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.
Probably made in Brownville, Nebraska
98.5" x 96.75"
Brownville Historical Society Museum
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
Probably made in Nebraska
35.5" x 23"
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.
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."
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.
Cora Gregory James
Made in Nebraska
83" x 70"
International Quilt Study Center
Pleasantville Ladies Aid
Made in Nebraska
94" x 93"
The Pleasantville Ladies Aid Society made this signature quilt.
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.
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.
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.
Made in Nebraska
92" x 70"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Irene Sibert and Lottie Zerbst, Crawford