Many of the characters in Isabella’s books looked forward to spring, when days got longer and temperatures warmed. They planned their days around being outdoors as much as possible, taking their meals outside and even taking long “tramps” through fields and parks.
When the sun went down, they remained outdoors, and lit their lawns and gardens with “oriental lanterns.”
Asian goods began to make their way into American homes as far back as the Civil War, but only in relatively exclusive areas, such as Boston and New York.
But in the 1880s, more common Japanese goods, such as paper parasols, fans, and lanterns became readily available in American markets.
One import firm, Vantine’s, offered a fairyland of Japanese items in their New York showroom.
You could see paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling on every floor of A.A. Vantine’s multi-story establishment. It wasn’t long before Vantine’s was shipping paper lanterns to stores all over the eastern states.
That’s about the time that Isabella began mentioning paper lanterns in her books.
In Making Fate (published in 1895) Marjorie Edmonds visited the Schuyler Farm and spent a lovely evening with friends:
She was out with many others on the lawn, which was brilliantly and fantastically lighted with many Chinese lanterns. It formed a place of special attraction on this lovely May evening, which was almost as warm as an evening in midsummer.
In The Browns at Mount Hermon (1908), several characters where concerned about a group of boys who planned to sneak off into the countryside to light a bonfire and spend the night gambling and smoking. Then, John Brown offered this suggestion:
What if we could give up this evening to pure fun? Have a gathering on the Zayante lawn, which is far more attractive than the redwood grove across the way; decorate the trees and the porches and all other available places with Chinese lanterns, plan for the finest bonfire that our splendid brush heaps suggest, and serve unlimited sandwiches, cake, coffee, and anything else that could be gathered in haste, and is calculated to tempt the appetite of the average boy. Then we could send a deputation to meet the train and kidnap the crowd as our honored guests, meeting their spirit of frolic and good time at least half-way.
One of Isabella’s most charming descriptions of paper lanterns was in The Hall in the Grove (1882), when Mr. Masters escorted Caroline Raynor and the Fentons to the opening assembly at Chautauqua:
On they hurried, striking at last into Simpson Avenue. Caroline came to a sudden halt, and gave an exclamation of delight. Away down the avenue as far as her eye could reach, on either side was one blaze of light; illuminated mottoes, flags, Chinese lanterns, flowers, ribbons—anything that could lend a glow of color to the bright scene had been displayed, and the whole effect was such as she will remember all her life.
Paper lanterns became so popular, they were regularly incorporated into greeting card design like this one:
And in illustrated calendars:
When you read Isabella’s books, you can tell she enjoyed the beauty of a light-filled summer night, and her descriptions of paper lanterns still have the power to warm our imaginations.
What do you think of Isabella’s descriptions?
Have you ever been to an outdoor event that was lit with candles or paper lanterns?
One of Isabella Alden’s most touching characters is Mrs. Fenton, a homemaker and mother who played a pivotal role in The Hall in the Grove.
Mrs. Fenton had no pretentions; she considered herself an average person, and believed her only talents were as a housekeeper, wife, and mother.
Isabella wrote of her:
Her bread was of the lightest and sweetest. Her chambers were kept in that delicate purity which rests weary heads, and sometimes hearts. Her windows were as clear as hands could make them; her snowy curtains were looped in graceful folds, and with just the right tint of ribbon to blend well with surroundings. Her vines and plants climbed and budded and blossomed in luxurious fashion. Her husband’s buttons were always in place, held by firm threads of her placing; his collars and cuffs shone brilliantly, for her own hands clear-starched and ironed them. Indeed, in whatsoever department of home life you looked, you would be likely, after thorough investigation, to pronounce Mrs. Fenton a model.
Mrs. Fenton’s fourteen-year-old son Robert was her pride and joy. She raised him to be . . .
Straight as an arrow, morally, as well as physically—a grand, truthful, earnest-hearted boy.
She also raised him to be a good student, to take his studies seriously, and apply himself to every lesson and exam.
Mrs. Fenton herself had been a bright student, but her own education as a girl had been limited; so as Robert progressed through his studies, she began to feel her own limitations more and more.
When Robert asked her help with a homework problem, Mrs. Fenton realized she not only didn’t know the answer, she didn’t even know how to steer him toward finding the correct answer himself.
And when he sought her input in preparing for a topic that was to come up on an important exam, she didn’t even understand the subject he was asking about. As similar incidents became more frequent, poor Mrs. Fenton felt “a stab in that mother’s heart.” Her greatest fear was that Robert would one day recognize her short-comings and be ashamed of her.
So when Mrs. Fenton visits a friend and hears about the Chautauqua Scientific and Literary Circle for the first time, she begins to wonder if the program might be the answer to her worries.
This eight-page pamphlet for the 1885-1886 school year describes the CLSC program in full. Thousands of adults across the country wrote to the CLSC every year, requesting their annual pamphlet. Click on it to read the entire brochure.
Once Mrs. Fenton understood what the CLSC was and what it could do for her, she became an advocate of the program in her town.
So what, exactly, was the CLSC?
The CLSC was an education program for adults—young and old—who were unable to obtain a college education. For an annual membership fee of fifty cents (plus the cost of books) adults could enroll in the CLSC’s systematic course of reading in key subjects:
The beauty of the program was that members could earn the equivalent of a four-year college course . . . from home!
