"Pretty Much to Suit Ourselves": Midwestern Women Naming Experience Through Domestic Arts

By SUSAN S. ARPAD

In 1916 Susan Glaspell published a play about rural and small town midwestern women called "Trifles,"1 The play begins when three men, the sheriff, the county attorney, a neighbor and two women, the Sheriff's wife and the neighbor's wife, enter the gloomy kitchen of John Wright's farmhouse.

The men are there to investigate the murder of John Wright, who had been found by his wife when she awakened the previous morning, lying beside her, strangled by a rope. When asked who did this, Mrs. Wright said she didn't know, even though she was sleeping in the bed with her husband. "I was on the inside," she said, and "I sleep sound."

Mrs. Wright has been charged with murder and locked in jail; the three men have come to her house to find evidence and a motive for the murder. The two women have come to the farmhouse to straighten up and to pack some things to take to Mrs. Wright in jail. As the women go about their work, one of the men dismisses their concerns about preserves and quilts with the comment, "Well, women are used to worrying over trifles." The men move authoritatively through the house, yard, and barn looking unsuccessfully for clues.

In the meantime, the women reconstruct Mrs. Wright's life by reading the domestic clues with which they are familiar. When they gather her worn clothes to take to the jail, one woman comments,

                                       Wright was close. I think maybe that's why she kept so much to herself . . . I suppose she felt she couldn't do her part,
                                       and then you don't enjoy things when you feel shabby. She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively when she was
                                       Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir.

When they look at Minnie's partly finished quilt top, they noticed something wrong:

                                       All the rest of it had been so nice and even. And look at this! It's so all over the place! Why, it looks as if she didn't
                                       know what she was about!

They find a bird cage with the door partly pulled off and remember a man selling canaries last year. They notice how lonely and bleak the house is and they speculate about what Minnie's life was like. As they sort through the quilt pieces, they discover a fancy box, inside of which, wrapped in a piece of silk, is a dead canary, its neck wrung. Again, the women discuss what Minnie's life must have been like and they talk about their own similar experiences:

                                       Mrs. Peters: (In a whisper) When I was a girl- my kitten . . . there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes . . .
                                       and before I could get there . . . (covers her face an instant). If they hadn't held me back I would have . . . (catches
                                       herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly) . . .hurt him.

                                       Mrs. Hale: If there'd been years and years of nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful - still, after the
                                       bird was still.

                                       Mrs. Peters: (Something within her speaking) I know what stillness is. When we homesteaded in Dakota, and my
                                       first baby died - after he was two years old, and me with no other then -

                                       Mrs. Hale: Oh, I wish I'd come over here once in a while! That was a crime! That was a crime! Who's going to punish
                                       that? . . . I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be - for women. I tell you, it's queer, Mrs. Peters.
                                       We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things - it's all just different kind of the same
                                       thing -

One of the women takes the erratic stitches out of the quilt top; they carry the fancy box containing the canary's body away from the house in a coat pocket. As they leave the house, the men joke facetiously that even though they haven't found the clues they sought they did learn something about quilting.

Glaspell's play is currently undergoing a revival of popularity among the feminist scholars because it illuminates a problem that many women have experienced, but few have been able to articulate. Women, particularly those women who devote themselves to domestic work, live in a symbolic universe that is very different from the symbolic universe inhabited by most men.2 The symbols that make up these two disparate worlds, including material culture, language, arts, customs, habits and beliefs, appear strange and unimportant to members of the other sex. The men in Glaspell's story could dismiss the women's conversation and work as "trifling" and without significance. What makes Glaspell's story so interesting to feminist scholars is the unusual suggestion of the story that the men's inability to understand the women's world is a handicap; it causes them to fail in their quest. On the other hand, familiarity with and respect for this woman's world allows the women to reconstruct the motives and events leading up to the murder. The play's ending suggests, further, that the failure of the men to understand the women's world and the women's point of view causes such an alienation between men and women that wives will lie to their husbands to protect a woman who has murdered her husband. The play reminds us that reality is perceived from many points of view and that the dominant point of view is not necessarily the most valuable or useful one.

For the past several decades feminist historians have been collecting evidence about women's historical experiences in an effort to reconstruct the story of the American past from women's points of view. The result may be a radically different story that the one to which we are accustomed. As Annette Kolodny points out, for instance, the conventional popular literary history of American frontiers from a male point of view has told the story as the psycho-erotic journey of conquest of a lone frontiersman into a virgin wilderness, while the same story from a female point of view has imagined the frontier experience as idealized domesticity, "locating a home and a familial human community within a cultivated garden."3

For the past several years, I have been examining domestic arts created by rural midwestern women between approximately 1830 and 1920 in order to reconstruct these women's experiences from their own points of view. I have looked at both literary artifacts (diaries, letters, reminiscences, and oral histories) and material cultural artifacts (especially quilts and other needlework, photographs, and gardens). These arts have been labelled as the lesser arts or domestic arts by art experts and, partly because of this denigration, these arts have been left mostly to women. Because these domestic arts were largely controlled by women, they provide a valuable indication of women's experience - what happened to them and what meaning they found in their experiences.

Needlework is, perhaps, the primary woman's art Women have defined by the needlework they do and, in turn, they use the major metaphors of their lives to shape their needlework. For instance, in many reminiscences, a woman's needlework is an index of her role and status in the community. An Ohio woman who was a pioneer in the Firelands area was memorialized with these words:

                                       Her life has been one continual round of work. She wove and spun long after the hum of the wheel and the clash of the
                                       loom had died away in most homes. In the last fourteen years she has pieced and quilted 102 quilts, and many are the
                                       homes that possess a quilt, or rug, doll, or some other piece of her handiwork.4

Marguerite Ickis recorded this story from her great-grandmother, who lived in Ohio, and who talked about a quilt she had made that was later handed down in the family:

                                       It took me more than twenty years, nearly twenty-five, I reckon, in the evening after supper when the children were
                                       all put to bed. My whole life is in that quilt. It scares me sometimes when I look at it. All my joys and all my sorrows
                                       are stitched into those little pieces. When I was proud of the boys and when I was down-right provoked and angry with
                                       them. When the girls annoyed me or when they gave me a warm feeling around my heart. And John too. He was
                                       stitched into that quilt and all the thirty years we were married. Sometimes I love him and sometimes I sat there hating
                                       him as I pieced the patches together. So they are all in that quilt, my hopes and fears, my joys and sorrows, my loves
                                       and hates. I tremble sometimes when I remember what that quilt knows about me.5

Another woman, a nineteenth-century farm woman, said about the importance of her needlework, simply, "I would have lost my mind if I had not had my quilts to do."6

Far from being the mindless work that quilts are often thought to be, women carefully chose their patterns, piecing small and varied bits of fabric in a way that created order out of chaos, giving meaning to lives that, for many women must have been experienced as fragmented and chaotic. A late nineteenth century character, Aunt Jane of Kentucky, talked about this process of women controlling their arts:

                                       You see, you start out with just so much caliker; you don't go to the store and pick it out and buy it, but the neighbors
                                       will give you a piece here and a piece there, and you will have a piece left every time you cut out a dress, and you take
                                       what happens to come and that's predestination. But when it comes to cuttin' out why you're free to choose your
                                       patterns. You can give the same kind o'pieces to two persons, and one will be a Nine Patch and one'll make a Wild
                                       Goose Chase and there'll be two quilts made out o' the same kind of pieces, and jest as different as they can be, and
                                       that is just the way with livin'. The Lord send in the pieces, but we can cut 'em out and put 'em together pretty
                                       much to suit ourselves.7

In addition to sewing, gardens seem to have provided women with an important outlet for their creativity and a form for expressing their view of the world. Certainly, in women's records of their pioneering experiences, they write in detail about the specific plants they carried to their new homes and the arrangements of those plants. Mary Dodge Woodward of North Dakota, wrote lovingly in her diary in 1888,

                                       My red, old-fashioned peonies have stuck their pink noses out of the ground. I covered them up last night. I have
                                       watched them ever since I was a little girl: in Vermont, in Wisconsin, and now in Dakota Territory where they still
                                       thrive. Anything that can live in this cold country should be reverenced. The rose-colored one and the white one are not up yet. I shall see them later.8

Again, women were defined by their communities in symbolic language of flowers and textiles, as was this Ohio woman in a reminiscence:

                                       Mrs. Holiday lived to a good old age, loved and respected by all who knew her. Hollyhocks and other old time
                                       flowers bloomed around her, and loom and spinning wheel made merry music within her humble dwelling . . . 9

The connection between quilting and flowers seemed a natural one. One quilter described her first quilt this way:

                                       Before we was old enough to sew, Mama taught us to garden . . . when we were just small, we each had a little
                                       flower garden to tend. Mama loved flowers, but she didn't have time to work them herself, so she put us little
                                       kids to learning gardening on flowers.

                                       Well, we quilted in the winter mostly. And when it came time for me to piece my first quilt, it was a Flower
                                       Garden. My fingers just wanted to work flowers. All the pieces in my first quilt was flowered prints.10

Women used the imagery of flowers and gardens to express their fantasies of orderliness, control, and renewal and their dreams of beauty and gaiety.

Among literary forms, diaries, letters, and reminiscences have been the primary genres that women have used to record their experiences and the meaning they found in those experiences; in recent decades, oral histories of women have provided additional verbal record of women's lives. In my survey of all of these artifacts, certain themes and images are repeated; it became evident that women did have an aesthetic - a universe of symbolic meanings - that caused them to shape their art work in certain ways, to repeat certain themes, and to value certain ideas.

The first and most obvious of the themes prominent in women's domestic arts is the focus on home and family. With the advent of the industrial revolution, men's and women's roles along with their workplaces diverged dramatically. Men went out into the "world" to work, while women's roles and women's work was confined to the home. During the nineteenth century a so-called "cult of domesticity" defined a woman's role as responsibility for keeping the home and family. When Mary Samuella Curd left Virginia in 1860 to live with her husband in the frontier state of Missouri, this is what she wrote in her diary on the day she and her husband left her relatives and headed west:

                                       from this time the Scenes & whole Tenor of my life would change. I would soon turn my face Westward away
                                       from the scenes of home and childhood, a new sphere of action would open before me, and on me in great
                                       measure must depend the making of a home happy or miserable.11

A woman who emigrated to Kansas in 1879 remembered making the trip against her will. She went because she said, "the characteristic disposition of the male prevailed ." But as soon as she arrived at what must have appeared a rough and bleak frontier, she began to transform it in her mind's eye into a new home. In her reminiscence, written fifty years after the event, she wrote:

                                       We arrived in Winfield one beautiful Sabbath morning, and to the ringing of the church bells, we wended our
                                       way through the attractive hamlet to . . . a beautiful spot on a mound south of the town. As we gazed with rapture
                                       over the beautiful valley, encircled by a fine stream of water, we felt that instead of the wild West, we have found
                                       God's own country, and were quite content to accept it as our future home.12

Women's art work shows this same concern for homes and domestic themes. Again and again we see houses, domestic animals, domesticated land depicted in the subjects portrayed in the needlework, as well as in the names given to patterns. Homes, families, and homey objects are depicted with a humor characteristic of a woman's vision.

In fact, the theme of humor belies a common stereotype of women as prudish nags. As an example, here is a quote from Ellen Aultman's diary, written by a rural northwestern Ohio woman who shows great forbearance for her husband's weaknesses.

                                       February 22, 1901. Friday. Cold. This is Washington's Birthday. There is no school today, it is a holiday.
                                       We went over to Payson's entertainment. Baked cookies and pie. I and Theora walked over to the Beeker
                                       School House. Payson put the entertainment off 2 weeks so we had our walk for nothing. Payson brought us
                                       home in the cutter . . . Geo's back was so lame that he couldent go to the entertainment but after I had gone, he
                                       and Grace and Blanche went over to Jim Brandeberry's to a dance Diden't get back till after 3 o'clock the next
                                       morning. That is a new cure for lame back. He hasent had any sign of it since. What do you suppose I think of
                                       such work. They had an oyster supper. His back was so lame before that he couldent do only certain things. I
                                       had to rub it with linement and keep hot plates on it. I believe I will have the receipt published in the county paper
                                       for the benefit of others that is troubled with lame back.13

Women's art celebrates life, home, and family. The motif of the tree of life is one of the most common in early needlework. But the tree of death - the willow tree - also appears frequently because women's lives were deeply touched by death. Death was experienced differently by men and women. As the caretakers of the dying and the bodies of the dead, women probably experienced death more immediately. Deaths of husbands frequently left women feeling useless as well as vulnerable. When Sam Curd's husband died in 1863, barely three years after their marriage, she stopped writing in her diary and only after a year had passed did she write a final entry about her grief.



