Pansy in Paperback

At the height of her popularity Isabella’s books were published in several languages and sold all over the world.

She had a large fan base in England, and in the 1890s a British publisher took the unusual step of publishing Isabella’s novels as pamphlets. Today, we’d call them paperback books.

Cover of Four Girls at Chautauqua. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows three young women dressed in gowns and bonnets of the 1890s on the deck of a boat. Two of the ladies are seated while the third stands facing them. In the background other people stand at the railing and look out over the water at the coastline in the distance.

S. W. Partridge & Co. of London advertised the books as “Partridge’s Cheap Pansy Series.” Each edition included a list of the available titles in the series:

A portion of the front matter contained in the books announcing Partridge's Cheap "Pansy" series at fourpence each. Other books in the series:
Mrs. Solomon Smith Looking On 
Links in Rebecca's Life
Chrissy's Endeavour
The King's Daughter
Ester Ried
Ester Ried Yet Speaking
Ruth Erskine's Crosses
Chautauqua Girls at Home
Three People
Wise an Otherwise
An Endless Chain

The novels measured 7-1/2” by 10-3/4”, making them slightly smaller than the 8-1/2 by 11” standard paper Americans use today. They were only 64 pages long, but thanks to their 2-column layout and small type, each novel was complete and compact enough to fit into a lady’s bag.

Page one of Four Girls at Chautauqua. The text is formatted in two columns in small type.

In fact, Partridge & Co. published them particularly for women travelers. They were sold at newsstands in railway stations throughout England and cost just four pennies.

A portion of the cover of Four Girls at Chautauqua, showing the price of the book: fourpence.

Each book featured a beautifully embellished, full-color cover that illustrated a particular scene from the story. Here’s the cover for Chautauqua Girls at Home:

Cover of Chautauqua Girls at Home. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman seated at a piano, playing and singing. Standing behind her are a young woman and two young men, each holding music books and singing.

The cover art for Ruth Erskine’s Crosses shows the moment Ruth’s father introduced her to Judge Burnham.

Cover of Ruth Erskine's Crosses. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows an older man in coat and hat introducing a young woman to an older man who is in the process of removing his hat. In the background are two other women. One is removing her coat while the other unties the cords on a large box.

What do you think of the depiction of this important scene? Is that how you pictured Judge Burnham when you first read Ruth Erskine’s Crosses?

The cover for Julia Ried shows the moment Julia went to apply for the bookkeeping job at the box factory.

Cover of Julia Ried. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman dressed in coat and bonnet and carrying a parasol. She has just entered a room and her hand is still on the doorknob. She faces an older man dressed in a suit with a watch fob and chain in the pocket of his waistcoat. The room he is in contains boxes, a table with books on top and shelves with large books or bound ledgers.

In addition to the cover, each book had anywhere from five to nine black and white illustrations. This one, in Julia Ried, depicts the moment Dr. Douglass introduced Julia to Mrs. Tyndale.

Illustration of a man in 1890s clothing introducing a young woman wearing cape and bonnet to an older woman who is wearing a fashionable gown and a cap.

Mottos were very popular in the 1890s, and this motto appeared at the end of Julia Ried:

Your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (I Cor. II. 5.)

It very nicely sums up one of the lessons Julia learned in the story.

Often, mottoes like this one were used as inexpensive sources of artwork. Ladies cut them from the pages of books and magazines and pasted them into scrapbooks or framed them to hang on the wall.

Cover of Ester Ried Yet Speaking. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young girl sitting on the floor beside a vase holding two white flowers.

Ester Ried Yet Speaking also ends with a motto related to the story:

Let us not be weary in well doing. (Cal. VI. 9.)

The cover for Interrupted illustrates the moment Claire Benedict learned her father’s money was gone and the family was bankrupt.

Cover of Interrupted. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman dressed in black facing three men who are seated, each holding their hats and walking sticks. Beside the young woman is seated an older woman also dressed in black.

One of the black-and-white illustrations shows the moment Claire suggests to her students that they take on the job of cleaning up the church sanctuary:

Illustration of Claire seated as the piano, one hand on the keyboard, but she has turned slightly to face five girls who are standing nearby. Caption: "This suggestion for a moment struck them dumb."

