In 1876, when she was just thirty-five years old, Isabella presided over a very busy household.
Her husband Ross had just been given the ministry of a Presbyterian church in Cincinnati, Ohio.
At the same time Isabella’s writing career was in full swing. Not only was she publishing an average of three novels a year, she was also the editor and principal contributor to The Pansy magazine, which, at that time, was published once a month.
Her son Raymond (whom she lovingly called Ray) was just three years old. To round out the household, Isabella’s mother Myra, and Anna Alden, Ross’s daughter from his first marriage, were also living with them.
In those early days Isabella was very candid about sharing her family life with readers of The Pansy magazine. She often shared brief anecdotes about her life and, in particular, about her son Raymond.
Not only did her readers love those stories, they also came to feel they knew Raymond personally. They even sent him cards and small gifts in the mail.
Isabella had a special column in The Pansy called “Pansy’s Letter-Box” in which she thanked readers for all their letters, including those addressed to Raymond.
One of her 1876 entries in the column was to a reader named Ida, who must have sent Raymond a gift with her letter. Here’s Isabella’s reply:
Then in November of that same year, Isabella shared this story about Raymond and her mother Myra, who was living with them at the time:
Ray was at the piano playing a tune; that is, he was running his fingers up and down the keys, and making a discord that frightened even the cat. Grandma sat in the arm-chair, and was singing to Ray’s music. Between them both, it was as much as we could do to stay in the room. At last something about grandma attracted Ray’s attention; the music grew slower and softer, and he kept a steady gaze on grandma’s face. At last he stopped playing, and his shrill little voice rang out:
“Grandma, what makes you growl so?”
“Growl!” said grandma, a good deal astonished. “Why, child, I’m singing.”
“I know you are, grandma, but what makes you growl all the time?”
Grandma stopped to laugh. “Pretty compliment that is to my singing!” she said at last. “Here I have been doing my best, and he calls it growling.”
Ray shook himself impatiently. “I know singing, grandma, I don’t mean that. I mean those little growls all over your forehead? Just so they look!” And then the little morsel wrinkled up his fair white forehead till he looked like a scowling patriarch.
The mystery was solved. The child meant “scowls.” Grandma, rather unused to singing to a piano accompaniment, especially to so remarkable a one as that was, had wrinkled her forehead into rows and rows of frowns; a very unusual sight on her smooth kind face. No wonder Ray was astonished. Grandma never made “growls” at him. How long will it take him to get all the long and short words into his little brain? How is he going to know that “growls” and “scowls” are two very different things? Perhaps, after all, they are not so very different? It is surprising how often they are found together!
Although this blog is all about Isabella Alden, today we’re shining the spotlight on another member of the Alden family.
Isabella’s son, Raymond, was featured in an article that appeared 111 years ago in The San Jose Mercury News on February 3, 1909.
Unfortunately the type is difficult to read, so here’s a transcript of the article:
Tuesday, Feb 2
Dr. Raymond M. Alden, of the English department at Stanford University, will lecture on “Fiction and Real Life” at the Young Women’s Christian Association, Wednesday, Feb. 3rd, at 2 o’clock. The Association is to be congratulated upon securing such an eminent speaker for this culture lecture, and it is hoped that all lovers of literature will be present. Dr. Alden has had a really remarkable career, especially for a man not yet forty. His mother, Mrs. Isabella Alden, is a great favorite among juvenile readers, as the author of the “Pansy” books; and his father, Rev. Dr. G. R. Alden, is a divine of no little prominence.
Dr. Raymond Alden was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was afterwards assistant in English, and where he received his Ph.D. in 1898. He was also instructor in English literature at the Columbian [sic] University and at Harvard.
Amidst his busy life, R. Alden has found time to edit several text books, besides contributing to numerous magazines. “The Art of Debate,” is perhaps Dr. Alden’s best known book; it was produced since his coming to Stanford University.
It is needless to add that Dr. Alden is a universal favorite among university students, to whom he has greatly endeared himself not only because of his delightful personality, but because of his breadth of mind and scholarly attainments.
This lecture will be free to all members of the Association; non-members, ten cents admission. It will be given at rooms, 97 South First street.
p.s. Raymond was only 36 years old when this article was written!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.”
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 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.
For over twenty years Isabella Alden and her husband edited a children’s magazine called The Pansy.
Each issue was filled with inspiring stories, delightful illustrations, short poems, and descriptions of exotic and far-away places to spark children’s imaginations. Published by D. Lothrop and Company of Boston, the magazine was first produced as a weekly publication, and later changed to a monthly.
Editing and writing for the magazine was no easy undertaking and Isabella’s entire family pitched in to help.
Pick up any issue of The Pansy and you’ll find stories by Isabella’s sisters, Julia Macdonald and Marcia Livingston, or her best friend, Theodosia Foster (writing as Faye Huntington).
Margaret Sidney, famous for the Five Little Peppers books for children, published some of her books as serials in The Pansy, as did author Ruth Ogden. Even Isabella’s brother-in-law Charles and beloved niece Grace Livingston (before her marriage to Reverend Frank Hill) contributed stories.
Isabella’s son Raymond wrote poems, and her husband Reverend Gustavus “Ross” Alden contributed stories and short homilies like this one:
Sometimes, the family banded together to write stories for the magazine. In 1886 each family member—Isabella, Ross, Marcia, Grace, Raymond, Theodosia, and Charles—took a turn writing a chapter of a serial story titled “A Sevenfold Trouble.” In 1887 they continued their collaboration by writing a sequel titled, “Up Garret,” with each writer again producing a different chapter. In 1889 the combined stories were published as a book titled A Sevenfold Trouble.
Isabella also previewed some of her own books by publishing them as serial stories in the magazine. Monteagle and A Dozen of Them first captured readers’ hearts in the pages of The Pansy.
The magazine was a resounding success. Thousands of boys and girls from around the world subscribed. Many children grew to adulthood reading the magazine, as Isabella remained at the helm of The Pansy for over 23 years.
Isabella Alden’s first published book Helen Lester was written as an entry to a contest . . . which she won! Isabella’s prize was a check for $50 and publication of her book Helen Lester in 1865.
Her son, Raymond, was also a writer. Like his mother, he began writing at a young age. As an associate professor at Stanford University in California he authored several text books. He also contributed stories to The Pansy magazine, which his mother edited; and in 1909 his Christmas book for children, Why the Chimes Rang, was published.
Forty years after his mother took her first writing prize, Raymond entered a writing contest. In 1905 he submitted a short story titled “In the Promised Land” to a writing contest sponsored by Collier’s Weekly magazine. His short story took third prize in the national contest and Raymond was awarded $1,000. That was a substantial prize—the equivalent of $26,000 in today’s economy.