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    Election Cake and Campaign Quilts: Whig Rose, Whig Defeat, Democrat Rose, Rose of Sharon and Baltimore Album Quilts

    Before women were able to vote, they supported their political ideals with their home arts. One of these arts was quilting and they have left us with a history of political quilt patterns that are still made and enjoyed today. To understand how these quilts played a roll in our elections in the first half of the 19th century, we will have to look at how they lived.

    Most of the families lived in homes that only had a couple of rooms and a loft. Building a house was expensive until the 1850’s when balloon construction was developed and less wood was needed and home building became less expensive. The homes had a main room that had a cooking hearth and the family did all their activities there. Off to one side a room was added for the parents bedroom and the loft provided a space for the rest of the family to sleep. Sometimes the youngest children or elderly members slept in the main living area which held the “good bed.” This was the guest bed and usually was a trundle bed so that visiting friends and family had some where to sleep. Travel was hard and slow so visitors would spend the night and return home the next day. Also travelers would stop at a home on the main roads and ask to stay the night because there was very few inns to stay in when traveling long distances. The travelers would pay for their lodgings and bring news from other towns. On the good bed, the best feather ticks, linens and quilts was kept. Here on the good bed, was a place were women took pride in showing off and displaying her needle skills and talents. Enterprising ladies would place a sign on the main roads to invite travelers to their homes in order to supplement their families income.

    Elections was held usually in early May after the roads were passable or in early November before winter weather. That way the election would not interfere with planting crops and the harvest. Therefore voters could take time to travel long distance to the polling place and arrive early enough to take part in the electioneering. The towns that had the election polls would get ready for all the visitors and make it a holiday. In the New England States the only holidays that Puritans celebrated was Thanksgiving and elections. Everyone that had a room for guests would open their homes up to the voters. All this was usually coordinated by the party leaders to attract voters to vote for their candidates. So the best cooks and bakers would make special meals to sell to the visitors during all the speeches and campaigning. One of the special treats that was offered was a slice of election cake that was a popular fruit cake after a vote was cast.

    Sometimes the homes that took in guests in the election towns and on the roads leading to the town would have a quilt that was made to express political support for a party. Quilts made from new fabrics was a expensive luxury in the first half of the 19th century, just like it is today. All the fashions leaders was the ladies from wealth and they had the time to make fine appliquéd quilts. Most wealthy families supported the Whig Party and showed it with a quilt pattern named for the party called the Whig Rose. Traditionally it was made in madder red, pink, chrome yellow and green on white muslin.

    Being such a beautiful appliqué pattern, many ladies even in rural areas made a version of this quilt to decorate their home following the fashion of the time. Also it could have been an expression of their support for public school education. Which was part of the Whig Party platform to build public schools and normal schools to train women teachers to educate children to build a better economy for the country. Public schools was a radical new idea in education and was not being done in Europe and an issue that would have appealed to mothers.

    Another notable pattern in quilts in this period of time was the Whig defeat pattern.

    Ladies that supported the Democrat Party would have made this pattern. It was linked to the election of James Polk a Democrat that defeated Henry Clay a Whig in 1844. The block was both pieced and appliquéd traditionally in madder red, white, blue and indigo. The appliquéd plumes traditionally was done in indigo and represented rooster tail feathers because the rooster was the symbol of the Democrat Party at that time. It was a pattern that was suitable for scrap quilting and would have been done in less affluent homes of immigrants that supported the Democrats. The quilters also made of version of the Whig Rose pattern that they called the Democratic Rose that was less elaborate and more folk art and the pink sometimes would have been replaced with cheddar orange..

    The campaign quilt for James Buchanan was the Rose of Sharon. He was the democrat candidate that won the election in 1856. Former Whig President Millard Fillmore nominated by the Know Nothing Party and John Fremont the first candidate of the Republican Party were defeated by Buchanan. This was the end of the area of the Whig Party that had been divided by the issue of slavery and could no longer hold a coalition together. This pattern was a red rose because Buchanan was from Lancaster, Pa. In the War of the Roses in England the Lancaster’s was the red rose and the York’s was the white rose.

