By: Pat Crothers
Drawing on a historian’s perspective, I have used quilting as the context in which to study the validity of the “separate spheres” ideology. This concept is predicated on the belief that nineteenth-century women and men functioned in distinctly different worlds, or “spheres.” With a focus on the American West in the years 1850 through 1890, I determined that the supposed invincibility of this doctrine was not the case. I examined and analyzed 112 sources, including gender studies, history, quilt studies, regional studies, and personal accounts. These primary and secondary resources included diaries, journals, period publications, articles, and books. My study reveals that attributes traditionally ascribed only to males, vis a vis this ideology, were also embraced by female quilters. Artistic needs and aesthetic criteria were manifested by choices of color, design, and texture. Competitive drives included establishment and cultivation of quilting reputations and the desire for public acclaim. Political activism was embodied in quilts that raised money or registered a political vote. This abridgment, or adaptation, of two presumed “separate” spheres highlights the prescriptive construction of this theory and ultimately challenges the doctrine’s factual foundation.