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.


  1. Nice to know a little about the woman behind such lovely blocks - thanks :)
    Every Stitch

  2. I have an 1846 Ohio Quaker friendship quilt I'm trying to learn more about.