Isabella Macdonald Alden, who was known to her readers as "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 hard to help her mother make the table look pretty for guests invited to tea.
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, as Pansy tells the tale, 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 printed in the local paper. 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, "Helen Lester," happened almost by accident. Isabella had grown into a young woman and was a Primary School Teacher. She wrote a story in response to a contest advertised in the papers of the day. The American Reform Tract and Book Society was looking for "the best book for a holiday gift, or premium treasure, for children...written in a style and language adapted to children and its leading purpose must be to win them to Christ. Later she had second thoughts about sending it.
She was packing her things to go home during the school's summer break. Coming across the contest entry, she asked her best friend, Docia, to just toss it into the fire, but instead, she submitted the entry without Isabella's knowledge. Much to her surprise, Isabella won the contest and its $50 prize (worth nearly $1000 today!) and it was published in book form. You can read this little treasure, Helen Lester, here at our website.
Pansy went on to write hundreds of books, short stories, and articles in her lifetime. She edited her own weekly magazine, "The Pansy," spoke and taught classes on the Chautauqua circuit, was a pastor's wife, a mother, and a grandmother, too! It's said that she answered every letter that was written to her and she 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...I dedicated my pen to the direct and continuous effort to win others for Christ and help others to closer fellowship with Him."
As the decades passed and a new century dawned, new Pansy books appeared less and less often. Her final two novels, A Fortunate Calamity and An Interrupted Night, were released by her author-niece's publisher, J. B. Lippincott. They also published her final work, "Memories of Yesterdays," which she called a "most informal UN-chronological memory of the past."