This week’s free read is “Dr. Deane’s Way,” a short story written by “Faye Huntington.” That’s the pen name adopted by Isabella’s dear friend Theodosia Toll Foster.
Isabella first met Theodosia when they were teens at Oneida Seminary in New York. It was Theodosia who launched Isabella’s writing career by secretly submitting one of Isabella’s stories to a writing contest. Isabella didn’t discover what Theodosia had done until she received a letter informing her that her story won first prize in the contest!
In return, Isabella sparked Theodosia’s career as an author. In 1872, Theodosia was 34 years old and pregnant with her second child when her husband James died unexpectedly. With a farm to run, and a toddler and newborn baby to support, Theodosia needed a reliable income. Isabella asked her to collaborate on one of her books, and Theodosia’s career as an author was born.
Theodosia’s story “Dr. Deane’s Way” was written in 1875. Here’s the description:
When it comes to managing his family, Dr. Deane firmly believes his way is best. He methodically doles out chores to his children and rules the kitchen by ensuring his wife cooks only the blandest food for their diets. And when two of his children accept Christ as their Saviour, Dr. Deane believes he has the right to interfere with that, too.
But when Dr. Deane’s daughter Lois rebels against his rigid rules, Dr. Deane must seek help from an unexpected source if he is to cure Lois of her hoydenish ways.
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You can read more about Isabella’s friendship with Theodosia in these previous posts:
In addition to writing stories and novels, editing a children’s magazine, and giving lectures on women’s topics that were dear to her heart, Isabella wrote Sunday-school lessons for children.
Her published lessons were well-regarding and widely adopted by many denominations. Several publications printed her lessons each month, and dedicated Sunday-school teachers across the country employed them every Sunday morning.
Isabella had been trained as a teacher; that’s how she earned her living prior to her marriage to the Reverend Gustavus Alden.
It’s little wonder, then that Isabella was regarded as an expert in her field, and often found herself giving impromptu talks about the proper methods of teaching Sunday-school, particularly for younger children (which were often called the “infant class”).
The May 1877 issue of Sabbath School Monthly magazine printed a letter submitted by a reader who had the pleasure of hearing Isabella give just such a talk. The reader had been at the Sabbath School Conference in Indianapolis earlier in the year, and was in the audience when Isabella was brought on stage to answer questions.
You can read the letter to the editor by clicking on the image below, or scroll down to read a transcript:
LETTER FROM INDIANAPOLIS
Messrs. Editors: Many in our city who have enjoyed the writings of your special contributor, Mrs. Alden—our dear “Pansy”—had the opportunity, last week, of seeing her and of hearing her talk.
After the urgent solicitation of Dr. Vincent, who conducted a Sunday-school Congress of the M. E. Church, she consented to reply to questions on infant-class teaching.
To the first, “Should the infant class be present at the opening of the school?” she answered: “They should feel that the Sunday-school, and all that pertains to it, belongs to them.”
“What if the opening exercises are too lengthy?” She said that there might be folding doors, so that the rooms could be thrown together—that she had shut her doors when she had enough.
“Should there be a division of the class, and a teacher for each division?” She replied that one of the many difficulties that would result from it would be the desire to go from one class to another. This question is answered conclusively in last week’s chapter of her serial.
It was asked: “If I can not visit all my class, what can I do?” “You can send a messenger; some one who will make a pleasant and good impression, with a message of love, or a token of love, such as a flower.” She had been surprised to see how little things sent by a teacher were cherished by children.
She was desired to speak of blackboard teaching and we were convinced that her kind of object lessons would give a definite idea to the mind of a child. A heart on the blackboard, with a red crayon mark around it, and the word “clean” printed upon it, would indicate that it was washed in the blood of Christ.
As to memorizing verses, she told of the conductor’s punch that had been used by some teachers, making a round hole in the card for a perfect recitation, and a hole not round for an imperfect one, and how the child would work for that round hole.
To the question, “How shall I secure a regular attendance?” she replied, “Do the best you can.”
To the many that wish they could see Mrs. Alden, I would say that you would find in her a friend. She is a small lady; her face very bright, with delicate features; good teeth, rosy color; dark brown hair; very small hands. She dresses in good taste; very neatly. These items are not needed to add to the interest of her books, but they may satisfy some wonderings concerning their author.
Don’t you love the writer’s physical description of Isabella (she has “good teeth”!)?
When Isabella gave her impromptu talk in 1877 she was 35 years old, and a seasoned public speaker who seemed to make a very good impression on her audience.