CLSC members followed a weekly outline that required them to work a little every day and read prescribed passages from selected books. Then, once a year, they completed an examination (the CLSC called it a “memoranda”) that consisted of questions about the books they’d read. The questions . . .
. . . are to be answered, as far as possible, from memory; where memory fails, the students are expected to refer to their books for help, but to give the answers in their own language.
The exam was typically four pages of questions, but to earn extra credit, members could elect to complete a sixteen-page paper, containing questions that were more comprehensive. An 80% score on the expanded memoranda earned the member a special white seal on their diploma.
Four years and four such annual exams later, CLSC members earned a college degree that carried the same weight and prestige as any other college or university in the country.
The CLSC program was incredibly popular. Some members followed the program alone. Some members organized into local circles. By 1881 there were over 1,000 local circles in towns and villages across the country.
These circles—composed of men, women and teens—met in city apartments and rural farm houses. They discussed a variety of topics related to their reading assignments, from the conduct of the Greeks and Romans, to the hereditary line of English kings.
Some local circles arranged lectures or organized public discussions in town halls. Other circles organized by members’ heritage; the CLSC furnished them with text-books in their native language.
In CLSC circles around the world household servants read Shakespeare’s sonnets alongside society matrons; bank presidents discussed the history of Hadrian’s Wall with grocery clerks.
It’s no wonder that Mrs. Fenton was intrigued by the idea of joining the Chautauqua Scientific and Literary Circle. She quickly realized that a CLSC circle in her home town would be the answer to her troubles . . . and her prayers.
You can read all about Mrs. Fenton’s efforts to organize a CLSC chapter and how it changed not only her life, but the lives of her friends and neighbors, in The Hall in the Grove.
Did you know you can still join the CLSC? All it takes is payment of a modest membership fee and a commitment to read a book a month from the CLSC’s approved book list. You can find out more and download their approved book list by clicking here.
And if you’d like to know what it’s like for a modern day woman to read her way through the CLSC program, be sure to read The Hall in the Grove blog.
“Nevertheless, she suffered herself to be persuaded to go for a walk, provided Eurie would go to Palestine….Flossy explained to her that she had a consuming desire to wander along the banks of the Jordan and view those ancient cities, historic now.” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)
Sometimes, I really, really wish I could take the Way Back Machine and latch onto Pansy’s group as they enjoyed the apparently mesmerizing lectures by a flamboyant Middle Eastern-born tour guide named Augustus Oscar Van Lennep. Not content to introduce the lakeside miniature Holy Lands that are a relic of Chautauqua’s Sunday School Assembly days, this enterprising, creative fellow dolled up in “Oriental” costume to give his lectures. That’s our man below, lounging in Rajah-like style, while his indulgent friends retain their upright Victorian postures.
Gus must have had an equally fun set of folks who joined him—witness his jolly crew of costumed believers at Palestine Park in 1875/6-ish. Can you imagine??? Oh, how much fun must that have been!
Alas, today the Park is largely neglected and used more as a family playground than an instructional living map.
I’ve been studying a 1920’s Bible Atlas by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut (Chautauqua lecturer, founding father, and big-time booster) to gain a working knowledge of the Holy Lands. As Dr. Vincent believed, I think understanding the topography and layout, relative distances and terrain of Palestine environs is extremely helpful when reading Scripture. I mean, when you see how far Gideon and his 300 brave soldiers had to track the Philistines, you really do understand why he was so angered when the locals wouldn’t give them any foods to keep their strength up!
According the Pansy’s many charming references to the Palestine Park, students were treated to not only the basic layout, but tiny townscapes and identifying plaques dotted the carefully crafted map. Bible verses connecting each significant stop provided context—and reasserted the importance of the location for the Christ-following traveler.
Today, in an effort to keep the residual charm of the place, small cast iron plaques are embedded along the landscape—they’re kept painted and somewhat landscaped. I understand there’s a “tour” each Sunday night and I hope to attend it someday.
I paced off various Bible place names made familiar by my Old Testament studies and was genuinely surprised to see how concentrated a radius these events encompassed. Here’s Jerusalem in relation to the Mount of Olives, only a stone’s throw from Bethany.
Mount Hermon in the distance provides the perfect “king of the hill” locale for the resort’s kiddie population. The impressive crevasse made me wonder if erosion hadn’t made the Jordan Valley a bit too deep?
“Here we are, on ‘Jordan’s stormy banks…I suppose there was never a more perfect geographical representation than this.” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)
Compared to the vintage postcards you’ll find in this blog’s archived Chautauqua posts (see the links at the conclusion of this post), I’d say the accuracy factor might be off a bit these days.
I found it charming that Jericho was in “ruins”—the flat-topped ancient buildings crumbled and scattered, like those of Hebron (though I’m not certain these ruins were intentional.)
Is someone is tending Jacob’s Well? Even on the dry day I visited, it was filled with water.
My favorite? The truly little town of Bethlehem.
I read the plaque as I exited the park, wistful at the thought of those tent-dwelling Sunday School teachers, nestling eagerly beside the “Mediterranean Sea” and along the shores of the Jordan, to understand more about the lands their spiritual ancestors walked.
