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Sewing suffragist stories

Sewing suffragist stories

Lauren Durham ’22 September 13, 2020

In 2017, a member of the Miami Valley Art Quilt Network mentioned that the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote was approaching. The group, comprised of mostly women, decided that the event was too important to ignore.

“Our quilts are not meant to be slept under.”

Over three years later, two exhibits of carefully crafted quilts reside in the Roesch Library First Floor Gallery. The exhibits, titled Suffragists: And they Persisted! and Mother Goose Revisited, cover everything from hidden figures of the women’s movement to illustrated parodies of Mother Goose, written in 1912.

Quilt in honor of feminist poet Frances Watkins Harper.

These quilts, however, are not to be used as typical throw blankets or winter comforters.

“Our quilts are not meant to be slept under. We look at ourselves as artists who instead of using oil paints, we use fiber,” said Carroll Schleppi, UD professor emerita in math.

The quilters used a variety of techniques — including hand embroidery and printing images on thin fabric.

“The joke about art quilters is we are art quilters because we don’t want to obey the rules. We don’t want all of our seams to have to match and line up at right angles and be perfect,” Schleppi said.

quilters in their suffrage sashes
Quilters Peggy Matley, Carroll Schleppi, Molinda Lauxmiller, Chris Zurbuchen and Ann Dill.

Each member of the group researched a figure or event that was significant to the 19th Amendment, and many of the quilters picked topics that interested them.

“It’s been interesting how most of us did not have any historical background in this area,” Schleppi said. “We never learned any of this.”

Schleppi created the quilt that honors feminist poet Frances Watkins Harper. While she knew she wanted to highlight an African American leader of the movement, Schleppi was surprised to see how the writings of Hopper resonate with modern conversations, such as the #MeToo movement.

“I decided to do [Hopper] — since she was a poet — at a desk with books behind her,” Schleppi said, describing her work. Schleppi also made a quilt that highlights the amendment itself.

Several other Flyers made quilts for this project. They include Harriet Knudsen ’81, Janet Lasley ’89, Helen Willis ’94, Chris Zurbuchen ’82 and Peggy Matley, formerly of Campus Ministry.

While the exhibit was scheduled to be in several locations throughout the Dayton area, COVID changed the plans. UD is the last stop on the tour, but many of the quilts have already been purchased by community members.

Suffragists: And they Persisted! and Mother Goose Revisited will be on display at Roesch Library until Sept. 30; the library is currently open to only students, faculty and staff due to the coronavirus. Take a virtual walkthrough of the exhibit, co-sponsored by the UD Women's Center. To see all quilts and learn about their artists, visit the Miami Valley Art Quilt Network.

Suffrage, and why it continues to matter