Isabella, Ross, and their daughter Frances—were living in Philadelphia, and some key events had taken place in their lives:

  • Isabella’s husband Ross had retired from the ministry.
  • Isabella’s son Raymond had completed his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, and had already moved to Palo Alto, California
  • Isabella was beginning to feel the passage of time. She was about to turn 60 years old, and Ross was already 69.

Of her advancing age Isabella wrote:

I am really growing old very fast now, you know. It seems to me that I have changed a great deal lately. I cannot do anything as quickly as I once could and I tire very easily.

Their decision to retire to California was probably based on a number of things, the most important of which was that they had always been a tight-knit family; and with the exception of one or two short periods of time, they had always lived together as a family, too.

Since Raymond had already moved west, he might have written to them about California’s clean air and warm temperatures. And maybe he had written about the Presbyterian church he was attending and the welcome he received there. By November 1901 he was already teaching a Bible class at church.

From the Palo Alto Press, November 27, 1901.

A Cross-Country Trip

Whatever their reason for make a change, Isabella and Ross finished packing up their belongings at Chautauqua and immediately set out for California to join Raymond.

From the New York Daily Tribune, December 33, 1903.

The first leg of their journey was probably from New York to Chicago. If they took one of the many “express” or “limited” trains, they would have made the journey in about 24 hours. From there, they would have taken a train to California.

From the New York Tribune, December 8, 1903.

A “limited” train, like the one in the ad below, would have taken a direct route from Chicago to San Francisco, and would have made as few stops as possible, bypassing many of the towns on the route.

New York Tribune, April 24, 1902.

On a “limited” train, their journey across the country would have taken about 66 hours, or almost three days. By contrast, travel on a regular train, making all the stops along the way, would have doubled their travel time.

This 1895 map from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company shows the dizzying number of stops a regular train would have made en route from Chicago to San Francisco. Click on the map to see a larger version.

By Christmas 1901 the Aldens were in southern California, staying with their friends, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Johnson.

Isabella’s fame followed her there. A local newspaper, The Los Angeles Herald, caught wind of her visit and arranged to interview her.

In addition to asking Isabella the usual questions (e.g. “How did you get the name Pansy?”) the article listed all Isabella’s work, and noted that in addition to writing novels, Isabella was still:

  • Editor of the Herald and Presbyter
  • Associate editor of Christian Endeavor World
  • Wrote stories every month for The Sunbeam (the Y.W.C.A. Gazette published in London)
  • Wrote for the Junior Christian Endeavor World
  • Composed Sunday-school lessons for the Presbyterian church’s “intermediate quarterly”

It’s no wonder Isabella was beginning to feel tired!

The article ended with news that Isabella was going to do a reading the following week from “an unpublished story,” titled David Ransom’s Watch (which was eventually published in 1905).

The interviewer must have asked Isabella what her plans were for the future, because the article ended with this prophetic sentence: “It is probable that the Aldens will make California their home.”

The Aldens continued their stay with the Johnsons through at least the end of January of 1902. Their visit was reported in the Los Angeles Times society page:

From The Los Angeles Times, January 1, 1902.

A New Life in Palo Alto

Sometime in early 1902 the Aldens left Los Angeles and returned to Palo Alto, and they settled into their new life in the Palo Alto community.

They joined the same Presbyterian congregation that had welcomed their son Raymond. By April, Isabella was in San Francisco where she delivered a speech on one of her passions: Mission work at home and abroad.

Around that time the Aldens also began a search for a home large enough to accommodate their entire family and expected houseguests. In the end, they decided to build a custom home that would satisfy their many and unique needs. They purchased property in Palo Alto, hired an architect, and began designing their dream home.

A few years later Isabella and Ross joined other Christians in attending the Mount Hermon Christian Camp when it opened in 1905.

The rustic Mount Hermon train station, about 1910.