What would they make of this rarely visited, gently poignant reminder of the Park’s original purpose? Today, no Bible markers or tablets grace the small stony stand-ins, no tiny replica buildings remain to represent scenes from the life of Jesus as they did in Pansy’s time. I turned my gaze to Chautauqua Lake, imagining the steamer pulling up to the nearby dock and unloading four lively 19th century girls, eager for fun, not knowing they would never be the same, thanks to their time in this beautiful place.
“Now, the actual fact is, that those three people wandered around that far-away land until the morning vanished … They went from Bethany to Bethel, and from Bethel to Shechem, and they even climbed Mount Hermon’s snowy peak and looked about on the lovely plain below. In every place there was Bible reading …” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)
Thanks for allowing me to share these mementos with you of my all-too-brief Chautauqua visit. My hope and prayer is to return soon to follow further in Isabella’s footsteps.
My fascination has led me to launch a tribute Chautauqua Literary & Science Circle reading plan—I’m pairing 19th century texts with contemporary works and next August, I hope to carry the Pansy Year banner in the Recognition Day parade. Interested readers can follow along with my literary journey at my blog, The Hall in the Grove.
Dusting off my sandals, Karen
If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:
“I was coming down the hill, away off, you know, by the post office…” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)
“All the younger portion of the congregation seemed to be rushing back up the hill again…” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)
On day two of my Chautauqua wanderings, I stopped for a breather in lovely Bestor Plaza (the perpetual hill-climbing here is murder!). This carefully tended, beautifully landscaped watering hole and gathering spot commemorates the life and contributions of Arthur Bestor, Chautauqua’s president from 1915 to until his death in 1944.
The keynotes of his presidency are struck in the centrally placed fountain, where monumental icons to Knowledge, Religion, Music, and Art dominate the waterworks.
While I cooled my heels and absorbed the view, I noticed a Post Office in one corner of the Plaza and followed my curiosity there.
Hoping to find postcards, I instead found a delightful hybrid of contemporary governmental efficiency and mid-Victorian charm. No one was around to quiz about the dates and history, so I let my imagination wander as I snapped these personal postcards.
Did Isabella post a few notes to her friends from this window?
Did Pansy receive some of her fan mail via one of these charmingly designed post office boxes?
Did someone from the Alden household purchase stamps here?
Did Pansy send her niece Grace to claim a package here?
Did this busy hive of cubbies shelter a stirring new work by a favorite author for Pansy to read sitting on a lakeside rustic bench?
How many newspapers passed through here to enlighten and entertain the 19th century crowd?
Discovering artistically elaborate fittings like these for something as pedestrian as mailboxes confirms my belief that Chautauqua’s ongoing commitment to enriching every aspect of life is more than lip service. Their original ideals of glorifying each element of one’s life—dedicating it to the Lord and ennobling the humblest of tasks—is inspiring and convicting.
Take a close look at the door frame of the Postmaster’s office. See the totally unnecessary but utterly beautiful detail there? Maybe it’s time for us to imitate those who recognized that every moment of our days, no matter how mundane, can be an opportunity to worship the Creator Who made all things beautiful?
Finding my roots (and leaves and blossoms)
“The museum was not; it had not yet been evolved. Neither had the lovely hall. Where it stands was a grove…I dreamed out many a flower-strewn path leading to it…” (Eighty-Seven)
As I left the Post Office, I admired the plaza’s beautiful flower beds, brimming with summer’s prettiest blooms.
The flowers reminded me of yesterday’s pilgrimage to The Hall in the Grove and some touchingly innocent 19th century floral-themed mosaics that wreathed the speaker’s platform, celebrating the C.L.S.C.’s earliest classes. Can you even imagine a contemporary co-ed reading circle allowing themselves to be dubbed “The Pansy Class”? Hardly.
I loved all these timeless tributes, but one class year stopped me in my tracks. There they were, my spiritual, cultural, and literary “ancestors”—the C.L.S.C. Class of 1884: “Irrepressibles.” While I obviously feel a deep kinship with all things Pansy, I must admit everything in me said “Yes!” as I stood, motionless, before this joyful declaration of literary enthusiasm.
So, this day, while I enjoyed the blaze of seasonal glory, I nodded a special ‘hello” to my new favorite flower, the confident, courageous lily. The buoyant Class of 1884 couldn’t have a better floral representation than the trumpet-shaped blossom that symbolically celebrates Christ’s promise of eternal life.
Irrepressibly His, Karen.
In her final Postcards guest post, Karen guides us on a walk through Chautauqua’s miniature Holy Land.
If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:
Karen Noske joins us again to share photos and descriptions of the Chautauqua landmarks she explored this summer, with Isabella Alden’s novels in mind. Welcome back, Karen!
My next objective was the Hall of Christ, as there was an archival lecture to be given momentarily on one of the most influential early religious leaders at Chautauqua, the renowned Shailer Mathews.
I imagined how Isabella might have felt, sitting in this arena, listening to contemporary reflections on the man whose influence changed the course of the Institute in so many ways.
