Partisan Pieces

Partisan Pieces

“Politics makes for strange bedfellows,” wrote Charles Warner, editor of the Hartford Courant in 1850. By extension, politics makes for sometimes strange, and always interesting, bedcovers. The quilts of Partisan Pieces made in the 1800s and 1900s illuminate the progress of U. S. political development from the perspective, and from the needles, of well-informed and patriotic women. 

Before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 the United States Constitution did not allow women to vote. Indeed, until the late 1800s, neither women’s work nor opinions were broadly valued unless they had to do with family, house, and home. The quilts in Partisan Pieces are undeniable expressions of women’s political and patriotic opinions—sensibilities portrayed with needle and thread.

Featured Works

Featured Works

Redwork quilt
Dated 1888
Maker Unidentified
Fort Scott, Kansas
Gift of Eli Leon Trust, IQM 2019.042.0046

Redwork quilts, or quilts composed of outline embroidery stitches in red thread, were popular as fundraising quilts in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The blocks are composed of various stitched geometric outlines which created spaces meant to hold a number of individuals’ names and, as in this quilt, the names of local businesses. Each entity paid a standard amount for the privilege of including their name. Members of the Fort Scott Methodist Church organized and made this quilt: they likely gave the money they raised to the church.

detail of Redwork quilt
Dated 1888
Maker Unidentified
Fort Scott, Kansas
Gift of Eli Leon Trust, IQM 2019.042.0046

The block in the Redwork quilt acts as an undeniable record of support for women activists and their causes.

Crazy quilt
Circa 1889
Mary T. H. Willard
Evanston, Illinois
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 1997.007.0318

This wool Crazy quilt is related to longtime Women's Christian Temperance Union President Frances Willard – made by her mother as a gift for her 50th birthday.

Album quilt
Dated 1879-1891
Maker Unidentified
United States
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 2006.043.0019

This pink and white Album block includes names of a number of women activists amidst many others, indicating a high level of support from contemporary women.

Mexican Rose quilt
Circa 1840-1860
Maker Unidentified
Possibly made in Kansas
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 1997.007.0484

This quilt, appliquéd in the Mexican Rose pattern, may have been produced to honor a friend or family member who served in the war between Mexico and the United States (1846-1848). Or it could have been motivated by the patriotic passions stirred up at that time. As we know nothing about its maker, we can only surmise her motivations from the name of the pattern and its estimated date, which corresponds to the years immediately following this war.

Giddap
Circa 1940-1950
Maker Unidentified
United States
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 1997.007.0476

The Donkey quilt pattern became a symbol of partisan politics in 1931 when published by the Kansas City Star. It was the result of readers’ requests after an elephant pattern titled “Ararat, A Swope Park Elephant" was interpreted as a Republican symbol (though it was designed as a commemoration of a Kansas City zoo occupant). "Giddap, a Very Democratic Donkey" was published in July, just in time for the presidential campaign of 1932.

Original, Landon/Knox quilt
Circa 1936
Maker Unidentified
Possibly made in Kansas
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 1997.007.0488

This unusual quilt is clearly an expression of partisan political support. All of the fabric pieces in the central diamond bear a stamped design that includes a sunflower (the Kansas state flower), an elephant (symbol of the Republic party since 1874), and the names of the 1936 Republican presidential and vice-presidential candidates: Alf Landon and Frank Knox. Landon, a Kansas native, was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Though this maker was likely disappointed in the election results, she nevertheless commemorated the event with her unique quilt. Not only was she practicing a time honored means of expression, but she designed it to match the abstract, modernistic aesthetic of her day.

Crazy quilt
Circa 1915-1925
Maker Unidentified
Possibly made in Ohio
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 1997.007.0516

Numerous political ribbons stitched into this crazy quilt mention the state of Ohio, and thus may indicate its geographic origin. Most of the campaign and convention ribbons date from the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Some ribbons announce reunions of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization dedicated to Union Civil War veterans. Others are convention souvenirs for the Women’s Relief Corps (WRC), an auxiliary of the GAR. Together these ribbons provide a glimpse of the political affiliation of the maker and her family.

