March 15, 2013

Plain Dress, Vibrant Quilts

Many who have researched nineteenth-century Quaker quilts note the apparent aesthetic inconsistency between the modest clothing of muted colors generally worn by members of the Religious Society of Friends and the colorful vibrancy of some of their quilts.  Authors who have discussed this issue in the context of quilt study include Patricia J. Keller, Patricia T. Herr, and Jessica F. Nicoll.

The rules of conduct expected of Quakers in both their public and private lives were periodically issued by their Yearly Meetings in the form of regional "general advices" and published as "Disciplines".  (Refer to our posting of December 20, 2011 for a description of the organization and activities of Quaker Meetings at all levels.)  The behavior specified by the Disciplines differed somewhat over time and on regional bases, but these generally encouraged Friends to observe moderation in dress and manner, and to avoid superfluity in the way they conducted their lives.  Through the Disciplines, all Quakers were called upon to face the problem of living "in the world, but not of it."

Nineteenth-century Quakers were generally distinquished by the plainness of their dress.  To dress plainly meant dressing in clothing of simple design made with fabrics of muted colors such as dove, grey, cream, and moss green.  Plain dressing also included the general avoidance of decorative elements, such as buttons, long scarves, and "gaudy stomachers", that were considered superfluous. The changing "stlyles" of clothing were also to be avoided so as not to call attention to one's self as someone "of the world".  In America strict adherence to plain dress varied, creating a distinction within the religion between "gay friends" and plain friends".  The gay friends still dressed simply but did not eschew subtle forms of adornment on their clothing and wore more colorful, but still modest, fabrics.

English Quaker Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) wearing the plain dress adopted
by most American Quakers in the early 19th century.  This style of dress generally
included a modest bonnet, floor-length dress or skirt in subdued tones (often made of
silk), cream-colored bodice inserts for skirts, and a shawl.  This picture of Elizabeth Fry
is after a portrait by George Richmond, 1824.  Illustration from The Quaker, A Study in
Costume by Amelia Mott Gummere.
 
"Typical Quaker dress of 1840 and after, with slight variations in the fullness of skirt
  and sleeves.  This costume was worn in Pennsylvania in 1840." Illustration and quote from
Elizabeth McClellan, Historic Dress in America 1800-1870, 1901.
 
 
 
"Old lady in Quaker dress.  The shawl is of a soft fabric called Chenille.  The bonnet
is a grey silk shirred over small reeds.  From a photograph."  Illustration and quote
from Elizabeth McClellan, Historic Dress in America 1800-1870, 1901.
 
 
Women, including Quaker women, have always used in their quilts the left-over remnants from clothes making.  We certainly see such remnants in Quaker quilts of silk, reflecting the muted tones of the fabrics they wore.  (Refer to the Yarnall quilt featured in our posting of April 11, 2012.)  But what about the bright and vibrant cotton fabrics used in many nineteenth-century Quaker quilts?  Were these contrary to rules outlined by Quaker Disciplines?
 
 
 
 
"Album Quilt, #1945-35-1". details.  Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Photographs by
Mary Holton Robare.
 
 
In her Uncoverings article cited below, Mary Holton Robare quotes from a discourse about material culture found in the Baltimore Yearly Meeting's Book of Discipline:  "True simplicity consists not in the use of particular forms, but in fore-going overindulgence, in maintaining humility of spirit, and in keeping the material surroundings of our lives directly serviceable to necessary ends, even though these surroundings may properly be characterized by grace, symmetry and beauty."  Mary goes on to comment that "Beautiful, high quality cottons or chintzes used in quilts fit this directive, and served the tenet of simplicity by lasting longer than fabrics requiring repair or replacement."  (Robare, 197.)
 
We see from surviving examples that colorful quilts seem to have been generally acceptable in Quaker homes in spite of religious dictates related to clothing.  This may have been because clothing presented to the world a reflection of the spiritual state of the wearer and his or her commitment to religious tenets.  The belongings one kept in one's home for private use seem not to have been considered in quite the same way so long as they still reflected simplicity in construction, appearance, materials, and purpose.
 
Given the variety of fabrics that occur in cotton Quaker quilts, one might assume that few of them were derived from clothing fabric.  But certainly many of the fabrics of muted and cream-colored tones could be clothing-fabric remnants.  We also know from Mary Frances (Mollie) Dutton, a Quaker of Waterford, Virginia, that she used many scraps of "red oil calico" (otherwise known as "Turkey red" fabric) in a mid-nineteenth century quilt she made as a girl.  She remarked that "In those days, nearly every baby had a pretty red dress [. . .]"  (Divine, Souders and Souders, 11.)   Further, the Quakers, who were generally well-off and could afford to buy the best fabrics available, purchased fine quality materials to make household items such as bed hangings and curtains.  They also purchased fabric for quilt making as demonstrated by the amount of single-fabric yardage used for backing and other purposes in assembling some of  their quilts.
 
The modesty of Quaker dress was tied to religious beliefs and codes of conduct set forth by the Disciplines.  Some of their quilts, however, while reflecting the concept of simplicity, display a creative impulse to provide functionality and symmetry with the beauty of vibrant color.
 
Sources:
 
Comfort, William Wistar.  Just Among Friends: The Quaker Way of Life.  New York: Macmillan, 1941.
 
Divine, John E., Bronwen C. Souders and John M. Souders.  "To Talk is Treason": Quakers of Waterford, Virginia on Life, Love, Death & War in the Southern Confederacy, From Their Diaries and Correspondence.  Waterford, VA: Waterford Foundation, 1996.
 
Gummere, Amelia Mott.  The Quaker, A Study in Costume.  Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, Publishers, 1901.
 
Herr, Patricia T.  "All in Modesty and Plainness."  In The Quilt Digest, 22.  San Francisco: The Quilt Digest Press, 1985.
 
Keller, Patricia J.  "Of the Best Sort but Plain": Quaker Quilts from the Delaware Valley, 1760-1890.  Chadds Fort, PA: Brandywine River Museum, 1996.
 
Nicoll, Jessica F.  Quilted for Friends: Delaware Valley Signature Quilts, 1840-1855.  Winterthur, DE: Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1986.
 
Lapansky, Emma Jones and Anne A. Verplanck.  Quaker Aesthetics, Reflections on a Quaker Ethic in American Design and Consumption.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.
 
Robare, Mary Holton.  "Cheerful and Loving Persistence." In Uncoverings 2007, 165-206.  Lincoln: American  Quilt Study Group, 2007.
 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.
 

 


March 1, 2013

Philena Cooper Hambleton

Philena Cooper Hambleton was born in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, on September 13, 1822.  Her father, Whitson Cooper, had migrated to Brady Township in Clearfield County after being disowned by the Chester County Bradford Meeting for fathering a child out of wedlock.  Her mother, Rachel Bonner Erskine (also pronounced Askey) was from a Presbyterian Scots-Irish family who had homesteaded on the Susquehanna River near the town of Curwensville.

Philena Cooper Hambleton in 1903.  Photograph courtesy
of the Jerome Walker family.
 
In April of 1835, when Philena was thirteen years old, her father drowned in a rafting accident while transporting lumber on the river, leaving her mother alone with two daughters, two sons, and a third son who was born a month after Whitson's death.  Unable to support her family, Rachel sought the assistance of two of Whitson's sisters who had migrated from Pennsylvania to Columbiana County, Ohio.  Family correspondence indicates that Rachel soon moved to Columbiana County where Whitson's sisters Phebe Cooper Hall and Lydia Cooper Windle shared responsibility for caring for Rachel and her children.
 
Rachel met Reuben Clemson of Lynchburg in West County shortly after the move and they married in 1837.  Reuben had migrated to Ohio from Pennsylvania where he had been a member of the Bradford Meeting along with Whitson Cooper and Whitson's sisters.  Reuben was condemned by the Bradford Meeting for marrying Rachel, who was not a Quaker, but he was later reinstated and continued to follow his faith at the New Garden Meeting nearby in Hanover Township. 
 
Philena and her sister, Phebe, moved into the Clemson home after their mother's marriage and seem to have begun attending meetings of the Religious Society of Friends with their step-father.  It was at the New Garden Meeting that they met their future husbands, Quakers Osborn and Joel Garretson Hambleton.  Philena was the first to marry on March 24, 1842.
 
Philena and Osborn moved to Osborn's parents' property in Butler Township after their marriage.  There, Osborn had rented the mill owned by his father, Benjamin Hambleton, and served as its manager and operator.
 
 
Home belonging to Benjamin and Ann Hanna Hambleton where Osborn and Philena moved
after their marriage.  The home is built of brick but is  now covered by modern siding.  It is located
on the corner of Butler Grange and Winona Roads in Butler Township.  Photograph by Lynda
Salter Chenoweth, 2004.
 
 
The Hambletons were avid abolitionists and members of the New Garden Anti-Slavery Society.  Their house was a station on the Underground Railroad and many were the nights that the family ushered fugitive slaves into their basement under the cover of darkness and up an interior stairway to the attic where they would stay until transported by Benjamin and Osborn to the next "safe house".  Philena probably helped her mother-in-law, Ann Hanna Hambleton, feed and care for the fugitives while they were at the house.
 
Philena and Osborn had two daughters, Angelina and Lorilla, between 1843 and 1847.  When the Hambleton mill burned to the ground sometime around 1850, Osborn decided not to rebuild it but to move the family farther west where land was opening to settlers and inexpensive to purchase.  This he did in 1854 but, before leaving, Philena, members of her family, and her dear friends made her a friendship quilt inscribed with the names of those she would be leaving behind.  Poignantly, one block of the quilt is inscribed:  "Whitson Cooper Died in the Year 1835" -- a testimony to the love Philena still felt for her father almost 20 years after his death.
 
 
Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Tina Frantz "showing" the quilt made for Philena  to
past members of the Dutton family, including Osborn's sister Rachel Hambleton Dutton,
at the Dutton Family Cemetery, McCann Road, Hanover Township, Columbiana County,
Ohio, 2004.  Photograph by Theodore H. Chenoweth.
 
Philena and Osborn migrated to Poweshiek County, Iowa, in 1854.  In 1855, they purchased government land near Searsboro and built a house.  Osborn built and operated a steam mill at nearby Forest Home but it, too, was destroyed by fire after about three years of operation.  (Osborn may have been injured in this fire because local records in Iowa state that he had only one arm.)  After losing the mill, Osborn retired to his land and continued to farm it until his death.  He and Philena remained devoted to the anti-slavery cause while in Iowa.  Osborn founded the Forest Home Anti-Slavery Society in about 1858, serving as President while Philena served on its executive committee.
 

Osborn Hambleton (1818-1882) and Philena Cooper Hambleton (1822-1915). 
Probably taken in Ohio before they left for Iowa in 1854.  Photographs courtesy
 of the Jerome Walker family.
 
 
Two of Osborn's brothers and one of his sisters eventually joined him and Philena in Iowa, and Osborn's parents also migrated to Poweshiek County in 1864.  After Osborn's death in 1882, Philena and their daughter Lorilla, who never married, moved to Illinois to stay with daughter Angelina and her husband Charles F. Craver.  They all moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1907 where Philena died on March 20, 1915.  Her body was taken back to Iowa, to be buried next to Osborn, his parents, and her sister and brother-in-law, Joel G. and Phebe Cooper Hambleton, in the Friends Cemetery at Lynnville in Jasper County near Searsboro.
 
The quilt Philena took with her to Iowa in 1854 remained in the family and was passed down to Philena's daughter, Angelina Hambleton Craver, then to Angelina's son, Arthur Hambleton Craver, and then to Arthur's daughter, Florence Philena Craver Oberholtzer.  When Florence died in Danville, California, in 1995, the quilt was sold as part of an estate sale and ended up in an antique shop in Petaluma, California.  Lynda Salter Chenoweth bought it and spent the next five years researching Philena's life and the lives of those who had inscribed her quilt in 1853.
 
Philena Cooper Hambleton, her grandson Arthur Hambleton Craver, her daughter Angelina
Hambleton Craver, and her great granddaughter Florence Philena Craver Oberholtzer.  Taken at
Harvey, Illinois, 1903.  Photograph courtesy of the Jerome Walker family.
 
 
Source:
 
Chenoweth, Lynda Salter.  Philena's Friendship Quilt: A Quaker Farewell to Ohio.  Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2009
 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.