“The Hall of the Christ, is first of all, to stand in the center of Chautauqua to represent Christ as the center of all learning and all true living; the Key to the true and eternal wisdom…a Hall where Jesus Christ is enthroned; where only his story is allowed; told in print and picture and sculpture and the human voice. Isn’t it grand!”
(Four Mothers at Chautauqua)
The workmanlike interior of the unprepossessing Hall of Christ makes me wonder if there haven’t been many changes to it over the years.
The general atmosphere is one of beneficent neglect and exhaustion. A magnificent organ dominates the stage—sadly, it was eclipsed by the speaker’s screen and I only got this tantalizing glimpse of it.
Engrossing as the lecture was, I was glad to make my way out towards my next objective—the centerpiece of Chautauqua for Isabella and, as it turned out, for me.
The Hall in the Grove
Directly adjacent to the Hall of Christ is the cherished “Hall in the Grove.” I recognized it immediately by its prominence and its beauty:
“If you have up to this time been even a careless reader of this volume, you have doubtless discovered that the center of Chautauqua life was the ‘Hall in the Grove.’ A beautiful grove, with trees old enough and grand enough to be worthy of their baptismal name—”St Paul’s Grove.” White-pillared, simple, plain, yet suggestive of such a brilliant past and hinting of such a glorified future … this bit of green and white, with a glimmer of lake between.”
(The Hall in the Grove, page 286)
A talk by the very popular Bill Moyers (of CBS News fame) was just finishing up, so I crept in around the edges and starting following the elaborate and beautiful mosaics that frame the lecture hall’s floor.
“All was quiet there. The sunset meeting which had been held in that white, still place was closed sometime since, and their feet, as they stepped on the floor, resounded throughout the vacant Hall.”
(The Hall in the Grove, page 240)
I was delighted to find the shield of Pansy’s Class of 1887 in a place of genuine honor—nestled around the corners of the lectern.
The lectern platform itself is still a modest affair, virtually unchanged since Pansy’s class approached to celebrate their graduation. Let’s join Paul Adams from The Hall in the Grove here:
“Arrived at the white, quiet building, he entered it with soft tread, and, under an impulse which he did not in the least understand, uncovered his head. He stepped softly onto the platform, drew the armchair, which was the seat of honor, forward a trifle, and settled himself in it. Then he brought up before him in review the many and varied and wonderful experiences which the weeks had brought him in connection with that spot … Then he got down from the professor’s chair and … after a silent last look at the Hall, he walked home with Joe, they two speaking words together that were better than marble columns or millions of money, for they represented manhood.”
(The Hall in the Grove, page 382)
In The Hall in the Grove, Isabella shares a peek into her heart:
“…the gleaming pillars of the Hall of Philosophy rose up before him; something in the purity and strength and quaintness seemed to have gotten possession of him. Whether it was a shadowy link between him and some ancient scholar or worshiper I cannot say … but treading the Chautauquan avenues for the first time … his young heart thrill[ed] with a hope and a determination, neither of which he understood, every time he saw those gleaming pillars.”
(The Hall in the Grove, page 198)
When Caroline Raynor (another character in The Hall in the Grove) objects to the Hall being made in the style of a Temple of Minerva, she is vigorously corrected by her soon-to-be suitor, Robert:
“I like it exceedingly. Let the beautiful white temple be rescued from its heathen desecration and dedicated to the service of the good and true God our Father, and his Son Jesus Christ.”
I passed an ancient oak near one of entrances that was garmented in ivy and wondered … if I parted the ivy, would I find a lichen-crusted carving in the tree reading “Vine, 22, 1887”? (Eighty–Seven, page 12.)
I surely saw what Dr. Winter Kelland did when …
“he and Vine walked … around under the hill, and up the hill, and come out beside the white-pillared hall and stopped under one of the tallest trees, and looked about them, and were silent. Dr. Kelland took off his hat and looked up reverently to the very top of the tall tree, beyond the top, into the blue of heaven.”
(Eighty-Seven, page 318)
As I walked reluctantly away from the Hall, I looked up and felt sure I was seeing the same trees, the same sky, the same view Pansy enjoyed in Four Girls at Chautauqua:
“None of all … who spent the day within the shadow of that sweet and leafy place have surely forgotten how the quaint and quiet beauty of the place and its surrounding fell upon them; they know just how the birds sang among those tall old trees; they know just how still and blue and clear the lake looked as they caught glimpses of it through the quivering green of myriad leaves …”
(Four Girls at Chautauqua, page 180)
Next time, Karen makes a little visit to the Chautauqua Post Office before trekking to the “Holy Land.”
If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:
For Isabella Alden there were few places on earth more dear to her than Chautauqua Institution. She spent many summers there, and was greatly involved in the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (C.L.S.C.).
You can judge just how great an impact Chautauqua had on her by the loving manner in which she described the place in her Chautauqua books, which she wrote in the late 1890s and early 1900s.
Chautauqua Institution is still a thriving summer destination for thousands of people. Earlier this month, Karen Noske, a regular reader of this blog, took a trip to Chautauqua. Today she is sharing the highlights of her quest to see for herself the beloved Chautauqua locations Isabella so dearly loved and faithfully described in her books.
Take it away, Karen!
