July 14, 2014

Another Silk Quilt in the Archives of Westtown School

Last time we introduced you to a silk and cotton quilt completed by  Westtown student Elizabeth Dunn in 1867.  She began her quilt in 1860 while she was a student at Westtown School but this project was unrelated to the School's curriculum.  Needlework, taught to girls in many early Quaker schools, was removed from the Westtown curriculum in 1843.  Elizabeth seems to have initiated her quilt project on her own.

This time we would like to share another quilt in the archival collections of Westtown School in West Chester, Pennsylvania.


Susanna Forsythe Sharpless Quilt.  Photograph courtesy of Westtown School
Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
 
 
This quilt was made by Susanna Forsythe Sharpless and exemplifies the muted color tones favored by 19th century Quaker women in both their silk clothing and their silk quilts.  Newly purchased silk often was used by families and congregations to make wedding quilts for newly married couples.  Silk for quilts also was taken from clothing, such as wedding dresses, or from remnants left over from dress making.
 
Susanna's quilt is comprised of silk and cotton fabrics and measures 93 inches by 93.5 inches.  It has a solid fabric edging in cotton.  We do not know when Susanna made this quilt or if it is associated, in any way, with her marriage to Aaron Sharpless in 1847.
 
Susanna Forsythe was born on May 1, 1815 in East Bradford, Pennsylvania, the daughter of James and Ann Truman Forsythe.  At the age of thirty-two, she became the second wife of Aaron Sharpless at Abington Monthly Meeting nine miles north of Philadelphia near Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.  The date was October 6, 1847.
 
Aaron was six years older than Susanna when they married.  He was born February 13, 1809 to Isaac and Sarah Sharpless, also in East Bradford.  He had been previously married to Susanna Kite, whom he wed in 1835 and who passed away in 1844.
 
Both Aaron and Susanna had long and close ties to Westtown School.  Aaron became a pupil there in 1823 and became a member of the School's Committee in 1846, the year before he married Susanna Forsythe.  Susanna first attended Westtown School in 1829 and was added to the School's Committee in 1864.  From May 1869 though April 1874, the couple served as Superintendent and Matron of the School.
 
Susanna Forsythe Sharpless.  Photograph courtesy of Westtown School Archives,
West Chester, Pennsylvania.
 
Aaron was described in 1899 as "[...] a plain farmer, but of more than ordinary good sense, an elder of discernment and religious experience, and on all practical questions a man of excellent judgment."  Both Aaron and Susanna "[...] represented that of which Westtown was an exponent - good, practical education, and lives of self-denial, dedicated to the service of Truth."  (Dewees, 162.)
 
 
A view of the grounds of Westtown School.  Source:
Wikimedia Commons.
 
Susanna lived to be ninety-two years of age, dying in Chester County, Pennsylvania, on October 8, 1907.  Aaron predeceased Susanna by thirty-one years, dying at the age of sixty-six in Philadelphia on January 14, 1876 - just two years after leaving his position as Superintendent at Westtown School.  Both are buried at the Birmingham Friends Burial Ground, South, in Birmingham, Chester County, Pennsylvania.
 
Sources:
 
Accession records, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
 
"An American Family History:  The Abington Meeting - Early Years" at http://www.anamericanfamilyhistory.com/Walton%20Family/Abington.html.
 
Ancestry.com census, family tree, and U.S. Quaker Meeting Records, accessed 7/6/2014.
 
Dewees, Watson W., Sarah B. Dewees and Sarah Lovett.  Centennial History of Westtown Boarding School, 1799-1899.  Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., 1899.
 
Personal email correspondence between Mary Holton Robare and Mary Brooks, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2014.
 
 

 
 
 


July 1, 2014

Silk Quilts in the Archives of Westtown School

Westtown School, founded in 1799 by members of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, houses a number of archives that include papers, letters, samplers, quilts, art work, and other material relevant to the School's history.  Among these holdings are three silk quilts we would like to share with you.

The first, and the topic of this post, was made by Elizabeth Dunn who was a student at the School from May of 1859 until her graduation in 1865.

The Elizabeth Dunn Quilt.  Photograph courtesy of the Westtown School Archives,
West Chester, Pennsylvania.
 
 
This beautiful quilt is comprised of both silk and cotton fabrics and features six vertical strips in the Tumbling Blocks pattern about 6 inches wide each, separated by five 8 inch wide strips of sage green silk.  An 8 inch wide border of darker silk surrounds the main body of the quilt and displays a one-half inch edging.  Visible on one corner of the quilt is an inscription in cross stitch that reads: "Commenced 1860 / Completed 1867 / E. Dunn."

Elizabeth Dunn Quilt, detail.  Photograph courtesy of the Westtown School Archives,
West Chester Pennsylvania.
 
Elizabeth was born April 23, 1846 in Trenton, Mercer County, New Jersey, the daughter of Phillip Palmer Dunn and Sarah Ellis Decou.  When they enrolled their daughter at Westtown School, Elizabeth was thirteen years old.
 
Westtown was established not only to educate Quaker children but also to provide a "guarded" environment for teaching and passing on the values and precepts of the Religious Society of Friends. It was located about twenty-five miles from Philadelphia in West Chester County on 600 acres of wooded land away from big city influences.  In fact, the School was a full day's coach ride from Philadelphia and its many distractions.
 
View of the woods surrounding Westtown School today.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.
 

The year after Elizabeth enrolled at Westtown she began work on her silk and cotton quilt.  One can imagine the tranquility of the environment, when not pursuing the rigorous study expected of Westtown students, and how the environment may have lent itself to the quiet pleasure of quilt making.  The quilt probably occupied Elizabeth's free time off and on throughout her stay at Westtown - time that may have been hard to come by given her studies and her role as an assistant teacher during 1865.  She finally completed the quilt in 1867, two years after leaving the School.
 
Elizabeth may have been inspired to complete the quilt in anticipation of her marriage to Thomas Alsop Bell on September 17, 1868 at Chesterfield Monthly Meeting in Burlington County, New Jersey.  Whatever provided the impetus to finish the project she began as a young girl, the quilt survived these many years and is back at Westtown where Elizabeth was when she began making it.  We would like to believe that the quilt provided fond memories of Westtown School throughout Elizabeth's life.  She passed away in 1898, one year before the death of her husband.
 
Sources:
 
Accession records, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
 
Ancestry.com census, family tree, and U.S. Quaker Meeting Records, accessed 6/25/14.
 
Dewees, Watson W., Sarah B. Dewees and Sarah Lovett.  Centennial History of Westtown Boarding School, 1799-1899.  Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., 1899.
 
Personal email correspondence between Mary Holton Robare and Mary Brooks, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
 
Smedley, Susanna Assisted by Anna Hartshorne Brown.  Westtown Through the Years: Catalog 1799-1945. Westtown, PA: Westtown Alumni Association, 1945.
 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2014.