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Beauty in Hard Times
Depression Era Quilts in Nebraska


Dust. Drought. Plummeting farm prices. The stock market crash of 1929. All these factors contributed to Nebraska's woes during the Great Depression of 1929-1940. Like all Americans, Nebraskans responded to the troubles in various ways: planting gardens, forming aid societies, participating in New Deal government aid programs, and making do with what was on hand.

And quilting. As in the rest of the country, quilting flourished in Nebraska during the Great Depression. It was partly out of necessity, but also due to the mass-marketing of quilt products, and a cultural trend that emphasized "traditional" skills.

This exhibit features sixty quilts in four rotations of fifteen each. They come from the collections of the Nebraska State Historical Society and twelve other Nebraska museums. They show that Nebraskans embraced quilting during this period, both as a way to provide for their family and as a way to create beauty in hard times.

Postage Stamp

Olive Shurtleff
Probably made in Brownville, Nebraska
Approximately 1925-1950
98.5" x 96.75"
Brownville Historical Society Museum

Home Arts Magazine,

September 1931

Nebraska Farmer

September 1933

Nebraska Farmer

December 1932

Nebraska Farmer

July 1932

Women's Department of the Self-Help Society, incorporated in Grand Island, Nebraska, in February 1935.
Source: Locke Collection, courtesy of Steven L. Fuller of Bailey Photography & Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. 1962-1221-001

Floral Applique
Maker Unknown
Probably made in Nebraska
Circa 1935
35.5" x 23"
May Museum

Emma Gelston Rohner
Made in Columbus, Nebraska
84.5" x 66.5"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Betty Cowan, Columbus

This cotton basket quilt was pieced and quilted by Emma Gelston Rohner. Emma was born in 1870 in Elk City, Nebraska. According to her granddaughter, Emma learned to sew early. She was just three years old when her mother gave her fabric, needle, and thread. Emma married Jake Rohner in 1892. They lived in Belgrade, Fullerton, and finally Columbus, Nebraska.

   Emma Rohner

Rose Dream

Skeedee Quilting Club
Made in Nance County, Nebraska
75.5" x 68.5"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Helen Alderson, Tempe, Arizona

This quilt was made by the Skeedee Quilting Club, part of the Skeedee farm community west of Genoa in Nance County, Nebraska. The name was associated with the Skidi band of the Pawnee Nation, who inhabited the area until the early 1870s. Club members quilted the piece, but it's unknown whether they sewed the top. A scrap of paper pinned to the quilt identified is as "Rose Dream."


Makers unknown
Made in Webster County, Nebraska
84.5" x 71.5"
Webster County Historical Society

When Mabel E. McCall of the Mt. Pleasant area had an operation, her friends made this quilt for her.



Wiggle Creek Club Members
Made in Sherman County, Nebraska
89" x 71.5"
Sherman County Historical Society

Members of the Wiggle Creek Club made the blocks to this quilt and then gave them to Mrs. Henry (Kate) Rademacher, who put them all together. The names of the club members are on the quilt.


One Patch

Cora Gregory James
Made in Nebraska
Circa 1935
83" x 70"
International Quilt Study Center


Star Album

Pleasantville Ladies Aid
Made in Nebraska
94" x 93"
Stuhr Museum

The Pleasantville Ladies Aid Society made this signature quilt.

Flower Pot

Katherine Enevold Grunwald
Made in Omaha, Nebraska
80" x 58"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Berno Marie Anderson, Lincoln

Kathrine Enevold Grunwald made these quilts in the 1920s and 1930s. Born in Germany in 1870, she came to live with her sister in Omaha in 1889. Kathrine was a talented seamstress and lace maker. Shortly after her arrival in Omaha, she took a job at a shirt manufacturing company. She married Bernhard Grunwald in 1898. Kathrine and Bernhard raised a family and lived in Omaha for the rest of their lives, where Kathrine used her formidable skills to produce beautiful quilts, lace, and other needlework.

Rose Applique

Hettie Way Surber
Made in South Sioux City, Nebraska
86.75" x 69.75"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Sarah Gorin, Laramie, Wyoming

This quilt was made by Hettie Way Surber in South Sioux City, Nebraska. Hettie was born in 1867 in Trenton, Iowa, and married Frank Surber in Waterbury, Nebraska, in 1890. In her home in South Sioux City, Hettie spent much time quilting in an open area with a lot of natural light. Family members were frequent recipients of her handiwork for special occasions like graduations and weddings. Hettie passed away in 1946.

Liberty Bell

Louise Weiss & Mrs. Benjamin G. Miller
Made in Crete, Nebraska
73" x 56"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.), Nebraska

Louise Weiss embroidered and Mrs. Benjamin G. Miller designed this liberty bell quilt to raise money for the Nebraska Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) to purchase a Nebraska state bell for the carillon at Valley Forge.


Stars of Twilight

Edith Wilbur Shultz & Lulu Wilbur Testroet
Made in Ogallala, Nebraska & Washington, D.C.
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Ruth Hahn, Sewickley, Pennsylvania

This Stars of Twilight Quilt was pieced by Lulu Wilbur Testroet and quilted by her sister Edith Wilbur Shultz. Most of the scraps came from Edith, who lived in Washington, D.C., and sent them Lulu, who lived on a wheat farm outside Ogallala.


Maker Unknown
Made in Nebraska
92" x 70"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Irene Sibert and Lottie Zerbst, Crawford

Virtual Exhibits


  Colonial Revival

  Patterns & Kits


  Feed Sacks

  Shows & Contests



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Last updated 5 April 2011

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