Saturday, June 3, 2023

Mary Custis Lee


Quilt in collection of Arlington House, National Park Service Museum

Collection: Virginia Historical Society
Sketch of Arlington House, 1862
Robert Knox Sneden diary
Visitors to Mary Custis Lee's Arlington House at Arlington National Cemetery may notice quilts in the bedrooms of the main house and the slave housing.

Contemporary strip quilt in the slave housing

Like many house museums Arlington House uses reproduction quilts to approximate the living quarters for the historical residents. Their focus is the pre-Civil War years before the Union Army confiscated
the house that Robert E. Lee's wife Mary Custis inherited.

The museum has a collection of quilts from various eras with little information about them. Perhaps I could figure some things out. I thought I'd start with the newer quilts; the red and white quilt below photographed in a bedroom looks 20th century. Would any Arlington women be making quilts in the 20th century?

The red and white color scheme, the quilting design and the patchwork all
look "Early 20th century."

Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee (1807 - 1873)
Auguste Hervieu portrait of Mary
 before her 1838 wedding to Robert E. Lee

Mary Custis Lee (the elder) seems to have made quilts despite a terrible case of rheumatoid arthritis but this one would have been made a generation or two after her death.

Virginia Museum of History & Culture
Mary with Robert E Lee II, About 1845
Mary and Robert had four daughters, none of whom ever married---their father was opposed and their ill mother needed them. Although we know nothing about the quilts at Arlington, we might guess the daughters had a hand in them. This "Hearts & Gizzards" as Ruth Finley called it in 1929, would have to be credited to either Mildred who died in 1905 or Mary who died in 1919. Their sisters died young.

I doubt either Mary or Mildred made the quilt; it looks like the kind of thing that someone thought nice enough for a museum and the curator accepted it years ago before a quilt's history was important.

But it gives us an opportunity to look at the lives of The Girls, as the family called them. The eldest Mary Custis Lee was in her mid-20s when the Civil War began, living at Arlington House. Her father's defection to the Confederate Army resulted in the Union take-over of the family home and Mary and the children scattered to relatives' homes and other family estates.

Heritage Auction
Drawing given to J.E.B. Stuart by Mary C. Lee, 
done in 1854

Despite the itinerant life of an Army officer's daughter Mary received a good education for her time before the war and was apparently talented in art. She and Jeb Stuart were friends until his death. She and all three of her sisters spent time at the Powell Female Seminary in Winchester, Virginia owned by Selina Lloyd Powell and her husband.

Selina Lloyd Powell (1807-1871)
Her school closed when the war began

Selina had long been a friend of the Lee girls' mother (and only because the world is such a small place we find Selena was also actress Katherine Hepburn's great-grandmother.)

The Lee family spent the last years of the war in Richmond living in this house during the fall of the Confederate Capitol and then moving to a donated cottage in the country. The house still stands.

Derwent 50 miles from Richmond

According to family accounts it was NOT "Little Women Confederate Style." Mildred, the youngest did not speak to Mary, the eldest, and Mary's feelings for the rest of her family were apparently similar.

The eldest & youngest sisters lived the longest, not speaking into
the 20th century.

Mildred may have put her finger on the problem, describing her sister in a letter: Mary "is always absorbed in self, first and foremost.”

Mary, described as “strong, but somewhat eccentric character"

After the war Mary put oceans between herself and her sisters, traveling throughout Europe with only occasional trips back to the U.S. On one of those visits in 1902 when she was in her late sixties, Mary was arrested for civil disobedience, sitting with her African-American servant in a train car reserved for Black passengers. She, having lived in Europe where such bigotry was not common, may have done so in ignorance but she refused to move and was arrested and bailed out for $5. She jumped bail.

Gotta hand it to her. But I don't think she had anything to do with the later quilts at the family home. Hearts & Gizzards indeed.

Similar quilt from the 1950s or '60s.

Further Reading: Mary Coulling. The Lee Girls. Winston-Salem: John F. Blair Publisher, 1987.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Herbarium #3: A Starry Wreath for Emily Dickinson

Becky Brown, Herbarium #3 Starry Wreath for Emily Dickinson

Amherst College Collection
Poet Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886) when she was about 16

Many women posed with a favored book, often a Bible.
But Emily was not known for her religiosity. Note the flower
in her hand. Was the book her bound herbarium?

Emily entered a local school, the Amherst Academy, at age 9 in 1840 and graduated in 1847. The Dickinsons were strong educational supporters and Emily was proud of her education:
"[Sister] Viny and I both go to school this term. We have a very fine school. There are 63 scholars. I have four studies. They are Mental Philosophy, Geology, Latin, and Botany. How large they sound, don’t they? I don’t believe you have such big studies.” Emily, 1845 to friend Abiah Root.
Her 66-page Herbarium bound in green is at the Houghton Library.

Starry Wreath by Becky Collis

While at the Academy Emily kept a Herbarium, dated by Harvard's Houghton Library as having been assembled during her school years. Was the daguerreotype portrait above made as a celebration of the end of her schooling with the book a tangible souvenir?

Harvard's Houghton Library Collection
Emily about 9, painted by A.O. Bullard

Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps (1793-1884)

One botany text book at the Academy was Almira Lincoln Phelps's Familiar Lectures on Botany with instructions for teachers as well as students. Phelps's book, originally published in 1829, went through
about 40 editions. She was educator Emma Hart Willard's sister.

The 1854 edition

Starry Wreath by Denniele Bohannon

I've looked at hers and other botany textbooks hoping to find illustrations relating to the quilt blocks in the eight similar quilts but no luck so far. Our unknown teacher probably drew her own.

