Covering the War

Covering the War

Covering the War

Since the American Revolution, when men marched off to war women mobilized at home. They raised money for relief, fed their families on limited rations, rallied patriotic spirits, celebrated victory, advocated for peace, built weapons, rolled bandages, comforted the wounded and mourned the dead: Women “covered” many of these activities with quilts. 

With quilts from the Mexican-American War in the 1840s through Operation Iraqi Freedom in recent memory, Covering the War spotlights enthusiastic patriotism and voices for peace; honor for highly ranked officers and enlisted men and women; public support for the Red Cross and private efforts to recover a normal life. The quiltmakers’ voices echoing through these quilts inform us how they experienced the political, economic, psychological and mortal impacts of war. Their quilts remind us that war’s traumas and triumphs are not limited to the battlefields but make their way home, too.

Works in the Exhibition

Works in the Exhibition

Baltimore Album
Maker unknown, dated 1847
Baltimore, Maryland
2005.056.0001, Acquisition made possible by Robert & Ardis James Fund

This quilt honors Major Samuel Ringgold, the first U.S. officer to die in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) at Palo Alto, with a repeated appliqué design of his coffin resting on a catafalque in the Merchants’ Exchange, amidst the trappings of a full-military funeral. The same design honors Colonel William H. Watson, a Baltimore native who died in the Battle of Monterrey. Death assured each officer’s status as a Maryland hero, and in 1861 James Ryder Randall invoked their examples in his poem titled, “Maryland, My Maryland:” “With Ringgold’s spirit for the fray, / With Watson’s blood at Monterey . . . / Maryland!  My Maryland!”

Made by the Ladies of the Fort Hill Sewing Circle, dated 1864
Hingham, Massachusetts
2017.003.0001, Previously from the collection of the Barbara Knapp Trust

The Nine Patch block near the quilt’s center states that this quilt was “presented to the Soldiers.” The U.S. Sanitary Commission stamp on the quilt’s back indicates the quilt was probably sent to wounded Union soldiers in a military hospital. The quiltmakers wrote words of religious encouragement and patriotic sentiment on the quilt, making the quilt a fabric message of physical and spiritual healing and an expression of political support for the war.

Makers Unknown, dated 1898
Probably made in Brown or Milwaukee County, Wisconsin
2014.048.0001, Gift of Bill Volckening

“A War for Liberty & Humanity”

These words in the quilt’s center block express Americans’ perceptions of the Spanish-American War (Apr. 21 – Aug. 12, 1898) as one to liberate Cubans and Filippinos from oppressive Spanish rule. The embroidered signatures of President William McKinley and others on this block continued the tradition of honoring high-ranking political and military officials. Other blocks honor Wisconsin’s enlisted soldiers and sailors (including those killed in the war), prisoners of war, and Navy Medal of Honor recipients. Four hundred Wisconsin civilians’ names also appear, suggesting the quilt was made as a fundraiser to assist the American Red Cross or another war-related relief organization.

Red Cross quilt
Dorcas Sunday School Class, dated 1917
Made in United States
2011.013.0001, Acquisition made possible by Robert & Ardis James Fund

The Dorcas Sunday School Class members’ names are embroidered at the center of this quilt that benefited the Red Cross during World War I. Each one of the more than 500 names on the quilt represent a donation, and the makers auctioned or raffled the quilt to raise additional funds.

By supporting the Red Cross, quiltmakers helped cover the medical and humanitarian needs of soldiers and civilian refugees affected by the war in Europe. 

Madison Township Memorial of the World War
Alice J. Hedderich, circa 1918
Madison Township, Clinton County, Indiana
2012.032.0002, Acquisition made possible by Robert & Ardis James Fund

Alice Hedderich appliquéd blue stars to honor soldiers from Madison Township, Indiana, who served  in World War I. Her gold stars remember the soldiers who fought and died. She added red crosses, probably representing Red Cross nurses who served in the European war. Her quilt is a visual honor roll of the local men and women who served in the war.

Winding Ways
Made for Bundles for Britain
Maker unknown, circa 1930-1940
2008.012.0001, Gift of Helen Kelley

This quilt of everyday fabrics has a trans-Atlantic story that begins during World War II. The German bombing blitz of Britain in 1940-41 destroyed or damaged over a million homes and killed thousands of civilians. Americans donated food, clothing, and bedding to relief organizations that responded to the crisis. The Betterton family received this quilt, wrapped around food. In 2000, Sheila Betterton, textile specialist at the American Museum in Bath, England, felt the quilt should return to the U.S., so she gave it to an American friend who gave it the IQSCM.

