And since Isabella was a long-time member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, she also joined that organization’s local chapter.
On Friday, November 20, 1908 Isabella hosted an “At Home” for her fellow W.C.T.U. members.
The event was a new spin on an old point of etiquette. For generations society ladies typically designated one afternoon a week where they were “at home” to receive callers.
Some ladies even had cards printed up which they handed out to acquaintances or left at the homes of other women to let them know what day they were invited to call.
For this event Isabella did the same thing, but instead of inviting people to drop by for an hour or so of conversation, she devised an entire program of meaningful entertainment that lasted well into the evening hours.
There were vocal solos and talks by ministers on the subject of temperance. Isabella’s son Raymond read a selection of popular poems by William Henry Drummond.
Isabella gave a talk, and several of the San Francisco Bay area’s leading citizens and ministers also provided entertainment and food for thought.
After the program, Isabella served “dainty refreshments.”
And it was all reported the following week in one of the local newspapers:
Busy Isabella certainly knew how to throw a party, didn’t she?
Does Isabella’s “At Home” sound like something you’d like to attend?
Which part of the evening entertainment do you think you would enjoy the most?
Isabella Alden was a great campaigner for the temperance movement. She had seen for herself the consequences of an unregulated alcohol industry. Alcoholic drinks in her time were often far more potent than commercial beer, wine and distilled liquor we’re used to today, making them much more addictive. Sometimes alcoholic beverages were laced with other substances, like cocaine; and alcohol was openly marketed to children.
This short video by documentary film maker Ken Burns describes the influence of liquor on America at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
Isabella’s dear friend Theodosia Toll Foster (whose nom de plume was Faye Huntington) was another tireless worker for the cause of temperance. Many of her novels were written for publication by the National Temperance Society and described the impact of alcoholism on the lives of individuals and communities.
And in her own books, Isabella often wove stories around the impact alcoholism had on families. She and her sister Marcia Livingston co-authored the novel, John Remington, Martyr, which chronicled one man’s efforts to fight the power of the alcohol industry and its hold on society.
Isabella, Theodosia and Marcia, as well as Marcia’s daughter, Grace Livingston Hill, were active members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The W.C.T.U. began in 1874 as a “crusade” of 208 dedicated temperance workers.
When Frances Willard was named the W.C.T.U.’s president in 1879, she inherited an organization comprised of several autonomous chapters with no unified action plan to achieve the group’s goal of reforming the distribution and sale of alcohol in America.
Up to that point, the organization was known for it crusades—bands of women visiting local saloons to pray and ask saloonkeepers to close their doors and stop selling spirits. For the most part, they were seen as teetotaling moral zealots.
Frances Willard had a different vision for the organization. By profession she was a teacher. She was educated, dynamic, and persuasive; she used those talents to redefine the W.C.T.U. Knowing that America’s high rate of alcoholism was directly related to crime, sexual assault, poverty, and domestic violence, she redirected the organization to focus on social reform and political activism.
She formed alliances with politicians, instilled a sense of sisterhood in W.C.T.U. members, and cultivated powerful and influential allies.
Lewis Miller, co-founder of Chautauqua Institution and a multi-millionaire industrialist, was a staunch supporter of the W.C.T.U.; his wife Mary was one of the first members of the Ohio W.C.T.U., a well-organized and militant branch of the organization.
Their daughter Mina recalled how her mother, with other “dauntless women” visited saloons and pleaded with the male proprietors to close their doors. They were often subjected to insults and even had buckets of water thrown on them.
After Mina Miller married Thomas Edison, the great American inventor, she used her influence as “Mrs. Edison” to further the W.C.T.U.’s programs.
And what programs they were! W.C.T.U. members developed and taught temperance lessons to children in Sunday schools and visited drunkards in prison. They lobbied for free public kindergartens and prison reform. By 1889 W.C.T.U. chapters were operating nurseries, Sunday schools, homeless shelters, and homes for fallen women. Members supported labor reform, suffrage, disarmament, and the eight-hour work day.
Isabella often wrote about the activities of the W.C.T.U. in her books. Most striking was her novel One Commonplace Day. In that story, a group of people come together on their own to help one family overcome the effects of alcoholism; and they employ many of the W.C.T.U. methods to do so.
Isabella and Frances Willard often lectured together, speaking before different chapters of the Sunday School Assembly and at regional Chautauqua locations.
By the time Frances Willard passed away in 1898 the W.C.T.U. was an acknowledged political and social force in the United States. Under her leadership the organization united women from varied backgrounds, educated them and empowered them to form one of the strongest and most influential women’s organizations in American history.
In 1905 a statue of Frances Willard was erected in National Statuary Hall at the United States Capital in Washington D.C. Her statue was the first honoring a woman to be chosen for the National Statuary Hall Collection.