1850 - 1875 Mary La Follette's Pieced Quilt Top

This unfinished quilt top, which resembles a “Tic Tac Toe” game, was made by Mary La Follette of Primrose, Wis. Two different 8-inch block patterns were used to create the quilt top---an X and a hollow octagon. Ninety-nine blocks, pieced with roller-printed cottons, are framed by a 1 ¾-inch white border. In 1974, Mary’s granddaughter donated this quilt top that had been in the family.
Mary Ferguson was born in November 1818 in Indiana. She married Alexander Buchanan in 1840, but he died in an accident before their first child, Ellen, was born. In 1846 Mary married Josiah La Follette. After a few years in Indiana they moved in 1849 with their children Ellen (b. 1841), and William (b. 1847) to Primrose County, Wis. They farmed, and two more children Josephine (b. 1853) and Robert Marion (b. 1855) were born. Another son, Marion, born in 1850, died as a toddler in 1853. Mary’s husband, Josiah, died in 1856, a few months after Robert was born. After Mary became a widow for the second time, she worked the farm with her children until 1862, when she married John Saxton (1792-1873). In 1873, after his death, she moved to Madison, Wis, where she died April 21, 1894.
It was her youngest son, Robert or “Fighting Bob” La Follette who became well known in politics. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1885-1891), governor of Wisconsin (1901-1906) and U.S. Senator (1906-1925). He died in Washington, D.C., in 1925.
Among many qualities, Mary was known for her industry, strong character, and active participation in the pioneer life of Primrose, Wis. The quilt top is a reminder of one of her skills, that as a seamstress. Her obituary in the Mt. Horeb Times of April 1894 stated “The brilliant career of her youngest son, from this period on, and the esteem in which her other children were held, must have been a source of pride and comfort to her in her old age.”
Currently not on view
date made
La Follette, Mary
place made
United States: Wisconsin
Physical Description
thread, cotton (overall material)
fabric, cotton (overall material)
overall: 93 1/4 in x 78 1/2 in; 236.855 cm x 199.39 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
GIft of Mary La Follette
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Textiles
Domestic Furnishings
Government, Politics, and Reform
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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