                                       June 15, 1863 Since I last wrote, time to me has not been measured by the brief span of days & weeks; it has
                                       draged its "weary length along" with such heaviness, that I can scarcely be convinced that only 13 months have
                                       passed away since the death of my dear husband. Oh! God what hours of gloom & thick darkness, of loneliness
                                       bordering at times on despair, of weariness, feeling at night as if my days, had been of toil, & awakening with the
                                       same crushing consciousness, that I was widowed, a feeling which if language were exhausted no idea could be
                                        given of its full import. God & myself only know what I have felt to be - a widow.14

Women frequently experienced a life-long grief at the death of an infant child. This story, told in reminiscence of a woman in Huron County, Ohio during pioneer days, was probably true of the feelings of many women:

                                       During their early life in the woods a little child, the baby sickened and died. Upon retiring for the night, the
                                       broken-hearted mother had placed the little form of her baby in the drawer of the old-fashioned bureau, that it
                                       might be safe and undisturbed.

                                       Missing her baby in the night, though still asleep, she had arisen from her bed, and, taking the baby from its
                                       resting place, began to fondle and caress it, when she suddenly awakened, to find but a cold and lifeless image,
                                       instead of the living, breathing baby of which she had dreamed.15

The large number of photographs of dead infants extant in private and public collections attests to the importance of infant deaths in the world of women. Scholars who have studied diaries of women written during the mid-nineteenth-century migration west indicated that women were greatly concerned with death (for instance, many women diarists counted the number of graves they passed on their journey westward) and that they frequently used language of death and dying to indicate their intense grief at parting from loves ones who stayed home.16 When Lodisa Frizzel began the overland trip west with her husband, she wrote in her diary:

                                       Who is there that does not recollect their first night when started on a long journey, the well known voices of
                                       our friends still ring in our ears, the parting kiss feels still warm upon our lips, and that last separating word
                                       Farewell! sinks into the heart. It may be the last we ever hear from some or all of them, and to those who
                                       start . . . there can be no more solemn scene of parting only at death.17

Another central theme in women's art is the theme of friendships with other women - mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg has written that as men's and women's roles diverged in the nineteenth century, husbands and wives had less and less in common and each tended to bond with same-sex friends.18

Women performed important tasks with and for each other: in sickness, childbirth, in the rituals of death as well as birth, and in friendship and laughter. Life on the frontier was especially lonely for women, who missed the company of other women. Mollie Sanford wrote in her diary soon after she moved to Nebraska:

                                       I do try to feel that it is all for the best to be away off here. I can see and feel that it chafes mother's spirit . . .
                                       If the country would only fill up . . . We do not see a woman at all. All men, single or bachelors, and one gets
                                       tired of them.19

Interestingly enough, the communion that women shared often included the doing of art work, such as at a quilting bee. A woman from Ohio described in a letter in 1841, such an event after a long, cold winter when women were forced to stay at home:

                                       We have had a deep snow. No teams passed for over three weeks, but as soon as the drifts could be broken
                                       through, Mary Scott sent her boy Frank around to say she was going to have a quilting. Everybody turned out.
                                       Hugh drove on to the Center, where he and several other men stayed at the Tavern until it was time to come
                                       back to the Scotts' for a big supper and the evening . . . One of Mary's quilts she called 'The Star and Crescent'.
                                       I had never seen it before. She got the pattern from a Mrs. Lefferts, one of the new Pennsylvania Dutch families,
                                       and peiced it this winter . . . Her other quilt was just an old fashioned 'Nine Patch'. 20

The design of some quilts expressed this pattern of women's friendships directly in what was called the friendship quilt. These were made when a woman married or when she moved away; her friends each created one or more blocks that were sewn together and quilted.