Like many of Pansy’s fans, I’ve longed to walk the “tree-shaded” avenues of her hallowed Chautauqua, and decided to take the plunge this summer, as I live only about 3 hours east.
I’ve limited my review to those seminal books as they hold some of the richest treasures for modern-day Chautauquans and fans.
(For much more detailed information about this cultural retreat, you can find a list of previous posts about Chautauqua at the end of this post.)
Climbing ever higher
I should have paid more attention to the carefully worded descriptions of Isabella Alden’s favorite summer retreat, Chautauqua. In her marvelously descriptive and touching books about its lakeside, forested environs, she often mentioned that her characters “went down” to the lake or “went up” to the dining tent or the grove.
As I breathlessly labored to keep from running pell-mell down the steep inclines that make up 90% of the avenues here, I realized she’d been remarkably coy about this physical aspect of the grounds. Mountain goats would love this place.
After stowing my meager luggage in one of the many charming cottages that cling defiantly to the nearly vertical hillside, I hiked up to my first stop—the Archives, where I hoped to meet Pansy by way of her works.
This small brick building houses the full complement of the C.L.S.C. volumes, from the year of this reading circle’s inception (1878) to the present day.
Her eyes lighted with pleasure as she recognized it. This, at least, was an old friend: Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation. She did not need to read the letters on the title page to make sure that the book—so like her own—bore that name. “C.L.S.C?” she said, hardly realizing that she said it.
(The Hall in the Grove, pg 202)
I was delighted to find Pansy’s The Hall in the Grove (required reading for the C.L.S.C. class of 1881-82) snuggled between weightier academic tomes shown here.
I hunted for, and found the impossibly dense (reportedly dry, according to more than one The Hall in the Grove character!) Merivale’s History of Rome … one brief dip into it made me admire “Paul Adams,” “James Ward,” and “‘Pick ‘Em Up’ Caroline Raynor” all the more for virtually memorizing its contents.
How utterly hopeless it looked to him! He read over the first sentences six times without having an idea as to their meaning…
(The Hall in the Grove, pg 90)
I learned from the very helpful, very gentlemanly guardian of these treasures that one can indeed become a member of C.L.S.C. without having to limit oneself to the current crop of books! He assured me that I could “graduate” with a future Chautauqua class by reading a specified number of ANY C.L.S.C. materials, from any year!
“We are bound in honor to undertake all manner of work which will develop the spirit of Christian love and fellowship; it is the central feature of our organization … always with a view to reaching hearts as well as intellects. Why don’t you join us?”
(Eighty-Seven, pg 188)
Karen’s next Postcard from Chautauqua will feature The Hall of Christ and the Hall in the Grove.
If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:
An 1894 issue of the Christian Intelligencer printed this letter from a young reader of the magazine:
“We have a league in our school; perhaps you have heard of it before? It is called the Anti-Cigarette League. I am a member of it. Arthur Brown.”
When Isabella Alden saw that brief letter, she took up the cause of promoting the Anti-Cigarette League to young readers of her own magazine, The Pansy.
Smoking among boys—and even some girls—was not uncommon in the late 1800s. Cigarettes were readily available and manufacturers targeted their cigarette ads directly at children.
There were no restrictions on how cigarettes were made, so cigars and cigarettes were often laced with opium, strychnine, and arsenic.
They were inexpensive, too; cigarettes made of inferior tobacco and paper sold for mere pennies, and some saloons and retailers gave cigarettes away to children so they would become addicted and return to purchase more.
Isabella was disgusted by such practices and wrote an article on the topic that appeared in Christian magazines, including The Pansy. Her opening paragraph was powerful:
This is a startling name which a prominent New York physician gives to the cigarette. He describes the vile thing as made of tobacco soaked in nicotine, which has in it several other deadly poisons. Even the paper in which it is wrapped is whitened with arsenic. He declares that the lists of deaths found daily in our papers, caused by “heart-failure,” ought most of them to read, “caused by cigarette smoking.”
She was fighting an up-hill battle. For every physician who believed cigarettes were dangerous, there were dozens who believed cigarette smoking was helpful to patients. Doctors prescribed cigarettes to cure a variety of complaints, from asthma to stuttering to nervous conditions.
But Isabella was convinced cigarette smoking was dangerous, especially for growing boys. She wrote:
One cannot walk the streets of any town or village without having cigarette-smoke puffed in one’s face, from the lips of mere boys.
She felt it was her duty to explain to parents the risks of smoking for children, and she didn’t shy away from using her pen to spread the word.
To put it in brief: at the time our story opens, Paul Adams was an ignorant, good-natured, tobacco-chewing, cigar-smoking street loafer. He smoked cigars when he could get them. Not that he began by being particularly fond of them—in fact, he found it unusually hard work to learn. He had to devote to this accomplishment the courage and perseverance that would have told well for him in other directions; but it is a taste that once acquired a boy will gratify if he can.
In Chrissy’s Endeavor, Chrissy Hollister learns her own brother Harmon is heading down a dangerous path, when his health begins to fail. Chrissy’s father gives her the bad news and asks her to “get such an influence over Harmon as would induce him to give up late hours, and late suppers, and cigarettes.”
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, of which Isabella was an active member, used their regular weekly newspaper columns to warn parents of the perils of tobacco.
