November 27, 2012

Anne Parrish and the Aimwell School

Anne Parrish was born on October 17, 1760 in Philadelphia, the daughter of a prominent Quaker family.  Her upbringing included dedication to charitable works and, when her parents contracted yellow fever in an epidemic in 1793, she vowed to devote herself to a life of philanthropy should they be spared.  They survived and Anne's first philanthropic act was to create, along with twenty-three friends, a committee called the Friendly Circle.  This group was later known as The Female Society of  Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor.  It was the first women's charitable organization established in America.

The Society opened The House of Industry in 1795, providing poor women with paid employment as spinners and weavers, and giving older women employment as "day care providers" for the children of the women working there.

A year later, Anne and some of her fellow-Quakers founded a school for needy girls later known as Aimwell School for the Free Instruction of Females.  The school was first conducted in Anne's home on North Second Street in Philadelphia.  As the number of students grew, the school was moved to other quarters on the north side of Cherry Street east of 10th Street.

Watercolor of the Aimwell School for the Free Instruction of Females.  The Historical
Society of Pennsylvania (HSP), David J. Kennedy watercolors, David J. Kennedy painter.
Courtesy of the Historical Society of Philadelphia.
The number of students attending Aimwell School varied over time from ten to fifty or more.  Eight Quaker women voluntarily shared the teaching duties, in turn, until the increasing number of students required the help of paid teachers.  The curriculum included reading, writing, arithmetic, and the development of sewing skills.  The Aimwell School survived in various forms and at a variety of locations until 1923.
As was the case in most private boarding and day schools for girls in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the young women at Aimwell learned sewing skills by completing samplers that required the mastery of a variety of stitches for marking domestic linens and that would eventually lead to proficiency in embroidery.  The sampler shown below was worked by Aimwell student Rebecca Bachellor and was completed in 1828.
Sampler worked by Rebecca Bachellor.  The sampler was in the collection of
Joseph and Ann Fassnacht of Canandaigua, New York, and then was  passed to their
daughter and son-in-law, Chris and Linda Montague.  Photograph courtesy of Ann Fassnacht.
Many early Quaker schools are known today for the samplers worked by their students and for the specific teachers who guided these artistic efforts and often determined the motifs representative of their schools.  Samplers were "show pieces" that families kept and passed on to the next generations.  Many of them have survived and, today, they have become collectors' items for both private citizens and museums.
Other sewing skills were also taught at Quaker schools to prepare young women for domestic life and to provide them with a modest means by which they could support themselves.  Two examples of these skills include a Quaker mending and darning sampler showing examples of the stitches used for these domestic tasks (refer to page 114 of Samplers and Samplermakers, An American Schoolgirl Art, 1700-1850 cited below) and a quilt in the collection of the Historical Society of Moorestown, New Jersey.
Quilt made by the students of Aimwell School in 1847 for their teacher, Sarah D. Powell. 
Collection of the Historical Society of Moorestown.  Photograph courtesy of Lisa Hammell,
President of the Historical Society of Moorestown.
This inscribed quilt measures 104 inches by 114 inches and is comprised of blocks known as both Chimney Sweep and Christian Cross in pattern.  Its quilting stitches are even and straight, and it is bound using a woven tape of beige, brown, and yellow.  Woven tape binding brings to mind past discussions of the beige and green "Trenton Tape" associated with quilts of New Jersey.  Once thought to be a local commercial product that suggested a firm New Jersey attribution for quilts bound with it, more recent observations are that woven tape was actually widely produced, even in homes.
Woven tape used to bind the quilt.  Photograph courtesy of Lisa Hammell.
The quilt blocks, including a dedicatory block, are inscribed in black ink.
Block presenting the quilt to Sarah D. Powell.  It reads: "Presented by the Pupils of
the Aimwell School to their Teacher, Sarah D. Powell, 1847."  Photograph courtesy
of Lisa Hammell.
As can be seen by the photographs below, some of the students decorated their name blocks with embellishments in ink.  Also note the clarity and beauty of some of the handwriting.
Photographs courtesy of Lisa Hammell.
The workmanship displayed by this quilt, as well as the inscribed penmanship, indicate that the students of Aimwell School were receiving sound educations in sewing and writing.
We thank Lisa Hammell and the Historical Society of Moorestown for generously sharing this treasure so we could share it with you.
Bacon, Margaret Hope. Mothers of Feminism, The Story of Quaker Women in America.  Philadelphia: Friends General Conference, 1986.
Edmonds, Mary Jaene.  Samplers and Samplermakers, An American Schoolgirl Art, 1700-1850. New York: Rizzoli and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991.
Historical Society of Pennsylvania
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2012.




  1. Always enjoy your posts. Thank you

  2. What is the name on the Bible block? Mary Ann Ward or Worral? Thank you.