Mount Hermon was the first Christian camp west of the Mississippi, and it must have reminded Isabella and Ross of Chautauqua’s early days. Isabella fell in love with the place. She wrote:

I wish I could give you a picture of Mount Hermon, a blessed place where I have spent precious weeks living out under the great redwood trees. It was wild and quaint and beautiful. I have many happy memories connected with it.

For the next few years they made annual trips to Mount Hermon until health concerns prevented them from traveling there.

From Daily Palo Alto Times, 1907.

Through all these new experiences Isabella kept busy writing books. Between 1901 and 1908 she published eight books, most of which were written with her adult readers in mind:

Mag and Margaret: A Story for Girls (1901)
Mara (1902)
Unto the End (1902)
Doris Farrand’s Vocation (1904)
David Ransom’s Watch (1905)
Ester Ried’s Namesake (1906)
Ruth Erskine’s Son (1907)
The Browns at Mt. Hermon (1908)

Isabella Returns to Chautauqua

Isabella also found time to return to Chautauqua on probably two occasions, where she stayed with friends or relatives who had cottages there.

In May 1912 Isabella and Ross traveled to New York, where they first visited her dear friend Theodosia Toll Foster (who co-wrote a number of books with Isabella under the nom de plume Faye Huntington). It is very possible the Aldens went from there to Chautauqua in June when the 1912 season commenced.

from the Rome New York) Daily Sentinel, May 14, 1912.

In 1914 the Aldens were again at Chautauqua, where Isabella and her niece, Grace Livingston Hill were among the authors honored at a C.L.S.C. reception.

By August of that year they were back home in California, where they were “welcomed by many of their friends.”

The Palo Altan, August 21, 1914.

It’s possible Isabella visited Chautauqua again in the years following, but no record of those visits survives.

Whether Isabella visited Chautauqua again or not, her friends at Chautauqua and in New York certainly kept track of her as a favorite daughter. In 1916 the newspaper in Rome, New York (located near the town in which Isabella was born and raised) covered Isabella and Ross’s golden wedding anniversary celebration with this article:

The Rome Daily Sentinel, June 6, 1916.

The article’s mention of their prominent place in Palo Alto society is a testament to the loving friendships the Aldens formed in their new home in California.


You can read more about Isabella’s dream home in Palo Alto by clicking here.

You can read more about Isabella’s adopted daughter Frances by clicking here.

Searching for Pansy’s Daughter

13 Sep

There was a person in Isabella’s life whom she loved dearly, but rarely talked about. Her name was Frances Alden.

In 1892 Isabella and her husband Gustavus “Ross” Alden were living in Washington, D.C. Ross was the minister of the local Presbyterian Church; their son Raymond was 19 years old and studying not far away at the University of Pennsylvania.

Through one means or another Isabella—at the age of 52—became a mother again. She and Ross adopted a baby girl, whom they named Frances.

Isabella plunged into her second motherhood with the same energy and thoughtfulness that marked all her endeavors. She and Ross took Frances with them everywhere. She was always nearby when Isabella gave a speech or lecture. This news clipping documents one time when Isabella had to cancel a speech because Frances was ill:

From the Evening Star (Washington, DC) April 5, 1895

By the time she was three years old, Frances had wintered in Florida, spent summers at Chautauqua, and traveled across the country from coast to coast, all in the company of her adopted mother and father.

From The Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, January 1, 1901.

Perhaps Isabella’s speeches and magazine articles on the topic of rearing children offered fresh new perspectives because of her experience with Frances.

From the Sacramento Daily Union, October 25, 1897.

When their son Raymond secured a teaching position at Stanford University, Isabella and Ross moved their little family to California. They built a beautiful home on Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto (read more about their home here) and enrolled Frances in the local public school. They cheered her accomplishments large and small, including her promotion from third to fourth grade:

Palo Alto Press, May 21, 1902.

Thanks to Isabella’s successful writing career, she and Ross could afford to give Frances every advantage. When they realized Frances had been blessed with a talent for music, they ensure Frances had the best music and voice teachers.

