As the wife of a Presbyterian minister, Isabella moved house frequently, depending on when and where the Presbyterian Church assigned her husband. One of those moves occurred in 1876 when Isabella was 37 years old.
For a period of three short years (from 1876 to 1879), the Aldens lived in Greensburg, Indiana, where her husband had the ministry of Greensburg’s Presbyterian congregation.
In typical Pansy fashion, Isabella probably got right to work in her new community, serving the members of her husband’s congregation, writing stories intended to win souls for Christ, and speaking out on matters of importance to women.
In addition, Isabella maintained a very busy travel schedule. Here are just a few entries from her calendar that year:
Isabella was in Cincinnati, Ohio, delivering a lecture “for the benefit of the Benevolent Society.”
Her schedule took her to Indianapolis, Indiana, where she read a paper titled “What I Know about Boys” at the state’s annual Sunday-School Convention:
The first week of August saw Isabella at the Methodist Sunday-School Assembly at Lakeside, Ohio, where she was one of a number of teachers who led daily children’s classes throughout the week.
Isabella was in New York in her home town of Gloversville, where she read one of her short stories—“What She Said and What She Meant”—to an audience at the Baptist Church.
Isabella was back in Indiana, this time giving a temperance reading to an audience in Indianapolis, about forty-eight miles from her Greensburg home.
At a time when the fastest way to travel was by train or horse-drawn carriage, Isabella sure got around!
By the way, Isabella’s story “What She Said and What She Meant” was published in 1880 and you can read it for free! Just click on the book cover below to begin reading.
January’s free read is Gertrude’s Diary, a novella first published in 1885.
Isabella wrote the book in the “diary style” she often used. In the story, twelve-year-old Gertrude and her friends are given a set of Bible verses for each month of the year, along with journals in which the girls are to record their experiences as they try to live by the verses.
Isabella often incorporated her own life experiences into her stories (see last week’s post for an example) and Gertrude’s Diary is no exception. Isabella was very candid about the fact that she had a temper that often got her in trouble when she was young. It isn’t hard to imagine as you read Gertrude’s Diary that some of Gertrude’s temper-induced predicaments might be based on episodes in Isabella’s own life.
In the final chapter of the book Isabella gives a very real nod to one of her favorite places on earth when she reveals that Gertrude’s home town is called Locust Shade.
Locust Shade was a place Isabella knew well; in “real life” it was the name of the Toll family farm in Verona, New York. Isabella’s best friend Theodosia Toll Foster was raised at Locust Shade and Isabella spent many wonderful weekends and school vacations at Locust Shade with Theodosia and her family. You can read more about their friendship and Locust Shade here.
Gertrude’s Diary is available to read for free. Just click on the cover to begin reading.
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.
Although the early Bell telephones certainly transmitted sound, they only worked between two locations that were hard-wired to each other.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Not long after Isabella married Ross Alden she became ill. She never specifically named her ailment, but in her memoirs and in her auto-biographically-based stories, she often mentioned trouble with her eyes and that she suffered greatly from what we would today know as migraine headaches.
“It must be understood that although I was at times a great sufferer, I was by no means a helpless invalid. But the intervals between days of terrible pain might have been described as times of dull and wearisome inanity. I could read only a few minutes at a time, with long intervals between the minutes.”
She saw a number of physicians all over the New York area, all of whom agreed that, if she was ever to get well, Isabella should take a “water cure” from Dr. Greene at the Castile Sanitarium in New York. Ross encouraged her to follow the doctors’ instructions.
But Isabella rebeled. She told Ross, “You needn’t think I’m going to stop and see Dr. Anybody! I’m going home!”
So Ross helped her from the doctor’s office and took her to the next departing train. He tucked her into heavy robes so she would be warm while they traveled, and urged her to nap on the train.
When Isabella awoke she found they had reached their destination: The sanitarium and the famous doctor!
Isabella demanded an explanation.
Kindly and quietly Ross answered, “We are going to spend the night here and seek this doctor’s advice. Could conscientious people do otherwise?”
When Isabella finally met the famous Dr. Greene she was probably very surprised—first, because the esteemed Dr. Greene was very young (only about thirty-five years of age), and second—Dr. Green was a female!
Female doctors were very uncommon in the late 1860s when Isabella first visited Castile Sanitarium. But Dr. Cordelia Greene was a very impressive young woman. At the age of sixteen she began supporting herself as a teacher in order to earn the money to put herself through medical school. She worked long hours in large sanitariums to gain experience; and she helped her father, also a physician, open a small “water cure” facility on property he purchased in Castile, New York.
When her father died, Dr. Cordelia Greene took over his enterprise, and used the sulphur springs on the property to expand the practice’s offerings. Under her management, the sanitarium became one of the premier facilities in the country.