You can read these previous posts about Isabella’s experiences as both a student and a teacher at Oneida Seminary:
Isabella Alden often drew on her own life experiences when she crafted her short-stories and novels. The incidents she wrote about weren’t necessarily historic or even life-changing, but she had a talent for sharing her own memories in a way her readers could identify with.
One of Isabella’s school experiences ended up as a short story titled “When I Was a Girl.” It happened when Isabella was a young student at Oneida Seminary in New York.
Gathered in the school assembly hall one day were all the teachers and pupils, as well as friends and parents of many of the students. Isabella was one of six young students chosen to read their own compositions at the assembly, and the audience was to vote by ballot for the best essay.
Being a talented writer from a young age, Isabella won the prize; but soon after she received her award, a rumor began to spread through school that the composition she read was not her own—that she had copied the words from a printed book!
Soon Isabella was in the office of Dr. Branner, the school principal. He confronted Isabella with the allegation, which she hotly denied.
Moments later, another student named Ophelia entered the office. Ophelia had been one of the five other students who read before the assembly, and she had been bitterly disappointed at not winning the prize awarded to Isabella—and it was Ophelia who was the source of that horrible rumor.
In her memoirs, Isabella described what happened next:
Dr. Branner’s manner was coldly dignified as he asked Ophelia:
“Am I to understand that you still insist that there is a book in your father’s library which has in it every word of the essay that took the prize in our school last week?”
Ophelia’s face as she answered the question was almost smiling, and she answered briskly:
“Of course, word for word. I didn’t suppose you were accusing me of telling lies!”
“Very well,” said the principal quietly. “Then you may go home at once and bring that book to me. We will wait here till you come.”
Isabella spent many anxious minutes waiting for Ophelia to come back with the book. In her story, “When I Was a Girl,” she described the moment when Ophelia returned. She made a few minor changes to some of the details in the story. For example, she changed the names of the school principal and the other student involved; she also added additional description she didn’t mention in her memoirs; but the finale—the truth of what happened when Ophelia returned to the principal’s office that day—is straight from Isabella’s childhood memory.
Click on the cover to the read Isabella’s short story, “When I Was a Girl” and find out how the story ended.
It’s hard to imagine a world without Isabella Alden’s wonderful books and stories; but, left to her own devices, Isabella never would have become a published writer.
From a young age she had been taught to let her imagination soar. She began keeping a diary at the age of six, filling it with records of daily events and bits of stories. And even before she could write, Isabella’s mother encouraged her to make up little stories—perhaps from a picture Isabella would show her, or out of a few toys or some flowers. “Make a story out of it for mother,” was a most familiar sentence.
Out of those beginnings, Isabella developed her writing skills, and she continued to craft stories for the amusement of her friends and family. Her talent showed in school assignments, too; her compositions always earned good grades and won her recognition and prizes.
It was at school that Isabella Alden met her good friend, Theodosia Toll, nicknamed Docia. They were students together at Oneida Seminary in New York. After they graduated, Isabella returned to the school as a teacher; and since Docia’s family home was nearby in a neighboring town, the young women saw each other often.
After the close of one particular school year, Docia arrived to help Isabella pack up her things. Isabella was leaving the next morning to spend the long vacation at her family’s home, some eighty miles away.
While Isabella packed, she tasked Docia with sorting through the papers and books she had stored in a large trunk. As Docia went through the trunk, she came across a story Isabella had written as an entry for a writing contest. Here is Isabella’s description of what happened next:
“Why, Belle!” she suddenly exclaimed. “Here is that story you were to send to Cincinnati! Didn’t you do it after all?”
“No, I didn’t,” I said.
“But you promised!”
“No, not exactly. I said I would, if I didn’t change my mind, and I changed it.”
“Well! I think you were a perfect simpleton! It might have taken the prize. I thought it was the best thing you had written. What do you want done with it? Oh, say! Don’t you believe! The time for sending manuscripts isn’t up yet! Here is the printed slip that tells about it. There are seven days yet. Now do be sensible and send it on. Just think what fun it would be if it should win the prize!”
Then I appeared in the doorway and spoke with decision.
“I’ll do no such thing. If I can’t write a better story than that, it proves that I ought never to write at all. Tear the thing into bits and throw it in the grate with the other rubbish. I’ll set fire to them tonight.”
Luckily, Docia saw the promise in that story and instead of tearing it to bits so it could be set on fire, she submitted it to the contest under Isabella’s name.
Two months later, Isabella was shocked to receive a letter from the Western Tract & Book Society in Cincinnati, congratulating her on her win. Enclosed with the letter was a check for fifty dollars!
