February 18, 2016

Sarah Wistar and the House of Industry

We first discussed Sarah Wistar's quilt in our post of October 30, 2012.  We revisited the quilt in our last two posts when we explored the lives of two of Sarah's relations, Caspar Wistar, her great-grandfather, and the author Owen Wister, a distant cousin.  It is time to turn to Sarah, herself, and her remarkable life in the service of others.

Sarah was born of Richard Wistar (1756-1821) and Sarah Morris (1758-1831) in Philadelphia during the year 1786.  She was their third child, having been preceded by her sisters Catherine (1783-1822) and Rebecca (1784-1812) and followed by a brother Richard (1790-1863).  Neither Sarah nor her two sisters married, spending their lives in Philadelphia as spinsters in a well-to-do, prominent Quaker family.  As such, they devoted much of their time to charitable works.

Sarah's quilt at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, is comprised of ninety-nine blocks inscribed in ink with names, drawings, and sentiments.  Some of the blocks cite charitable organizations with whom Sarah associated during her life.  These included Widowhouse, Pupils of the Deaf and Dumb Institution, Aimwell School, and the House of Industry.

Detail of block in the Sarah Wistar Quilt that refers to the House of Industry.
Photograph courtesy of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska.
The inscription concerning the House of Industry reads as follows:  "In grateful remembrance of the many pleasurable hours spent at the House of Industry.  The social intercourse of its members and the friendships commenced there, which we fondly trust may be mature'd in a brighter world, where, when done with Time, our spirits together with those whom we have endeavor'd to aid, may through Eternity join the ransomed and redeem'd of the land.  This circle of blocks prepared by the members are united by their friend Sarah Wister."
This dedicatory block is surrounded by blocks signed by members of The Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor (who established and ran the House of Industry), and by Ann Oliver Burns who served as Matron to the House for forty years.  (Refer to our posts of June 15 and July 1, 2015 about Ann Burns and The House of Industry Signature Quilt.)
Detail of block in the Sarah Wistar Quilt bearing the name of Ann Oliver Burns, Matron of
the House of Industry at the time the quilt was made.  Photograph courtesy of the International
Quilt Study Center & Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Ann Parrish, along with twenty-three other Quaker women, began what would result in the House of Industry by founding The Friendly Society in 1795.  The House of Industry, itself, was established in 1798 by a group of these women and others who appear in the minutes of the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.  When this group decided to incorporate to increase their funding potential, Sarah Wistar was one of the forty-six unmarried women who obtained a Charter or Act of Incorporation on first month, 12th, 1815.  They called their corporation The Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor.  Relief and employment were provided by the House of Industry where poor women could spin and sew for pay, receive two meals a day, and bring their children along to be cared for in what became the first "childcare center" in America.
Copy of the incorporation document enacted in 1815.  Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
The women's work at the House of Industry was overseen by House Managers.  These women were appointed on a rotating, weekly basis from the membership of The Female Society for the Relief and Employment of the Poor.  House of Industry records obtained from the Quaker and Special Collections at Haverford College indicate that Sarah Wistar was actively engaged as a House Manager from at least 1840 through 1845, the years for which records were requested.  The duties of a House Manager included preparing the materials to be sewn, overseeing the work of the seamstresses to ensure quality, and providing weekly reports of all items produced.  These items were itemized in House reports and include "shirts", chemises, wrappers, bed clothes, pillow cases, petticoats, "comfortables", and quilts.
The names of several of Sarah's 1840-1845 fellow-Managers appear on the blocks of her quilt.  These include Mary Bacon, Mary Beesley, Annabella Cresson, Mary Foulke, Margaret Hart, Eliza Hopkins, Hannah S. Johnson, Martha Morris, Sarah Morris, Anna Morton, Elizabeth Paul, and Julianna Randolph.  Some of the other names on Sarah's quilt are those of additional members of The Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor (who may or may not have served as Managers at the House of Industry).
The Sarah Wistar Quilt, 1842-43.  Photograph courtesy of the International
Quilt Study Center & Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Quaker inscribed quilts normally display the names of many of the recipient's family members.  Sarah's quilt is no exception, but the number of people named on her quilt who were associated with The Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor and its House of Industry points to a group of friends, and an organization, that must have featured largely in Sarah's life.
Sarah's sisters and both of her parents passed away by 1823.  Her brother, Richard, married Hannah Owen Lewis in 1824.  It is not clear where Sarah lived, or with whom, after 1824.  She was not found living in Richard's household at the time of the 1850 census but some early 1860s tax records name both Sarah and Richard and give an address of 1313 Filbert Street in Philadelphia.  The death notice cited below lists this address as her residence at the end of her life.  Wherever Sarah lived at various times in her life, it is clear that she devoted much of her life and time to charitable causes and especially to the House of Industry and The Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor.
Sarah Wistar's grave stone at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia.  Source of
photograph: Find A Grave web site.
Sarah passed away on September 21, 1866 at the age of eighty-one years.  She was buried on September 25th at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.  Her brother, Richard, had predeceased her by three years.  The Philadelphia Inquirer published notice of her death on September 25, 1866 as follows:  "WISTAR - On the 21st instant, at 'Oakland', in the 81st year of her age, SARAH WISTAR.  Her relatives and friends are invited to attend the funeral, this (Third) day, 25th at 10 o'clock, without further notice, from her late residence No. 1313 Filbert Street.  To proceed to Laurel Hill."
Ancestry.com Public Member Family Trees and census records.
Anonymous.  Wistar Family: A Genealogy of the descendants of Caspar Wistar, Emigrant in 1717.  Compiled by Richard Wistar Davids, Philadelphia, 1896.
Chenoweth, Lynda Salter and Mary Holton Robare.  "A Memento of Our Old Matron:  The House of Industry Signature Quilt."  In Blanket Statements, Spring 2014, published by the American Quilt Study Group.
Ducey, Carolyn and Jonathan Gregory.  What's in a Name?  Lincoln, NE: The International Quilt Study Center & Museum, 2012.
Find A Grave web site at http://www.findagrave.com.
Roberg, Madeleine and Joan Laughlin.  Research notes: The Sarah Wistar Quilt (International Quilt Study Center & Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska). 
(c)  Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.


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