Friday, March 27, 2015

Pansy—Isabella Macdonald Alden

by Linda Farmer Harris

In January, HH&H reader Sharon M. said that she "would love to read about pioneer authors, their settings, why they wrote and how they marketed and sold their books." That made me think of pioneer writers of Christian fiction like Grace Livingston Hill. 

In my January 27th post, The Obsession of Victoria Gracen, I spotlighted Grace and mentioned her aunt, Isabella Macdonald Alden (1841-1930), better known to her readers by her pen name Pansy.

Isn't that a darling nickname? Her father gave Belle, as her family called her, the pet name after she tried to help her mother make the table look pretty for tea guests. 

While her mother napped, Belle, decided to pick pansies for the table. Mrs. Macdonald awoke to pansy flowers sans the stems tucked among ferns in her grandmother's prized flower bowl that was used only for stately occasions. Belle later said, "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!" The flower bed was pansy petal bare, just sad little green stems standing among the greenery.

Do you have a nickname or a pet name that has a story behind it?

Belle's first story, Our Old Clock, was published in a local paper when she was ten years old. To protect her privacy at that young age, the family used Pansy as the submission name, and she wrote as Pansy for eighty years. Becoming a writer wasn't her initial life goal. She wanted to be a teacher.

Are you an aspiring writer? Have you submitted your manuscript to a contest? Maybe you had second thoughts and didn't send it.

Belle wrote her first novel, Helen Lester, in response to a Cincinnati contest, but tossed it in a trunk instead of submitting it. Seven days before the contest deadline, her best friend, Docia, rescued it from the things destined for the grate (fireplace) and submitted it without Belle's knowledge. Two months later, the story won and Belle received the $50 prize. She thought the story had been burned up. 

It's reported that it won for its simple message leading children to Christ. The Committee was looking for "a manuscript that would best explain God's plan of salvation, so plainly that quite young reader would have no difficulty in following its teaching if they would, and so winsomely that some of them might be moved to take Jesus Christ for their Saviour and Friend." It was published in 1865.

You can read Helen Lester online.

You can also download a PDF file.

Courtesy of
The Pocket Measure (1880)
Download the story free at:

At the age of 87, Belle, was unable to complete the preparations for her last novel An Interrupted Night. At Belle's request, her niece, Grace Livingston Hill, stepped in and readied the manuscript for publication. The story is based on fact. A young girl faces one of life's most terrible experiences and Mrs. Dunlap, her new-found friend, helps her through a maze of deceit and trickery to true romance.

Have you read any of the Pansy books? She wrote hundreds of books and articles, a regular columnist for the Christian Endeavor World, edited a weekly magazine, spoke on the Chautauqua (shə-TAW-kwə) circuit. A Chautauqua Assembly brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers, and specialists of the day. President Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying that Chautauqua is "the most American thing in American."

By 1900, it's estimated that Pansy's books were selling at the rate of 100,000 per year. They were translated into French, German, Russian, and Japanese.

She was a pastor's wife, a mother, and a grandmother. She reviewed new products and in a house-hold column gave readers her opinion of their worth. In addition, she answered every letter written to her and read manuscripts from fans who needed writing advice. Sounds like a lot of the HH&H contributors.

Look down the right side of this Blog to visit the websites of the HH&H Contributors. You'll find y'all will share a lot in common, plus you have the advantage of getting the scoop on their latest releases.

Have you been included in a deck of face cards? Pansy was found in the board game "Authors" among the cards with authors like Frances Hodgson Burnett and Charlotte Bronte.

She had her own board game called "Divided Wisdom: A Game Based on Hymns and Bible Proverbs." The price was 50 cents, post-paid. The game was designed to "meet the needs of the children in their leisure moments and provide them with exercises that would be not only interesting, but helpful and instructive."

Grace Livingston Hill edited and completed Pansy's unfinished autobiography, Memories of Yesterday

Listen to 27 books by Pansy at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks) 

Whether you read or listen to Pansy's books, enjoy.


Lin lives in Chimney Rock, Colorado. She enjoys searching bookstores for old volumes of her favorite 19th century authors.


  1. I have not heard of or read any of the Pansy books, and your post was very interesting to read. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. Thanks for the kudos, Sharon, and for your suggestion about pioneer writers. Grace and Pansy set the standard for faith-based fiction. They're great writers and it's fun to read stories from that time era.

  2. Enjoyed this! Looking forward to reading more tidbits about authors from yesteryear. Thanks Lin!

    1. Thank you, Pam. It's good that many of these out-of-print books are being captured by Project Gutenburg and other publishers of public domain novels.

  3. Lin, great post and insightful peek at a Christian author from the past.

    1. Thank you, Marilyn, there are so many delightful tidbits about Grace and Pansy that I wish there was time and space to share. Add in their other family members and it becomes totally fascinating.

  4. Fun post, Lin! I had to laugh at the best friend submitting the story to a contest without her knowledge. Sounds exactly like Anne of Green Gables. LOL

    1. Thanks, Amber. We all need friends like that. I'm a fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery and her Anne Shirley character, too. I enjoyed her settings around Prince Edward Island, Canada. It sounded so exotic when I was a kid.