The Block

Edge of sampler made by an unknown quiltmaker, published in 
Border to Border: Quilts and Quiltmakers of Montana

Reconstructed wreath from the edge of the 1850
Goodrich Family Quilt.

Anemone undulata from the Dickinson Herbarium

Pattern for the full Starry Wreath

This wreath with five-lobed starry flowers is set as a half a wreath
 in several of the eight mid-19th-century Herbarium quilts.

Variations in the edge blocks that fill out the on-point set

The quilt above from an unknown source includes wreaths cut in half lining the edges---most with the 5-lobed floral. The Starry Wreath is reconstructed above in our pattern as a full wreath and below as  the half wreath.


Our set for 13 on-point blocks includes 8 half-blocks. 19th-century quiltmakers were quite inclined to make a full block and cut it in half when they needed a half-block. This seems unwise as you are losing fabric in the seam allowances along the cut. Better to plan ahead and make 8 half-blocks. Use the starry floral for the 4 corners.

Further Reading

See a facsimile of  Emily Dickinson's Herbarium. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006. Or view it digitally. The library also has some unbound, unlabeled pages.$30i

Read more about Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps:

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Bible Flags From the Civil War


Small Bible flag from Jeff Bridgman's inventory
Bridgman specializes in flags so it's not surprising that he
has sold many of these small artifacts over the years.

They were meant to be bookmarks in the pocket-sized
Bibles soldiers carried.

"Victory or Death"

Bridgman's site tells us that they were primarily a Southern phenomenon.

Berlin-work version (needlepoint)
9" long, 2-3/4" wide

"Rebel Flag"
Confiscated by Alfred Bellard, 5th New Jersey Volunteers

Heritage Auctions

Case Auctions
From the effects of Mattie Ready Morgan, wife of John Hunt Morgan


Saturday, May 20, 2023

Frances Cunningham Burnes Gehricke's Civil War


Fan quilt attributed to Frances C. Gehricke on the cover
of a catalog from the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell.
Although more patchwork fans than random pieces this show piece is described
as a crazy quilt.

Frances Cunningham Burnes Gehricke (1839-1903)
About the time of the quilt.

Frances Cunningham was born to Rachel Stokes & Robert Wilson Cunningham in New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1839. Her mother died when she was 7 and her father remarried, adding four more children to Rachel's five.

New Castle, 1861

When the war began Frances was in her early 20s, probably assisting her stepmother Caroline Woodward with the younger children. The baby of the large family was another Caroline born in February, 1865. 

The Cunningham Home 

Robert W. Cunningham was an "industrialist," an Irish-born machinist, later an entrepreneur who
did well. Three of Frances's younger brothers enlisted in the Union army.

We assume brother Charles Pomeroy Cunningham is on
the center drum in this photo posted on his FindAGrave site.
Charles was a musician in Company A of the First
Pennsylvania Volunteer Reserve Corps. Brother George played the bugle.

All three brothers survived the war. After the peace Frances, perhaps inspired by war-time nursing, decided to become a doctor, graduating in 1878 from the Woman’s Medical College of New York. Dr. Cunningham married a man named Pealer D. Burnes and worked as a woman's physician in New York. Mr. Burnes, elusive despite his unusual name, disappears from the record leaving only a name she sometimes hyphenated.

Her second husband was Prussian-born Californian Otto Ernest Frederick Gehricke, married in New York in 1883. In 1886 she (they?) moved to Pasadena, California and then to San Francisco. 

1888 City Directory, Pasadena

1893 Interview

1890 ad in the San Francisco Chronicle

In 1891 she filed for divorce; Otto relocated in England and married again.

The quilt is not dated but the style of silk with elaborate embroidery
is seen in the decades 1880-1900, her California years. 
I'd bet more on a Pasadena creation rather than San Francisco.

Many of the pictorial appliques are probably purchased. See more
about the peacock, a popular addition at this post:

The makers of these machine-embroidered applique patches advertised them as perfect for needleworkers with "neither the time nor taste for filling-in the traced outlines with needle and silk."  

"If ladies have no time to embroider...they will find the Kursheedt's embroidered color silk appliques most convenient."

Frances was just the type of busy woman who might have been the customer for these small luxury items. What was she doing in the 1880s and '90s? The newspapers tell us of the Doctor's mission to help poor women with "female trouble," like Kate Griffes who was murdered in a saloon.

Testimony in Kate Griffes's husband's murder trial, summer, 1893

A personal dispute over furniture, debt and financial chicanery, dismissed in 1900,
was extensively covered. Charles deWitt Spencer seems to have
been some kind of a mining con-man and Maude Lord Drake a
spiritualist who led Frances to make unwise investments.

Maude Lord-Drake [1852-1924]

A Tale of Woe

November, 1899

Cannot find a Caroline Gehricke described as a daughter who may actually be a step-daughter or step-daughter-in-law. Another option: a woman with the married name Mrs. Lou Bates, an actress. One of these younger women apparently took the fan quilt to Puerto Rico where it escaped the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to descend in the family, loaned to the Cornell show by Mary Rogers Cain in 1991. 

Mrs. Lou Bates, a witness in the Kate Griffes murder trial.


Women led such interesting lives. And what do you suppose Dr. Gehricke was offering all those poor women with "female troubles?"

January, 1904 record of France's death from "Dropsey," possibly heart disease, at 66.

Frances's FindAGrave file

See more about Frances and Kate Griffes here: