Quilts are objects of great comfort and are also tools that help tell the story of Kansas history— especially women’s history. Both functional and fashionable, quilts provided a creative outlet and a source of pride for the creator. Quilting was often a social activity for women in a community who could share in a group project while catching up on the latest news.
During the decades before the Civil War, the art of quilt making peaked. Popular early types included mosaics, patchwork, red and greens, and intricate appliqué.
Crazy quilts appeared after the nation’s centennial in 1876. First called Japanese quilts because of their unusual Asian symmetries, the early quilts were made of silk with embellishments. Clara Strieby Hughes’ Crazy Quilt was a treasured wedding gift to her niece, Mary “Mamie” Dillon, on her marriage to James M. Miller. Hughes was born in Pennsylvania around 1832. She was a business woman with a share in the M.C. Armstrong & Company store in Council Grove. She may have used store samples in her quilt which measures 75 3/4” by 59”.
Red and green on plain white background was popular in the 19th century. The limited color range was due in part to fashion and because red and green were the most colorfast dyes available. Millie J. Okeson chose a red and green Triple Pomegranate in Vase design for her quilt completed in 1898. Born in Illinois around 1866, Okeson’s family was living in Nemaha County by 1880. Okeson also used red quilting thread, which was unusual for a turn-of-the-century quilt. She may have been influenced by Turkey red embroidery that featured a similar thread dying technique. Okeson’s quilt measures 87 1/2” by 86”.
Elizabeth Marthaler Stauf was inspired to create a patriotic quilt during World War I. Eagles was made between 1914 and 1917 before the United States entered the war. It features the red, white, and blue coloring of the U.S. flag; the bald eagle, America’s national symbol; and a border of stripes. Born in Berne, Switzerland, in 1860, Stauf came to the United States at the age of 18. She first settled in Hiawatha, then moved to Marysville in 1880. Stauf’s quilt measures 90” by 68 1/2”.
Mary Lucinda Wilson Carl chose the popular Dresden Plate pattern for her work created around 1930. The bright colors and scalloped edges are typical of the era. Feed and flour companies sold products in fabric bags, which were used for quilts such as this one. Carl’s quilt measures 92 1/4” by 74 1/2”.
Hannah Haynes Headlee designed the intricate Iris Garland quilt around 1935. Headlee, born in Topeka in 1866, was an artist who taught watercolor and china painting. She was inspired by several famous Emporia quilters. Headlee created the appliqué design, purchased nine shades of violet for the iris blooms, and dyed one shade herself. An unidentified needle worker did the quilting. Headlee’s quilt measures 85 1/2” by 74 3/4”.
Gertrude Hawks enjoyed quilting to pass the time after her husband died in 1947. Born in Hiawatha, Hawks and her husband had been farmers. She often used leftover scraps for her quilts, as with the Postage Stamp quilt. The quilts in the museum’s collection span all areas of the state and illustrate the different groups that settled here, their communities, their families, and their lives.
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: May 2011
Date Modified: February 2016
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