By: Loretta B. Chase and Pamela Weeks Worthen
Nineteen-year-old Charlotte Hawkins made an album quilt in 1848 that was inscribed with forty names and verses of friendship, parting, death and eternity. The quilt represented a small rural community in the Blue Hills of Strafford, New Hampshire. Charlotte had gathered inscriptions of neighbors, friends and family who lived nearby. There was little documentation of these men’s and women’s lives because most of them lived below the level of historic scrutiny. This quilt came from a subsistence farm and a working-woman made it. Why did she make the quilt? How does it represent her community? How did her quiltmaking relate to societal changes such as urbanization and westward migration? Review and analysis of primary documents representing actions of the quiltmaker and signers confirmed that this quilt reflected a rural community with distinctive regional and social characteristics.
Extant signature quilt literature is primarily concerned with middle class society, its emergence and the changes which brought it on. Recently published sociological studies of antebellum New England rural communities and social interaction of working men and women have found that people who stayed in their rural communities may not have followed the behavior prescribed by the popular press. They adapted to the changes “with persistence, economic interdependency, strong kinship and friendship ties. As a result they maintained stable, homogeneous communities. Social activity took place in a gender-integrated sphere between, but overlapping, the public and private spheres of working people’s lives. When Charlotte Hawkins recorded her network of friends and relatives on her quilt, a task requiring great sociability, she was contributing to the sustenance of their community.