    Probably the most famous quilts of this political period was the Baltimore Album quilts. They were presentation quilts made by a group of wealthy women known as the Ladies of Baltimore. A presentation quilt was made and given to men that was retiring from office or from a business. Many of the ladies would buy the block kits from a designer Mary Simon. Her husband owned a rug shop in Baltimore and had immigrated from Prussia. According to journals left by these ladies they would meet often to make these quilts to give at a special occasions including weddings and birthdays. Many of the blocks in the quilts that survived in museums have political themes. The cornucopia with flowers is actually the knit caps that the Whigs put on the polls out side of their homes during the American Revolution and expressed the Whig party affiliation of the person that the quilt was given too. The quilts were only made for 10 years and stopped after a cholera epidemic that devastated the population of Baltimore in 1854.

    Women do have a history of their own in political activities that isn’t well known but they left clues in their quilting, recipes, and journals. Historians of the time didn’t see them important enough to write about it. But with out their help in opening up their homes for guests and cooking for the elections it would not have been possible to have efficient elections in the early days. Also the Whig party only lasted for 20 years when the American art form of quilting first became popular.

    I am looking forward to your comments and questions.



    I hereby render unto Momoe, the Dayly Blog of the Day Award for this here DAGBLOG Site, given to all of her from all of me.

    And they put you at the header. ha!!!

    This is just wonderful!!!


    This is a great post, trkingmomoe.

    I need to tile my vestibule soon. I think I will make a mosaic using the Whig rose pattern.  With public education needing so much more than what it gets, perhaps a revival of the Whigs is just what is needed.

    I still can't get over this!! Isn't Momoe great!!! hahahaha

    The mosaic in life. The social purpose. The community project.

    I do talks at quilt guilds on this subject and I put on a program at my guild's quilt show on the history of quilting.    I have a couple of binders full of this kind of stuff.   I am too poor to collect antique quilts so this is the next best thing.   

    You can get patterns off the internet.  Google for them and some of them are free and all you have to do is print them up.  Form there you can blow up your tile pattern. 

    Maybe  you'd better think of designs related to Texas or Manifest Destiny, the real issues of the day! Think more stars in the flag.

    I have seen some beautiful quilts in my travels up to Vermont and New Hampshire, but I never knew their history was tied to politics.  This blows me away.  A whole history there that so few people are aware of.  Thank you, Momoe.  This is an outstanding post.  I really like this.


    Ladies of Baltimore Stitch 'n' Bitch!  Cool.  Cool Sure would have loved to sit in on one of those!


    This was a great read, momoe.  I am familiar with many quilt block names and patterns, but not so much with the actual backstory of each.  A long time ago I pieced a 54-40 or Fight block.  Only one. Yell  hahahaha  I think the name comes from some political thing, but I don't know exactly what.  I just liked the name. Smile

    54-40 or Fight was about the latitude of the US's boundary claim against British Canada in the West, in Polk's time. I like to say it. 54-40 or fight. Like I mean business. Don't mess with me, Canada.

    "54-40 or Fight" was a slogan demanding that the US border along the Pacific extend north to Alaska, essentially leaving Canada no Pacific coast.

    The compromise gave us British Columbia.

    Beat you to it, Train. The Oregon Territory is now mine, all the way north to the Russian claim.

    Flower...I just got back from quilting and let me look up when 54-40 was named.  I think it was a 20th century block.  It is one of my favorite blocks and not for the novice quilter.  At least you finished one.  Most people quit when they get to the 4 narrow fiying geese pieces. 


    Fifty Four Forty or Fight block was named by Kansas City Star.  It was a depression block named for that historic event.  It was during the 1920's and 30's many blocks created by newspapers weekly patterns in the women's section were given names for 19th century events.   It has several names because other papers would give it a new name.      

    What a terrific post!  The info is fascinating, and I love the pictures and links, as well.  I love quilts and thought I know a little about them, but most of this is completely new to me.  Thanks so much, momoe.  Lots of good stuff here.