The act of doing communal work with other women was an important part of women's lives. One young Iowa pioneer reported, "I went to Mrs. Low's quilting. There was 15 to quilt. Had 2 quilts and there was indeed merry faces about them."21 Another woman wrote: "This afternoon I go to Sewing Society at Mr Pierces. I suppose the affairs of the town will be discussed over the quilt."22 It was at meetings such as these that women could share their anxieties without being told that their concerns were trifling; here they could communally affirm women's view of the world and, perhaps, even attack male society. When we see the startling effects created by Amish women in their quilts, it is difficult to avoid the speculation that in their domestic artwork these women make a statement in opposition to their male-dominated culture.

It is, in part, the communality of quilting - the sharing of designs, plans, patterns, innovations, even materials and methods - that have designated women's arts as not "high art." At the same time, the emotional attachments that the artwork symbolized gave meaning to their art for many women. Aunt Jane of Kentucky expressed this feeling when she said,

                                       There is a heap of comfort in making quilts, just to sit and sort over the pieces and call to mind that this is
                                       of a dress of a loved friend.23

Out of these disparate pieces of their lives, women used their arts to create meaning and order. This is the way one woman quilter expressed that meaning:

                                       You can't always change things. Sometimes you don't have no control over the way things go. Hail ruins
                                       the crops, or fire burns you out. And then you're just given so much to work with in a life and you have to
                                       do the best you can with what you got. That's what piecing is. The materials is passed on to you or is all you
                                       can afford to buy . . . that's just what's given to you. Your fate. But the way you put them together is your
                                       business. You can put them in any order you like.24

Through their arts women gained a sense of integrity and order in what many of them must have experienced as a fragmented existence.25 In a recent article about a farm woman's work in 1850, John Mack Faragher lists the tasks of women:

                                       Nearly all of the food consumed by farm families was a direct product of women's work in growing, collecting,
                                       and butchering. An acre or so of improved land near the house was set aside for the domestic garden . . . that
                                       required daily attention . . . Wives and daughters were also traditionally responsible for the care of henhouse and
                                       dairy . . . Women milked, tended, and fed the animals. The milking and the manufacture of butter and cheese was
                                       one of their central tasks . . . Food preparation was, of course, women's work . . . Women cooked on the open hearth,
                                       directly over the coals; it was low, backbreaking work that went on forever; a pot of corm mush took from two to
                                       six hours with nearly constant stirring . . . Water had to be carried to the house, sometimes from quite a distance,
                                       and that invariably was women's work. Domestic work - house cleaning, care of the bedding, all the kitchen work,
                                       in addition to responsibility for decorating and adding a 'woman's touch' - was a demanding task under the best of
                                       circumstances, and farms offered far from the best. The yard between the kitchen and barn was always covered with
                                       enough dung to attract hordes of summer houseflies. In those days before screen doors, kitchens were infested; men
                                       and women alike ignored the pests. In wet months the yard was a mess of mud, dung, and castoff water, constantly
                                       tracked into the house.26

The form of both diaries and quilts - fragmented into small, discrete segments - reflects the fragmentation of women's lives. Here is a single diary entry from an Ohio woman - the same Ellen Aultman whose husband's backache was miraculously cured by a dance and oyster supper.

                                       Saturday, January 26, 1901. Cloudy, Snowing this aft. The old black sow had pigs today. I made 4 pies, baked
                                       cookies, ironed. Blanche mopped, Grace cleaned front room and up stairs. The men went to corners tonight.
                                       Geo. got 4 lb. sugar, 24 c, butter, 2 lb. 36 c. tablecloth, 50 c, tea 15 c, coffee 18c, thread 5c . . . Blaine hauled
                                       feed and wood; cleaned stable. Geo. cut wood. Lew Householder is about dead with consumsion.27

Birth, economics, work, family, and death are all mentioned in this one small fragment of a woman's life - a single day.

For these women, their domestic arts provided forms and symbols that allowed them to create order in lives they may have experienced as disordered - a way of integrating the fragments of their lives and expressing its meaning. Quilters frequently talk about art work immortalizing the artist, as does Aunt Jane of Kentucky:

                                       I've been a hard worker all my life, . . . but 'most all my work has been the kind that 'perishes with the usin', as
                                       the Bible says. That's the discouragin' thing about a woman's work. Milly Amos used to say that if a woman was
                                       to see all the dishes that she had to wash before she died, piled up before her in one pile, she'd lie down and die right
                                       then and there. I've always had the name o'bein' a good housekeeper, but when I'm dead and gone there ain't anybody
                                       goin' to think o' the floors I've scrubbed, and the old clothes I've patched, and the stockin's I've darned. Abram might
                                       'a' remembered it, but he ain't here. But when one o' my grandchildren or great-grandchildren sees one o' these quilts,
                                       they'll think about Aunt Jane, and, wherever I am then, I'll know I ain't forgotten.28

Quilts also immortalize memories of individuals and communities important to the quilter - those who make up the human context within which the artwork was created.

