1876 Ellen Harding Baker's "Solar System" Quilt

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This "Solar System" quilt was made by Ellen Harding Baker of Cedar County, Iowa, in 1876. The wool top of this applique quilt is embellished with wool-fabric applique, wool braid, and wool and silk embroidery. Included in the design is the appliqued inscription, "Solar System," and the embroidered inscriptions, "E. H. Baker" and "A. D. 1876." The lining is a red cotton-and-wool fabric and the filling is of cotton fiber.
The maker, Sarah Ellen Harding, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio,June 8, 1847, and married Marion Baker of Cedar County, Iowa, on October 10, 1867. They lived in Cedar County until 1878, and then moved to Johnson County, where Marion had a general merchandise business in Lone Tree. Ellen had seven children before she died of tuberculosis March 30,1886.
The design of Ellen's striking and unusual quilt resembles illustrations in astronomy books of the period. Ellen used the quilt as a visual aid for lectures she gave on astronomy in the towns of West Branch, Moscow, and Lone Tree, Iowa. Astronomy was an acceptable interest for women in the nineteenth century and was sometimes even fostered in their education.
Currently not on view
Date made
Baker, Ellen Harding
Baker, Ellen Harding
place made
United States: Iowa
Physical Description
fabric, wool, cotton/wool (overall material)
thread cotton, silk, wool (overall material)
filling, cotton (overall material)
overall: 89 in x 106 in; 225 cm x 269 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Patricia Hill McCloy and Kathryn Hill Meardon
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Textiles
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History


This speaks volumes about women’s art and the massive amounts of effort and learning they poured into handcrafts during the homestead era (and later, and even still today). A perfect exemplar of the oft-dismissed “women’s crafts” as something artistically and educationally admirable. What a wonderful piece. I wish there were prints available.
"What a wonderful visual aid, she was ahead of her time. I will be sharing this quilt with all three of the quilt guilds I belong to, my mini groups and my grandchildren. We all know how important it is to have visual aids, but to use a quilt as a medium is outstanding. Thank you for recognizing the importance of quilting and the place it holds in American history."
Such a creative use of needlework. I am a quilter and loved looking at the Solar System quilt.

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