Important Civil War Quilt Added to Collection


Making quilts for wounded warriors is nothing new, it seems. The Maine State Museum's latest acquisition is just such a quilt, made 151 years ago by young women in Portland.

During the Civil War, thousands of Maine soldiers were hospitalized due to illness or battle wounds and military hospitals needed quilts to keep the patients warm. Portland neighbors Carrie Davis and Cornelia Dow and a group of their friends made this soldier's quilt in 1864. Several of the young women attended Portland's Home Institute, a school for upper-middle class girls. Some of the young scholars came from communities outside Portland, such as Richmond, Maine. One hailed from Matanzas, Cuba; her presence in Portland reflects the thriving trade between Maine lumbermen and the sugar producers of the Caribbean islands.

The quilters inscribed the squares with patriotic sayings, poetry, and Bible verses. Some of the inscriptions were humorous: "While our fingers guide the needle, our thoughts are intense (in tents!)." Some are more tender: "Dream what thou wilt Beneath this quilt My blessing still is yours." Many of the patriotic verses the women chose were written by Portland poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His childhood home was in was just down the street from Cornelia Dow's house, and most of the quilters would have known his family.

"This quilt is important because it tells so many stories," said curator Laurie LaBar. "Through it, we can learn about the Civil War home front, women's education in Maine, and about trade and social networks. Most of these young women were likely bound by their interest in the temperance movement and were social activists. The quilt also shows how educated women closely followed the literature of the day; some of the inscribed poems were newly-published. "

The museum is fortunate to be able to add this important quilt to its collection and honored that Linda Bean made its purchase possible.

The quilt is on exhibit in the museum's At Home in Maine exhibit through early August 2015.