                                       Different ones of my family are always appearing from one of these bags. Just when you thought you'd forgotten someone,
                                       well, like right here . . . I remember that patch. That was a dress that my grandmother wore to church. I sat beside her
                                       singing hymns, and that dress was so pretty to me then. I can just remember her in that dress now.29

For these women, domestic arts had an integrative function. Early in Agnes Smedley's novel, Daughter of Earth, the heroine states, "I shall gather up these fragments of my life and make a crazy quilt of them. Or a mosaic of interesting pattern - unity in diversity."30 In their studies of pioneer women's diaries, Lillian Schlissel and Elizabeth Hampsten found a decided emphasis on continuity and pattern in women's writing.

                                       They write in order to assert a pattern and to blur distinctions between recurring and unique events. In this view, keeping
                                       the pattern intact day after day is the mark of a well regulated and successful life . . . their writing emphasizes patterns
                                       because patterns compose their days, and they do not see time as a succession of discrete or climatic events . . .

                                       The success of a woman's life traditionally is judged by the skill with which she manages to keep undisturbed the smooth
                                       pattern of daily living.31

At times of emotional despair and disorder, quilting restored a sense of order and control.

                                       After my boy Razzie died when he was fourteen, I began to quilt in earnest, all day sometimes. There was still the two
                                       younger ones to take care of but losing my oldest just took away something. I lost my spirit for housework for a long
                                       time, but quiltin' was a comfort. Seems my mind just couldn't quit planning patterns and colors, and the piecing, the sewing with the needle comforted me.32

Another of the ways women expressed their need to impose order and control was to enclose the spaces and to carefully border the edges. Whether in quilts or gardens, most of the designs are within carefully enclosed spaces. The quilt has a border just as women's other spaces - houses, rooms, gardens, barnyards - are bordered, enclosed, defined. This confined space can represent either a woman's vocation - the center of her meaningful activities - or her confinement. This potential tension gives women's art work much of its artistic vitality. Its beauty centers around certain repeated images: houses and domestic images are frequent, as are flowers. We sense that the flowers, in riotous but controlled display, are an attempt to see beyond the dirt of the dooryard, the flies on everything, the mud that was being tracked onto a clean kitchen floor.

For many women living in the rural mid-west between 1850 and 1920, their worlds must have appeared fragmented, disordered, lonely, bleak, filled with dirt, flies, dung and mud. Women's art created a world of order, cleanness, integrity, beauty, and community - one that incorporated the meaningful experiences of their lives.

Footnotes

1Susan Glaspell, Trifles (New York: Frank Shay: The Washington Square Players, 1916). go back

2The idea that people construct the reality in which they live is certainly not new. Cultural anthropologists and historians have long recognized that groups of people share "social constructions of reality." Traditionally, however, these scholars have tended to distinguish the separate cultural groups by national or ethnic origins or by class. Feminist scholars are suggesting that gender also determines distinctly different world views; further, they suggest that the dominant class will rarely bother to understand or value the symbolic universe of the oppressed classes, although the oppressed classes will have to understand the symbolic universe of the dominant class in order to survive. W. E. B. DuBois recognized this same split in consciousness among American black men at the turn of the century when he described ". . . a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others." See "Of Our Spiritual Striving," in The Souls of Black Folk (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1961), 45. go back

3Annette Kolodny, The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1975) and The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of American Frontiers, 1630-1860 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1984). go back

4Mrs. Gertude Van Rensselaer Wickham, ed., Memorial to the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve (Women's Department of the Cleveland Centennial Commission, 1896 and 1924), 284. go back

5Quoted by Carleton L. Safford and Robert Bishop, America's Quilts and Coverlets (New York: Weathervane Books, 1974), 88. go back