It wasn’t uncommon for the titles of Pansy’s novels to be changed when they were published in other countries. One Commonplace Day was one such novel; in England it was renamed Wise to Win:

Cover of Wise to Win. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman and young man conversing in a parlor or living room. In the background are two women, one standing and one seated at a table near a fireplace.

These paperback books all have some wear and tear, but considering the fact that they’re over 130 years old, they are in remarkably good shape. Perhaps they’ll last another hundred years for a new generation of Pansy readers to enjoy!

What do you think of these paperbacks?

Do you have a favorite cover?

Click here to read a previous post about mottos.

The Dangers of Soda Fountains

Today, a soda fountain—when you can find one—is a quaint relic of a by-gone era. Think of soda fountains and you may think of ladies wearing corsets and long skirts, or gentlemen who never leave home without a hat, tie, and pocket watch.

Soda fountains are such benign objects to us, it’s hard to imagine that they ever had the potential to cause harm. But in Isabella’s day, there were hidden dangers in every soda fountain, in every town in America.

An average American drugstore in 1900. A soda fountain is on the right side of the photo.]

Isabella Alden recognized those hidden dangers and wrote about them, because she knew the dangers were not inconsequential. There were pitifully few laws at the time that regulated the sale or distribution of products that could be bought at the time; and many products included alcohol and addictive ingredients.

Children could obtain alcoholic drinks in saloons. Doctors prescribed alcohol to patients young and old.

A pair of 1894 trade cards depicting “a big spender and his girl” at the soda fountain.

And commonly used tonics and medications often contained alcohol and opiates—sometimes at alarmingly high levels—and most did not disclose their contents on their labels.

In 1888 this cough syrup proudly listed its addictive ingredients—cannabis, morphine, alcohol, and chloroform—on its label. Since no laws required such disclosures, few manufacturers revealed their product contents.

Here’s an example: In 1885 a man named John Pemberton began marketing a beverage he invented. He called it “French Wine Cola—Ideal Nerve and Tonic Stimulant.”

In an 1880 drugstore in Washington DC, this soda fountain sold a beverage called Wine Coca for five cents a glass.

Why such a name? Because every 7 ounce glass contained 9 milligrams of cocaine and a walloping dose of caffeine extracted from the kola bean. Initially, sales were sluggish.

But the following year, when Pemberton renamed the drink “Coca-Cola,” sales picked up. By the 1890s, Coca-Cola was being sold in stores and soda fountains all over the country . . . and it still contained cocaine and caffeine. (Coca-Cola’s formula didn’t change until after 1903.)

An 1890s trade card for Coca-Cola, touting it as the “ideal brain food” for relieving mental and physical exhaustion.

That’s one example of the “hidden dangers” Isabella wrote about.

A 1905 magazine ad for Coca-Cola.

In her novel One Commonplace Day, several scenes take place in the town drug store, which Isabella describes this way:

[It was ] glittering with its show of colored glass and brilliant liquids, and arranged with that regard to lovely combinations of color which is common in first-class drug stores. There is at one end a handsome soda fountain, with all the various cooling syrups and elegant appliances of first-class establishments.

The design for a new soda dispensing unit, showing front and side views, with marble counters and inlays (circa 1900).

Charlie Lambert, one of the characters in the story, was a temperance man who took pride in the fact that he drank no liquor and had no temptation to drink any. But he often took his lunch at the soda fountain, where he drank a soda almost every day during the summer.

An 1890 newspaper ad for Coca-Cola aimed at temperance advocates, despite the drink’s ingredients.

Chances are, Charlie’s soda was laced with wine, cocaine, caffeine, or one of any number of additives that were not disclosed to unsuspecting consumers.

The soda fountain in a Peoples Drug Store, Washington D.C., 1909.

In the book Isabella advances the theory that people often become addicted to alcohol or drugs because they develop a taste for them as children.

A 1916 advertising broadside showing boys drinking a case of beer or liquor.

When you think of the number of children who sat on soda fountain stools, unconsciously swinging their dangling feet as they enjoyed a glass of Coca-Cola—all the while pumping nine milligrams of cocaine through their veins—Isabella’s theory begins to make sense.

A 1905 ad in Harpers’ magazine.

Advertising for Coca-Cola and similar beverages was everywhere. Ads showed happy, peppy, beautiful people sipping cocaine-laced drinks.

Coca-Cola calendar art, 1915.

And some soda fountains and saloons distributed tickets to people on the sidewalks, with a buy-one-drink, get-one-free offer.

By today’s standards, Isabella’s novels about temperance and the evils of alcohol may come across as strident and unreasonable. In reality, Isabella was fighting a very real problem in the best way she knew how; by writing stories people could relate to.

An iconic 1890s Coca-Cola advertisement.

And while One Commonplace Day is, on the surface, a story about the American temperance movement in the late 1880s, it carries a deeper message.

In the book, a group of prayerful Christians band together to help one of their neighbors overcome his addiction to alcohol. They formulate a plan to intercede in his life and help put him on the path to sobriety.

A crowded Coca-Cola soda fountain in 1910.

They pray for him, invite him to church, intercept him before he can enter a saloon or drug store, and do everything they can to help him kick his addiction.

Much has changed since Isabella wrote One Commonplace Day in 1886, but Americans still struggle with issues of alcoholism and addiction.

What do you think? In today’s world, is it possible for a group of prayerful Christians—like the people Isabella wrote about in One Commonplace Day—to band together to change the life of one person who struggles with addiction?

Coca-Cola wasn’t the only tonic that promised health benefits from questionable ingredients. You can read more about quack cures and patent medicines on these sites:

The Museum of Quackery.

Pilgrim Hall Museum.

And you can click here to learn more about Isabella’s novel, One Commonplace Day.

Meet Priscilla Hunter

In her books Isabella Alden created many endearing and memorable characters; but perhaps one of the most beloved people who appeared in her stories was Miss Priscilla Hunter.

In fact, Isabella liked Priscilla Hunter so much, she included Priscilla in four of her books:

The Man of the House
Miss Priscilla Hunter
One Commonplace Day
People Who Haven’t Time and Can’t Afford It

If you haven’t heard of Priscilla Hunter before, here’s how Mr. Durant described her in One Commonplace Day:

Miss Priscilla Hunter [is] a maiden lady who has just come here to live. If you have not heard of her before, you will do well to make her acquaintance. I think you will find her a woman after your own heart on the temperance question, as well as on some others.

And in The Man of the House, little Beth Stone said Priscilla was:

A woman; kind of old, and not so very old, either. She’s got grey hair, and she is tall and straight, and her face looks sort of nice; not pretty, and not exactly pleasant as I know of, but the kind of face one likes.

But don’t let Priscilla’s grey hair fool you. She was a woman of high energy and focused activity. It was Priscilla Hunter who almost single-handedly raised the money needed for the church in Miss Priscilla Hunter.

And when (in People Who Haven’t Time and Can’t Afford It) pretty Mrs. Leymon asked Priscilla to help bring some hope to a poverty-stricken family, Priscilla energetically replied:

Help! Of course I will. I’ll bring my scissors and snip out things for you in odd hours. Oceans of things can be done in odd hours; and I’ve got a little bundle laid away that will do to make over for somebody; and Mrs. Jackson has an attic full of trumpery that she will never use. I’ll see that a good load of it gets sent around to the room. You’ve got a good room? It’s Mr. Hoardwell’s, isn’t it! Of course he’ll let you have it; I’ll see him if you want me to; he’s a friend of mine. I’ll slip up there between daylight and dark and see about it.

Priscilla’s scissors and snips were always at work. She was a seamstress by trade; and in People Who Haven’t Time Priscilla . . .

. . . sewed all day in her attic room on clothes for boys too young or too poor to go to the regular clothing establishments. Poor was Miss Hunter; that is, people looking on called her so. But, after all, I hardly knew of a richer person than Miss Priscilla Hunter.

But if Priscilla Hunter was poor, why would characters in Isabella’s stories describe Priscilla as rich?

First, she was extremely wise. She was adept at sizing up a situation, asking the right questions, and dispensing the truest and most needed morsel of advice at just the right time.

She gave advice to children and adults, women and men, friends and strangers; and her advice was always the right advice!

She was intuitive, too. Sometimes she could figure out what someone’s worries were just by looking at them. She noticed everything; no detail was too small to escape her notice.  In “Miss Priscilla Hunter” Priscilla observed:

It is the trifling sacrifices that pinch. [A man] can do a great thing now and then that he knows people will admire, even though he has no such selfish motive in doing it; still it helps and cheers, to know that an appreciative world looks on and says: “That was well done!”

