1876 Mary W. Stow's "Centennial" Quilt

“Mary W. Stow,” embroidered in red, is prominent on this patriotic quilt made of fabrics commemorating the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia. The motifs were cut from bandannas that were printed as souvenirs of the event, and then appliquéd on white cotton. Most of the motifs are edged with a button-hole stitch using red cotton. Printed fabrics with patriotic motifs were popular in America before the 1876 Centennial, but the major exhibition in Philadelphia provided textile companies with an incentive to produce many new fabrics for the event. Several of these can be found on the quilt.
The central motif depicts the Memorial Hall Art Gallery at the Centennial International Exhibition at Fairmont Park, Philadelphia. The Main Exhibition Building, Machinery Hall, Agricultural Hall, and the Horticultural Hall are circular motifs. These all originally appeared on one bandanna. There are flags of many nations, most likely cut from a printed textile. Cut-out portraits on printed fabric of George and Martha Washington, William Penn, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Ulysses Grant are among the motifs. Democratic candidates for president and vice-president, Samuel J. Tilden and Thomas A. Hendricks, and their Republican counterparts, Rutherford Hayes and William A. Wheeler, appear in separate motifs.
Mary W. Stow lived in Wisconsin, and included on her quilt printed pictures of the capitol building at Madison, Wisconsin and Harrison Ludington (1812-1891), governor of Wisconsin from 1876 to 1878.
Motifs also include inked drawings of the Hingham, Massachusetts, First Meeting House, the Bunker Hill Monument, the Liberty Bell, the Charter Oak, Trinity Church, and Independence Hall. Several motifs have the printed or inked date “1876.”
The border makes use of patriotic colors. A 1½-inch inner band of blue striped cotton with white stars is framed by an outer 1¾-inch band of red cotton. Quilting, 9 stitches per inch, outlines the appliquéd motifs. The border is quilted with a feathered vine and 1-inch diamond quilting fills the background.
The patriotic theme is carried to the lining of the quilt. In the center of the back is a bandanna with the printed text of the Declaration of Independence and facsimiles of the signatures of the signers. These are framed by the Liberty Bell and seals of the thirteen colonies, linked by names of the Revolutionary patriots.
Mary Williams Loomis was born on April 8, 1820, in Brownville, Jefferson County, New York. The daughter of General Thomas Loomis, she married Marcellus Kent Stow (1806-1871) on October 5, 1837, in Buffalo, New York. They moved to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in 1852 where Marcellus was a business man, practiced law, and was a county judge.
Marcellus had followed his brother, Alexander, to Wisconsin from New York and together they had platted subdivisions that provided a plan for the city’s growth. Their father, Silas Stow, was a congressman from New York during the War of 1812. Mary and Marcellus reared five children, two girls and three boys.
Mary was also active in the Fond du Lac community. She was a foundering member of the Fond du Lac Relief Society, established in 1873 following the great forest fires of 1872 that destroyed several areas in Wisconsin. The establishment and management of a “Home for the Friendless” or “The Home” was a result of the fund-raising labors of this organization. Operating well into the twentieth century “The Home” provided a refuge for those in need, particularly the elderly, who did not have other resources. Although widowed, Mary still lived in Fond du Lac at the time of the Philadelphia 1876 Centennial. She may have visited the Exhibition and made this quilt as a reminder of the event. Her son, James W. Stow (1853-1913), lived in Washington, D.C., and Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. It was in Washington, D.C., on June 13, 1898, that Mary died.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Stow, Mary W.
Physical Description
fabric, cotton (overall material)
thread, cotton (overall material)
filling, cotton (overall material)
overall: 83 in x 72 in; 210 cm x 184 cm
place made
United States: Wisconsin, Fond du Lac
Associated Place
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Government, Politics, and Reform
Declaration of Independence, Signing of
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Textiles
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William J. Grubb
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.