Saturday, May 20, 2023

Frances Cunningham Burnes Gehricke's Civil War


Fan quilt attributed to Frances C. Gehricke on the cover
of a catalog from the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell.
Although more patchwork fans than random pieces this show piece is described
as a crazy quilt.

Frances Cunningham Burnes Gehricke (1839-1903)
About the time of the quilt.

Frances Cunningham was born to Rachel Stokes & Robert Wilson Cunningham in New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1839. Her mother died when she was 7 and her father remarried, adding four more children to Rachel's five.

New Castle, 1861

When the war began Frances was in her early 20s, probably assisting her stepmother Caroline Woodward with the younger children. The baby of the large family was another Caroline born in February, 1865. 

The Cunningham Home 

Robert W. Cunningham was an "industrialist," an Irish-born machinist, later an entrepreneur who
did well. Three of Frances's younger brothers enlisted in the Union army.

We assume brother Charles Pomeroy Cunningham is on
the center drum in this photo posted on his FindAGrave site.
Charles was a musician in Company A of the First
Pennsylvania Volunteer Reserve Corps. Brother George played the bugle.

All three brothers survived the war. After the peace Frances, perhaps inspired by war-time nursing, decided to become a doctor, graduating in 1878 from the Woman’s Medical College of New York. Dr. Cunningham married a man named Pealer D. Burnes and worked as a woman's physician in New York. Mr. Burnes, elusive despite his unusual name, disappears from the record leaving only a name she sometimes hyphenated.

Her second husband was Prussian-born Californian Otto Ernest Frederick Gehricke, married in New York in 1883. In 1886 she (they?) moved to Pasadena, California and then to San Francisco. 

1888 City Directory, Pasadena

1893 Interview

1890 ad in the San Francisco Chronicle

In 1891 she filed for divorce; Otto relocated in England and married again.

The quilt is not dated but the style of silk with elaborate embroidery
is seen in the decades 1880-1900, her California years. 
I'd bet more on a Pasadena creation rather than San Francisco.

Many of the pictorial appliques are probably purchased. See more
about the peacock, a popular addition at this post:

The makers of these machine-embroidered applique patches advertised them as perfect for needleworkers with "neither the time nor taste for filling-in the traced outlines with needle and silk."  

"If ladies have no time to embroider...they will find the Kursheedt's embroidered color silk appliques most convenient."

Frances was just the type of busy woman who might have been the customer for these small luxury items. What was she doing in the 1880s and '90s? The newspapers tell us of the Doctor's mission to help poor women with "female trouble," like Kate Griffes who was murdered in a saloon.

Testimony in Kate Griffes's husband's murder trial, summer, 1893

A personal dispute over furniture, debt and financial chicanery, dismissed in 1900,
was extensively covered. Charles deWitt Spencer seems to have
been some kind of a mining con-man and Maude Lord Drake a
spiritualist who led Frances to make unwise investments.

Maude Lord-Drake [1852-1924]

A Tale of Woe

November, 1899

Cannot find a Caroline Gehricke described as a daughter who may actually be a step-daughter or step-daughter-in-law. Another option: a woman with the married name Mrs. Lou Bates, an actress. One of these younger women apparently took the fan quilt to Puerto Rico where it escaped the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to descend in the family, loaned to the Cornell show by Mary Rogers Cain in 1991. 

Mrs. Lou Bates, a witness in the Kate Griffes murder trial.


Women led such interesting lives. And what do you suppose Dr. Gehricke was offering all those poor women with "female troubles?"

January, 1904 record of France's death from "Dropsey," possibly heart disease, at 66.

Frances's FindAGrave file

See more about Frances and Kate Griffes here: 

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