By the time Frances entered her teen years, she was an accomplished singer and musician, and often performed in school and at church.

The Daily Palo Alto Times, March 9, 1907.

She was also acquiring a reputation as a notable beauty; and Isabella and Ross were determined to protect their daughter from flatterers.

When Frances was fifteen, they enrolled her at Park College, a small Christian school in Missouri.

The Daily Palo Alto Times on August 20, 1907.

There are no records to account for Frances’ time at Park College; but by the time she turned 18 in 1911, Frances was once again living at home with Isabella and Ross.

And she had changed quite a bit. Frances had become either rebellious or something of a prankster; either way her actions resulted in her having to appear in juvenile court at least once. The more Isabella and Ross tried to curb her behavior, the more Frances resisted.

In desperation, Isabella and Ross sent her to the Florence Crittenden Home, which was a nationwide network of residential homes that specialized in treating and caring for delinquent teens and unmarried pregnant women. Frances remained at Crittenden for four months.

When she returned to the Alden home, Frances decided to enroll at Stanford University, where her brother Raymond was a Professor of English. Her willingness to pursue her education must have been encouraging for Isabella and Ross.

Unfortunately, when Frances entered Stanford, she did so dressed in disguise. For three days she masqueraded as a male student on the campus and in the classroom. The discovery of her deceit caused a scandal, and probably caused Raymond quite a bit of embarrassment, as well.

Her prank was the last straw for Isabella and Ross. Once again they made the decision to send Frances away, but this time, they decided to send Frances to the Florence Crittenden Home in Los Angeles, 362 miles away.

Still rebellious, Frances arrived in Los Angeles, but instead of checking into the Crittenden Home, she went, instead, to the Home of the Good Shepherd, and tried to sign herself in under the name Vera Carter, which she declared to be her real name.

As bad as the entire experience was for Isabella, there were even more trying times to come.

Somehow, the newspapers caught wind of the situation. Isabella awoke one morning in January 1911 to find her troubles with Frances described in large print in newspapers across the country.

Reno Gazette Journal, January 18, 1911

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From the San Francisco Chronicle, January 16, 1911.

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Oakland Tribune, January 16, 1911.

How long Frances remained at the Home of the Good Shepherd is unknown, and once again, there are no records to help us understand what happened to Frances next. Records do show that she remained in Los Angeles.

In 1923, at the age of 31, she married a man named Bertram Minch. Bert worked for an oil company as a well operator in the oil fields, and later as an engineer for the city of Beverly Hills, California.

Frances and Bert remained married until his death in 1963. They never had children of their own.

There are no records or newspaper accounts to tell us if Frances and Isabella ever saw each other after Frances entered the Home of the Good Shepherd. It could be that Frances severed all ties with her mother, or perhaps it was Isabella who severed ties with Frances.

Either way, in her memoirs, Memories of Yesterdays, which she wrote in the last months of her life, Isabella did not mention Frances at all. And after Isabella was badly injured in a fall, it was her daughter-in-law Barbara Hitt Alden who took care of her, not Frances.

When Raymond Alden passed away in 1924, Frances’ name was not mentioned in his obituary as a surviving family member. The same was true when Isabella and Ross died; Frances’ name was not listed in their obituaries.

Isabella built her career and her reputation on her love for children and her desire to lead young lives to Christ. With this in mind, her experience with Frances had to be among the most difficult and painful events in her life.

Isabella always said:

“Whenever things went wrong, I went home and wrote a book to make them come out right.”

Perhaps, in one of Isabella’s books, there is a character like Frances with a mother like Isabella, whose stories end with a happily ever after.


This post is part of our Blogiversary Celebration! Leave a comment below or on Isabella’s Facebook page to be entered in a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card! We’ll announce the winner on Friday, September 14!

Writer Jenny Berlin

Faith, romance, and a place to belong

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Britt Reads Fiction

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

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