Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More Information About Oregon Quilt

On Saturday, I paid a visit to author/historian/quilt maker extraordinaire Mary Bywater Cross to talk about the Oregon quilt I'd just bought on eBay. Mary is a longtime member of the American Quilt Study Group (AQSG) and has written books on both Oregon and Mormon quilt history. Many of the people I've met through AQSG are brilliant, but terribly busy, and don't always have a lot of time to devote to other people's research. Mary is also very busy, but has been very generous with her time.  Luckily for me, Mary lives about 7 minutes away in downtown Portland. Over the last couple years she has become my mentor.

As we spread the quilt out on her dining room table, Mary showed me pictures of a quilt that had been part of a show she'd curated several years ago. The quilt was made by the American War Mothers and shared uncanny similarities with my quilt, including a center medallion surrounded by inscriptions, some names with gold stars. We both wondered if the quilts were somehow connected. We circled around the table, reading inscriptions to each other, and Mary's delightful husband, Newman, appeared to see what we were talking about. Newman was also very interested in the quilt, particularly because he had been part of the American Legion when living in England many years ago. 

During the discussion, Mary wondered if there had been an American Legion convention in Oregon around the time the quilt had been made, 1931, and if the quilt was somehow part of an event such as a convention. We both remarked on the organization of the quilting design, done in rays emanating from the center medallion with two stars toward each corner, each with a pentagon shape in the center of the star design. Whoever made this quilt had skills and a sense of purpose. 

Prior to our meeting, I had contacted Jason Virnig, Commander at Post 9 of the American Legion in Salem. I heard back from Jason on Sunday, and he had some enlightening thoughts about the quilt. Jason suggested that the medallion shared similarities with the American Legion Auxiliary, a women's organization affiliated with the American Legion. The Auxiliary, founded in 1917 and incorporated in 1925 to assist the American Legion, works side-by-side with the veterans who belong to the American Legion and is the world's largest women's patriotic service organization. Indeed, the logo of the American Legion Auxiliary is very similar to the medallion of the quilt - even closer than the American Legion logo I had posted in my earlier blog about the quilt. 

Jason also had some thoughts about the stars by the names. In the American Legion, the gold star is typically a symbol associated with past Commanders who were deceased, but since this quilt is likely to be a product of the Auxiliary, the stars could indicate deceased relatives who may not have been Commanders. That theory seemed plausible to me, because past Commanders are listed on the quilt with the years they served in that role, but the names with the stars do not indicate any office held. Another enlightening bit of information from Jason was that there was a national American Legion convention in Portland in 1932. So, it's possible that the quilt was somehow linked to that event.

Mary, Jason, and I have resolved to continue our correspondence and research. The first step for Mary and I will be to transcribe the names, which we are planning to do next week. Jason is planning to go through history documents, including Auxiliary records, to see if he can find any references for us. He is relatively new to his post, but eager to revitalize an organization that has a long history of community involvement but has been relatively quiet in recent years. Post 9 will celebrate its 100th Anniversary in 2019.

Has anyone out there ever seen a quilt like this one? If you have, please comment. The remarkable similarities between this quilt and the quilt from the American War Mothers has us all wondering if there was a tradition of inscribed medallion quilts created by women's patriotic organizations. The more information we can gather, the better. :)


  1. My father was a member of an American Legion Club in Boston. As a child (around 1976)I remember helping at a fundraiser/luncheon where people donated money to have a name embroidered on a quilt. I collected the money and my sister and some other volunteers did the embroidery.

  2. Very cool! Do you happen to recall how much you collected for each inscription?

  3. Very exciting, can't wait to hear more. Love a mystery.

  4. I had to call a sister! Best we can remember it was either 2 or 3 dollars a name. Raffle tickets were 25 cents. She is going to check with a neighbor who was in the Club with my Dad and see if he remembers what happened to it or who organized it.

  5. You are quite the PI Bill! I look forward to hearing more about the quilt.

  6. Mary puts me to shame, but what a great mentor. We laughed about being quilt magnets. :)

  7. What an interesting quilt. I have never seen the design before. Looks like you are getting answers to your questions.

  8. The one Mary had included in her show, from the American War Mothers, had their logo as center medallion, surrounded by stitched names done in the same style, but with fewer inscriptions done and with spaces separating each section of names. The logo is a patriotic crested shield. It is very interesting that two similar quilts were done in Oregon by organizations with similar interests around the same time. Perhaps there was some overlap between these objects.

    I'm sure you'll agree, the timing of the discovery of this quilt couldn't have been more perfect.