Saturday, May 25, 2013

39. Endless Stairs: Rank and Rights

Endless Stairs
By Becky Brown

 The stamp I paid my bills with this morning.

We live in the modern age. Modern thinking values the individual and human rights. We believe that human beings, to use the words of the America's 1776 Declaration of Independence, "are created equal" and have "certain unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

(You may recall that the original words referred to "all men," but we aren't going to quibble about that now.)

We view the past through that modern lens forgetting that before the Enlightenment, the age of Rational Thought and Revolution, Western people had radically different ways of thinking about society, people and their relations to each other.

A German allegory of the medieval feudal order

As Kings inherited a divine right to rule, the rest of creation was born into a hierarchy, an endless stair of rank---the Great Chain of Being. Nobility lorded it over the gentry, gentry over the workman, the workman over his wife. Every creature fit into a social order. Lions headed the animal kingdom; dogs were higher on the scale than cats; brunettes more attractive than redheads, white Europeans closer to God than darker peoples.

 "Such duty as the subject owes the prince 
Even such a woman oweth to her husband…" 
Taming of the Shrew

Laws, custom and religion taught all their place and trained them to be content with their fate. Like dogs angling to be top dog and chickens with a pecking order, human nature seems to cling to hierarchies as we define "us" versus "them".

Philosophy Run Mad by Thomas Rowlandson, 1791
The French Revolution destroying the pillars of society
The modern age began a little over 200 years ago when Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine wrote about the rights of man and Olympe de Gouges and Mary Wollstonecraft expanded the ideas to the rights of women. 

Paine, author of The Rights of Man, is caricatured  here with his "Leveling Tools" advocating sins including Ingratitude, Treason and Equality.

Society was not enlightened in concepts of equality overnight---nor even over the centuries. We need to recall those well-taught concepts of hierarchy when considering the past. Understanding not only hierarchy but the sense of acceptance helps explain the disconnect that occurs when we ask our mothers why they "put up with that," when we read about 19th-century slaves who never considered running away or a literary hero whose diary is full of antisemitism.

Endless Stairs
By Dustin Cecil

Endless Stairs was a popular pattern 100 years ago when Hearth and Home magazine gave it that name. Shaded with darks and lights and repeated---it does seem to go on and on.

BlockBase #1110 

Cutting an 8" Finished Block

There is only one piece A (In other words: All shapes are created equal).
A. Cut 8 rectangles 2-1/2" x 4-1/2". Make half light and half dark, scrappy would be great here. Arrange them as shown.

Endless Stairs
By Becky Brown

A late-19th-century silk quilt in a variation
of Endless Stairs

Endless Stairs
By Georgann Eglinski

See more about the campaign against Tom Paine's radical ideas here:

A cartoon satirizing the British social order in 1837,
 the new Queen Victoria at the top.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

38. Nonsense: Anatomy Lessons

Nonsense by Becky Brown

 Ivory models revealed the secrets of female anatomy
for doctors.

Last fall's American political campaign reminded us that misconceptions and misinformation about female anatomy persist despite contrary scientific evidence. The mysterious biology of female private parts has been used to restrain women throughout history. Any stretch towards freedom---from saddles to sewing machines--- has been characterized as dangerous to the nether regions by opponents of change.

Charlotte Smith, president of the Women's Rescue League warned against the bicycle. 
“My views as to the unhealthfulness of the bicycle have been pooh-poohed by many persons who talk more easily than they think.... I know, from information given me by doctors, of many surgical operations for abscesses and other troubles engendered by the bicycle. The saddle is a fruitful source of injury. I am not putting the case too strongly when I say that bicycle-riding is ruining the health of tens of thousands of women in this country, incidentally involving the physical welfare of generations yet unborn."

The treadle sewing machine could produce "morbid effects"  warned the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal in 1871. 
"Two young women, sisters, who, in consequence of the prolonged use of the sewing machine, were made sick, the one with metritis, the other with a very rapid development of an ovarian tumor. In these two apparently dissimilar cases, two different diseases sprang from the same cause, which had produced in each a congested state of the inter-pelvic ovaries. It is in fact by the production of a permanent congested state of the generative system that the use of the sewing machine brings about the most injurious and most undeniable morbid effects."

