1876 - 1878 Esther Cooley's "1876 Centennial" Quilt


Esther Rose Cooley fashioned this pieced quilt from printed cotton souvenirs that she collected when she visited the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. 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.

The center printed square depicts the Memorial Hall Art Gallery as well as the Main Exhibition Building, Machinery Hall, Agricultural Hall, and Horticultural Hall. “CENTENNIAL INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION FAIRMOUNT PARK PHILADELPHIA 1776 1876” is prominently printed on the square. A banner in the eagle’s beak carries the legend “E PLURIBUS UNUM.”

Four flag banners contribute to the overall design. Each has a large U.S. flag with 42 stars surrounded by foreign flags in their national colors. They represent countries that participated in the 1876 Centennial Exposition: “ITALY, SPAIN, PORTUGAL, TURKEY, SIAM, TUNIS, PERSIA, EGYPT, PERU, VENEZUELA, HONDURAS, GUATEMALA, ECUADOR, BOLIVIA, NICARAGUA, CHILI, ARGENTINE, IRELAND, CHINA, JAPAN, MOROCCO, SANDWICH, HAYTI, LIBERIA, MEXICO, FRANCE, GERMANY, BELGIUM, HOLLAND, SWITZERLAND, RUSSIA, AUSTRIA, DENMARK, [and] SWEDEN.”

The flag banner design was patented Dec. 28, 1875. The center is probably plate-printed, the flag banners, roller-printed cotton. Two flag segments (36 stars and 7 stripes) are used to balance the quilt design. A strip of foreign flags, probably cut from a similar flag banner, border the quilt.

Esther Rose was born in Granville, Massachusetts, in 1824. She married Simon Foster Cooley. The Cooley family was long established in Massachusetts, an early ancestor having received a grant of land in Amherst from King George III. Esther Cooley lived in North Hadley, Massachusetts, and according to family information, “She was a great traveler for those days. She went annually to Chautauqua in N.Y.” Esther died in 1918, but the quilt she crafted from souvenirs of her visit to the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia serves as a reminder of the importance of that event.

In 1977 one of Esther’s great-granddaughters, Cloyce C. Reed, wrote about the donation of the “1876 Centennial” quilt to the Smithsonian. “My Quilt Goes to Washington,” Yankee Magazine, April 1977. “In a 1972 issue [ Yankee Magazine ] there was an article on quilts which prompted me to write to you about the quilt fashioned by my great-grandmother out of souvenir squares she bought at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia . . . you published my letter in . . . February 1973. . . . Then one day I received a telephone call from the Smithsonian! They had heard of the famous quilt . . . ask[ed] if I would loan it for their upcoming . . . exhibit.” It was on exhibit for the 1976 Bicentennial Exhibit and became part of the permanent collection through the generosity of the Cooley family. “It was truly wonderful to see this old quilt which has been in the family so long, in its final home, well cared for and enjoyed by so many fellow countrymen. We felt we had personally participated in the Bicentennial celebration.”

Date Made: 1876-1878

Maker: Cooley, Esther Elizabeth Rose

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: Massachusetts, North Hadley

Subject: QuiltingExhibitionsRelated Event: Centennial Exposition


See more items in: Home and Community Life: Textiles, Government, Politics, and Reform, Textiles, Quilts


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of Cloyce Cooley Campbell Reed and Edwin Cooley Campbell

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: TE.T17186Accession Number: 314088Catalog Number: T17186

Object Name: quilt

Physical Description: fabric, cotton (overall material)thread, cotton (overall material)filling, cotton (overall material)Measurements: overall: 72 in x 75 in; 183 cm x 190 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746a3-be22-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_556537

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.