By the early 1900s the tide shifted; the public and the medical community began to reconsider the effects of smoking on health. Although the tobacco companies continued to glamorize cigarette smoking, churches and communities banded together to raise public awareness about the dangers of smoking. They petitioned lawmakers to enact legislation to eliminate tobacco sales and ran articles and warnings in newspapers across the country.
Schools began educating children about the dangers of smoking and found unique ways—like this essay contest—to drive the lesson home:
These efforts—and millions more like them—laid the foundation for the regulations and laws we have today that prohibit cigarette companies from selling and marketing tobacco products to children.
Would you like to learn more? Stanford School of Medicine researched the impact of tobacco advertising. Click here to see more examples of tobacco company advertising.
You can also click here to see vintage advertising from the late 1800s and early 1900s on Isabella’s Pinterest board.
In upper- and middle-class homes across America at the turn of the last century, the man of the house had one room that was his exclusive domain: The study.
The study was a place where the man of the house took quiet refuge. In his study he took care of business matters, wrote letters, or read his newspaper or favorite book in solitude. In some of Isabella’s books, like Jessie Wells, the local minister locked himself away in his study to work on his sermon or write letters to the members of his church.
In Isabella’s books, the rooms designated as studies had common characteristics: a bookcase filled with books, a desk or large study table, and sufficient light to read by once the sun went down. In her novel As in a MirrorIsabella Alden described John Stuart King’s study this way:
The walls were lined with many rows of well-filled shelves, and a searcher among them would hardly have failed of finding every choice book of the season, as well as the standard volumes of the past. A bookcase devoted to standard magazines was crowded almost to discomfort, and the large study table was strewn with the very latest in newspaper and magazine.
Even little Daisy Bryant understood that the study was a special room in the house. The eight-year-old heroine of Miss Dee Dunmore Bryantlived with her mother and siblings in cramped quarters; but Daisy designated one small section of their main room to be their study:
The floor had a neat strip of rag carpeting over in the part which Daisy called “the study.” There was also a little square table over there, with the Bible on it, and Daisy’s geography, and Ben’s arithmetic, and a tiny basket that held Line’s crochet work. At first, Daisy had objected to the crochet work—that it did not belong to a study—but one evening, in the very middle of Miss Sutherland’s study table, what did she see but a fluffy ruffle with Miss Sutherland’s needle set in its hem, and her thimble lying beside it! Since that time the crochet basket had held peaceable possession.
In the story Miss Sutherland lived in the big house on the hill; and since Daisy’s mother often did sewing for Miss Sutherland, Daisy had seen the Sutherland’s study when she delivered completed work to her. Daisy dreamed of one day living in a home with a real study, just like the Sutherland’s had, with plenty of books, and with framed mottoes on the walls.
There was a common understanding—sort of an unwritten rule—that no one but the man of the house was allowed in the study except by invitation. After Perry Harrison had an argument with his wife in From Different Standpoints, he retreated to his study, where he knew he would not be interrupted, and he could calm down after their angry exchange:
When Perry came back from the station, after seeing the party off, he shut himself up in the study, not seeing his wife until dinner-time. Then all traces of emotion had disappeared, and he was the affable gentleman exerting himself to be entertaining.
Because the study usually was the bastion of the man of the house, it was only natural that others did not find the place calming and comfortable. If a father had to scold a recalcitrant son or daughter, he called the child into his study. If a minister felt the need to counsel a wayward congregant, he did so in private in his study. Under those circumstances, the study became less like a quiet refuge and more like a place where wrong-doers were brought to account and punishments were doled out.
That thought was uppermost in the minds of Eurie, Marion, Ruth, and Flossie in The Chautauqua Girls at Home when they had to summon their courage to visit their minister, Dr. Dennis, in his study.
“Doesn’t it make your heart beat to think of going to him in his study, and having a private talk?”
“Dear me!” said Flossy. “I never shall think of such a thing. I couldn’t do it any more than I could fly.”
Later, when Ruth went to speak with Dr. Dennis about finding work she could do for the church, she found herself alone with him in that dreaded room:
It was a place in which she felt as nearly embarrassed as she ever approached to that feeling. She had a specific purpose in calling, and words arranged wherewith to commence her topic; but they fled from her as if she had been a school girl instead of a finished young lady in society; and she answered the Doctor’s kind enquiries as to the health of her father and herself in an absent and constrained manner.
But in one of Isabella’s books, the tables were turned on the man of house. In The Hall in the Grove, Dr. Monteith—the driving force behind the town’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle—was in his study when Paul Adams complained to him that the Circle put more emphasis on studying books about ancient Rome than on studying the Bible. Dr. Monteith was shocked.
Seated in the beautiful little study, by the green-covered table, under the shaded light, the Doctor looked full into the earnest troubled face of his visitor. “Now, my friend, do I understand you to mean that the experiences which you have had with the Circle led you to think that we gave the most important place to other books, and shoved the Bible out?”
You would have been sorry for Dr. Monteith, could you have seen his distressed face. He arose and began to walk back and forth in the little study, pondering how he could best undo what his heart told him had been grave mischief.
Dr. Monteith knew that the Bible was “first, best, purest, highest; incomparably above any and all other books.” He had to do some quick soul searching to figure out how he had misled Paul Adams—as well as an entire Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle—so far away from the foundation of all knowledge, the Bible.
Once Dr. Monteith realized his error, the atmosphere in his study changed dramatically. He apologized to Paul Adams and assured him that reading and knowing about the Bible was not the same as reading and knowing the Bible. And before Paul left his study, Dr. Monteith led the young man to make a momentous decision concerning his future and his soul.
So the study was sometimes an important setting in Isabella’s books, as well as in her short stories. In 1888 Isabella published “Papa’s Study”, and you can read it here for free:
It was a very beautiful room, so crowded with books, and papers, and conveniences of all sorts, that you would have supposed its owner could have nothing to wish for, and must be a happy man. Yet on the morning about which I am telling you, he did not look in the least happy; on the contrary, if you had counted the wrinkles between his hair and his eyes, and could have seen the puckers around his lips, which were hidden by a heavy moustache, you would perhaps have called him cross; and you would not have been very far from the truth. Something had happened that morning which made him feel like being cross with everybody.
“To think that I should have forgotten it!” he was saying to his wife, speaking in an injured tone, as though somebody was certainly to blame. “I would not have had it happen for ten, no, not for fifty dollars; and there he was, I suppose, at the depot, looking in all directions for me, and the train waited here fully twenty minutes for the down express. We might have had time enough to settle the whole business. It is too provoking to endure.”
Nevertheless, he knew it would have to be endured, for the train had been gone at least an hour.
“Why didn’t you make a memorandum of it?” his wife asked, taking fine stitches in the ruffle she was making, and speaking in that calm , even tone which is sometimes really irritating to excited people.
“Why, I did, of course; and this morning I looked for my diary to see if there was anything which needed attention before mail time, but I had changed my coat and left it in the the other pocket. A diary is simply a nuisance, anyway; it is always in some other pocket when one wants it the most. I’d like to know how a busy man like myself, who has three ways to go at once, can be expected to remember everything.”
Nobody had told him that he was expected to do any such thing, but he spoke as sharply as though someone had, and walked the floor, and looked wrathful.
Poor man! He had been sadly disappointed. Besides missing a very important bit of business by his forgetfulness, he had missed the sight of a friend whom he very much wanted to see.
Now, his little daughter Almina was in the library annex, hidden from view by heavy curtains, but within distinct hearing; and if you could have seen her I am afraid you would have thought she acted very strangely. Instead of looking thoughtful and sympathetic over her father’s troubles she clasped her two pretty hands together and indulged in a series of happy little giggles. You see, she knew something which her father did not.
In order to have you understand, I shall have to go back a few days. The father’s birthday was coming, and Almina knew it; I am not at all sure that the father did, for he was so busy a man that he forgot even that. And Almina had, with her own hand, written, and, what was much harder, addressed a letter all herself, to a certain “Mr. Frank Smith, Toledo, Iowa.” Truth compels me to state that she spoiled three envelopes before accomplishing it to her satisfaction. In the first one she made the letter F look so much like a T that it read like Mr. Trunk Smith, and she felt sure that would not do; and then, because she had visited once in Toledo, Ohio, and heard about it all her life, and had never heard of Toledo, Iowa, what did she do but write it out nicely on the second envelope—Toledo, Ohio. Of course that wouldn’t do. By this time she was nervous, and blotted the third one badly, but at last it was well done, and the letter was sent.
On the very morning of which I write, there had come an answer to her letter, in the shape of a lovely business-like looking package, done up in heavy paper, and packed in burlap and excelsior, and when her eager fingers reached the treasure thus carefully guarded, it was the prettiest walnut affair, with a lock and key, and inside, a row of compartments bearing the names of the months and the dates; and so arranged that memoranda of what ought to be done, even weeks ahead, could be slipped in, and would remain out of sight until the morning of the day when they were needed, when they would drop into view, and beg to be looked at.
“If papa had only had his lovely little Office Tickler,” she said to herself, as she giggled musically, “he wouldn’t have missed seeing Mr. Felt this morning, I mean to tell him that if he had been forty-three last week, instead of tomorrow, it would have been all right. Oh! I do wonder if there is something he ought to remember tomorrow, and might forget. I mean to ask mamma.”
So the moment she could get a private audience with mamma, they two put their heads together over the fat old diary, whose sides were bursting with important papers too heavy for it to carry. They looked carefully down the page for April 11th, papa’s birthday, but it seemed to be an unusually quiet one. However; the next day made up for it; item after item of business crowded itself in to receive attention; foremost was this:
“MEM. Be sure to remember to send Seward’s note to the bank before three o’clock. It is in the left-hand drawer of the lower secretary.”
“Oh! look,” said Almina, “that is very important, isn’t it? Because papa has underlined it; and yet it is hidden in between so many other things to do, he will be quite likely to forget it. Oh, mamma! Couldn’t you get it for me to put in the Office Tickler?”
Mamma promised to try, and she tried, and accomplished it. There was great fun in the pretty library the next morning. Papa admired the beautiful walnut box to even Almina’s satisfaction, and assured her that it was the most ingenious little creature he had seen in many a day, and he was sure it would save him much time and patience. And then he heard all about how she earned the money to buy it, and “wrote the letter her own self,” and “had it come by express to her own address;” and he called her a dear little woman of business, and kissed her as many times as he was years old.
And all the time the important paper which was to be remembered the next morning without fail, was hiding behind its partition, biding its time.
The next morning Almina had forgotten all about it, but at eleven o’clock her father came hurriedly into the music-room where she was practising, and stooped down and kissed her.
“Papa ought to be tickled now in good earnest,” he said with a curious mixture of fun and earnestness in his voice. “What will my little girl think when I tell her that her Office Tickler has saved me at least five hundred dollars? I did forget all about the note, important as it was. This is a very busy, anxious day with me; but just as I was hurrying to go to the bank, I caught sight of my new possession, and saw I had not changed the date; I had not begun to use it yet, but I determined to gratify you by leaving it in order; and the moment I touched the card, out dropped that very forgotten note. I’m in great haste, little daughter, but I felt as though I must stop and tell you what a valuable selection you had made for my birthday present.”
Isabella Alden considered The Hall of Philosophy one of the most beloved locations at Chautauqua Institution.
The Hall of Philosophy—sometimes called the Hall in the Grove because of its location in idyllic St. Paul’s Grove—was an open-air structure that sat under a canopy of trees that shaded and cooled the Hall during the hot summer months. It was a favorite gathering place for Chautauquans, even when no lectures were held there.
If you were a Chautauqua visitor, you could stand at the edge of the Hall of Philosophy and look out upon different views of the grounds. From one vantage point, you’d see the Hall of Christ and the spires of the different denominational chapels.
From another direction you’d see gingerbread-trimmed cottages and inviting expanses of green lawns.
The original Hall of Philosophy was designed by Bishop John Vincent for the Christian Literary and Scientific Circle (C.L.S.C.). Twenty years later, when it was discovered the building needed to be replaced in order to last for future generations, the C.L.S.C. lead a fund-raising campaign and raised the money needed to erect a new Hall of Philosophy in the same location.
When the new concrete floor was poured in 1905, it included 51 different mosaic tiles, each designed by a different C.L.S.C. class, beginning with the class of 1882 (the first class) and ending with the class of 1924. Each tile depicts the class year, name and logo.
For instance, the first C.L.S.C. class of 1882 was called “The Pathfinders.” Their emblem was the nasturtium and their motto was “The truth shall make you free.”
The class of 1915 adopted the name “Jane Addams” and used the American laurel as their emblem. Their motto: “Life more abundant.”
Isabella Alden was a member of the 1887 class; her fellow classmates honored her by naming their class the Pansy Class. They used the pansy flower as their emblem and “Neglect not the gift that is in thee” as their motto.
Isabella paid tribute to the Hall of Philosophy and her own experience with the C.L.S.C. in her novel The Hall in the Grove. The story centers around a diverse group of people who each spend a summer at Chautauqua for different reasons—and each end the summer changed by their experience. The Hall of Philosophy is almost another character in Isabella’s story, for it plays a prominent role in the different characters’ spiritual journeys. (You can click on the book cover to learn more about the novel.)
Thanks to the determination and rallying spirit of the members of the C.L.S.C. the Hall of Philosophy was rebuilt, and is still in use today.
This short video by Chautauqua Institution gives a brief history of the Hall of Philosophy and shows some examples of the C.L.S.C. class tiles:
Johnny-cake was a staple on the menu of almost every meal prepared in an Isabella Alden novel. That’s because johnny-cakes were inexpensive to make and they were filling and satisfying. They were much like pancakes, but were made with corn meal instead of flour. The basic recipe was simple:
To a quart of Indian meal (corn meal) add a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoonful of sugar. Sift, scald with boiling water so as to make a very thick mush. Let it cool a little, then thin with milk so it will drop from a spoon. Have a griddle hot and well greased, and drop a spoonful of the batter for each cake. When brown, turn and brown the other side.
Johnny-cakes were usually served hot with butter or honey.
In Household Puzzles, Maria Randolph could make a delicious creamy johnny-cake that was so good that after eating them, “the comfort of the Randolph family reached a height unknown for weeks.”
In Mara, easy-going Gertrude was so placid about planning her wedding, her mother accused her of being willing to be “married in her old brown serge, and to have johnny-cake and warmed-up potatoes for refreshments.”
And when Mrs. Adams decided to earn a bit of extra money by keeping house for the Ward family in The Hall in the Grove, she had to put together a quick dinner for the family:
It was just the simplest of dinners: a dish of baked potatoes, a platter of beefsteak, a plate of butter, a plate of steaming johnny-cake, and a pot of tea. No pickles, or fruits, or relishes of any sort.
There were probably as many variations of johnny-cake as there were cooks. Some cooks fried them in bacon grease instead of lard, which gave them an attractive gold color and added flavor.
Adding an egg or two, sour cream or buttermilk made johnny-cakes light and fluffy.
Instead of frying, some cooks baked johnny-cake in the oven in a large pan, which they cut after baking into several servings.
In warm months when fruit was plentiful, cooks added applesauce or bits of apple, sliced strawberries, stewed pumpkin or peach preserves to their batter for a special treat.
Click here to read more about Isabella Alden’s books mentioned in this post.