Famous patients flocked to her doors, including Frances Willard, the founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union; Susan B. Anthony, the noted leader of the suffrage movement; and Dr. Clara Swain, who opened the first hospital for women on the continent of Asia.
Dr. Cordelia believed in the importance of deep breathing, vigorous exercise, and proper hydration of the body. She started every day by visiting patients’ rooms and personally delivering a pitcher of water to ensure each patient drank a full glass of water before breakfast.
Dr. Cordelia made certain patients who were strong enough spent plenty of time out of doors. They gardened and played croquet, walked and swam, in between their scheduled hydrotherapy treatments.
One of the hydrotherapy treatments Dr. Cordelia prescribed for Isabella was a wet sheet pack. The purpose of the wet sheet pack was to draw toxins from the body and increase blood circulation.
A wet sheet pack is accomplished by wrapping the patient from head to toe in a wet (usually with cold water) sheet. The patient’s arms are straight at their sides, and the sheet is tightly wrapped around the patient like a cocoon.
Over this are wrapped several layers of woolen blankets, again from head to toe.
As the patient sweats, the secretions from her pores are trapped in the sheet, as the wool blankets prevent moisture from evaporating into the air.
Isabella wrote that she was glad to have gone to the sanitarium; and said that “the thing that seemed so hateful soon became pleasant.” She grew to love and greatly admire Dr. Greene, saying:
“She was the life and power and heart and soul of that great water cure—a doctor of wonderful skill, a woman whom everybody respected and loved and obeyed.”
Isabella stayed on at Castile Sanitarium for five months; and when she left, she rejoiced. She was cured!
“Never since that time have I had to bear for even a single hour that peculiar form of pain which had been my almost constant attendant for more than five years!”
You can learn more about Dr. Cordelia Greene and her accomplishments by following these links:
The year 1886 was a banner year for Isabella. In that year she had six books published, including Spun from Fact and One Commonplace Day.
1886 was a banner year for America, too. A wave of patriotism was surging through the country, thanks to the long-awaited unveiling of the Statue of Liberty on a small island in New York’s harbor.
Newspapers and magazines were full of descriptions of the statue and of the pedestal that was being constructed for it on Bedloe Island in New York harbor. Americans were intrigued by the sheer size of the statue. They marveled over its engineering and wondered how the torch would remain lit.
The statue was the brainchild of French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. He originally envisioned presenting the statue to the United States on the one-hundred year anniversary of the signing of America’s Declaration of Independence, but he did not have enough of the statue completed by that deadline.
Instead, he sent America pieces of the statue. For example, in 1876 he sent to America the hand holding the torch and one of the feet of the Statue of Liberty. Those pieces toured American cities as part of the centennial celebration, and helped raise the funds needed to erect the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty would ultimately stand.
Ten years later, the pedestal was in place. Bertholdi was finally able to assemble the statue on top, and America set the date for the unveiling for October 28, 1886.
That day dawned cold and misty. A light fog hung over the city; it had rained the day before, so areas that were not paved were muddy. But wet pavement and mud and chilly temperatures couldn’t dampen America’s enthusiasm.
Everywhere the city was decorated with buntings and flags. French flags flew from the tops of American households, and American flags fluttered from almost every window.
People came from all over the country to fill the New York streets. Businesses shut down and public schools closed as all New York joined in the celebration.
One visitor in the crowd later related that “every place that a person could get to see was occupied; the tops of lamp posts, telegraph poles, trees, and the housetops were all filled.”
The festivities began with a parade. Newspaper accounts estimated between 25,000 and 30,000 men paraded through the city. It took over two hours for the head of the parade to reach the Battery.
The parade featured canon and carriages filled with dignitaries, like President Cleveland and members of his cabinet. Civic organizations, military companies, police battalions and the Army Engineering Corps marched through the streets. Band after band paraded playing the “Marseillaise.”
Volunteer firemen’s associations, Knights of Pythias, federal judges, local mayors, and veterans of 1812 joined the ranks of marchers. They paraded down Fifth Avenue, past Central Park to Madison Square, then on to the review stands on Twenty-Fourth Street.
When President Cleveland stepped up on the stand, the crowd cheered; but then the people close enough to the stage caught sight of the sculptor, Monsieur Bartholdi, who was waiting to be introduced. The crowd instantly recognized him because his likeness appeared on the programmes and in illustrated newspapers.
Those nearest the stand began to chant his name, “Bartholdi, Bartholdi.” Crowds on the avenue up and down heard the name and passed it to the people in the park, and they passed it to the people on the side streets, until the air was “shaken with the roar of cheering” the sculptor’s name.
