Isabella Alden strongly believed in spending a few minutes with the Bible every morning; and that even one verse, thoughtfully read, helped fortify and strengthen Believers in their daily walk with God.
Several of her novels were based on that premise, including:
Frank Hudson’s Hedge Fence
Her Mother’s Bible
The Exact Truth
We Twelve Girls
In each story, the main characters committed to memory and relied upon a single verse of scripture every day to help them in their daily lives. She called these stories “Golden Text” novels.
Isabella brought the same concept to The Pansy magazine. In 1895 she began publishing a regular monthly feature in The Pansy called “Daily Thoughts.”
“Daily Thoughts” was printed on the first day of each month, and consisted of a list of Bible verses meant to be read individually, one each day.
She chose each verse carefully, with the prayerful hope that each one would inspire her readers to live their lives for Jesus’ sake.
With each verse she offered a brief comment or question to help her readers better understand the text.
Her verses for January 1895 all came from the book of Psalms. You’ll notice she didn’t print the actual verse, but only gave the citation. She hoped doing so would encourage readers to open their Bibles each day and look up the verses for themselves.
In additional to writing novels, Isabella Alden wrote articles and short stories for many different publications.
Her stories and articles were so popular she found herself in a unique position for a writer: She never had to submit her work for publication.
Instead, publishers went to her. Elias Riggs Monfort, the long-time editor of The Herald and Presbyter (a weekly Presbyterian newspaper), gave her a lifetime contract to publish any serials she wrote.
Mr. Montfort was such a fan of Isabella’s, he wrote to his friend, Daniel Lothrop, full of praises about Isabella and her stories.
Daniel Lothrop was the owner of D. Lothrop & Company, a Boston publishing house that specialized in books for young people.
Daniel Lothrop had been a great reader from his childhood; while he was still a boy himself he developed an ambition to publish books specifically written for children—a novel idea at the time. Even more radical: he believed the books should be beautifully illustrated to serve the story and keep children’s attention.
But he persisted, believing that it was possible to publish children’s books that were not only entertaining, but encouraged “true, steadfast growth in right living.”
He often said to the people in his employ: “I publish books to do good as well as to make money. I always ask first, ‘Will this book help the young people?’ rather than ‘How much money is there in it?’”
His long partnership with Isabella began around 1874. After Elias Monfort sang Isabella’s praises to him, Daniel Lothrop invited Isabella to contribute stories to be published in a small weekly Sunday School newspaper he published.
By 1877 that short weekly paper had grown considerably in size and content—and Isabella was its editor!
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.
Isabella wrote a short story for each issue, and other members of her family did, too, including her husband, her sister Marcia, niece Grace Livingston, and later, once he was old enough, her son Raymond.
Another frequent contributor was Daniel Lothrop’s wife Harriett, who wrote under the pen name “Margaret Sidney.”
Isabella wrote that Mr. Lothrop always had “a very warm place in his great warm heart” for The Pansy magazine.
Not only was he fertile in suggestions calculated to make it better, but he was ready always to heartily second the suggestions of others, and to aid in carrying them out.
The Pansy Society in particular was very dear to him. He was interested in everything about the Society, from the content of the letters children wrote to the magazine, to the design of the badges that Isabella sent to Pansy Society members. Isabella said:
“It would be difficult—impossible, indeed—to tell you in how many ways he helped along the cause of truth and right in the world.”
Another common interest Isabella and Lothrop shared was the Christian Endeavor Society. From the early days of the Society, Daniel Lothrop saw an opportunity to use his publishing company to further the Society’s message. He recruited authors to write books of interest to Christian Endeavor members. Margaret Sidney, Faye Huntington, and Grace Livingston were among those who answered the call.
Isabella’s novels, Chrissy’s Endeavor and Her Associate Members were written and published especially for C.E. members.
Isabella’s long partnership with Daniel Lothrop lasted almost twenty years. It ended when he passed away in 1892.
Isabella was heartbroken. In her memoirs she wrote:
“Mr. Lothrop was my true, strong, faithful friend all his life.”
She gently told readers in an issue of The Pansy about the passing of “our friend who loved us, and worked for us and with us.”
It’s impossible to know how many lives were influenced for good by Isabella’s partnership with Daniel Lothrop. Her books alone sold more than 100,000 copies a year, and The Pansy magazine had thousands of subscribers all around the world.
They had formed a perfect partnership. Both Isabella and Daniel Lothrop must have been proud of their accomplishments and the knowledge that they always produced books and stories that were consistently wholesome, pure, and elevating.
You can learn more about The Pansy magazine, The Christian Endeavor Society, and The Pansy Society by reading these previous posts:
This post is part of our blogiversary celebration! Leave a comment below or on Isabella’s Facebook page to be entered into Friday’s drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card!
Isabella Alden’s father Isaac Macdonald is often credited with instilling in her a love of writing. He gave her a journal when she was very young and—to teach her to pay attention in church—he encouraged her to take notes during Sunday sermons so they could discuss the minister’s message later in the day.
But it was probably Isabella’s mother, Myra, who taught Isabella to be a great story-teller.
At a young age—even before she could write—Isabella’s mother encouraged her to make up little stories about things.
“Make a story out of it for mother,” she would say; and out of those beginnings, Isabella began to develop the writing skills that would serve her as an adult.
Myra was herself a story-teller, and often entertained her six children with stories of her own younger years.
Myra’s father was Horatio Gates Spafford, a well-respected author and New York newspaper editor, so she developed her own writing skills at a very early age.
Isabella credited her mother Myra with teaching her how to weave a story centered on a well-loved Bible verse. It was Myra’s habit to gather her children—and later, her grandchildren—around her in the evening to tell them stories that were entertaining and and helped make sense of a Bible verse or Sunday-school lesson.
Her stories always contained a practical lesson in walking daily with Christ—a theme Isabella adopted and perfected in her own stories.
When Isabella’s father Isaac Macdonald died in 1870 Isabella and her husband Ross made certain Myra came to live with them. Although Ross’s career as a Presbyterian minister caused them to move regularly from one town to another, Myra made her home with the Aldens for the next fifteen years.
They were living in Carbondale, Pennsylvania when Myra died at home in 1885. Isabella was 43 years old when her mother passed away, and she missed her terribly.
At that time Isabella was editing The Pansy magazine; and since she and her family members—including Ross, her son Raymond, her sister Marcia, and Marcia’s husband Charles—were all contributing articles and stories to the magazine, Isabella and Marcia found a way to pay tribute to their mother in the pages of The Pansy.
They began publishing short stories for children in The Pansy under the pseudonym “Myra Spafford.” The stories were reminiscent of the kind of stories Myra told her children and grandchildren.
In 1887 Isabella published Grandma’s Miracles; Stories Told at Six O’clock in the Evening. The book is a fictionalized account of those tender and loving evening story-times Myra had with her children and grandchildren.
You can read Grandma’s Miracles for free!
Click on the book cover to read this story on your phone, ipad, Kindle, or other electronic device.
Or you can read, print and share it as a PDF document on your computer. Just click on the book cover to start reading now.
A few months ago, Mary (a reader of this blog) asked us to figure out a way to make Isabella’s Free Reads available so they could be read on her Kindle. Up until that point, we were publishing Isabella’s Free Reads only as Adobe PDF files.
A Good Idea
Mary’s suggestion made sense. After all, we’re living in the digital age; and since the goal of this website is to make it as easy as possible for readers to discover and enjoy Isabella’s books, we said:
Four months later, we think we’ve come up with a solution.
Beginning today you’ll be able to download new Free Reads to your Nook, Kindle, iPad, or smart phone directly from BookFunnel!