A century ago, advocates of the side saddle had a hard time finding medical opinions favoring the traditional female seat, which resulted in many spine-shattering accidents, but conservatives continued to argue that riding in that awkward position protected the virgin's hymen and the wife's fecundity.

Lady Greenall,  interviewed in a 1913 article in the Hobart (Tasmania) Mercury opined, 
"A woman has not the strength of a man, and, therefore, is not able to take advantage of the astride position." The reporter inserted his opinion. "Most good women riders in England hold that a girl should ride astride up to the age of twelve and then use a side-saddle. This ensures that the girl runs no risk of curvature during her tender years."

In England in 1913 King George V and Queen Mary refused to allow women to ride astride in any official parades or on Rotten Row (the Hyde Park track favored by the upper class). The same year General J.P. Hickman forbid women to ride astride in the Chattanooga reunion parade of a Confederate veterans' group.

Understanding that social context gives us insight into the statement that Inez Milholland Boissevain (1886-1916) is making in these photos. An excellent rider, she led the 1913 Women's March on Washington astride a white horse.
Inez Milholland. 
Although the cape hides much of her,
everybody could see she was astride the horse.

Another view of Milholland on parade.

Nonsense by Georgann Eglinski

Nonsense seems the perfect block to recall that context. It was given the name by the Ladies' Art Company over a century ago. 

BlockBase #2811

Cutting an 8" Finished Block

A - Cut 2 squares 3-1/2".

Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles.
B - Cut 2 squares 3-7/8".
Cut with 2 diagonal cuts to make 4 triangles. You need 8 triangles.
C - Cut 4 rectangles 4-1/4" x 2-3/8".
D - Cut 1 square 3-1/8". (3-3/16" if you use the 1/16" default in BlockBase/)

Nonsense by Dustin Cecil

Queen Elizabeth II riding sidesaddle

Read a biography of Inez Milholland Boissevain at the Vassar College website:

Nonsense by Becky Brown

Saturday, May 11, 2013

37. Nameless Star: The Lucy Stone League

Nameless Star
By Becky Brown
The Nancy Cabot column in the Chicago Tribune printed this classic nine-patch star in the 1930s with the title Nameless Star. We'd probably call it a sawtooth star or a variable star. The pattern without a name can remind us of a woman's right to keep her own name when she marries.

Lucy Stone, 19th-century women's rights advocate, was well-known for refusing to change her name when she wed in 1855. "A wife should no more take her husband's name than he should hers. My name is the symbol of my identity and should not be lost."

 Ruth Hale (1886-1933) was a drama critic

Her choice inspired a group of journalists coming of age in the 1910s during the fight for the U.S. Constitutional Amendment for women's voting rights. When Ruth Hale married Heywood Broun in 1917 and Jane Grant married Harold Ross in 1920 they wanted to keep their professional names, an act of independence that completely befuddled the legal and social systems. One could not vote, check out a library book or register at a hotel if one did not meld one's identity into one's husband's. Hale and Grant founded the Lucy Stone League in 1921 to work for that right and promote "the idea that its women are integers and not halves."
 Jane Grant (1892-1972) and first husband in the 1920s

The League languished in the late 1920s but their goals were revived again in the 1960s when a new generation of women realized their birth names were important symbols of their independence. It took till the 1970s for the Lucy Stoners to win their fight when the courts established a person's right to use the name they choose.
Jane Grant

Jane Grant's first husband is often given sole credit for founding the New Yorker magazine in 1925 but she was his partner in shaping editorial goals, creating readership and funding the new magazine. As a New York Times reporter she had connections, skills and income during the first few years of publication. After their 1929 divorce the institutional memory of her role began to fade. With her second husband she became a dedicated gardener and they founded White Flower Farm, a mail order plant source.

White Flower Farms will ship you a Jane Grant Rhododendron.

Nameless Star
By Georgann Eglinski

BlockBase #2138d.

 Cutting an 8" Finished Block

A - Cut 4 squares 2-1/2"
B - Cut 1 square 4-1/2"
C - Cut 4 squares 2-7/8"

Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles. You need 8 triangles.

