February 15, 2013

Mary Jane Clevenger

Mary Jane Clevenger (1831-1904) lived and quilted in Frederick County, Virginia, for many decades.

Mary Jane Clevenger Robinson.  Photograph courtesy
of Barbara Harner Suhay.
One stunning 96 X 96 inch quilt, estimated c. 1850, was passed down in a Quaker family of her descendants.  Its center block has a stamped medallion containing a name that appears as "Mary Jane Clevinger" (more often spelled "Clevenger").  The reverse applique cutout hearts you see here also appear on several other Quaker quilts from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  Other blocks exhibit patterns typical of a popular paper-cutting technique whereby paper is folded and cut into intricate patterns, then unfolded to create a symmetrical design.
Mary Jane Clevenger Quilt, details.  Private collection.  Photographs by Mary
Holton Robare.
As you look at the quilt in its entirely, notice the scalloped border, unusual appliqued sashing that is interrupted along the vertical lines, and the fabulous variety of block patterns.
Mary Jane Clevenger Quilt.  Photograph by Carroll DeWeese.
Mary Jane married Josiah Robinson shortly after the estimated 1850 date of this quilt, and one year after her father, Asa Clevenger, died in California during the Gold Rush.
Mary Jane was especially close to her father who went to California in 1849 with the Charles Town Mining Company.  In fact, according to family letters, Mary Jane wanted to accompanyhim to California but he wrote her, "not for all the gold in California would I have you here [ . . .]."  In a letter to his wife he instructed her to "Tell Mary Jane it is not uncommon for a young woman --for I cannot call them young ladies -- and a man to see each other at a ball in the evening and get married the next day.  The society is very bad here, so much so, that it is not a fit place for any decent female to be."
So Mary Jane stayed in Virginia and became the wife of Josiah, who was a successful farmer and miller at Cedar Grove in Frederick County.
Cedar Grove home of Josiah and Mary Jane Robinson.  Photograph courtesy of
Barbara Harner Suhay.

The couple had six children, three of whom survived.  Members of their families were prominent orchardists and organizers of Winchester, Virginia's Apple Blossom Festival (an annual event since 1924), and Mary Jane and Josiah's great-grandson became a Congressman.
Mary was an active member of her Meeting.  Interestingly, there are several other surviving quilts on which she most likely worked, and we know that quilting was a regular part of the life in her community.  In a letter to her daughter (probably written in the early 1880s) she wrote:  "I have piece[d a quilt] out of your old light dress and Willia's dark [illegible], got red yarn and knapped it [. . .] Ella Marple said I was to tell you she pieced six borders in your comfort and help[ed] half a day to quilt on it."
Thanks to her family's dedication to preserving and honoring their history, we know a little bit more about the life of this Quaker quilter.
Descendant Barbara Harner Suhay with Mary Jane's quilt.  Photograph
by Mary Holton Robare.
Asa Clevenger, letter, 1850.  Private collection.
Mary Jane Clevenger, letters n.d.  Private collection.
Barbara Harner Suhay, personal correspondence.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.

February 1, 2013

Lydia Jane Hollingsworth

As people who continuously encounter fascinating historical Quaker quilts, we try to hold ourselves to current standards of quilt documentation.  We collect measurements of overall dimensions, block dimensions, bindings, borders, and stitches-per-inch.  We quantify and qualify all sorts of data.  But one thing we share is our interest in trying to imagine the life and times of a quilt's maker.  We find this aspect of quilt study rewarding and fun.

In this posting we will visit Lydia Jane Hollingsworth (1826-1879).

Lydia Jane Hollingsworth, at right, with her cousin Phebe A. Russell.  
Photograph courtesy of the Waterford Foundation.

Lydia Jane is notable because her name appears inscribed on not one, but four different-patterned blocks of c. 1850 quilts made in Virginia.

In truth, we cannot say to what extent Lydia Jane Hollingsworth participated in making the quilts on which her name appears.  Did she plan, design, sew, quilt, or even sign her own name?  These questions usually remain unanswered, although in this case we have an example of Lydia's signature that matches the one on her quilt blocks.  Since she signed the wedding certificate of fellow Waterford residents, we can surmise that she actually signed her own quilt blocks.

Wedding certificate of William Williams and Mary Ruth Walker, Fairfax Meeting, dated 
"Nineteenth day of the Fourth Month", 1877.

Detail of wedding certificate showing the signature of Lydia J. Hollingsworth.  Copies
of certificate courtesy of Mary Holton Robare.

Not much is known about Lydia's life but her signature and quilt block inscriptions provide clues. One quilt block contains the inscription, "May Virtue Be Thy Guide, Lydia J. Hollingsworth, Retirement, 1848."

Quaker Friendship Quilt, detail.  Collection of the Loudoun Museum.  Photograph by
Mary Holton Robare.

The word "Retirement" seems odd since Lydia Jane was twenty-four years old at the time.  However, it most likely referred to a location such as the Frederick County, Virginia, farm known in the nineteenth century as "Retirement".

Research tells us that Lydia Jane was a daughter of Lewis and Abigail (Parkins) Hollingsworth.  Her family lived in Frederick County, Virginia, and were members of the Hopewell Meeting.  Lydia Jane moved with her mother and sister to Waterford in Loudoun County, Virginia.  They transferred their membership from Hopewell to Waterford's closest Meeting, Fairfax Meeting, in 1854.

Lydia Jane's name also appears on the Cather-Robinson Quilt, the Steer Family Signature Applique Blocks, and the Pidgeon Family Quilt.

Cather-Robinson Quilt.  Collection of the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University.
Photograph by Mary Holton Robare.

Steer Family Signature Applique Blocks.  Collection of the Waterford
Foundation.  Photograph by Barbara  Tricarico.

Pidgeon Family Quilt, detail.  Collection of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Photograph by Mary Holton Robare.

The names of Lydia's mother and sister also appear on quilt blocks.  In 1860 Lydia was living alone with her mother.  By 1870 Lydia Jane was head of the Hollingsworth-Lee household that included several boarders.  During the Civil War her brother, Robert, was abducted from this dwelling and marched by Confederate soldiers to Castle Thunder Prison.

Lydia Jane never married.  She died of cancer in 1879 at the age of fifty-three and is buried in the Fairfax Cemetery, Waterford, Virginia.  Like many nineteenth-century unmarried women, it is due to her presence in needlework that we have a lasting remembrance of her life.


Divine, John E., with Souders, Bronwen and John.  When Waterford & I Were Young.  Waterford, VA: Waterford Foundation, Inc., 1997.

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.