August 1, 2014

"Repurposed" Silk in the Westtown School Archives

The third Westtown School quilt we would like to share with you was made by Alice Comfort Haverstick (1813-1888).  Alice attended Westtown School at age seventeen and was there for six months beginning in October 1830.

View from the South Porch of Westtown School.  Source: Centennial History of
Westtown Boarding School, 1799-1899.

Alice was the sixth of nine children born to Ezra and Margaret Shoemaker Comfort after their marriage in 1800.  She married George M. Haverstick March 4, 1847 in Gwynedd Monthly Meeting, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania..  Alice and her husband had two children: Rebecca born in 1847, and Alice born in 1850.  Alice died February 24, 1888 and is buried in Moorestown, New Jersey.

The Alice Comfort Haverstick Quilt is comprised of pieces of Margaret Shoemaker Comfort's silk dresses and shawls that Alice "repurposed" by piecing and quilting them together.  She bound the quilt with a cotton edging on three sides, producing a quilt that measures 81.5 inches by 89.5 inches.  The quilt's date is unknown.

 
Alice Comfort Haverstick Quilt.  Full length and detail
photographs courtesy of the Westtown School Archives,
West Chester, Pennsylvania.
 
 
Aesthetically, the quilt's muted shades and plain pattern are what many think of as "typically Quaker."  Although evidence of the complexity and variations of colors and patterns found in Quaker quilts often contradicts this plain aesthetic, there were apparently stricter expectations regarding their dress, which was translated effectively from Margaret's clothing into this quilt.
 
Margaret Shoemaker was born in Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, in 1782, the daughter of David and Jane Roberts Shoemaker.  On October 28, 1800, she was married to Ezra Fell Comfort in Gwynedd Monthly Meeting.  Ezra was from an old and distinguished Quaker family and was an eminent and outspoken minister of the Religious Society of Friends.
 
Margaret Shoemaker Comfort.  Source: Public Member
 
Ezra was one of several Quaker ministers who found themselves embroiled in the conflict and debates surrounding the religious schism that took place in Philadelphia in 1827 and split the Religious Society of Friends into two factions, the Orthodox and the Hicksite.  The dispute originated when some Orthodox Friends broke away from the original teachings of the founder of Quakerism, George Fox.  Fox preached that one needed no intermediaries for communion with the Divine; that every individual could be guided by nothing more than the Inner Light.  At the time of the schism, many Orthodox Friends had been called to a more evangelical, Bible-centered approach to their religion - an approach opposed by the followers of Elias Hicks (Hicksites) who believed Friends should remain true to the original precepts of the religion as preached by Fox.
 
Ezra Comfort was firmly on the Orthodox side of the disputes that took place and was one of the ministers who personally confronted and debated with Elias Hicks about the direction of the church and its beliefs.  Differing views on a variety of doctrinal issues surrounding the turmoil were experienced by all members of the Religious Society of Friends at this time.  Margaret, as Ezra's wife and a devoted Quaker, must have found the times unsettling and unpleasant as they brought even close friends and family members into conflict over doctrine.
 
Alice Comfort Haverstick Quilt.  Detail.  Photograph
courtesy of the Westtown School Archives, West Chester,
Pennsylvania.
 
Margaret Shoemaker Comfort died on March 31, 1873 at the age of ninety-two.  The quilt made by her daughter, Alice, provides a fascinating document of the fabrics she wore in her lifetime, as well as a loving tribute to her life.
 
Sources:
 
Accession records, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
 
Ancestry.com census, family tree, and U.S. Quaker Meeting records, accessed 7/10/2014.
 
Dewees, Watson W., Sarah B. Dewees and Sarah Lovett.  Centennial History of Westtown Boarding School, 1799-1899.  Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., 1899.
 
Ingle, H. Larry.  Quakers in Conflict, The Hicksite Reformation.  Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publications, 1998.
 
Note:  The authors apologize to the Westtown School Archives for the depictions of the two detailed quilt photos.  For some unknown reason, the Blogger software "flipped" the images and we could not adjust them. 
 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2014.





 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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