After she got over the initial shock of winning a prize for a story she thought she had burned, Isabella realized that Helen Lester was something to be proud of—especially once the contest judges explained the reason the story won:
“In the opinion of the carefully chosen committee of award, it met the condition imposed by the grand old Christian gentleman who offered the prize. It was to be given for the manuscript that would best explain God’s plan of salvation, so plainly that quite young readers would have no difficulty in following its teachings if they would, and so winsomely that some of them might be moved to take Jesus Christ for their Saviour and Friend.”
And how did Isabella spend that fifty-dollar prize money? She made two packets, each containing “the enormous sum of twenty-five dollars.” She placed one of the packets inside a bound volume of her first book, Helen Lester. On the fly leaf she wrote:
“Presented to my honored father.”
The second packet went into another copy of the book; and on the fly leaf she wrote:
“To my precious mother.”
Then, in both books she wrote those “wondrous words that must have trembled with excitement, and ought to have been written in capitals”:
“From the Author.”
Helen Lester was published in 1865 and with it, Isabella’s writing career was launched. The following year she published another children’s book, Nanie’s Experiment; Jessie Wells was published in 1867, quickly followed by Tip Lewis and His Lamp. After that, she published multiple titles each year, demonstrating both her talent and her discipline as a writer.
Since then, her stories that explain salvation through Christ and the rewards of abiding faith in God have enlightened and entertained generations of readers around the world.
You can read Helen Lester for free. Click on the cover to begin reading.
You can learn more about Isabella’s friendship with Docia by clicking here.
For most of her young life, Isabella Alden was educated at home by her parents and an occasional tutor. But all that changed when she was about fourteen years old. That’s when her parents enrolled her in Oneida Seminary in Oneida, New York.
The school was almost 80 miles away from her family’s home in Johnstown, New York; but that didn’t mean Isabella would be at the school alone.
Her older sister Marcia and Marcia’s husband Charles Livingston were also at Oneida Seminary. Marcia and Charles lived in apartments on the campus because Charles was a professor at the school; so Isabella had family close by.
At Oneida Seminary the male and female students were separated in their classrooms, study areas and living quarters; so making strong friendships with other female students would have been natural for Isabella. She often crossed paths with Theodosia Toll, who was called Docia. Docia was one of the most popular girls at Oneida Seminary. Her family owned a large farm called Locust Shade about 7 miles away in nearby Verona, New York.
Docia was three years older than Isabella. She was a better scholar, too. She had a reputation for being keen and quick-witted, good-humored and kindly. Everyone thought well of her.
Knowing Isabella was far from her family home, Docia invited her to spend her weekends at Locust Shade but Isabella always refused the invitation. Isabella wrote in “Memories of Yesterdays”:
“I had taken a great dislike to that girl in the earliest days of our acquaintance. . . I avoided her on every occasion possible and declined her invitations for the weekends so haughtily that I wonder she ever asked me again.”
One day Isabella went out of her way to avoid Docia by visiting her sister Marcia in her apartments. She didn’t hold back in complaining to Marcia about “that insufferable girl,” Docia.
“If she ever asks me again to go home with her for over Sunday, I’m going to tell her that it takes all the skill I have to invent ways of escaping her society here, and I can’t be expected to follow her home, even though it would be a treat under pleasanter conditions to have a ride.”
Charles had been in the next room and overheard everything Isabella said.
“What a foolish girl you are,” he said almost sadly. “I was saying to Marcia this morning that I could not imagine why you had taken such a dislike to Docia. She is the best scholar in her class, and every teacher in the school speaks highly of her. Certainly her character is above reproach. As for her family, if you knew them you would consider it an honor to be invited to their home. I should.”
After Charles’s scolding—and much prayer and soul searching—Isabella realized why she disliked Docia . . . she was jealous of her!
“My aroused conscience showed me just where I stood. Faint and faulty as were the proofs of it in my life, I knew even then that I belonged to the Lord Jesus Christ; and He came graciously to my help at that hour and showed me plainly not only how offensive in his sight had been my attitude, but also how I had misjudged the other girl.”
The next time Docia invited Isabella to go home with her for the weekend, Isabella accepted. Three weeks later she drove in the Toll family carriage with her new friend Docia to Locust Shade, where she was made a welcome addition to the family. After that first visit, Isabella spent many weekends and school vacations at Locust Shade.
That was the beginning of Isabella’s lifelong friendship with Docia Toll. In later years they would both marry, have families of their own, and move away to different parts of the country; but they remained fast friends and confidants who loved each other and collaborated in creating short stories and novels that bore witness to God and their Christian faith.