How Quilts Empower Women – Inscribed Medallion Quilt, by Bill Volckening
It’s Women’s History Month and National Quilting Month, so what better way to celebrate than with quilts? Episode 7 of “Why Quilts Matter” is all about how quilts have empowered women. The topic intrigues me, as a Generation X male existing in the female-dominated world of quilts. Clearly in the minority among my “quilt lady” friends, I often need to remind myself that women couldn’t vote in America until 1920. By the 1930s, women were doing whatever they could to support the causes they believed in.
While sorting through quilts recently, I came across a quilt that seems especially relevant to the discussion about how quilts empower women, and also how quilts keep history alive. It is an inscribed medallion quilt made in 1931 by the American Legion Auxiliary, Capital Unit of Post #9 in Salem, Oregon.
I discovered the quilt on eBay in January 2011, after being alerted by Julie Silber of The Quilt Complex. Julie thought since it was from Oregon, it would be of interest to me, and she was right. The seller, from Newburg, Oregon, had purchased the quilt at an estate sale but didn’t have any additional information about it.
The quilt features a center star logo in blue and yellow on an all white background, and the star is surrounded on all sides by inscribed names. There are 302 inscribed names embroidered in blue, including the names of officers, and two of the names have gold stars embroidered next to them. Here, I must thank my friend Mary Bywater Cross for getting me to sit down long enough to transcribe all the names.
While researching, I quickly learned the star logo was that of the American Legion Auxiliary. Wanting to find out more about the quilt, I got in touch with the current Commander of Post 9, Jason Virnig, and he was able to locate historical records that uncovered more information about the quilt. There is an entry in the records that says,
“The music under Mrs. Waters sponsored an Auxiliary quilt containing the names of eligible and also members of the Legion and Auxiliary at 10 (cents) a name. This netted $35.00”.
The entry was from the 1932 record, when the unit had a musical quartet and a trio that was very active in civic events and competitions. The total funds raised were listed in 1932, but the quilt was started in 1931 and over the year the names were added. In 1932-33 there is note of “raffled quilt donated by another member for music committee;”
Mrs. Frank N. Waters (Mae Urschel Waters) joined the Auxiliary in 1928, was the Unit 9 President in 1930, District 2 President in 1935, and later Department (state) President in 1938. Records indicate that Frank Waters had a business/home on East Center Street in Salem, and the couple had two children. Mrs. Waters’ brother, J. S. Urschel served in the Army and died in France from wounds suffered in combat in the Argonne offensive. J.S. Urschel is one of the two names with gold stars. There is also a note about the Mae Waters Urshel Memorial trophy in music, given by Waters in memory of her brother.
According to Commander Virnig, the musical trio and quartet were very successful. The quilt served to raise money to support the trio and quartet, and the musical groups raised more money by performing. Funds raised by Post 9 helped build a new Salvation Army and the Salem Airport.
Back in 1931, Post 9 of the American Legion Auxiliary in Salem, Oregon needed to raise money, and the women in the group answered by making the quilt. But the quilt’s importance doesn’t end there. Mae Waters memorialized her brother, keeping his story alive, and the group commemorated its officers. Most importantly, the women of Post 9 created a legacy by reinvesting in their community. In doing so, they left behind an enduring historical document with a truly remarkable story.
Today, the American Legion Auxiliary has nearly one million members in more than 10,000 communities around the globe. The organization fosters the charitable activities of empowered women, who serve to inspire communities through work devoted to veterans and children.
Photos courtesy of Bill Volckening.