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.
On this date in 1866 Isabella Macdonald married Gustavus “Ross” Rossenberg Alden.
In the writings she left behind, Isabella never gave a description of her wedding gown; however, based on fashion history for the period, we know her gown probably had a wide skirt, long sleeves and a narrow waist.
This wedding gown from about 1870 is an example of what Isabella’s dress may have looked like.
It is made of cream silk gauze, trimmed with cream silk embroidered net lace. Both the bodice (which fastens with hooks and eyes) and the polonaise overskirt are bordered with lace and silk satin ribbon bows. The gown is on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
In 1916 Isabella and Ross celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with about 150 close friends and relatives, who gathered at the Alden’s home in Palo Alto, California.
This photo commemorates the occasion. In the center of the photo stands a tall gentleman in cleric’s collar; that’s Ross Alden; Isabella is the woman holding flowers, and standing between them is their son Raymond.
Left of Ross, dressed in white and wearing a large shawl is Isabella’s sister Julia, who resided with the Aldens. The young woman seated on the right holding a young child is Raymond’s wife Barbara.
The celebration was written up in several newspapers, including a newspaper near Isabella’s home town of Gloversville, New York:
In all, Isabella and Ross were married almost 58 years, before Ross passed away in 1924.
One day, when Isabella was a single young woman in her early twenties, she was chatting with three friends about a recent wedding they had all attended.
Their talk soon turned to the contrasts between what Isabella called “old times” and the present. She said:
“Weddings are among the few social events that do not change their customs much with the passing years; there is a sort of regular program that gets carried out as a matter of course. Don’t you think so?”
Isabella Alden later conceded that when she made that statement, she was rather ignorant about life and the havoc it can wreak upon a simple wedding ceremony.
Her friends soon set her straight, telling her stories of their own weddings that did not go off as planned. One friend—whom Isabella identified only as Mrs. H.—told how she had orchestrated “a very swell wedding” with “all the flowers and furbelows planned in their fullness.”
But all Mrs. H.’s plans were for naught. Instead of a grand church wedding with a reception after, she was married in a rush with as many members of the family as could be found at a moment’s notice. Instead of her wedding gown, she was married in the gingham dress she had put on in the afternoon, because there had been no time to change it.
Why the sudden rush? Because her intended husband, a soldier in the Union Army, “had appeared unexpectedly on the eight o’clock train, and he had to be back at the station again two miles away, for the midnight train, in order to join his regiment, for a hurry call to the front.”
Isabella never forgot Mrs. H.’s story. As a minister’s wife, Isabella must have attended hundreds of weddings over her lifetime, and observed for herself that there really was no “regular program” to follow when it came to weddings.
Isabella’s own wedding was relatively simple. She married Gustavus “Ross” Alden in her home town. She spent the night before her wedding in her old bed in her family home. Her mother woke her on her wedding day with a tender kiss.
Isabella and Ross were married in the Presbyterian church she and her family had attended for decades. Afterward, the bridal party and guests returned to the house to celebrate the day with food and well wishes.
As Isabella matured and gained more life experience, she did indeed learn that not all weddings were similar to her own. While many couples were married in a church as she was, quite a few were married by a justice of the peace in a civil ceremony.
And while Isabella and Ross held their reception in her parents’ home, other couples chose more formal settings that could accommodate hundreds of invited guests.
In fact, Isabella probably read newspaper accounts of the most spectacular wedding America had ever seen when Alice Roosevelt, the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, married Nicholas Longworth III in Washington, D.C. Their wedding, which took place in February 1906, was the social event of the season. More than a thousand guests attended, while many thousands of spectators gathered outside the church, hoping for a glimpse of the bride. Alice wore a soft blue wedding dress instead of the traditional white. Later, she dramatically cut the wedding cake with a sword, borrowed from a military aide attending the reception, thereby sparking a tradition many military couples still follow today.
Much has changed since that day in the early 1860s when Isabella uttered those innocent words about weddings always staying the same. Do you wonder what she would think about the creative ceremonies that are so popular with couples today?
What’s the most unusual wedding you ever attended?
Have you ever attended a wedding where everything went wrong, like the wedding Mrs. H. described?