Nine Patch quilt
Dated November 1864
Probably organized by Charlotte and Susan Hussey
Probably made in Detroit, Michigan
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 1997.007.0569

The center block of this Civil War era quilt holds a statement of support for the Union forces with a shield and the words, “Rally round the flag boys! Rally once again!” The phrase is taken from the song, “Battle Cry of Freedom,” written by George Root in 1862. The shield is a recognized symbol of the United States: the horizontal blue area at the top represents the president and congress, which are supported by the united states, symbolized by the red and white stripes.

Charlotte Hussey and her daughter Susan signed the center block. They may have planned the project as a gift or memorial for Charlotte’s son Augustus, who was injured and imprisoned at the Andersonville prison in Georgia, or it may have been made as a donation to support Union troops. The unusual shape is similar to cot quilts requested by the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a relief agency created to support Union soldiers during the war. Additional family members and friends, in locations from Massachusetts to California, each signed and dated a block.

Flag quilt
Circa 1985
Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) Club
Clinton and Boligee, Greene County, Alabama
Robert and Helen Cargo Collection, IQM 2000.004.0113

The repetition of the flag block in this quilt creates an overall striking visual representation of American patriotism. RSVP is part of Senior Corps, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, an independent federal agency created to connect Americans of all ages and backgrounds with opportunities to give back to their communities and their nation. It was founded in 1961 and remains active today.

Eagle quilt
Circa 1880-1900
Maker Unidentified
United States
Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection, IQM 2008.040.0080

In 1782, the bald eagle, native only to North America, was declared the national bird of the United States. The eagle is often portrayed, as it is in this quilt, with an olive leaf or branch in its beak. This quilt may have been made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The combination of bright orange, red, and yellow was a favorite of Pennsylvania quiltmakers of German ancestry. It is possible that the maker was of Germanic heritage or was familiar with the distinctive Pennsylvania German style of decorative arts.

Stars of Stripes
Circa 1941
Maker Unidentified
United States
Patricia Cox Collection, IQM 2012.013.0027

This patriotic pattern of red, white, and blue stars was designed in 1941 by “Aunt Martha,” a pseudonym used by a Kansas City, Missouri quilt pattern company. It was distributed through newspapers and popular magazines beginning in the early 1940s. The maker may have been inspired to make a quilt after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which led to America’s entry into World War II.

The Flag Quilt
Circa 1920
Sarah Dorthula Hooper Taylor
Nashville, Tennessee
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation, IQM 2014.063.0001

The American flag is an enduring symbol of American patriotism. Sarah Dorthula Taylor (1862 - 1940) used cotton tobacco sacks in an original design she simply called "The Flag Quilt". She removed the bags’ seams, opened them and dyed them red and blue, along with the matching thread she used to quilt the piece. The 48 stars were hand-appliquéd using a buttonhole stitch.

Carpenter’s Star variation
Circa 1932
Maker Unidentified
Possibly made in Tacoma, Washington
Gift of Eli Leon Trust, IQM 2019.042.0031

Lottie Jane Bronson, along with her husband Marion, inscribed a central block of this red, white, and blue Star quilt with the dates Feb. 22, 1732 – 1932, commemorating the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. Lottie Jane and Marion, a World War I veteran, lived in Tacoma, Washington, and may have been celebrating the namesake of their home state or merely expressing their admiration of the first president of the United States. While we do not know who constructed this quilt, the inscribed names identify the Tacoma families who contributed to the creation of this patriotic quilt.

Featured Works
Support for this exhibition has been provided by the following sponsors, and by contributions from visitors like you. Thank you to the Nebraska Arts Council and Nebraska Cultural Endowment, Friends of the International Quilt Museum, and Creta Warner. The Nebraska Arts Council, a state agency, has supported this exhibition through its matching grants program funded by the Nebraska Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. Visit www.artscouncil.nebraska.gov for more information.
Event Date
Wednesday, July 1, 2020 to Sunday, July 5, 2020