Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Antebellum Album #9: Lexington Belle

Antebellum Album Block #9
Lexington Belle by Mark Lauer

In the 1830's when Kentucky was considered the American West, Lexington considered itself the Athens of the West. Two French immigrants ran a school in that frontier outpost, an elegant touch in a small American city. 
Lexington just before the Civil War

Waldemare and Charlotte Leclerc Mentelle were supporters of the King, royalists who escaped revolutionary Paris in 1792. Their skills: manners, dancing and the French language. About 1805 Mme. Mentelle began taking student boarders on their farm outside Lexington on land donated to the refugees by Mary Todd Russell Wickcliffe, a wealthy Lexingtonian.

Among the boarders was Mary Russell Wickcliffe's great niece Mary Ann Todd, daughter of Kentucky State Representative and business man Robert Smith Todd. The younger Mary's mother had died after the birth of her seventh child when Mary Ann was six. Two years later Robert remarried. 

Mary's first school was the Shelby Female Academy
housed in this building near Gratz Park, known
today as the Ridgely House.

One solution to conflict between stepmother and Mary was to board the 8-year-old at a nearby school. Mary Ann spent weekends at home, weekdays at the Shelby Female Academy.

Portrait of Mrs. Moore's class of young students in a Kentucky silk
quilt from Bourbon & Harrison Counties, 1893.
Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. #1987.80

After graduation Mary Ann moved on to Mentelle’s for Young Ladies out on the Richmond Pike. The Mentelles'  Rose Hill farm was across the road from Ashland, the home of Kentucky's well-known politician "Henry of the West."

The view from Mantelles' school:
Ashland with Senator Henry Clay and dog in the front yard.
The Mantelles daughter Marie married Clay's son Thomas in 1837.

"My early home was truly at a boarding school," wrote Mary to friend Elizabeth Keckley in later life.

Teacher and young students in the 1840s

Madame provided that home for Mary between 1831 and 1836 and gave her an excellent grounding in French, literature and dancing. Mary became a fluent French speaker who read French books for entertainment throughout her life and spent several years of her widowhood in France. 

Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882), nicknamed "The Republican Queen,"
 considered herself on a par with Queen Victoria and
 French Empress Eugenie.

From Madame she also absorbed aristocratic pretensions that did her no good in her future life as First Lady Mary Lincoln. 

Members of Lexington's upper class were kind to the Mentelles, supporting their farming and schooling enterprises. When Madame died in 1860 her obituary praised, "Her lofty character, her pure life and great intellect in this community, where she has been loved, honored and venerated for half a century." But Madame left letters to her parents in France revealing the feelings were not mutual. "Lexington has no amiable virtues---its citizens have terrible manners..." 

When she was 20 Mary Todd moved north to Springfield, Illinois with her sisters
far away from their stepmother. There she met lawyer Abraham Lincoln.

The Block

Album block in a quilt documented in the
Massachusetts project.

Variations on the block we tend to call Flying Geese were
popular with mid-19th-century quilters for albums and repeat block quilts.

This month's pattern, BlockBase #2902 is one of the oldest
published versions.
  • An Effective Square (rather a dull name) about 1910
  • Baltimore Belle about the same time
  • And Flying Geese in 1929
The name Lexington Belle can recall the Civil War's "Republican Queen."

Lexington Belle by Becky Brown

Cutting a 12" Block

A - Cut 4 squares 2-7/8".

B - Cut 1 square 8-3/8" Cut into 4 triangles with 2 diagonal cuts. You need 4 large triangles.

C - Cut 4 squares for the geese 3-1/4". Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles. You need 8 triangles.

D - Cut 6 squares 3-5/8". Cut each into 4 triangles with 2 diagonal cuts. You need 24 small triangles.

E - Cut 1 square 3-7/8".


Lexington Belle by Denniele Bohannon

I try to include a regional album variation that relates to the monthly story's location. What kind of album quilt might Mary Todd have made? Strangely enough I have not been able to find one antebellum album quilt from the entire state of Kentucky. See a post on the curious lack of Kentucky pre-war signature quilts here:

1930s visual interpretation of 1830's travel time from New York
to the greater United States. One could get to NY in 6 days
 by ship from Charleston but it took 2 weeks to travel from Kentucky.

Why no album quilts in the midst of the 1840s and '50s fad? Traveling between Kentucky and coastal cities was not so easy as travel between Philadelphia and Charleston. One could not take an Atlantic coast steamship to Kentucky. Kentuckians on their way to Boston combined Ohio River travel, stage coaches and short line railroads. Kentucky was rather isolated, one reason few Kentuckians are found in the rolls of schools in Philadelphia, Burlington or Hartford. Did this relative isolation result in Kentucky missing the album quilt fad?  But Ohio was just across the Ohio River and we can find many album quilts from that state. Perhaps it was just a matter of taste.

Album dated 1847 and 1848, with blocks signed Fairmount & 
Miamisburg, Ohio, & Hardy County, Virginia
from the West Virginia project & the Quilt Index.

What kind of quilt might Mary Todd have made---if she indeed made quilts? 

Block inscribed John Lewis (1784-1858) principal of the 
Georgetown Female Academy in Kentucky

My guess: a silk hexagon or some kind of English paper pieced mosaic design. Some of the most interesting mosaic quilts were made in Kentucky.
See a post about Mary Todd Lincoln and quilts here:

A Sentiment for August

A cherub with a banner from a star block in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
(Andrew Grauel was a coffee roaster by profession.)

To see an inspiring selection of inking go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art's search page and search for Quilt Block.

Lexington Belle by Denniele Bohannon

During the War & After

Lexington Belle by Pat Styring

Mary Todd Lincoln in the 1850s

Mary Ann Todd married Abraham Lincoln in 1842 when she was 22. She, of course, is easy to track through the Civil War, when she was First Lady. Privilege did not keep her from misery.

She suffered incredible losses with all of her four boys but one dying before she did and of course, witnessing the horrific assassination of her husband in 1865. During the War her Kentucky relatives chose the Confederacy and two half-brothers were killed in battle as was a brother-in-law.

1871 Photo with a ghostly
 Abraham Lincoln superimposed

She was so unstable that her remaining son Robert had her institutionalized at one point---a sad end to the story of a small girl banished to a boarding school.

Lexington Belle by Mark Lauer

Read more about Mary Ann Todd's younger years in Jean Harvey Baker's Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography.
And more about the pattern here:


Denniele said...

What a story! We probably all know about her as Mrs. Lincoln but the earlier information, I had no idea. Again, thank you for the education. The blocks are beautiful...again!

Susan said...

As always, thank you for the history. Thanks also for so many beautiful examples of this block. It's very versatile.