But to go without a new dress all winter—to go to church, and to society, and occasionally to a tea-party, wearing the cashmere or alpaca that has done duty as best for two years, and do it for the sake of the church, and say nothing about it, and know that people are ignorant of the reason, and feel that they are wondering whether you are aware that your dress begins to look “rusty”—that is sacrifice.

Priscilla was also generous. What little she had she shared with others, always trusting that as long as she did the Lord’s work, God would provide whatever she needed.

But the most important reason Priscilla was rich was her unshakable faith in God. She had a way of talking about God that made clear to everyone He was her best friend and constant companion:

You will find that if this life is a warfare, we have more than a Captain—we’ve a Commander-in-chief, and we have nothing to do with the fight, other than to obey orders and keep behind the shield.

Priscilla Hunter’s unwavering faith is on full display in the book The Man of the House. And though the hero of the story, Reuben Stone, is honest and trustworthy and always tries to do right, Miss Hunter shows Reuben how much better his life can be if he will make the decision to follow Jesus.

It’s no wonder Isabella Alden liked Miss Priscilla Hunter so much. And since she created Priscilla as a “maiden lady” without family or possessions to tie her down, Isabella could move Miss Hunter from place to place, and into the lives of the very people who needed someone to remind them of God’s love and friendship.

If you’d like to read about Miss Priscilla Hunter, you can read these stories for free on this website:

Miss Priscilla Hunter

People Who Haven’t Time and Can’t Afford It

Or you can click on the book covers below to read The Man of the House and One Commonplace Day:



The Day New York Turned French

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.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper for June 27, 1885, chronicling the New York arrival of the French transport steamer, Isere, with the Statue of Liberty on board.
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper for June 27, 1885, chronicling the New York arrival of the French transport steamer, Isere, with the Statue of Liberty on board.

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.

An 1884 print illustrating the proposed location of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor.
An 1884 print illustrating the proposed location of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor.

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.

An 1882 photo of workmen constructing the Statue of Liberty in Bartholdi's Paris warehouse.
An 1882 photo of workmen constructing the Statue of Liberty in Bartholdi’s Paris warehouse.

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.

The torch and part of the arm of the Statue of Liberty on display at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.
The torch and part of the arm of the Statue of Liberty on display at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

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.

"Up the Avenue from 34th Street" by Frederick Childe Hassam (1917)
“Up the Avenue from 34th Street” by Frederick Childe Hassam (1917)

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.

A New York parade, circa 1899
A New York parade, circa 1899

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.

A New York Parade, about 1910.
A New York Parade, about 1910.

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.

Undated photo of the Masons of Pyramid Temple on parade.
Undated photo of the Masons of Pyramid Temple on parade.

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.

A promotional image of French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, with the Statue of Liberty and a sculpture of a lion.
A promotional image of French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, with the Statue of Liberty and a sculpture of a lion.

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.

Undated photo of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, viewed from the north.
Undated photo of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, viewed from the north.

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.

"Unveiling the Statue of Liberty," by Edward Percy Moran, 1886.
“Unveiling the Statue of Liberty,” by Edward Percy Moran, 1886.

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.

A view of the "Statue of Liberty from Castle Garden," New York, by Andrew Melrose, 1887.
A view of the “Statue of Liberty from Castle Garden,” New York, by Andrew Melrose, 1887.

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.

Click here to read Isabella’s book Spun from Fact, published in 1886.

And click here for more information about Isabella’s 1886 novel, One Commonplace Day.

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Image of mother holding a baby“He was fed on brandy for days and weeks when a child. It was a physician’s prescription, you know.”

That was Mildred Powell’s explanation for Leonard Airedale’s alcohol dependence in the book, One Commonplace Day. In other words, Mildred believed the man she loved wasn’t to blame for his alcoholism—his doctor was.

Image of two beer steins filled with beer.Then, as now, the medical community and society at large struggled to discover the cause of adult alcoholism. How could some people have a glass of wine or beer on a strictly social basis, while others couldn’t take a sip of the stuff without forming an instant addiction?

In Leonard Airedale’s case, Mildred’s assessment would have made perfect sense. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, doctors often prescribed brandy, beer and other alcoholic drinks to patients, including children.

