In 1922 Emily Post wrote, “with a hair-pin and a visiting card, [a woman] is ready to meet most emergencies.”
There’s evidence of that maxim in Isabella Alden’s books. In several of her stories a simple calling card played a prominent role in the life of one of her characters.
In Spun from Fact, Jeanie Barrett had cards printed with only her name and this sentence in plain text:
“Are you saved by grace?”
Each time she gave away one of her cards, she did so with a purpose, and knew exactly how she wanted to engage that person in conversation about the straight-forward question printed on the card.
In Workers Together; An Endless Chain, Dr. Everett’s calling card was printed on both sides. The front of the card gave the address and hours for his medical practice. On the other side he listed the times for Sunday worship services, Sunday School classes and weekly prayer meetings at the church where he was superintendent of the Sunday School.
In A New Graft on the Family Tree, John Morgan received a calling card that changed his life. He was hungry and homeless, hopping one rail car after another to find anyone who would feed him in exchange for doing some work.
John’s situation was desperate; he was weak from hunger when he came across neat-looking house, with a neat kitchen-door; he knocked at it, and asked for a bit of bread. A trim old lady answered it. To his surprise she invited him in and fed him a savoury breakfast. And while John ate, the old woman talked to him:
“Well, there are a good many homeless people in the world. It must be hard; but then, you know, the Master himself gave up his home, and had not where to lay his head. Did it for our sakes, too. Wasn’t that strange! Seems to me I couldn’t give up my home. But he made a home by it for every one of us. I hope you’ve looked after the title to yours, young man.”
No answer from John, The old lady sighed, and said to herself, as she trotted away for a doughnut for him:
“He doesn’t understand, poor fellow! I suppose he never has had any good thoughts put into his mind. Dear me! I wish I could do something for him besides feeding his poor, perishing body!”
The little old lady trotted back, a plate of doughnuts in one hand, and a little card in the other.
“Put these doughnuts in your pocket; maybe they’ll come good when you are hungry again. And here is a little card; you can read, I suppose?”
The faintest suspicion of a smile gleamed in John Morgan’s eyes as he nodded assent.
“Well, then, you read it once in a while, just to please me. Those are true words on it; and Jesus is here yet trying to save, just the same as he always was. He wants to save you, young man, and you better let him do it now. If I were you I wouldn’t wait another day.”
John waited until he left the woman’s house and was tramping down the street before he looked at the card she gave him.
It was a simple enough card, printed on it in plain letters these words:
“It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”
“I am the bread of life. He that believeth on me shall never hunger.”
Still lower on the card, in ornamented letters, the words:
“The Master has come, and calleth for thee.”
Then a hand pointing to an italicized line:
“I that speak unto thee am he.”
John thrust the card into his pocket and strode towards the village depot to board another train, unaware that the little card would eventually change his life.
You can still find examples of religious calling cards on ebay, Etsy and other Internet sites. But Isabella’s books demonstrated that religious calling cards by themselves were not enough to change a person’s life. In her stories, a calling card may have opened the door to a conversation about salvation, but it was the act of the person who gave the card—their kindness and concern for someone else—that turned those small pieces of cardstock into the means by which a soul was saved.
You can read more about the vagabond life John Morgan would have lead. Click here to read our previous post, The Fraternity of the Tramp.
Click on a book cover to read more about Isabella’s books mentioned in this post.