Admission ticket to enter the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The ticket
price in 1876 was 50 cents; a significant sum given that the average daily wage of the day
was $1.21. Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
The Centennial Exhibition and its celebration of American independence through force of arms became, at the time, topics of considerable controversy within the Quaker community. Several issues related to the event provided heated discussion and disagreement among both the Orthodox and the Hicksite factions of the faith.
The overreaching concern for both factions was the fact that the Centennial would celebrate an event that occurred as the result of military action and considerable bloodshed. Gideon Frost, a Hicksite from Long Island, wrote in the Friends Intelligencer that the War of Independence had left the country "saddled" with the institution of slavery, which in turn led to a bloody Civil War, and that the Centennial Exhibition would celebrate these events with flag-waving and patriotic music while exhibiting "weapons of carnage" to satisfy the curiosity of attendees. (Bacon, 42.)
These weapons were, in fact, proudly displayed among the United States exhibits in the Centennial Government Building and included naval ordinance, cannon, Gatling guns, small arms, projectiles, and torpedoes. Not only were implements of war exhibited at the exhibition, manufacturers who produced commemorative fabrics celebrating the Centennial included weapons of war among their printed motifs.
Reproduction of one of the fabrics the Cocheco Falls Millworks of New Hampshire
produced in celebration of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition.
Other Centennial fabrics displayed patriotic symbols and scenes commemorative of the War of Independence as well.
Three reproduction examples of fabrics manufactured for the
Centennial bearing patriotic symbols and motifs.
Many of these fabrics, as well as souvenir bandanas, handkerchiefs, scarfs, and flags purchased at the Exhibition made their way into quilts sewn by women who had attended the event or wished to preserve its memory.
Reproduction 1876 Centennial quilt pieced and appliqued by Lynda Salter Chenoweth
and machine-quilted by Maureen Burns, Sonoma, California, 2011. This reproduction is
similar to the quilts women made from Exhibition souvenirs and commemorative fabrics of the time.
Close up of Memorial Hall featured on the center panel of the quilt shown above.
A second issue of concern to the Quaker community was the variety and abundance of alcohol available for consumption in bars and restaurants on the Centennial grounds and among the exhibits of manufacture within exhibition halls. Concerns were also raised about the effect the fashions on display at the event would have on those attending, and the "self-congratulatory" tone implied by exhibits of objects made by the hand of man.
A major controversy also arose over whether or not to close the exhibition grounds on Sundays as was demanded and achieved by some Christian denominations. This decision effectively denied exhibition attendance to working class families whose only "work free" day was Sunday. The Orthodox faction of the Religious Society of Friends found no difficulty with this decision and generally approved. Elias Hicks, founder of the Hicksite faction, had characterized Sabbath observance as "Jewish superstition" and Hicksite writers on this topic reinforced this idea. A battle of words was waged within the Quaker community on both sides of the issue, appearing in letters, journals, newspapers, and other venues. Surprisingly, neither this issue nor any of the others found voice in any Quaker business meetings.
Main Exhibition Building, 1876 Centennial Exhibition, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, PA.
From Ingram, p. 99.
In the end, many Quakers attended and thoroughly enjoyed the Centennial Exhibition. Those living in Philadelphia wrote enthusiastically about escorting visiting friends and relatives through the exhibits and the grounds. Lucretia Mott, for one, was a vocal supporter of the event and saw it as a means to promote peace throughout the world. Mary Jane Hoge Hatcher, a Quaker from Iowa, wanted to attend the event but her husband disapproved because he considered such attendance an act of "excessive frivolity". "One day when her husband was away from home, Mary Jane sold a sufficient number of his prized pure-bred cattle to finance the expedition, and with the proceeds departed hastily for Philadelphia. If controversy greeted her upon her return home, word of it never reached her descendants." (Bacon, 48, citing Sparr.) Mary Jane was reported to have been an extremely enthusiastic visitor to the Centennial Exhibition.
Bacon, Margaret H. "Friends and the 1876 Centennial, Dilemmas, Controversies and Opportunities" in Quaker History, Vol. 66, No. 1 (Spring 1977), 41-50.
Ingram, J.S. The Centennial Exposition, Described and Illustrated, Being a Concise and Graphic Description of the Grand Enterprise Commemorative of the First Centennary of American Independence. Philadelphia: Hubbard Bros., 1876.
Letter of Virginia Sparr to Eleanor Price Mather, 11-17-76. (Cited by Bacon as source of the quote about Mary Jane Hoge Hatcher.)
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.