And for those readers who like to view Isabella’s stories on their computer or print out a copy to share, you’ll still have the option to download an Adobe PDF file from BookFunnel, by choosing the “My Computer” option.
Ready to give BookFunnel a test drive?
Let’s kick things off with a story Isabella specifically wrote for children.
A New Free Read
Isabella delighted in teaching children important lessons from the Bible. Every issue of The Pansy, a bi-weekly magazine she edited and wrote for, included two or three children’s stories she wrote to convey Biblical truths in an entertaining way.
In 1889 her twelve-part story “Helen the Historian” appeared as a series in The Pansy. The story showcases Isabella’s skill in telling a Bible story as a child would tell it.
Here’s a short description of the the story:
Helen may be only eight years old, but she knows all about God’s love. She’s happiest on Sunday mornings when her young friends gather about her and listen to the Bible stories she tells. And maybe—if she tells the stories well enough—those Bible stories will make a difference in lives of her young friends, too.
Now you can read “Helen the Historian” for free!
Just click on the cover to be directed to BookFunnel, where you can download the story in the format of your choice.
An Important Privacy Note:
Depending on the format you choose when you download your copy of “Helen the Historian” from BookFunnel, you may be asked to enter your e-mail address.
Isabella’s novel Twenty Minutes Late was first published as a serial in The Pansy Magazine in 1892. Isabella originally named the story “Way Stations,” referring to the unexpected train trip one of the characters—Caroline Bryant—takes in the story.
Twenty Minutes Late is the sequel to Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant (which also began life as a serial in The Pansy), and follows the fortunes of the Bryant children as they learn to trust Jesus as their savior and friend.
Isabella often test-drove her novels by publishing them as serials in her magazine; then she made final edits and adjustments to her stories before they were published in book form.
You can find out more about Twenty Minutes Late and read sample chapters from the book by clicking on the cover image.
One of the most interesting features of The Pansy magazine was the way it promoted The Pansy Society. Isabella Alden organized The Pansy Society as a children’s version of the Christian Endeavor program that had taken teens and young adults by storm in the 1880s.
Through stories and articles in The Pansy, Isabella encouraged young children to join The Pansy Society. Members of the Society had their own pledge:
Asking Jesus to help me, I promise to try to overcome the fault which oftenest tempts me to do wrong. This fault is _______.
Thousands of children filled in the blank for themselves, thereby pledging to harness their temper, obey their parents, be patient, read their Bible, or say only kind words.
Isabella encouraged children to use The Pansy Society “whisper motto” whenever they needed help controlling their fault:
I will do it for Jesus’ sake.
Thousands of children wrote to tell Isabella they whispered “For Jesus’ sake” regularly to keep them on the right path.
Every child who joined The Pansy Society received a membership card, personally signed by Isabella, and a badge to wear.
Isabella encouraged Pansy Society members (she often called them Pansies or Blossoms) to find other members in their neighborhood, and hold meetings to encourage each other in overcoming their faults and doing good for Jesus’ sake.
Isabella’s brother-in-law Charles Livingston (Grace Livingston Hill’s father) wrote a novel called The Poplar Street Pansy Society that told the story of the good accomplished by children who formed their own local Pansy Society.
Many children wrote to Isabella about their struggles to honor their Pansy Society pledge, and others wrote of their triumphs. She received hundreds of letters every month and answered every one. Many were published in The Pansy magazine, like these:
Dear Pansy: I live in Winona, Minn., and I have heard little girls grumble because they don’t live in a big city, but that is not right. I give my old Pansy books to a poor little girl across the street. She is sick, and she is trying to be a Christian; I will help her all I can. Eleanor Calvery
Dear Pansy: We have a little sister younger than ourselves, and she gives away sometimes to fits of temper, and says little naughty words, but since she has seen our badges, and has been told that we are going to try to be good boys, she begs to wear a badge, and says she wants to be good, too. Mamma asked her to say the pledge after her this morning, and she said it so sweetly. “I will do all the dood I tan.” Won’t you please enroll her and send her a badge, too? Her name is Vivian Allen. Harry L. A. Allen
Dear Pansy: Your Pansy magazine has helped me to lead a Christian life. Mamma likes to have sister Ruthanna and me help her about the house, and I do not enjoy it very much, so I nearly always grumble and try to get out of it. So I will try to overcome this, with Jesus’ help, and do my work cheerfully. Clara A. Simms.
Parents wrote letters, too, sharing stories of changes in their children’s behavior, all due to their child’s membership in The Pansy Society.
In return, Isabella wrote stories to help children remember their pledge, and to encourage them to take their troubles to Jesus. For example, “Polly’s Short Journey” appeared in an 1888 issue of The Pansy, and teaches children to appreciate what they have. You can read the story here:
Polly’s Short Journey
It was rather a sour-faced little maid who got on the train by herself at Glenburn station. She had on a brown suit, brown hat and gloves, and carried a brown basket. But she didn’t look half so pleased as you would expect a little brown sparrow of a girl to be when she was going on a journey in a nice plush-lined car, through a beautiful country.
The car was very full, and Polly Imboden flopped herself down in the first seat she came to, which was occupied by a sweet-looking old lady in Quaker bonnet and gown. The Friend eyed her with quiet amusement, and presently asked gently:
“Is thee going far today?”
“Only to Midvale,” answered the little traveler shortly.
“Then thee will not have time to grow tired; but I am going a thousand miles.”
“A thousand miles!” exclaimed Polly; and as soon as she forgot herself and began to be interested in somebody else, the ugly look took itself off somewhere, and you began to see that Polly had a sweet, bright face, and actually two dimples.
Her companion soon found out that Polly was pouting because her mother had gone to Philadelphia, and instead of taking her, had sent her to Midvale to stay with Aunt Mary. Mother did not seem to be to blame, as there was fear of scarlet fever in the square to which she was going, but that did not keep Polly from being cross about it.
“This is a patience lesson set thee, child,” said the old Friend. “There are many more for thee to learn, but if thee skip this one, the next will be harder.”
But Polly wasn’t listening to this little sermon. To her surprise there were rows upon rows of little boys and girls about her own age in the car.
“Is thee looking at my children?” said the old lady, smiling. “They are going with me on that long thousand miles to find homes in the West.”
“Aren’t they coming back to their fathers and mothers?” asked Polly, her lips beginning to tremble a little.
“They have no fathers and mothers on earth,” answered the friend, “but their Heavenly Father takes care of them.”
The tears were beginning to run down Polly’s cheeks at the thought of all that these little children had to do without.
The Friend laid her hand lightly on the little brown-gloved fingers. “Has thee ever seen a lesson-book?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” answered Polly, in surprise.
“What are the pictures for?”
“Why,” said Polly, still more surprised, “why, to show things.”
“Yes, that is it. Now, the great Teacher wants my little friend to be contented with her lot, to be so glad she has a dear mother and father and home, and friends to take care of her, but she wasn’t learning that lesson very fast, so he puts her on this train for a journey, and shows her all these little ones who have to do without these blessings. Will this picture make thee learn faster?”
Polly pulled out her handkerchief and scrubbed away at the tear drops. “I’d like to give one of them my basket. It’s got a lot of good things that mother put in it for me.”
“Thee will have to hurry, then,” said the Friend, well pleased, “for Midvale is in full sight.”
Hastily, Polly slipped off the plush seat, and picking out a pale, grave-looking child, she put the heavy basket in her hand, smiled a good-bye under the Quaker bonnet of the old lady, and here was Midvale.
And for a long time to come, when mother felt Polly’s arm close on her so tight that she could hardly breathe, she knew she was thinking about the old Friend, and her rows and rows of motherless children.
All of the black and white illustrations in this post came from original issues of The Pansy magazine.
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.