Victory Jacket
Maker Unknown, circa 1942-1945
United States
2009.017.0003, Acquisition made possible by Robert & Ardis James Fund 

This jacket belonged to a patriotic American woman during World War II. On the back, the maker sewed on a “V” and “dot, dot, dot, dash”—the letter V in Morse Code and symbol for the country’s Victory campaign. To conserve products needed for military victory, the government instituted rationing and encouraged recycling and “Victory gardens.” The person who sewed the jacket made-do with scraps in patriotic reds and blues.

Whole Cloth
Verena Schmid, dated 1947
Cedar Rapids, Nebraska
2007.020.0001, Gift of Gerald Gordon in memory of the James Gordon family and Verena Schmid

Silky-smooth white fabric is an especially luxurious choice for a baby quilt. Verena Schmid made the quilt for her sister Leona’s son. Gerald (“Jerry”) Gordon. from the parachute his uncle, Bill Gordon, brought home from World War II. Verena transformed an article of war into a covering of peace. Leona wrote this about the quilt: “It was so slick I couldn't use it as Jerry would slide out of the quilt.  Even war has its humor.”

National Peace Quilt
Boise Peace Quilt Project, 1984
Boise, Idaho
On loan from The Boise Peace Quilt Project

The Boise Peace Quilt Project (BPQP) members created the National Peace Quilt from drawings of peace and security contributed by children from all fifty States. In a political move to reach policymakers with their peace message, BPQP members asked each U.S. Senator to spend a night under their quilt and record their dreams and commitments. Sixty-seven senators slept beneath the quilt. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa wrote, “Peace is a process … [that] can only come about by decreasing the fear, insecurity and suspicion we harbor in our own hearts of those with whom we may dialogue.”

Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project quilt
Donna Brittenham and Ann Davis, painted by Arlene Koenig, dated 1987
Made in Nebraska
On loan from Nebraska State Historical Society, O 13118-1

The Army nurse painted on the quilt was the proposed design by Roger Brodin for a Vietnam women veterans memorial. There was a monument of three male soldiers near the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, “The Wall,” in Washington, D.C., but nothing specifically honoring the service of women. A Vietnam veteran Army nurse, 1st Lieutenant Judith Knopp, owned the quilt and coordinated Nebraska volunteer efforts to gain government approval for a memorial. Ultimately, officials chose another design, but the Vietnam Women Veterans Monument was dedicated on Veterans Day, 1993.

Marine Comfort Quilt
Marine Comfort Quilts, 2014
St. Louis, Missouri and Spring Valley, Illinois
On loan from Marine Comfort Quilts

Jan Lang founded Marine Comfort Quilts in 2003 after thinking her Marine son had been killed during the Iraq War (2003-2011). He survived, but she and many volunteers began making quilts for the next-of-kin of each service member killed in the war. Marine Comfort Quilts sent the quilts as messengers to honor the fallen and comfort the grieving. 
This quilt was to honor Lance Corporal Nelson M. Lantigua, who was one of the nearly 4500 American military men and women who died during the Iraq conflict. Unfortunately, Marine Comfort Quilts was unable to locate Lantigua’s next-of-kin. 

Works in the Exhibition

Gallery Photos

Gallery Photos
Gallery Photos
Special Thanks to: Barbara Knapp Trust, Boise Peace Quilt Project, and Marine Comfort Quilts for loaning objects for the exhibition; The Nebraska History Museum and the Nebraska State Historical Society for loaning an object for the exhibition and images from their collections; Pete Maslowski, Ph.D.; David Crews, lighting designer ; Stacey Huber, collections graduate student assistant; IQSCM volunteers; Instructional Design Center, College of Education & Human Sciences, for exhibit label production. Support for this exhibition was generously provided by the FRIENDS of the IQSCM, and the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment through a basic support grant. The Nebraska Arts Council, a State agency, has supported this arts event through its matching grants program funded by the Nebraska legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment.
Event Date
Friday, March 6, 2015 to Saturday, November 21, 2015