Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Herbarium Block #1 for the Litchfield Female Academy


Herbarium, Block #1 Dahlia Wreath by Becky Brown

Our 2023-2024 applique sampler is based on a group of eight mid-19th-century quilts with similar blocks. Twelve floral designs will recall a teacher or a botanist with reference to "Botanizing" and Herbariums and their importance in the science education of the mid-19th century American schoolgirl.

See the introduction to this Block of the Month at this post:

 Litchfield, Connecticut

Our first remembers Sarah Pierce and her important Litchfield Female Academy.

Litchfield Historical Society
Sarah Pierce (1767-1852) by George Catlin
(Same George Catlin who went west.)

"Miss Pierce must have had a deep love for flowers...The old pupils of who I have had any knowledge were particularly fond of plants....[Fanny spoke] of her instruction in Botany while at that school and the pleasure it had been to her through life, and of a number of rare plants she had found." Esther Thompson's letter in Chronicles of a Pioneer School

Dahlia Wreath by Becky Collis

Litchfield Historical Society
Sarah Pierce founded the school in 1792. It closed in 1833.

The Connecticut Historical Society
Embroidered picture by Litchfield student Nancy Hale, 1802 

John Pierce Brace (1793-1872)

Botany was taught by Sarah's nephew John Pierce Brace (sister Susan's son.) Pupil Harriet Beecher Stowe recalled him as "an enthusiast in botany, mineralogy and the natural sciences generally." He collected a herbarium, a scrapbook of plants and their identification, which wound up at his alma mater Williams College in Massachusetts.

An Herbarium - or a Herbarium, depending upon whether 
you pronounce that initial H ---or don't.

Ann Bard and John Pierce had six daughters. At least three were involved in 
the Female Academy and we will find out more about the botanizing Pierces in
future posts.

Many women benefitted from a term or two or three with the
Pierces. Here is local student Harriet F. Beecher in 1824. Most were 
Northerners but do note Sarah H. Huger from Charleston.

In 1896 Emily Noyes Vanderpoel published Chronicles of a Pioneer School
in which the Pierce sisters' enjoyment of botany was recalled.

A calache left over from the days when
hair was abundantly piled atop the head.

Letter from Asa Gray discussing the Pierces & Braces,
 relatives of "J," Jane Loring, whom he would marry.

Dahlia Wreath by Denniele Bohannon

The Block

All eight quilts with similar blocks include this simple wreath.
The block with the name is in the Shelburne Museum's collection.

Eight quilts with similar blocks (some common, some unique.)

See a discussion of the antique Herbarium samplers here---back when I'd found only 6 examples.

In these popular wreaths the flowers can be in the corners or on the north/south axis.

Conventional Rose Wreath from
Marie Webster's 1915 book

We might name it a Wreath of Roses or Rose Wreath but
the unknown maker of the Shelburne's quilt called it Dahlia Wreath.

Dahlia coccinea

Maryland, 184?

Print on an 8-1/2 x 11" sheet and note the inch square for scale.

This little bird pattern (3" x 5" or so) might come in handy
over the twelve blocks. For example:

Unknown source

Collection of the Shelburne Museum, 1840-1865 
The quilt with the floral names embroidered in each block.

Embroidered Picture. Source?

Could the Litchfield Female Academy be connected to the 8 botanical samplers? Unlikely, as the school closed in 1833 before the era of these red and green applique designs. But...perhaps indirectly through a student who became a teacher of botany.

Litchfield Female Academy Collection
Mary Ann Bacon Whittlesby (1787-1869)

In 1802 student 15-year-old Mary Ann Bacon enjoyed a quilting party at the home of Elizabeth Welch  and Reverend Judah Champion, a Congregationalist minister. Their daughters attended the Female Academy.

Litchfield Female Academy Collection
Parson Judah Champion (1751-1810)

If you would like to buy the pattern package for $12 to print yourself see it here at my Etsy shop:

And do check in at our Facebook group HerbariumQuilt. It's public so you don't have to join. Post your pictures.

Further Reading

To Ornament Their Minds: Sarah Pierce's Litchfield Female Academy, 1792–1833 (Litchfield, CT: Litchfield Historical Society, 1993). Catalog of an exhibit.

Emily Noyes Vanderpoel, Chronicles of a Pioneer School:,+Chronicles+of+a+Pioneer+School&printsec=frontcover

The Litchfield Historical Society has a complex index to students and objects from the school:

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Mary Malvina Cook Taft's Civil War


Detail of a cut-out chintz applique quilt in the collection of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Tree of Life  quilt
110" x 92"

When donor Elsey R. Taft gave the quilt to the museum in 1970 she attributed it to an ancestor (we presume) Mary Malvina Cook Taft (1812-1905.) Mary lived in Sag Harbor, on eastern Long Island, New York for much of her life. When she and her husband Horatio Nelson Taft first married they lived in western New York on the Erie Canal where her 4 children were born.

