Happy February! This month’s Free Read is “Clean Hands” by Isabella Alden.
Like many of Isabella’s stories, “Clean Hands” illustrates the great influence a simple Bible verse can have on someone’s life.
Miss Elsie Burton is looking forward to her vacation in the city. Just think! An entire week of fun, shopping, and seeing old friends. But when her pastor bids her good-bye at the train station with the gift of an odd little book of Bible verses, Elsie embarks upon a journey of self-discovery she never anticipated.
Isabella Alden was a great traveler. In her young adult years, she traveled all over the eastern part of the United States—from New York to Ohio, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C.—as her husband took charge of different Presbyterian churches.
When her writing career took off, so did Isabella’s travel schedule. From California to Florida and everyplace in between, Isabella spoke at churches, taught Sunday-school classes, and delivered lectures on a variety of topics before women’s groups.
At the time, train travel was the only transportation option available to her for traveling long distances.
But there was a problem with train travel: it was a dirty business.
Soot and smoke and dust from the steam engine’s exhaust permeated everything it touched; train stations, passengers, and luggage were all tainted.
But all of that changed when the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (a Pennsylvania-based rail company) introduced a new power source for their train engines: Anthracite.
While Anthracite is a coal, it has fewer impurities than common soft coal, and it burns cleaner. The Lackawanna Railroad company had almost exclusive access to America’s Anthracite source.
Realizing their clean-burning Anthracite-powered engines were an advantage for travelers, the Lackawanna Railroad came up with an ingenious marketing plan to highlight Anthracite’s advantages.
They launched an advertising campaign that featured a fictional character named Phoebe Snow.
Gowned in white, and wearing only a corsage of purple lilacs for a touch of color, Miss Phoebe Snow confidently traveled “The Road of Anthracite” and arrived at her destination as fresh and clean as when she first set out.
In addition to Phoebe’s image, each advertisement contained a short poem, written to mimic the cadence of a moving train.
The ad campaign was a hit. Soon Phoebe Snow’s image and the catchy railroad jingles began appeared in newspapers and magazines, and on postcards and posters.
As her popularity grew, so did Phoebe’s adventures.
She was spotted camping in the Rocky Mountains, and strolling along Broadway in New York City.
She even counseled mothers on the pleasures of traveling with children on “The Road of Anthracite.”
In 1903 Thomas Edison’s newly-formed motion picture company jumped on the Phoebe Snow band-wagon, and produced a short silent film about Phoebe and her railroad-riding adventures.
In the film, Phoebe’s travels include finding love and getting married to a fellow train rider dressed in (what else?) white.
Phoebe Snow’s adventures might have gone on forever, were it not for World War I. In 1917 the Lackawanna Railroad’s source of Anthracite was rerouted to help with the war effort, and Miss Phoebe Snow’s traveling days came to an end.
In her almost twenty-year career, fictional Phoebe inspired a generation of young women to travel. She was also the inspiration behind an entirely new genre of American advertising: the character-driven ad campaign, which we still see used in advertising today.
The 2018 summer season at Chautauqua Institution opened on Saturday, June 23. Over the next ten weeks, travelers will be planning trips to the great summer assembly, either by car (using a GPS app on their phone for guidance), by air (landing at nearby Chautauqua County Airport at Jamestown), or train (Amtrack tickets can be purchased online or via a smart phone app).
Travel to Chautauqua has changed a lot in the 142 years since Isabella Alden wrote Four Girls at Chautauqua. Back in 1876, the only way her lead characters in the story—Eurie, Ruth, Marion, and Flossy—could get to Chautauqua was by train. And preparing for their trip wasn’t as easy as tapping an icon on a smart phone.
The first decision the ladies had to make was how much luggage to take. Practical Marion began the conversation:
“Ruth, are you going to take a trunk?”
Ruth roused herself from the contemplation of her brown gloves to say with a little start, “How you girls do rush things. Why, I haven’t decided yet that I am going.”
“Oh, you’ll go,” Marion Wilbur said. “The question is, are we to take trunks—or, rather, are you to? Because I know I shall not. I’m going to wear my black suit. Put it on on Tuesday morning—or Monday is it that we start?—and wear it until we return. I may take it off, to be sure, while I sleep, but even that is uncertain, as we may not get a place to sleep in; but for once in my life I am not going to be bored with baggage.”
“I shall take mine,” Ruth Erskine said with determination. “I don’t intend to be bored by being without baggage. It is horrid, I think, to go away with only one dress, and feel obliged to wear it whether it is suited to the weather or not, or whatever happens to it.”
The truth of the matter was that Marion—who barely supported herself on a teacher’s salary—didn’t own enough clothes to fill a travel trunk.
Besides, paying an expressman to deliver her trunk to the station, tipping baggage porters, and checking her trunk through to Chautauqua, was far beyond the cost of what Marion could afford.
As the eldest child of a hard-working doctor, Eurie Mitchell’s travel budget wasn’t much larger than Marion’s.
Ruth Erskine and Flossy Shipley, on the other hand, were wealthy enough to insist on first-class accommodations in all her journeys. In all likelihood, they would have taken more than one trunk, each, as well as other pieces of luggage. Here’s why:
Luggage was much different in 1876 than the pull-suitcases and travel totes we use today.
For starters, different trunks or cases were made to accommodate different types of clothing and belongings.
For example, the average skirt of a woman’s dress in 1876 was made from about 8 to 10 (or more) yards of fabric. Underneath, women wore petticoats made up of an equal amount of material. These skirts, dresses, and undergarments took up a lot of room, and were usually packed in a dress trunk.
