In the late 1880s a woman named Martha Wood attended a women’s missionary convention and later wrote a newspaper article about her experience. The highlight of her trip was a chance encounter with Isabella Alden.
By that time Isabella was a best-selling author and her pen name “Pansy” was a household word. You can imagine Martha’s surprise to discover Isabella was not only attending the same convention, but was among the ladies traveling on the very same train!
Martha’s account does not mention who made the first overture, but at some point Martha and Isabella fell into conversation. When they arrived at their destination they were greeted by a member of the convention’s entertainment committee, who had been sent to escort Isabella to her hotel. Of course, the committee member was only too happy to include Martha in their party. But when it came time for them to take a cab from the train station to the hotel, they encountered a slight problem:
Amid the bustle of the station we were greeted by the Entertainment Committee, and, as we were assigned to places adjacent, were to occupy the same cab, when, lo! The cab had but one seat, and there were three of us! Quickly the happy thought found expression: Who would not think it an honor to ride in the same cab with Pansy? How much more, then, to ride with her on one’s knee, as she is so petite? Thus we rode to our destination.
Isabella was scheduled to address the convention, and Martha described her performance:
She was on the program, of course, and read one of her exquisitely appropriate stories to an interested audience; but the acoustic properties of the church were so bad that, with straining ears, we failed to hear it well, though it was a real pleasure even to see her, and to hear the silvery voice of one whom we had learned to love already, from her writings.
Later, Martha noticed some devoted Pansy fans were among the convention attendees:
She was constantly surrounded by a bevy of bright young girls, and it seemed quite the fitting thing, too, for had she not devoted herself to them and to their uplifting?
One of them gave her a lovely plaque of wild-wood violets marked as her “country cousins,” to which she laughingly referred as we journeyed homeward together. She was quite as entertaining as her stories, we found, full of a nameless gentle grace, betokening a lady.
On the journey home after the convention, Martha and Isabella traveled with a third woman. Martha never identified the woman by name, but described her as a “leading educator in the state.” The woman had also been a speaker at the convention on the topic of “All I Am, and All I Have, for the Lord.” Martha wrote:
Pansy was even then revolving in her mind a new story and she asked my friend if she could use her name as one of the characters.
Now, this friend was just a trifle old-fashioned in her ideas about story writing, and especially about young people spending their time in reading novels, so she hesitated.
Then Pansy told us how she had been oftentimes solicited to enter the arena of popular fiction, for mere fiction’s sake and pecuniary gain, but that she had always refused. Her solemn purpose was to devote herself entirely to the development of higher Christian character and life, and she had never yet yielded, had never been swerved, from her high resolves.
I wish I could paint the beautiful glow of her cheek, and the clear shining of her dark, glowing eyes, as she talked to us from her heart.
Deeply impressed, I turned to our friend and said, “Remember your subject, ‘All I Am, and All I Have, for Christ,’ and she only asks to use your name. He taught in parables most effectively, and she is only following His example by writing stories to develop true, higher Christian life.”
Of course, she then consented and the story was written, but I do not think I am quite at liberty to reveal all here.
Martha’s story—as charming as it is—is full of tantalizing mysteries!
When and where was the missionary convention held? And who was the woman whose name Isabella wanted to use as a character in a story? What was the name of the story Isabella ultimately wrote?
We may never know the answers to these questions, but Martha’s encounter with Isabella sounds delightful!
Did Martha’s recollection give you any new insights into Isabella’s personality? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.