National Quilt Collection
"Quilt": A cover or garment made by putting wool, cotton or other substance between two cloths and sewing them together. An American Dictionary of the English Language, by Noah Webster, LL.D., New York 1828.
The National Quilt Collection incorporates quilts from various ethnic groups and social classes, for quilts are not the domain of a specific race or class, but can be a part of anyone’s heritage and treasured as such. Whether of rich or humble fabrics, large in size or small, expertly crafted or not, well-worn or pristine, quilts in the National Quilt Collection provide a textile narrative that contributes to America’s complex and diverse history. The variety and scope of the collection provides a rich resource for researchers, artists, quilt-makers and others.
Part of the Division of Home and Community Life textiles collection, the National Quilt Collection had its beginnings in the 1890s. Three quilts were included in a larger collection of 18th- and 19th-century household and costume items donated by John Brenton Copp of Stonington, Connecticut. From this early beginning, the collection has grown to more than 500 quilts and quilt-related items, mainly of American origin, with examples from many states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Most of the contributions have come to the Museum as gifts, and many of those are from the quilt-makers’ families. The collection illustrates needlework techniques, materials, fabric designs and processes, styles and patterns used for quilt-making in the past 250 years. The collection also documents the work of specific quilt-makers and commemorates events in American history.
Learn more about the quilt collection and step behind the scenes with a video tour.
"National Quilt Collection - Introduction" showing 1 items.
- Mrs. Gilbert (Susannah G.) Pullen and her Sunday school class made this pieced quilt in Augusta, Maine in 1863. She followed the guidelines set by the U.S. Sanitary Commission for bedding to be used in the Civil War. The fourteen young ladies in the Sunday school class contributed over 150 inscriptions that were penned on the quilt's fifteen separate star-patterned blocks. They chose Bible passages, stories to uplift and guide, and riddles to which the answer was only to be found in the Bible. They also provided numerous inscriptions on practical health advice, patriotic messages, and light-hearted riddles. Even personal messages such as: "If you are good looking send me your photograph. Direct to the name in the large square. E.G.D." appeared on the quilt. It was hoped that the quilt would not only provide a diversion for the wounded soldiers during their long days recovering in hospital but also "alleviate or prevent disease and lead to happiness and Heaven." The numerous inscriptions on this quilt provide an insight into the feelings and concerns of the period and perhaps all war eras.
- Susannah Pullen expressed hope for correspondence when she penned these words on the quilt: "We have many dear friends connected with the army & any proper letters from any persons embraced in the defense of our country, received by any whose names are on this quilt shall have a reply. Tell us if nothing more its destination. We meet with many others to sew for you every Wednesday and your letters would prompt us to more exertions for our patriots." Two letters remain with the quilt and attest to its use at the Carver and Armory Square Hospitals in Washington D.C. A letter from Sergt. Nelson S. Fales of Nov. 22, 1863 eloquently expresses his gratitude: "Dear Madam I have had the pleasure of seeing the beautiful 'Quilt' sent by you to cheer and comfort the Maine Soldiers. I have read the mottoes, sentiments, etc., inscribed thereon with much pleasure and profit."
- On the back of the quilt Susannah Pullen penned these words: “The commencement of this war took place Apr. 12th 1861. The first gun was fired from Fort Sumter. God speed the time when we can tell when, and where, the last gun was fired; & ‘we shall learn war no more.’ If this quilt survives the war we would like to have it returned to Mrs. Gilbert Pullen, Augusta, Me . . . This quilt completed Sept. 1st 1863.” It did survive use during the Civil War, and it was returned to Mrs. Pullen as she requested.
- Susannah G. Corey was born in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1816. She married Gilbert Pullen (1810-1890) April 26, 1840. Gilbert was listed as a marble cutter on the 1850 census. They lived in Augusta, Maine with their two daughters, Susan E. and Charlotte. Susannah and Gilbert were members of the First Baptist Church. Susannah died November 26, 1871, and is buried in the Forest Grove Cemetery in Augusta, Maine.
- Susannah Pullen's Civil War Quilt was exhibited at a library in Augusta, Maine, for many years. Over time the inscriptions faded, but fortunately a transcription of them was made in the early-twentieth century. In 1936 Susannah’s granddaughter, Gertrude B. Davis, donated the quilt in her mother’s name, Charlotte Pullen Scruton. It is a reminder of the efforts of the many women who used their needlework and organizational skills to provide comfort for the armies of both the North and South.
- Currently not on view
- Date made
- Pullen, Mrs. Gilbert
- ID Number
- accession number
- catalog number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center