Isabella Macdonald Alden
Author Isabella Macdonald Alden, "Pansy," was born in Rochester, New York on November 3, 1841 to Isaac and Myra Spafford Macdonald. She was the youngest of the Macdonald clan, and her "pet" name was given to her by her father after a very young little girl tried so hard to help her mother make the table look pretty for tea guests.
While her mother was napping, Isabella, or Belle as she was called, went out to pick pansies for the table. She picked every pansy in the pansy bed, and as she puts it, "picked the stem carefully from every one!...of course nobody would want ugly old stems laid on the pretty white tablecloth! Stems were to grow on so the pansy wouldn't get in the dirt." Of course, when mother awoke, there was much misunderstanding, and poor Belle was scolded for what she had done.
Father came to her rescue, though, and intervened, explaining that she must not have understood that she had done wrong. And so, the tearful child was "kissed, and told that Mother did not believe I meant to be naughty....and dressed me herself in my best white dress."
The pansies, which were to be tied in bunches were instead placed in Grandmother's precious flower bowl that was used only on stately occasions. They were tucked in among ferns all around the edge and she wrote that they "looked to me like hundreds of pansies peeping their bright faces out from the fern leaves! They were perfectly lovely! Who thought anything about their stems! And my familiar name "Pansy" dates from those stemless ones of the long ago."
She was a writer from an early age, and her first story was published in the local paper when she was just a youngster. In order to keep her identity private, the family decided to use the name "Pansy" for the story, and she wrote as Pansy for eighty years.
Her first published book happened almost by accident. She had written a story in response to a contest, but had second thoughts. Her best friend, Docia, rescued the manuscript from the fireplace, and submitted it without Isabella's knowledge. Much to her surprise, she won the contest and the $50 prize. Her story, entitled "Helen Lester," won for its simple message leading children to Christ. You can read Helen Lester here at our website.
Pansy wrote hundreds of books and articles in her lifetime, edited a weekly magazine, spoke on the Chautauqua circuit, was a pastor's wife, a mother, and a grandmother, too! She was quite a busy woman, and it is said that she answered every letter that was written to her, and read the writing of countless fans who wanted her opinion of their own work. She was driven by one thought: "If I shall succeed in helping some hearts to realize, what the intellect already understands, the all-important fact that Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, to-day and for ever," the object of my writing will have been attained."
In Pansy's words, "I dedicated my pen to the direct and continuous effort to win others for Christ and help others to closer fellowship with Him." Her dedication to her father and mother in her book "The Prince of Peace," gives credit to their early guidance and gives evidence of her clear mission to reach others with the message of the Gospel:
To the memory of my blessed Father and Mother, who taught me from a child to read and study "The Book of Books," especially that portion of it which tells of "The Son of Man," this book of mine is tenderly dedicated.
It was because they took Him as Pilot that they steered safely through the rocks and shoals of this stormy life, and anchored at last in the harbor of peace. It is because I have Him as my King, that I expect to clasp hands with them again in my Father's house, and go no more out forever.
Next to them I would dedicate this life-story to all those who are out on the same stormy sea and need the same Pilot to bring them to safe harbor; who need "The Prince of Peace" to conquer in all wars for them, and introduce them at last to His Father.
This is evident in the pages of nearly 200 books authored or edited by this remarkable woman. The book list continues to grow, and despite the tremendous work of scholars like J. B. Dobkins (who assembled a wonderful collection of Pansy books for the University of South Florida at Tampa's collection of 19th century American literature), more undocumented titles are being discovered all the time.
Many of her books were written with recurring characters who grew up throughout Pansy's lifetime in the books, and her fans were always pleased to "find out how they were faring" in the later books. One of her last, "Four Mothers at Chautauqua," reaches back to the early books about Pansy and her friends, the series begun with "Four Girls at Chautauqua." Nearly every book was taken from a real life experience, and she often wrote books to "make things come out alright."
As for today, quite a few of her titles have been reprinted in paperback by Robert Munce (her grand-nephew) and by other independent publishers. Many vintage Pansy books which originally sold for 50¢ or $1.00 now go for $50 or more on eBay.
Over the years, her husband became an invalid, and she was the family's sole support. Pansy was a regular columnist for the Christian Endeavor World, and answered letters from readers of that publication for around $15 per month. She also contributed to the Presbyterian Primary Quarterly, the Westminster Teacher, and was on the staff of Trained Motherhood. She published an annual serial in the Herald and Presbyter as well.
During the height of her popularity, she sold 100,000 books a year, and Pansy was found among the cards with authors like Charlotte Bronte and Frances Hodgson Burnett in the board game "Authors." She even had her own board game called "Divided Wisdom: A Game Based on Hymns and Bible Proverbs." She was also known to endorse the work of other authors, such as "What A Young Girl Ought to Know," a book by Mary Wood-Allen, M.D. This book was declared by Pansy to be "just the book to teach what most people do not know how to teach, being scientific yet simple, and plain-spoken yet delicate." It's actually a book to teach girls the plain and simple facts of life. In later years, she contributed to a household column by reviewing new products and giving readers her much-valued opinion of their worth.
It's amazing that this woman, once known the world over, has been so forgotten. Rev. Francis E. Clark, D.D., the founder of the Christian Endeavor movement, wrote that through her work "hundreds of thousands of young people have been added to her lists of friends; and this great host will gladly follow her as she leads them through Galilee and Judea; to Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem; to Capernaum, Nain, Olivet, Gethsemane, and Golgotha."
Her books are often dismissed in contemporary literature as children's fodder or as a bit contrived. However, many modern readers who have discovered her plain, straightforward writing have become interested in finding more. It is to those readers that this site is dedicated.
The words of the Rev. John H. Vincent, D.D., LL. D., Chancellor of the 19th century Chautauqua University of Chautauqua, New York in his recommendation of her book "The Prince of Peace" say it best:
May he who lived the life our author records, fill with his own blessed Spirit the readers of this record, and may writer and readers look into his own Face, and "see the King in his beauty" in that "land that is very far off," and that yet is "not far from every one of us" who love and serve the Lord!
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