Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Ladies' Aid Album #8 : Social Butterflies in Westchester County


#8 Social Butterfly by Barbara Schaffer
A block for the ladies of Sing Sing, New York and their
 Union Relief Association, which sent 9,000 
garments to clothe Union soldiers and raised $3800.

When looking at women's work during the Civil War it's relatively easy to track women at the top of the social pyramid. For example, accounts of  the Ladies' Union Relief Association in the town of Sing Sing, Westchester County, New York often let us know just who is in charge.

"Ladies' Union Relief Association.
At a meeting of the Ladies' Union Relief Association, of Sing Sing, held August 14th...The meetings will be held as usual every Friday at 4 p. m., at the Franklin Academy. Donations of Jelly and Pickles are particularly requested. 
The Managers have received an urgent call from Memphis for books and magazines, the library consisting only of a few testaments, and some old newspapers, they hope sufficient reading matter will be sent in to enable them to send off a box without delay. 
By order,
Secretary and Treasurer"

Catherine Elizabeth Beck Van Cortlandt (1818-1895)
in the 1840s when she was in her twenties.
 She married into a wealthy old Dutch family in 1836.

Social Butterfly by Becky Brown in Ladies' Legacy repro prints.

One cannot fault the ladies for asking Catherine Beck Van Cortlandt to assume a prominent perch in their hierarchy. If she belonged it must be a genteel organization and joining would give a social climber the opportunity to hobnob with society every Friday afternoon---to say nothing of Mrs. VC's personal fortune as a fundraising backup.

One can visit Catherine's home Van Cortlandt Manor in what is now Croton-on-Hudson, the house built by her husband Pierre Van Cortlandt III's family as early as the 1730s. Their money came from land. The early American Van Cortlandts received a Dutch grant of 86,000 acres of Hudson River real estate,
which they farmed with slaves until the state abolished slavery in the early 19th century.

Ossining, about 1910

Now you may recognize the name Sing Sing and have a hard time imagining any upper crust in a prison town. The residents noticed that problem themselves and changed the town's name to Ossining in 1901.
Social Butterfly by Denniele Bohannon

Finding out information about the dozens of other Westchester County women who worked for the Ladies' Union Relief Association---or for that matter any middle or working class women there--- is more difficult unless someone might have by chance left some paper records, such as the will and inventory left by Phebe Hine of New Rochelle, who died in 1864.

Phebe was a dressmaker who probably owned a shop. Her executor Eliza Osborne wrote pages and pages listing Phebe's belongings, e.g. 2,000 Needles $5; 9-1/2 Thousand Needles $19. The whole estate, all of it needlework related, was worth almost $11,000. 

48-3/4 yd Blk Calico @ 20 $9.75
Her inventory mostly includes higher quality goods than the cottons we'd see in quilts.

Phebe's obituary in the New York Times, 1864
That's "74th year of her age."

See the pages of Phebe's inventory and will here at the Westchester Historical Society.

Social Butterfly by Robyn Revelle Gragg

Nancy Burns (1800-1849)
Portrait by Ferdinand Boyle
Collection of the American Museum in Britain

Another Sing Sing resident's story (and her headscarf---a replica?) are preserved in this portrait of Nancy Burns who was born a slave in Albany to Catherine's Beck family and after being freed remained with Catherine at Van Cortland Manor the rest of her life. When Nancy died over a decade before the war Catherine commissioned this watercolor. As Catherine's mother died when she was five, Nancy may have been the woman who raised her. 

Phebe and Nancy were obviously not social butterflies, and neither was Lucinda Ward Honstain, born in Sing Sing, a Manhattan "tailoress" when she stitched her amazing New York album quilt in 1867.

Lucinda scattered butterflies throughout her blocks.

Although rooted in New York applique fashion, Lucinda's quilt is extraordinary. We've used one of her butterflies to recall the upper class. (Probably should have found a worker bee for the working women.)

Album quilt by Lucinda Honstain who lived in Brooklyn in 1867
International Quilt Museum

The Block
A butterfly of Prussian blue rainbow stripe

Sampler dated 1851, New York project & the Quilt Index.

The pair of trees: Another New York favorite 

Blocks from a quilt attributed to Sarah Ann Wilson, 1854, Westchester County
Art Institute of Chicago

Social Butterfly by Barbara Brackman

Butterflies or moths (lepidopterans) on an embroidered sampler
 By Mary Lynn, 1834, Massachusetts.
 Philadelphia Museum of Art

Many of the conventional patterns in album appliques are also seen in earlier samplers.

Giant Lepidoptera in a block by Lucinda Honstain

And to prove my point that it's easier to find out about rich women than others, here's a post on Catherine's recipe book and her pumpkin dumplings.

1 comment:

Becky in VA said...

Might be fun to make some contjes! - 3 hours is a long time to boil.