Tag Archives: Theodosia Toll

Docia’s First Book

15 Dec

Isabella tried for years to persuade her friend, Theodosia Toll (who everyone called Docia) to become a writer. In 1865 Isabella sold her first book, Helen Lester, thereby launching her own writing career; and she had the same dream for her friend.

Undated photo of Theodosia Toll

Undated photo of Theodosia Toll

From experience she knew Docia was a gifted writer, and she often encouraged her to write stories for young people “which would help to develop their lives in the right directions and also to be a pecuniary help to herself.”

But Docia disagreed. She was convinced she had no special talent for writing, and despite Isabella’s encouragement, Docia wouldn’t even try to write for commercial reasons, a fact which frustrated Isabella. One day, when Isabella became upset with Docia’s lack of interest in becoming an author, Docia surprised her.

She laughed heartily … and told me not to despair, that the day might come when I would actually possess a book written by her.

Several weeks after Docia spoke those words, Isabella received a package and letter from Docia. Docia’s letter read, in part:

The package which will accompany this contains a book, every word of which was written by myself! Moreover, it was written especially for you. I have spent much thought and care upon it, and know to a certainty that every page of it in every particular is strictly correct. Also, I have great pleasure in adding that I believe you will derive great benefit from giving it daily reading, and obeying its teachings in every particular.

Kitchen Recipe cards 02Intrigued by the promises in Docia’s letter, Isabella opened the package.

It was a book certainly, beautifully bound, and Docia had certainly written (not printed) every word of it in her own small clear style.

But the book Docia sent was not a novel. Instead, every page of the book told exactly how to prepare, or bake, or boil or fry, or stew, or freeze some dish. It was a cookbook that explained every little detail, and it was clearly designed for the novice.

None knew better than Docia that, so far at least as cooking was concerned, the name applied to me. That blessed little book! I loved it at first glance.

Oh, I could easily fill a small volume with stories in detail about the times when the wisdom found in that book saved me in the early months of my life as a chief cook and general manager of a minister’s home.

A cook book dated 1883

A cook book dated 1883

Not long after sending Isabella the cook book, Docia embarked on the writing career Isabella always wanted her to have, publishing under the pen name, Faye Huntington. In her memoirs Isabella recalled:

She wrote many books after that, which were read and appreciated by hundreds, that without doubt helped in much more important matters than furnishing food for the body, but personally, I never ceased to feel a peculiar sense of gratitude for that first one.

An 1896 cook book

You can read more about the friendship between Isabella and Docia in these previous posts:

BFFs at Oneida Seminary

Free Read: The Book that Started it All

Free Read: The Book that Started it All

10 Mar

It’s hard to imagine a world without Isabella Alden’s wonderful books and stories; but, left to her own devices, Isabella never would have become a published writer.

Advertising Card 1919

From a young age she had been taught to let her imagination soar. She began keeping a diary at the age of six, filling it with records of daily events and bits of stories. And even before she could write, Isabella’s mother encouraged her to make up little stories—perhaps from a picture Isabella would show her, or out of a few toys or some flowers. “Make a story out of it for mother,” was a most familiar sentence.

Out of those beginnings, Isabella developed her writing skills, and she continued to craft stories for the amusement of her friends and family. Her talent showed in school assignments, too; her compositions always earned good grades and won her recognition and prizes.

It was at school that Isabella Alden met her good friend, Theodosia Toll, nicknamed Docia. They were students together at Oneida Seminary in New York. After they graduated, Isabella returned to the school as a teacher; and since Docia’s family home was nearby in a neighboring town, the young women saw each other often.

Laude-Calthrop-Old-LettersAfter the close of one particular school year, Docia arrived to help Isabella pack up her things. Isabella was leaving the next morning to spend the long vacation at her family’s home, some eighty miles away.

While Isabella packed, she tasked Docia with sorting through the papers and books she had stored in a large trunk. As Docia went through the trunk, she came across a story Isabella had written as an entry for a writing contest. Here is Isabella’s description of what happened next:

“Why, Belle!” she suddenly exclaimed. “Here is that story you were to send to Cincinnati! Didn’t you do it after all?”

“No, I didn’t,” I said.

“But you promised!”

“No, not exactly. I said I would, if I didn’t change my mind, and I changed it.”

“Well! I think you were a perfect simpleton! It might have taken the prize. I thought it was the best thing you had written. What do you want done with it? Oh, say! Don’t you believe! The time for sending manuscripts isn’t up yet! Here is the printed slip that tells about it. There are seven days yet. Now do be sensible and send it on. Just think what fun it would be if it should win the prize!”

Then I appeared in the doorway and spoke with decision.

“I’ll do no such thing. If I can’t write a better story than that, it proves that I ought never to write at all. Tear the thing into bits and throw it in the grate with the other rubbish. I’ll set fire to them tonight.”

Luckily, Docia saw the promise in that story and instead of tearing it to bits so it could be set on fire, she submitted it to the contest under Isabella’s name.

Postman 1909Two months later, Isabella was shocked to receive a letter from the Western Tract & Book Society in Cincinnati, congratulating her on her win. Enclosed with the letter was a check for fifty dollars!

After she got over the initial shock of winning a prize for a story she thought she had burned, Isabella realized that Helen Lester was something to be proud of—especially once the contest judges explained the reason the story won:

“In the opinion of the carefully chosen committee of award, it met the condition imposed by the grand old Christian gentleman who offered the prize. It was to be given for the manuscript that would best explain God’s plan of salvation, so plainly that quite young readers would have no difficulty in following its teachings if they would, and so winsomely that some of them might be moved to take Jesus Christ for their Saviour and Friend.”

Original 1865 Cover of Helen Lester

Original 1865 Cover of Helen Lester

And how did Isabella spend that fifty-dollar prize money? She made two packets, each containing “the enormous sum of twenty-five dollars.” She placed one of the packets inside a bound volume of her first book, Helen Lester. On the fly leaf she wrote:

“Presented to my honored father.”

The second packet went into another copy of the book; and on the fly leaf she wrote:

“To my precious mother.”

Then, in both books she wrote those “wondrous words that must have trembled with excitement, and ought to have been written in capitals”:

“From the Author.”

Book 3Helen Lester was published in 1865 and with it, Isabella’s writing career was launched. The following year she published another children’s book, Nanie’s Experiment; Jessie Wells was published in 1867, quickly followed by Tip Lewis and His Lamp. After that, she published multiple titles each year, demonstrating both her talent and her discipline as a writer.

Since then, her stories that explain salvation through Christ and the rewards of abiding faith in God have enlightened and entertained generations of readers around the world.


Cover_Helen Lester resized

You can read Helen Lester for free. Click on the cover to begin reading.

You can learn more about Isabella’s friendship with Docia by clicking here.

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BFFs at Oneida Seminary

25 Feb
Young Isabella Alden in an undated photo

Young Isabella Alden in an undated photo

For most of her young life, Isabella Alden was educated at home by her parents and an occasional tutor. But all that changed when she was about fourteen years old.  That’s when her parents enrolled her in Oneida Seminary in Oneida, New York.

The school was almost 80 miles away from her family’s home in Johnstown, New York; but that didn’t mean Isabella would be at the school alone.

Her older sister Marcia and Marcia’s husband Charles Livingston were also at Oneida Seminary. Marcia and Charles lived in apartments on the campus because Charles was a professor at the school; so Isabella had family close by.

 

Oneida Seminary

Oneida Seminary

 

At Oneida Seminary the male and female students were separated in their classrooms, study areas and living quarters; so making strong friendships with other female students would have been natural for Isabella. She often crossed paths with Theodosia Toll, who was called Docia. Docia was one of the most popular girls at Oneida Seminary. Her family owned a large farm called Locust Shade about 7 miles away in nearby Verona, New York.

Docia was three years older than Isabella. She was a better scholar, too. She had a reputation for being keen and quick-witted, good-humored and kindly. Everyone thought well of her.

Undated photo of Theodosia Toll

Undated photo of Theodosia Toll

 

Knowing Isabella was far from her family home, Docia invited her to spend her weekends at Locust Shade but Isabella always refused the invitation. Isabella wrote in “Memories of Yesterdays”:

“I had taken a great dislike to that girl in the earliest days of our acquaintance. . . I avoided her on every occasion possible and declined her invitations for the weekends so haughtily that I wonder she ever asked me again.”

One day Isabella went out of her way to avoid Docia by visiting her sister Marcia in her apartments. She didn’t hold back in complaining to Marcia about “that insufferable girl,” Docia.

Undated photo of Charles Livingston

Undated photo of Charles Livingston

 

“If she ever asks me again to go home with her for over Sunday, I’m going to tell her that it takes all the skill I have to invent ways of escaping her society here, and I can’t be expected to follow her home, even though it would be a treat under pleasanter conditions to have a ride.”

Charles had been in the next room and overheard everything Isabella said.

“What a foolish girl you are,” he said almost sadly. “I was saying to Marcia this morning that I could not imagine why you had taken such a dislike to Docia. She is the best scholar in her class, and every teacher in the school speaks highly of her. Certainly her character is above reproach. As for her family, if you knew them you would consider it an honor to be invited to their home. I should.”

After Charles’s scolding—and much prayer and soul searching—Isabella realized why she disliked Docia . . . she was jealous of her!

“My aroused conscience showed me just where I stood. Faint and faulty as were the proofs of it in my life, I knew even then that I belonged to the Lord Jesus Christ; and He came graciously to my help at that hour and showed me plainly not only how offensive in his sight had been my attitude, but also how I had misjudged the other girl.”

The next time Docia invited Isabella to go home with her for the weekend, Isabella accepted. Three weeks later she drove in the Toll family carriage with her new friend Docia to Locust Shade, where she was made a welcome addition to the family. After that first visit, Isabella spent many weekends and school vacations at Locust Shade.

Greeting the Guest by Edward Lamson Henry

Greeting the Guest by Edward Lamson Henry

 

That was the beginning of Isabella’s lifelong friendship with Docia Toll. In later years they would both marry, have families of their own, and move away to different parts of the country; but they remained fast friends and confidants who loved each other and collaborated in creating short stories and novels that bore witness to God and their Christian faith.

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