The caption for the quilt indicates the curators had little information about Mary Cook Taft. 

"According to family history, Mary Malvina Cook Taft made the quilt for her trousseau. She probably made it about 1835, since she was born in 1812 and probably married in her twenties, as was common at the time."

Julia Taft Bayne (1844-1933) in 1928

I just happened to be looking for more information about Mary Malvina Cook Taft when I stumbled upon this quilt attributed to her hand. Mary's life is well documented in the published writings of her daughter Julia Taft Bayne and in her husband Horatio Taft's diary in the collection of the Library of Congress.

1905 Obituary, Brooklyn Eagle

Mary was born in 1812 and died almost 100 years later. She married
in 1843. She's buried in Sag Harbor, where she lived most of her life.
Bridgehampton, her birthplace, is close by.

People in the neighborhood of the Hamptons did not make quilts that looked like this, style the Met curators have noted:

"There is no documentation of where the piece was made, but stylistically it seems most closely related to documented bedcovers from Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina."
International Quilt Museum Collection

The cut-out chintz applique style was, as they note, a Southern specialty. The quilt above
is dated 1837 and signed Susan Pritchard Kirkwood of Charleston, South Carolina.

MESDA Collection, attributed to Margaret Wynens Alexander of North Carolina
The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) owns many Southern bedcovers in similar style. See this search:

Several of the MESDA quilts make use of the popular palm tree and pheasant
chintz that is in the Metropolitan's Quilt.

Swainson's Pheasant & Palm Tree
Thousands of yards of this bird print must have been 
imported from England. There were also knock-offs.

The chintz quilt is definitely not New York style and there is little chance that Mary Taft made it. How did a Southern quilt wind up in a New York family? Two possibilities: Mary's only daughter Julia Taft Bayne lived in Florida in her later years after living in the midwest where her husband was a minister. Could she have found this quilt in Florida and handed it down to a family member?

Julia Taft Bayne about the time she lived
in Washington

An even more intriguing idea is that Mary Taft herself spent about 4 or 5 years in the South---in Washington D.C., a Southern town despite the fact that it was the capitol of the Union during the Civil War, which is when Mary lived there. Horatio, suffering from economic problems after the Panic of 1857, accepted a government position in the Patent Office from President James Buchanan's administration. The family lived a few blocks from the White House until the spring of 1862 when they returned to New York.

Halsey Taft & Horatio Taft Jr.

The Tafts fell in with the new President's family after Mary Todd Lincoln invited Mary Taft's two sons to play with her own boys Tad and Willie. Might Mary Taft have acquired a Southern quilt during the Civil War, a war trophy carried to the Capitol by a Union soldier?

I first read about Mary Malvina Cook Taft in her daughter's charming book Tad Lincoln's Father, published in 1931. Mary remains a bit of a mystery since daughter Julia didn't seem fond of her  company. Her husband mentioned Mary in his daily journal but one never gets a glimpse of her personality except that she was quite conventional, worried about appearances and was a pious Presbyterian. And she did not care for Washington.

Julia also syndicated magazine articles about the Washington
years in the 1920s & early '30s.

Each year we do a pieced Block of the Month here, and the 2024 pattern series will be Washington Whirlwind, based on Julia's book about the White House boys. Still working on the stories and the patterns for next January.

Tad Lincoln's Father is still in print, published
by University of Nebraska press.

A preview:

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Atlanta Garden: Links to Free Patterns


Addie's first three blocks for Atlanta Garden with the alternate 9-patch.

2023's pieced Block of the Month on CivilWarQuilts is Atlanta Garden, a rather simple series based on a 9-patch format. Addie, who's a little older than our Civil War heroine Carrie, is doing her blocks in monochrome.

Heidi Kapszukieicz's #1 Garden of Eden 

Shawn Priggle's #1 Garden of Eden with setting block
See the free pattern here:

Martha Claassen's #2 Grandmother's Choice for her
Nocturne Atlanta Garden
Wendy Coffin #3 Auntie's Signal

Isobel Loftus 1 - 3 with setting squares

Janet Nagy Hanley's #4 Propeller

Elsie Ridgley's #5 Crossed Square
Debbie Grisanti's # 6 The Hand of War

Susie Mullins's #7 Grandma's Favorite

Laura reminds us that the machine piecers can make magic HSTs.
See a how-to she recommended here:

Jeanne Arnieri's #8 Country Lanes

 Laura Geiger's #9 Handy Andy

Addie's #10 Walls of Jericho

Cindy Brouillard's #11 Stars & Stripe

See the setting block pattern & an introduction at this link:

Dena Brannen's very good idea for a set. 

And a label to print yourself:

Many more reader blocks at our Facebook group: AtlantaGardenQuiltBOM

You can buy the pattern package with rotary instructions for Atlanta Garden's 12 blocks in my Etsy Shop: