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:

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