Pansy’s Impromptu Interview

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.

Photo of Isabella Alden about 1880 (age 39)


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.

An August 1861 ad in the Oneida (NY) Sachem for Oneida Seminary


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:



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.

Three different train conductor ticket punches and the hole shapes they make.


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:

BFFs at Oneida Seminary

The Accusation

Free Read: The Book That Started It All

What Can I Do for Jesus?

For many years Isabella Alden wrote a regular column for Sabbath School Monthly magazine. Titled “Primary Department,” the column provided complete children’s Sunday school lessons for each week of the month. Isabella also contributed stories to the magazine, and sometimes released one of her new novels in serial form, publishing a chapter in successive issues.

Sabbath School Monthly header

In one issue of the magazine, Isabella gave an account of a ladies’ prayer-meeting she attended that had such an impact on her, she wanted to share the experience with other Sunday school teachers:

The subject was, “What can I do for Jesus?” It was to be answered first by Bible verses. How wonderfully pertinent they were!

“Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing,” said one.

“Increase in the knowledge of God,” said another.

“Be strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power,” said a third.

Then one summed up, as it were, the whole question in that marvel of condensation, “Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

“It all resolves itself into this,” one lady said; “if we have our own hearts right, then, whatever we do, or say, or think, may be to the glory of God. What we want, more than anything else, is to put on Christ in his fullness, so that his will shall be ours, and so that, in any event, we can rest in him. Then he will accept all work, and all waiting, as done for him.”

“Isn’t it a great help,” a dear, earnest, loving woman said, “to think that all our little, everyday work may be done in such a spirit, that it shall be to his glory? That just glorifies the meanest thing that we may have to do, and sweetens the heaviest toil.”

“Doesn’t it make less of the toil?” A lady asked, quickly, and her face shown with the reflected light of Him from whom she had learned her message.

“How?” another asked, puzzled at the expression, not being able to take in its fullness.

Ladies Praying and Singing 1879 ed“Why, if whatever we do, even the eating and drinking, is to be done to the glory of God, will it not make us careful that we glorify Him by not expending unnecessary time or strength in this work, but keeping ever before us the great aim—His glory. It will lessen the work, depend upon it. You cannot do that which is simply unnecessary, and worse than unnecessary, being often unhelpful, if you have this end in view.”

There were those present to whom these words came as a revelation. They drew new meaning from the familiar text. One’s thoughts could not help going rapidly over other things than the eating and drinking. What about dressing? Did this new idea take less ruffles and puffs and flounces? Could they, also, be managed for the glory of God? So long as one held the thought, it seemed to grow and expand. The rich crumbs still fell around us.

“It is just this spirit, I think,” said a sweet-faced sister, “that makes it possible to live the life that we are directed. ‘Pray without ceasing,’ I have heard one say. How is that possible, when life is crowded full of hard and incessant work? But I see how it is possible; if the work is done with that grand end in view, what is more natural than to look constantly to Him for help to carry it out, to turn our thoughts to Jesus in every trial, or annoyance, or perplexity? I think it rests one as nothing else will. Isn’t it possible, don’t you think, even in the midst of perplexing business cares that try heart and brain, to have this spirit of prayer?”

There came instant answer to the query. A bright-faced lady, who had hitherto listened with eyes, and heart, and glowing face, said quickly:

“I am not sure how it would be in mental work. But I know one can run the sewing machine and pray earnestly and eagerly at the same time; I’ve done it often.”

Sweet Hour of PrayerThus the talk went on, each adding her crumb, or her rich slice, according as the Spirit had given her a precious thought. The name of it was a prayer-meeting—a female prayer-meeting at that; but the utter absence of all the stiffness and horrible decorum that usually characterize such gatherings made one forget that it was called by so dignified a name. It was just a little social talk about our hopes, and plans, and prospects, and privileges—as we might have met together and talked about our journey to Europe, and our preparations for the journey, if we were expecting to go. At intervals there came in sweet, short, tender, helpful prayers, and a verse of a hymn sung now and then.

When the hour was gone we felt a sense of wonder that so much could be crowded into one hour of time, and that an hour could be made to pass so quickly; and we went out from that parlor feeling a new and closer link added to the chain that bound our Christian hearts together. We had taken a step forward.

“Why,” I said to myself, as I came down the street, “why could there not be teachers’ prayer-meetings somewhat after this type, where they could meet to gather up the treasure crumbs from the coming lesson, and to pray for each other’s classes? I mean to tell the teachers of the Sabbath School Monthly about our dear little meeting; and so teachers, I have told you.”

“A word to the wise,” etc.