Image of a mother looking adoringly at her young son.Dr. Abraham Jacobi, known today as the father of American pediatrics, held alcohol in great esteem as a therapeutic agent for children. He authored several books in the 19th century on pediatric diseases, and influenced the way generations of physicians treated young patients. He believed that alcohol should be given to children to fight infection, and wrote that “There is no better antiseptic than alcohol beverages.”

Photograph of Dr. Abraham Jacobi
Abraham Jacobi, M.D.

In cases of typhoid, he wrote, “a child of three or four years may be saved by 100 or 200 ccm. of whiskey given daily, if by nothing else and escape the undertaker.”

And since 100 cubic centimeters of whiskey is equal to about 3-1/3 U.S. fluid ounces, the amount of whiskey he recommended for a three year old child was more than many adults could handle.

But that’s not all. If that daily dose of whiskey wasn’t effective, Dr. Jacobi recommended increasing the amount:

“Septic cases, with high fevers that will not improve after 100 or 200 centimetres of whiskey daily, are apt to do well with two or three times the dose, which, however, will cease to be tolerated as soon as the septic fever has passed by. Indeed I have seen such septic children of three or four years take 500.0 [ccm.] of whiskey a day.” That equates to a full pint of whiskey for a child under the age of five!

Image of a mother kneeling beside a cradle and gazing at her baby lying in the cradle

Whiskey and brandy were frequently advertised in medical and nursing journals; those same journals then published articles extolling their merits.

Image of an advertisement for Cascade Pure Whiskey
A full-page ad in the December 1909 edition of the Interstate Medical Journal


Doctors primarily used brandy as a cardiac stimulant because it appeared to increase cardiac output and blood pressure. But it was also a depressant, so doctors also prescribed it as a sedative for adults, children, and even infants.

Brandy and whiskey weren’t the only alcoholic beverages doctors recommended for health reasons.

Advertisement for champagne from the Interstate Medical Journal
Advertisement in the December 1909 edition of the Interstate Medical Journal


In 1895 Anheuser-Busch began advertising a beer product called Malt-Nutrine. The beverage contained 2% alcohol and its target market was women, especially young mothers.

Image of a magazine ad for Malt-Nutrine showing woman holding a baby.The beverage was advertised in women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan, Munsey’s and Good Housekeeping. The majority of the ads featured images of nursing mothers and their babies. And although Malt-Nutrine had a 2% alcohol content, Anheuser-Busch advertised their product as alcohol free and claimed it gave special nourishment, restful sleep, strength and joyousness to mother and baby.

In other words, nursing mothers who drank Malt-Nutrine passed along its alcoholic effects to their infants.

Anheuser-Busch also advertised their product to physicians. They ran full-page advertisements in medical journals, such as this one in the January 3, 1918 Boston Medical and Surgical Journal:

Image of Malt-Nutrine ad claiing the product was a tonic with food value

They had an ingenious marketing plan that included sending artwork to doctors. The artwork incorporated images of their product and was framed or finished in a way that made it suitable for hanging in physician offices where it could be seen by patients and remind physicians to recommend it.

Image of a stork carrying bottles of Malt-Nutrine to baby storks in the nest.
Example of Malt-Nutrine “artwork” sent to physicians


They also ran contests for physicians. One contest encouraged doctors to write in with suggested titles for one of their art promotions; the winning title received a cash award of $250 in gold.

Image advertising Pabst Extract and offering a free 1910 American Girl Calendar.
A full-page ad for Pabst Extract offering free calendars to physicians. From the Interstate Medical Journal, December 1909.


Other brewers jumped into the beer-for-health market. Pabst unabashedly marketed their Pabst Extract product as “The Best Tonic” to promote sleep, strengthen nerves and invigorate the exhausted. In their ads to physicians Pabst also gave away free promotional items such as calendars and wall art.

Magazine for Pabst Extract showing mother and baby above the caption, "The Joys of Motherhood"
Ad in Vogue Magazine, 1915


Like Anheuser-Busch, Pabst targeted a good portion of their advertising at mothers. And like Anheuser-Busch, Pabst downplayed the alcoholic content of their product and claimed instead that their product was “food” essential to nursing mothers’ health.

Image of mother with toddler and baby beside an oversized bottle of Pabst Extract, along with three long paragraphs of promotional text.
This ad in the December 1907 issue of Harper’s Bazar encouraged expectant mother’s to “prepare the way” for baby’s birth by drinking Pabst Extract.


