Tea, Delectables and Quilts Took Center Stage…

… At Our Ninth Annual Women’s History Tea

by Shirley Gilbert

Some 115 guests and members of Fremont Branch, sipped, munched on sandwiches of various colors and shapes, enjoyed a luncheon fit for queens and gained a heap of knowledge about quilts at this year’s Women’s History Tea on Saturday, March 21st, 20015.Billed as Stitches in Time: the Art, History and Culture of Quilt Making, Fremont Branch member and president of the Piecemakers Quilt Guild Elin Thomas, took us all on an edifying quilt history journey from earliest times to quilt making in the modern age. There were some surprising stops along the way as well.

You could tell that quilts have been a lifelong enjoyment for Elin. “Quilts,” she said, “have been my passion for 40 years. My grandmothers on both sides of my family were traditional quilters … so you could say quilting is in my DNA.” The multi-use room in the Adult School, where the tea was held, attested to Elin’s love of her favorite hobby. It was filled with her colorful quilts done in a multitude of patterns, stitches and styles.

Why, you might ask, did the Fremont Branch Women’s History Team settle on quilts to continue to tell the compelling and ongoing story of women’s history? “Quilts,” explained Elin, “have occupied women’s hearts and hands throughout our history. They have told our social history in creative and real-life ways.”

The surprises included two delightful cameo appearances by actors Bernadette Galleguillos and Sandy Cashmark.

Bernadette played the part of Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave who was dressmaker to First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. She wore a magnificent pink and white dress from the Civil War era and told Mrs. Keckley’s dramatic, true story with great feeling. “I was born a slave,” said Elizabeth, “therefore I came upon the earth free in God-like thought, but fettered in action.”

She chronicled her cruel life as a slave, talked about her struggle for freedom and her meeting and friendship with the First Lady and President Lincoln. There was, of course, a quilt in her story. She described the famous Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt, now on display at Kent State University Museum. It was designed and sewn by her hand and is considered one of America’s most famous quilts.

The second surprise was an angry one. Sandy Cashmark played the role of an irate Ida Mae Stow, a real–life contestant in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair quilt contest who felt she was cruelly wronged in what turned out to be the world’s biggest quilt contest ever with some 24,000 entries and one of quilting’s greatest scandals.

“I, and others too,” said Ida Mae, “were most woefully wronged and I’m still angry about it. Even after over 80 years it still gets my blood boiling just to think of it.”

Ida Mae won only an Honorable Mention for her avant guard quilt which she felt epitomized perfectly the futuristic theme and spirit of the contest. She was bested by Mrs. Margaret Rogers Caden, who won first prize and $1,000. Caden created, according to Ida Mae, her green eyes flashing, her red hair all aquiver, the most everyday quilt imaginable. “It was a dang ordinary quilt,” seethed Ida Mae, “with absolutely nothing, I repeat nothing, in the pattern to proclaim the theme, a Century of Progress.”

W-e-l-l … it turned out that Mrs. Caden didn’t even sew the quilt herself. Sad to report, the quilt was sewn by four women who worked for Mrs. Caden. “The nerve of the woman,” hissed Ida Mae. It’s hard to imagine such a scandal taking place in the ladylike environment of a 1933 quilt contest — but Ida Mae’s story is proven and true.

Elin ended the presentation with informing the audience of the size of today’s quilting market. She asked who could guess and then filled us in: it’s a 3 .76 billion business and there are some 16.4 million quilters in the U.S.

You could hear the oohs and ahhhs … not only because of these startling figures but for the whole delightful event. “I just loved every minute,” said an enthusiastic guest and you could see the heads nod around the table.

Co-chairpersons Liz Poe and Janice Longo extend their thanks to the entire Women’s History Team. It takes a legion of helpers to stage such an extraordinary event. “Every year,” said Liz, “we ask so many for help and they all come through with flying colors. What a great team!”






Stitches in Time