D - Cut 1 square 5-1/4" (5-3/16" if you use the BlockBase 1/16th default.)

Cut with 2 diagonal cuts to make 4 triangles. You need 4 triangles.

Nameless Star
By Becky Brown

Read more about Jane Grant:

Join the Lucy Stone League:

And read their history:

Read a 1922 NY Times story about the controversy over women using their "antenuptial names."

See a preview of Susan Henry's 2012 book
Anonymous in Their Own Names: Doris E. Fleischman, Ruth Hale, and Jane Grant

Nameless Star
By Dustin Cecil

Saturday, May 4, 2013

36. Sunbonnet Baby: Testament of Youth

Sunbonnet Sue
By Becky Brown

Sunbonnet Sue or the Dutch Doll was a very popular twentieth century pattern. 

Is she a baby or a faceless woman? The ubiquitous doll can remind us all the girls who've rebelled against becoming "an entirely ornamental young lady."

 Vera Brittain (1893-1970)
as a nurse during World War I

Vera Brittain came of age 100 years ago in the era of England's Suffragettes. In her memoir Testament of Youth she became the voice for her generation whose lives were destroyed in the Great War. Even before the war began in 1914, Vera typified what was later called a "generation gap," the battle caused by young people whose goals, experiences and attitudes were greatly different from those of their parents.

Testament of Youth begins with Vera's account of the conflict with her affluent parents who persistently determined "that I should be turned into an entirely ornamental young lady," shaped in "the trivial feminine mould which every youthful instinct and ambition prompted me to repudiate." Their goals for her were to acquire "a brilliant husband" and then to be subservient to him for life.

 Vera and brother Edward

Vera had "a desire for a more eventful existence and a less restricted horizon." As an adolescent she was so bored she was in danger of "dying of spontaneous combustion." Her biographers discuss the conflict further. Her beloved brother was given the academic education Vera longed for. Her well-meaning father had "nothing but contempt for me and my he has at heart for all women because he believes them for some unknown reason to be inferior to him.... I have been impressed in this home of mine with the disadvantages of being born a woman until they have eaten like iron into my soul."

A clockwork doll

"Mrs Brittain could only sigh and declare that she would much rather have an ordinary daughter like other girls."
Vera found a way to go to college, which subjected her mother to abuse from her peers, the unofficial team in charge of reinforcing the social mores: 
'How can you send your daughter to college, Mrs. Brittain!'
''Don't you want her ever to get married?"

The voice of her unlucky generation caught up in the War, Vera also speaks for every girl who disappointed parents longing for "an ordinary daughter" who shared their values.Vera tried to please her family, to look and act like her peers, to deny her authentic self and be the person they thought she should be. But she was not ordinary and somehow that authentic woman escaped to become the writer who documented women's role in the Great War.

Sunbonnet Sue is number 47.1 in my Encyclopedia of Applique. The pattern here is drawn from the quilt above, made about 1935 when she was quite a fad.  

Click here to see a PDF with the pattern.

Or click on this drawing, copy it to a word file or a jpg and print it out.

 Add seams for applique.

Many of Sunbonnet Sue's variations are more in the folk tradition of patterns handed around rather than published. 

She has her origins in Bertha Corbett's illustrations for children's books. 

Sunbonnet Baby
By Dustin Cecil

Becky says, 
"I'm not much into clothes and fashion so I have no idea how to do her little outfit. If it's a sunbonnet, then she should be wearing a sleeveless sundress which would make her arm flesh colored. It's not! So in my version she has matching hat and shoes - how cute it is! I added a narrow piece of bias on her purple hat, but made her Metropolitan Fair (pink) hat out of 2 pieces. I used freezer paper and pressed the seam edges onto the shiny side of the paper and whip stitched them together. (I did the same on her shoe - it doesn't go up under her dress)."

Read a short biography of Vera Brittain here

Hear a podcast of Vera's own daughter's family memories at the BBC by clicking here:

And read a preview of Testament of Youth at Google Books here

The BBC dramatized her story several years ago.

Here's a full-length biography: Vera Brittain: A Life, by Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge, (Chatto & Windus, 1995) .

Georgann put her foot down on this one
 so I had to Photoshop a red version.