Saturday, November 16, 2019

Woman's Relief Corps Files

Top dated 1892-1893 from Marilyn Woodin's collection, made by members of the Chicago Woman's Relief Corps. I pictured it in my 1989 book Clues in the Calico with little idea what the symbolism was at the time.

The cross in the center of the quilt at the top had obvious meaning
to Americans in 1893. The Woman's Relief Corps logo featured a similar image.

In the quilt's very center, this ribbon and the badge

I am sorting out my paper files to donate to the Quilt Research Collection at the University of Nebraska Libraries. I'm going through the drawer full of research for the Civil War books I've written over the past 15 years or so. First up in the file folders: Woman's Relief Corps (the WRC auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic GAR veteran's organization.)

I thought that might be easy to do, but then I digress into seeing how much more information I can find in the digital age....plenty.

Now I realize the other red shapes in Marilyn's quilt are Corps Badges, which identified veteran's groups by region.

Late 19th-century G.A.R. corps badge bandanna

References to W.R.C. members stitching quilts are easy to find in newspaper databases and local historical society files. Rarely do the period accounts describe the quilt; once in a while the description includes "the national colors." 

Pattern description from a scrapbook:
"Susanna's Puzzle is very effective  when made with red, white and blue and in this way is just the thing for a GAR or WRC fair."

The W.R.C. was founded in 1881 and thrived in the years when several styles were popular:
  • Embroidered quilts
  • Red and white quilts
  • Name quilts
  • Fundraising donation quilts
  • Crazy quilts with souvenir ribbons (badges)

Actually, the abundance of W.R.C. quilts may have contributed to the popularity of those styles.

We see what the names on a particular Oregon quilt meant in 1897:

"A mosaic consisting of 18 blocks, each bearing the name of the Union soldier nearest related to the lady who furnished it, together with the name of the company in which he served."
If we come across that quilt we might puzzle to figure out what the soldiers had in common, but this is an option: A random selection of men who had women relatives in Oregon City in 1897.

Quilt dated 1901 in several styles:
Red & white
Name quilt/ Fund raiser style

One might guess that this California quilt was made by church members as pious statements are embroidered, 

And this may be true but the W.R.C. cross indicates an affiliation with
the organization.

Apparently the WRC's first logo was a red, white and blue image seen in a "floor badge,"
changed in 1884 to the "maltese cross." The National Tribune, a newspaper for veteran's groups, suggested members work their old ribbons into a "Relief Corps crazy quilt to be sold for the benefit of their relief fund." One would base her block on the corps badge ribbon and embroider "her own name on a white stripe."

1911 name quilt from the Harvey County Historical Museum in Kansas.

A red & white, embroidered name quilt

Most of the names seen on these quilts are of the fundraising type. People who gave a donation (often a dime or quarter) had their names embroidered for posterity by a skilled volunteer.

See two more posts on embroidered W.R.C. quilts:

And read a preview of a book: Glorious Contentment: The GAR 1865-1900 by Stuart McConnell:

P.S.: I am never going to get through those paper files if I keep adding digital files.


Chantal said...

Very interesting article. I always enjoy reading your posts.
Lol, we are so "old school" with our papers but I just can't get rid of mine either. ;^)

Kerry said...

It's fascinating. Online research of my own family history seems to uncover even more information since I first started! So much more data is being added online that if I didn't switch off the laptop, I'd be awake all night! Once you start to delve and be a Sherlock Holmes, you just get caught up in the moment! I can imagine you being a little similar with your research - and it isn't just one part, you have all sorts of historical data to plough through! I thank you for sharing all that too!

Sam I Am...... said...

So glad Richard found a cure! LOL! Your posts are like reading a good book...non-fiction, of course. Very interesting. Thank you!

Kerry said...

Hahaha! Richard is delighted obviously - so many postings!

Susie Q said...

A friend, who is a librarian for the 46 years I have know her, was moving. They were downsizing so that meant, well, you know what that meant. It took over two years for her to go through her "files". They did move. So stick with it.

Nann said...

Another interesting post. Happy sorting!