6Quoted by Patricia Mainardi, "Quilts: The Great American Art," Radical America, VII, 1 (1973), 40. go back

7Eliza Calvert Hall, Aunt Jane of Kentucky (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1907), 74. go back

8Quoted by Elizabeth Hampsten, Read This Only to Yourself: The Private Writings of Midwestern Women, 1880-1910 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), 232. go back

9Wickham, Memorial to Pioneer Women, 644. go back

10Quoted by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Buferd, The Quilters: Women and Domestic Art (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977), 68. Annette Kolodny, The Land Before Her, believes gardens were a central metaphor used by women in their effort to domesticate the American frontier. Julia Bader, in "The 'Rooted' Landscape and the Woman Writer," in Teaching Women's Literature from a Regional Perspective, Leonore Hoffman and Deborah Rosenfelt eds. (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1982), 24, notes that gardens are central images in women's private writings, providing "sources of independent existence and self-expression." go back

11Susan S. Arpad, ed., Sam Curd's Diary: The Diary of a True Woman (Athens, Ohio: The Ohio University Press, 1984), 46. go back

12Joanna L. Stratton, Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier (New York: Simon and Schuster 1981) 45. go back

13Ellen Cornelia Kelly Aultman diaries, MMS. 18. Center for Archival Collections, Bowling Green State University. go back

14Arpad, Sam Curd's Diary, 129. go back

15Wickman, Memorial to Pioneer Women, 548-549. go back

16See, for instance, Hampsten, Read This Only to Yourself; Glenda Riley, Frontierswomen: The Iowa Experience (Ames: The Iowa State University Press, 1981); Lillian Schlissel, Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey (New York: Schocken Books, 1982). Hampsten believes that women's writings indicate an obsession with death and that for many women, contemplation of death offered them an erotic experience denied them by sexuality. go back

17Quoted by Julie Roy Jeffery, Frontier Women: The Trans-Mississippi West 1840-1880 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1979), 37. go back

18Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, "The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations Between Women in Nineteenth-Century America," Signs I, 1-29 (Autumn 1975). go back

19Quoted by Jeffrey, Frontier Women, 56. go back

20Quoted by Mainardi, "Quilts," 60. go back

21Quoted by Jeffery, Frontier Women, 86-87. go back

22Ibid. go back

23Hall, Aunt Jane of Kentucky, 76. go back

24Quoted by Cooper and Buferd, The Quilters, 20. go back

25Feminist scholars in many fields have explored repeatedly this theme of the fragmentation and discontinuity of women's lives. See, for instance, Marcia Westcott, "Feminist Criticism of the Social Sciences," Harvard Educational Review, 49, 4 (Nov. 1979); Mary Jane Moffat and Charlotte Painter eds., Revelations: Diaries of Women (New York: Vintage Books, 1975); Susan Kalcik, ". . . like Ann's gynecologist or the time I was almost raped': Personal Narratives in Women's Rap Groups," Journal of American Folklore, 88, (Jan.-Mar 1975, 347); Harmony Hammond, "Feminist Abstract Art - A Political Viewpoint," Heresies (1977), 66. go back

26John Mack Faraher, "The Midwestern Farming Family, 1850," Linda K. Kerber and Jane De Hart Mathews, eds., Women's America: Refocusing the Past (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 119-120. go back

27Ellen Aultman diaries. go back

28Hall, Aunt Jane of Kentucky, 78. go back

29Quoted by Cooper and Buferd, Quilters, 75. The authors of this book of oral histories of quilters note that quilts frequently act as triggers to memories: "As the quilters talked about quilts they were constantly reminded of some other parts of their lives, a story about pioneering times, an anecdote about a family member, or some technical detail of quilting. The quilts seemed to be the format in which they had condensed much of the personal, family, and community history. Talking about quilts often triggered memories of stories they had heard from their mother or grandmother over the quilting frame. That common task which had brought them together to sew also brought them together to talk and exchange stories. In a similar setting they passed on to us what they had heard." (18-19). go back

30Smedley, Daughter of Earth, (reprinted by the Feminist Press, 1973), 8. go back

31Hampsten, Read This Only to Yourself, 68-69 71. Also, Schlissel, Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey. go back

32Quote by Cooper and Buferd, The Quilters, 107. go back

go to top of page