Shirtwaists, jackets, and suits went into a wardrobe trunk, where they could hang properly and minimize creasing and folds.
Hats and bonnets were transported in boxes designed to protect their shape and prevent damage to ornaments.
Lotions and toiletries went into yet another case, fitted out with compartments for bottles and toothbrushes, and powders.
Items a traveler might need to keep handy, such as clean handkerchiefs, fresh collars or cuffs, and possibly, a change of shirt waist, were carried in a valise or grip.
Some ladies also used tourist Cases to pack things to carry on the train and keep with them. Tourist cases looked very much like the small suitcases that were in use in the 1950s and 60s. The young women pictured in the photo below all have tourist cases (and one very large trunk!).
For a lady traveling in the late 18th and early 19th century, traveling was not a casual business. It took planning, if she wanted to arrive at her destination looking fresh and effortlessly gowned.
In 1904 The San Francisco Call newspaper published a full-page article on how to properly pack a trunk. The article was filled with plenty of practical, and not-so-practical, advice:
Making a trunk look nice is a distinct art.
A lady’s skirt should never have a front fold.
The author of the article was a professional packer of trunks. She tells the story of a phone call she received from a client:
“I want you to pack my trunks,” said she, “so I can catch the midnight train.”
“How many trunks are there?” I asked.
“There are twenty-seven,” said she, “and several boxes and suit cases, and the wagon is to call for them at five o’clock.”
Twenty-seven trunks! By comparison, Marion, Eurie, Ruth, and Flossy traveled light when they set off for Chautauqua!
If you’ve read any of Isabella’s books, chances are you’ve noticed that her Christian characters refused to travel on Sundays.
While others in the story may have planned a carriage ride to a pleasure garden, or a train ride to the next town to hear a famous minister preach, good Christians in Isabella’s stories didn’t go anywhere on Sunday unless they could get there on foot.
“Mamma, what makes it wicked to ride in the steam cars on Sunday?”
“My darling, don’t you remember mamma told you how the poor men who have to make the cars go cannot have any Sunday—any time to go to church, and read the Bible, and learn about God and heaven?”
“I know, mamma; but the cars go all the same, and the men have to work, and so why can’t we ride on them? They wouldn’t have to work any harder because we went along.”
Ruth’s son voiced an argument that wasn’t new. Isabella had heard it herself many times; but she believed in the sanctity of the day of rest, and she followed her church’s direction on the proper way to observe Sundays.
When Isabella was growing up in New York, it was much easier to observe the Sabbath because there were laws on the books that enforced Sabbath rules and eliminated personal choice:
There were similar laws in most other states. Having been raised in such an environment, Isabella’s strict observance of the Sabbath rules became second-nature to her.
In the early days of street-cars, many cities barred cars from operating on Sundays. Here’s a record of a driver who was arrested in 1859 for violating the law:
It wasn’t just street-cars that fell afoul of the fourth commandment. When the Postmaster General of the United States proposed delivering mail on Sunday to aid in its efficient flow, conservative Christians took swift action, circulating a petition to stop the plan:
But by the end of the 19th century, the average American’s perception of Sunday had shifted. No more was Sunday a traditional day of rest; it had morphed into a day of liberty. After a long, six-day work week, people wanted to do something or go somewhere, and trains and street-cars made it possible.
With street-cars, pleasure gardens and museums were only a short ride away. And a day at the sea shore was possible, thanks to an intricate network of train tracks and passenger cars that whisked people away from the hot, humid city twice a day on Sunday, and returned them safe and sound to the city in the early evening.
Cities and states soon saw the commercial benefits of allowing restaurants, theaters and other businesses to open on Sundays; and they began to quietly repeal the old Sabbath laws.
Like many Christians, Isabella viewed the changes with concern. After all, America was a country founded on Christian principles. But as more and more Sabbath observances fell by the wayside, many Christians saw the change as a symptom of a bigger issue: Christianity was losing its grip as the leading religion of the country.
But Christians didn’t take the changes lying down. They organized and petitioned, wrote their congressmen, and fought for new laws and ordinances to protect the Sabbath, to no avail.
The newspapers and magazines caught wind of their efforts and labeled them Sabbatarian Fanatics.
When Christians protested plans to open the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York on a Sunday, Puck magazine spoofed their efforts with this cover illustration:
Isabella knew all about the “fanatic” label. She probably had heard it used in regard to herself; and since she often used her own life experiences in her books, she wrote about it in Judge Burnham’s Daughters. When Ruth refused to entertain unexpected callers on a Sunday, the town gossips said:
What a pity it was that so fine a woman as Mrs. Burnham should be so completely under the control of fanatical ideas!
Even Ruth’s husband applied the word to her:
I do not quite understand how you came to be such a slave to fanaticism, Ruth; it does not seem like you. Your father had a touch of it, to be sure, but I think he must have caught it from you, since you go so far beyond him.
But Isabella—like Ruth—held fast to her fundamental belief that the Sabbath should remain holy. Despite the name-calling and the opposition around her, she held to her belief that the Lord’s Day should be spent in Divine activities that celebrated her relationship with God. And that was something Isabella knew she couldn’t accomplish on a street-car.
In the early 1900s Reverend R. A. Torrey compiled the works of different conservative writers into an article titled, “Why Save the Lord’s Day?” You can click here to read the complete article.
Many thanks to Marie Peters who inspired this post! If you have a question about Isabella or a related topic you’d like to see explored on this blog, leave a comment here or on Facebook!