A dime is not considered an average contribution to a fundraiser these days. Donors can easily give thousands of dollars to get their name on a plaque or commemorative brick.
In 1935, however, a 10-cent donation bought a patch to be sewn on a quilt by women of the Fair Oaks community as a PTA fundraiser to benefit Osborne High School, according to Joyce Darnell Broughton, who received the quilt from her father, Jack. He received it from Grace Osborne, who was his first grade teacher at Osborne High School.
Grace Osborne’s husband, Robert, is the namesake of Osborne High School.
Every time a community member purchased a patch, the cloth formed one petal on a flower. The purchaser’s name was then sewn on top of the cloth to create a quilt with 30 colorful, sprawling flowers.
The names on the quilts are the families of the women who sewed the quilt together.
“My grandmother’s square on the quilt, it was made by her, and then she paid to have it put on the quilt, and then those women who donated their own families’ portion of the quilt, they sewed the quilt together,” said Linda Bailey, first vice president of the East Cobb Quilters’ Guild.
The ability to identify which women created locally-made quilts is a rarity. According to Amy Reed, curator of exhibits at the Marietta Museum of History, name erasure is a common tale in the history of local women.
“In many cases, the women’s names are ‘Mrs. Jeffrey’ or ‘Mrs. John Doe.’ They don’t even get a first name mentioned,” Reed said. “So, when you try to research some of the women who have left artifacts, you don’t find any information because their stories were never told.”
The history museum aims to tell the often-forgotten stories of local women through the “Made by Her Hands: The Beauty, Warmth and Stories of Local Quilting” exhibit, which includes the Osborne School Quilt and others created by women spanning from 1865 to 1995.
“You don’t get a full picture of who they were as women, what was important to them, what they were actually doing in their lives,” Reed said. “In a lot of ways, the artistry that it took to create these (quilts) is all that’s left that these women have of who they were.”
Identity in ArtistryQuilts were a creative avenue for women to assert their individuality in a world where their identity was always intertwined with their spouses, according to Bailey.
“For women who were always linked to their husband’s name, this was a way to really satisfy that need to express themselves in a very unique way,” Bailey said.
Exploring this unique identity and names of the women who created the quilts is what makes Marietta Museum of History’s exhibit different from typical museum displays of quilt making, Reed said.
“I really wanted to take that very specific twist on focusing on the women themselves, as opposed to focusing on the artistry within the quilts,” Reed said.
This identity in women’s artistry reflects vividly in one “crazy quilt,” which brings together starkly different fabrics with heavy stitching, on display from 1882. The quilt includes celebratory ribbons, hand-cut shapes and important family dates.
“Crazy quilts tell a whole (different) story, more so than other quilts, because … you have symbolism in them,” Reed said.
For quilt makers, that symbolism is intimately connected to the inherently personal process of creating a quilt.
“Every quilter is expressing their own individuality. You are literally taking fabric, cutting it apart, and then putting it back together in ways that satisfy you creatively,” Bailey said. “It’s a uniquely individual way of expressing yourself.”
At the time of the Osborne quilt’s creation, women used quilting to express themselves and make positive change in the community. Broughton believes the women who made the quilts on display in the exhibit laid the groundwork for women today to help their community.
“I think they were the movers and the shakers of the day, the women who made those quilts. At the same time, they were finding whatever way they could to raise money … to make the towns more beautiful, to make the old muddy roads better,” Broughton said. “The women in Cobb County have always been leaders in making a better community.”
The “Made by Her Hands” exhibit is on view until October 1, 2021, at the Marietta Museum of History. Their hours of operation are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.