Saturday, May 25, 2019

How Many Sanitary Commission Quilts Survive?

In a study of quilts made for Union Soldiers Virginia Gunn estimated that 125,000 quilts and comforts were distributed by the Sanitary Commission during the war.

The Sanitary Commission was all about keeping records

Read "Quilts for Union Soldiers in the Civil War" by Virginia Gunn, Uncoverings #6, 1985 at this  link:

Very few of those quilts survive.
Pamela Weeks, curator of the New England Quilt Museum, estimates about 20 have been identified in museum and private collections today. I have 14 in the picture files.

Fort Hill Sewing Circle, dated 1864
 Hingham, Massachusetts
International Quilt Study Center and Museum Collection

Inking on some survivors tells us of the origins.A few have a stamp indicating that they were the property of the Sanitary Commission as in the quilt above.

And a few have a story passed on with them.

Wadsworth Athenaeum Collection
Granville, New York

New England Quilt Museum Collection

Each block here is separately bound.

These samplers tend to be of a style---simple pieced blocks of cotton set together with narrow sashing (sometimes each block is quilted and then joined---what we called potholder quilts today). The quilts are long and narrow.

The Sanitary Commission asked for quilts of cheap materials, about 7 feet long by 50 inches wide
and several of these quilts are about 84" x 50", as requested.

Several of the survivors feature repeat blocks

Nine patch from Jan Coor Pender Dodge's collection,
Made in Dublin, New Hampshire.
It has the stamp on it.

Made in Vernon, Connecticut
Collection of the Lincoln Memorial Shrine
Redlands, California

Stamped label on the reverse

Made in Florence, Massachusetts, 1865

The quilt from Florence has a patriotic image
in the center, which certainly helps with identification.

International Quilt Study Center and Museum Collection
Made in Detroit, Michigan, 1864

Made for the Armory Square Hospital in Washington

Mystic Seaport Museum Collection
Ladies's Aid Society, Portland, Maine

Belfast Historical Society
Belfast, Maine, Ladies Aid Society
For the Armory Square Hospital

Collection of the Smithsonian Institution
Susannah Pullen and Sunday School Class
Augusta, Maine

Several inked inscriptions tell us the source of the quilt: "If this quilt survives the war we would like to have it returned to Mrs. Gilbert Pullen, Augusta, Me....This quilt completed Sept. 1st 1863.”

Made in Windsor County, Vermont, attributed to 
Caroline Bowen Fairbanks, Vermont Historical Society


Sandy said...

I wonder how many of these surviving quilts have been reproduced, and if so, might they exist in a collection somewhere. I would love to make one, but the difficulty, of course, would be in finding just the right fabrics. I should try it anyway.
The.very last quilt you show looks a little "modern" don't you think?

Barbara Brackman said...

Sandy- the fun is finding the right fabrics. The last one---a bit minimal. Too minimal for me. It's probably faded somewhat.

julieQ said...

My grandmother had one in her was in absolute tatters, but it was stamped. It was a pot holder style one.

sue s said...

The article by Virginia Gunn was fascinating! I knew about the Sanitary Commission because I have a Public Health degree, but I sure didn't know about the quilts!

Mary said...

Hello Barbara, hope you are having a good Memorial Day. I just wanted to say hello, thank you for your informative blog posts, and let you know I’ve been working on my Antebellum album quilt and Civil War Sampler quilt today. I have taken 3 unfinished projects out of the closet and am going to finish them soon. Thank you for your informative blog, and please keep showing us these wonderful old quilts. Love your stories and sense of humor too! Mary in Virginia

Becky the Soap Lady said...

Im a Civil War reenactor with a Sutlery (Store) at the events. A quilter friend of mine has made me several to sell to the reenactors. Soldier cot quilts were rolled up and worn over the shoulder of the soldier. They carried everything with them into battle.

Thanks for this story. I have shared it with my friend for resource material.

And as for finding the fabric...just find a few ladies who do CW sewing to outfit their families. Plenty of scraps.

FreedomFlower said...

I agree that lots of different prints make a quilt more fun, but the last quilt was made minimal for a good reason. The lady who made it, wrote scripture and blessings on the “snowball” blocks for the soldier who received it to read as he recovered. She also made this quilt by herself, whereas a lot of the others are in potholder style, and most likely not made by one person. Maybe this lady didn’t have very many scraps to share.