Monsieur Bartholdi accompanied President Cleveland aboard the steamship Dispatch, to make the short journey across the bay to Bedloe Island. As soon as the Dispatch got under way, over 100 vessels, decorated with flags and bunting, blasted their whistles and followed behind.
When they reached Bedloe Island the official unveiling ceremony took place. A large French flag had been placed over the head of the statue, but at the signal, the flag was pulled away, to the sound of a salute of gun fire by all the batteries in the harbor, afloat and ashore.
President Cleveland formally accepted the statue on behalf of the United States, after which there followed an address by a representative of France, then music, and a benediction.
When the ceremony concluded there was a one-hundred-gun salute, and the steamers in the bay blew their whistles. The guns on Governor’s Island and other forts fired for a full half an hour.
By this time the rain had begun to fall, but the crowds did not disperse. Over a million people filled every available space from Wall Street to Pearl Street and to the Battery. They stood in the drenching rain and driving winds and cheered themselves hoarse.
That rainy October day in 1886 was a great day for the city of New York and for the American people, who received a gift that would go on to epitomize the spirit of liberty and refuge for people all over the world.
This video provides more detail about the Statue of Liberty and how it came to reside on Bedloe Island.
Isabella Alden’s series of books about the Ried family were her most popular novels. In Julia Ried, book 2 of the series, the Ried family falls on hard times, and daughter Julia decides to strike out on her own. She takes a job as a bookkeeper in a paper box factory in the neighboring town of Newton.
In choosing Julia’s career, Isabella was on solid ground. She was able to write convincingly about Julia’s job and work environment, because Isabella’s father, Isaac Macdonald, operated a paper box factory in Gloversville, New York.
Gloversville, the little village where Isabella grew up, was celebrated for its glove-making industry.
Between 1890 and 1950, Gloversville supplied nearly 90 percent of all gloves sold in the United States.
Besides the many “skin mills” and glove manufacturing business in the little village, the industry spawned a host of supporting businesses, such as box makers, tool and die manufacturers, and dealers in buttons and threads.
Isabella’s father, Isaac Macdonald owned one of four or five box-making factories in Gloversville. While there’s no record that Isabella ever worked in her father’s factory, she had a good grasp of the working conditions, and she conveyed her thorough knowledge of the business in Julia Ried.
In Julia Ried, Isabella gave lively descriptions of the “shop-girls” who folded and pasted the cardboard boxes together. According to Frank Hooper, one of those shop-girls in the book, they worked ten hours a day, six days a week.
Pasting cardboard boxes together was a sticky, messy, exhausting job; but it was a job that was often performed by women and children.
Small boxes especially—like those that contained gloves for ladies and children—needed to be assembled and pasted by women or children with small hands.
Yet in the glove-making industry—and its supporting businesses—women and girls earned half as much as men.
The work could be dangerous. Accidents were common, and some injuries could be severe.
Isabella drew on her knowledge of the box-making business to create some of her most beloved characters. The characters of Frank Hooper and Jerome Sayles (whose father co-owned the box factory in the story) made return appearances in other books in the Ester Ried Series.
You can learn more about Gloversville, Isabella’s home town, by reading these related posts:
In her novels, Isabella often wrote about the unique challenges of being a step-parent.
In By Way of the Wilderness, Wayne Pierson saw his new step-mother as an interloper and a rival for his father’s attention, causing much heart-ache for himself and his family.
Ruth Erskine, the main character in Ruth Erskine’s Crosses, disliked her step-mother to the point of being ashamed of her; and when Ruth later married a man with two daughters of his own (in Judge Burham’s Daughters), Ruth taught her step-children proper manners, but failed to address their spiritual needs.
Like all Isabella’s novels, By Way of the Wilderness and the Chautauqua Books were allegorical stories, written to convey specific messages and lessons about living the Christian life.
But what many people don’t know is that Isabella was herself a step-mother. When she married Gustavus “Ross” Alden in 1866, Ross had a ten-year-old daughter from his first marriage to Hannah Bogart.
Like Ross Alden’s family, Hannah’s ancestors were among the earliest emigrants to America; her ancestors arrived as far back as 1652 and settled the New Netherlands (now New York) in the time of Peter Stuyvesant.
Ross and Hannah met in New York and married when they were both in their early twenties. Nine months later, little Anna Maria Alden was born. Tragically, Hannah died just two months later.
Very few records exist to tell us how Ross coped with the daunting responsibility of raising an infant daughter after the death of his wife. We do know he stayed in New York, close to where Hannah’s family lived, and probably had much help from them. Census records show that by the time little Anna was four years old, she was living with her maternal grandparents, without Ross.
Three years after Hannah’s death, Ross made a decision that would influence the rest of his life. He “united with the Reformed Church in Richmond, Long Island”—the same church, which, for generations, had been the church of Hannah’s family—and he began laying the foundation for becoming a minister.
Ross was baptized, and a few months later his daughter Anna was baptized in the same church.
While Anna remained with her grandparents, Ross moved 300 miles away to begin studies at Auburn Theological Seminary. There he met Isabella Macdonald, who was visiting her sister Marcia and brother-in-law, Charles Livingston, who was also a theology student.
Ross and Isabella fell in love and married in 1866, the same year Ross graduated. The evening of their wedding day they boarded a train and left for Ross’s first church pastorate.
None of the records about that happy and blessed day mention whether Ross’s ten-year-old daughter Anna was at the wedding. Isabella’s good friend Theodosia Toll Foster was there, though, and that may have been the occasion when Theodosia and Anna met. Theodosia had younger sisters, the youngest of whom was just about Anna’s age.
Though we can’t be certain when exactly Theodosia and Anna met, but we do know that very soon after Ross and Isabella’s marriage, Anna went to live with Theodosia at the Toll homestead in Verona, New York.
While Ross and Isabella led an almost itinerant life, moving from one church to another every two or three years, Anna enjoyed a very stable home life with Theodosia and her sisters. They called Anna their “truly sister” and she quickly became a much-loved and integral member of the family.
When Anna was 16, she lived with Ross and Isabella in Cooperstown, New York, where they were in charge of yet another congregation. And when Ross and Isabella moved two years later to New Hartford, New York, Anna went with them … as did the entire Toll family. Theodosia, her elderly father and her younger sisters all moved to New Hartford. There Theodosia put her talents for teaching to good use. She and her sisters set up a boarding and day school, and their journals reveal that Anna helped run the enterprise.
By then, Ross and Isabella had a son (two-year-old Raymond), and Isabella’s mother and sister Julia were also living with them in New Hartford. It must have been wonderful to have had their large, extended family so close together again!
But their reunion didn’t last long. Within months, Ross received a call to minister at a church in Indiana. Once again he and Isabella left New York for a new city. This time, 20 year old Anna stayed behind with Theodosia.
There is only one other instance recorded of Anna living with Ross and Isabella. When the 1880 Federal Census was taken, Anna was 24 years old and the Census shows her living with Ross and Isabella in Cumminsville, Ohio (a suburb of Cincinnati), where Ross had a church. That same year, Alida, the youngest of Theodosia’s sisters, wrote in her journal that she was excited over an upcoming trip to visit Anna in her Ohio home.
Sometime after that visit in Cumminsville, Anna once again returned to New York to live with the Tolls. And when the Toll sisters closed their school in New Hartford and returned to their home town of Verona, New York, Anna went with them; and there she remained for the rest of her life.
In Verona Anna was a long-time member of the Presbyterian Church, and she was deeply involved in church matters. Friends described her as “a consistent Christian woman” who “won the sincere love and respect of all who knew her.
Anna was just 57 years old when she passed away from complications of pneumonia. Theodosia’s sister Eunice marked the sad day in her journal with the notation, “Our Anna died.”
Unfortunately for us, none of Isabella’s correspondence with Theodosia has ever been found, so we cannot know the initial reason Anna first went to live with the Toll family; but we do know, from records that do exist of her life, that no matter where Anna lived, she was very much loved by her family and community.
Isabella Alden tells a lovely story about a very special Thanksgiving she spent in Auburn, New York.
She was 22 years old at the time, and living with her older sister Marcia and brother-in-law Charles, while Charles attended Auburn Theological Seminary.
That year Marcia and Isabella prepared the family’s Thanksgiving feast, and Isabella was responsible for baking the pies. She wrote:
My mother was a wonderful cook, and her pumpkin pies were especially renowned, but I, her youngest daughter, had been busy since very early in life in other places than the kitchen, and knew almost nothing about cooking.
Despite her doubts, Isabella’s pies were a success, and Charles declared:
“Upon my word, I believe this pumpkin pie is every bit as good as our mother can make. And we three know that there can’t be any greater praise for pumpkin pie than that!”
When they’d finished eating and had cleared away the dishes, Charles suggested they ask some of his fellow seminary students to come in and share their cheer.
Of course Marcia and Isabella agreed; and while Charles was gone, hunting up lonely students to bring back to the house, Marcia and Isabella prepared turkey sandwiches and sliced the remaining pies Isabella had made.
Charles soon returned with one lonesome stranger in tow. Isabella described her first impression of their guest:
He looked uncommonly tall to me, and he certainly liked pumpkin pie. My sister had no difficulty in persuading [him] to take another piece. Also, there was much fun over the fact that these were the very first pumpkin pies I had ever made.
They spent an enjoyable evening together, unaware of how great a role their guest would play in their futures.
As Isabella later wrote:
That lonesome stranger who ate my first pumpkin pie was the man who afterward became my husband!