Seattle Brewing Company introduced their own malt product, Malt Rainier, which they, too, marketed to new and nursing mothers.

Ad for Malt Rainier showing mother cuddling baby with caption, "For those requiring additional nourishment and strength."

Image of Mother holding baby on her lap with a bottle of Malt Rainier in her hand.
A 1909 trade card for Rainier Beer


A toddler-aged baby drools as she holds a large stein full of beer in both hands, under caption "Ah were you only mine, how happy I would be, thou cold and foaming stein, so full of jollity.
A cartoon of a baby craving beer, about 1900.

Isabella Alden might have had these beers in mind when she created the character of Eben Bruce in One Commonplace Day. Eben was a medical student, studying under the direction of the town doctor. Eben developed a habit of drinking alone in his room when he was supposed to be studying.

His mother was at fault. She had sipped her beer when he was a creeping baby, to give her strength to care for him. He never thought of blaming his mother for the fire that burned in his veins and had roused into power with the first taste of alcohol. Blessed ignorance of babyhood! He did not know that she was to blame. Miserable ignorance of motherhood! She did not know it either.

Unfortunately, some brewers, like The Seattle Brewing Company, weren’t satisfied with just nursing mothers drinking their beer. They wanted the mothers’ children to drink it, too, and they targeted their marketing campaign for Rainier Beer directly at children. At the time, Rainier Beer had an alcohol content of 4.91%, similar to levels of today’s beer.

Ad for Rainier Beer showing a little boy crying to his mother because he doesn't have a beer.

Rainier Beer ad showing little girl and elderly man clinking their glasses of Rainier Beer with the caption "Beneficial to Young and Old"

Brewers got away with these tactics by labeling their beers as “pure” or “nourishing” or a “tonic.” By doing so, the product was considered medicinal.

1893 ad for Rainier Beer showing children dancing around an oversized bottle of beer as if it were a maypole with caption, "Pure Air, Pure Food, Pure Health. For Pure Drink get Rainier Beer"

Medicinal wines, whiskeys and beers were sold over the counter in drug stores. For serious alcohol consumption, the drugstore was the place to go; and since no prescription was necessary, virtually anyone could walk out of a drug store carrying a bottle of alcohol labeled as medicine.

In addition to glycerine, this product contained a whopping 11% alcohol. Ad from the Medical Women's Journal, September 1921.
This product contained a whopping 11% alcohol. Ad from the Medical Women’s Journal, September 1921.


Even a product as intoxicating as Vin Mariani was available for purchase without a prescription. Vin Mariani was incredibly popular because of the potent effects of its formula: 6 milligrams of cocaine for each ounce of Bordeaux wine.  Like other “medicinal” wines, it was advertised in medical journals and was widely prescribed to children.

Ad for Vin Mariani claiming "endorsements from upwards of 8,000 physicians."
Ad in The Cincinnati Eclectic Medical Journal, April 1903


Could it be that Isabella Alden was right to be alarmed? Did mothers unwittingly create “a thirst for alcohol” in their children at a young age, or even before they were born?  Perhaps, as Isabella wrote, the blessed ignorance of motherhood prevented them from knowing what kind of damage they may or may not have done to their beloved children simply by following doctors’ orders.

You can click on any of the images in this post to see a larger version.

Cover_One Commonplace Day resizedClick here to read more about Isabella Alden’s book, One Commonplace Day.

Click here to read a New York Historical Society blog post about Pabst Malt Extract.

Click here to learn more about Vin Mariani, the medicinal wine that took the world by storm.

Click here to read a biography of Abraham Jacobi, M.D.

Now Available: One Commonplace Day

Cover_One Commonplace Day resizedOne Commonplace Day is now available on Amazon!

It was just an average town picnic on an average October afternoon. Hundreds of people attended the gathering; but for one small group of picnic-goers who sat together to eat pickles and chicken and cream, life would never be the same again. For in the midst of that average picnic, God went to work in their hearts and set in motion a series of extraordinary events. Before long the small group of picnickers banded together to do the Lord’s work, and to shape the destinies of each other’s souls.

This edition of the 1886 classic Christian novel includes a biography of the author and additional bonus material.

Follow this link to download One Commonplace Day for your Kindle, PC, Mac or mobile device.