    (Interesting that they were called the "Democrat party" back then and now it's looked on as a slur.  Hmmmm.)

    It has been around longer then the Republicans as a major party.  

    The original name was Democratic Republican Party. The opposition was the Federalist Party which lost favor and evenually disbanded all together. 

    The Jacksonians held their first national convention as the "Republican Party" in 1832.[33] By the mid-1830s, they referred to themselves as the "Democratic Party," but also as "Democratic Republicans."[34] The name "Democratic Party" has been official since 1844.

    Thank you for showing up Ramona.

    Momoe is truly a disguised gem. ha


    Thank you. Old quilts are a commentary by women on the world in which they loved. And the quality of each, one to another, is fascinating, even when the patterns are "the same."  

    I inherited a number of quilts from a great-aunt, all of which were white. I was told they were "wedding quilts" although only one of them seemed to have a recognizable wedding symbol of intertwined rings. The others had exquisitely-rendered flowers with swagged borders or hearts and leaves.

    I've given them as wedding presents over the years to various nieces,  the last one only a few weeks ago.

    I'm so glad quilting continues. Have you designed or will you design a political quilt for our time? 

    This was really interesting!  Glad to see you are doing well!  Laughing

    I responded to this entry earlier sending a list of books that might help straighten out this rendition of women's quilts and politics. Don't see the long (alas) post. But I digress. While I'm delighted to see the interest in quilts it shows, it has many, many errors in fact and more in interpretation. While in the 1840's and early 1850's----notably the 1844 election---women were permitted to attend SOME local political rallies and barbecues and were permitted to make banners for these, the word "permitted" is critical. The Democrats at first refused to admit them. Political rallies at the time were rough affairs, filled with rough language, fist fights, and general mayhem. Seeing how the presence of women civilized the gatherings for the Whigs, the Democrats reluctantly agreed to admit them. And civilization was the purpose. They could get the cakes donated anyway. 

    I've spent the better part of a decade studying this period and the Whig's Defeat pattern, and I have found no valid evidence that it or the other so-called "political" quilts were even given political names until long after the elections were past. The Whig's Defeat pattern was an old, old pattern that went back to the late 18th century and was associated with weddings. It was not appliqued, but entirely pieced. It is a Southern quilt pattern that never gained popularity north of the Ohio. I've gone through archival materials, diaries and journals, letters and newspapers, and so far have located no contemporary evidence of this name. 

    Moreover, the single focusing issue of the 1844 campaign, to which it is attributed, was TEXAS. Henry Clay, the darling of the ladies and the Whig candidate opposed annexation of Texas because it would entail war. The old Whigs were a curious coalition of wealthy southern planters and northern industrialists, and they saw no profit in adding Texas. The Democrats, mainly made up of folks of lower rank both in the east and the Old Southwest, were driven by land hunger. Expansion and "Manifest Destiny" was their goal and cry. If one reads through the campaign speeches and literature of the day, he or she won't find much about schools and books and education, I assure you. It will be the issue of expansion, which in time would be compounded with the issue of slavery in the added territories. 

    I have found no instance of a Whig wife or daughter making a Whig's Defeat---and that's the test of real political independent action. In fact, I've found no evidence of any woman's making a Whig's Defeat in the 1840's.

    The later Baltimore Album quilts were not political, but patriotic, celebrating the feats of local and regional heroes of the Mexican War that brought Texas into the U.S. and that phenomenon was limited geographically and in time, a localized phenomenon that produced stunning examples.

    The first use of quilts in overt political ways seems to have come with the suffragettes and with the Temperance Movement. An entirely different era.

    Recently, well-meaning people (but many also driven by the profit motive) have promoted the idea of women's being political long before they got the vote. While obviously, political motivation preceded the vote, it came much later. 

    So, it's a nice idea, this idea of women's political activity in the 1840's and 1850's, but it does not bear the test of history.


    The following you-tube piece details an exhibit of women's political quilts:

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