Thursday, January 3, 2019

Stillson Benevolent Society Quilts

Quilt dated 1862 made by the women of the Stillson Benevolent Society in 
Greenwich Connecticut.

Trying to figure out how this was constructed is not easy.
It may have been pieced into circles of two sizes.

Can you imagine the skill level the drafting and stitching would require!

The border is a series of the same block
with a red center and green heart-shaped corners.

The Stillson ladies were no amateurs when it came to quiltmaking. They took great pride in their annual fundraising bazaar, which featured their quilts.

Second Congregational Church from a watercolor before 1833 by 

Mary Mason. Collection of the Greenwich Historical Society

The Young Ladies Summer Association of Greenwich's Second Congregational Church was formed in 1821. In 1829 they changed their name to the Stillson Benevolent Society to honor Elizabeth Stillson who'd maintained a girls' school and died November 20, 1821 at the age of 24.

The  young ladies of the 1820s and '30s raised funds for Christian education, focusing on what were called Home Missionary causes, charities in the United States, such as clothing for western missionaries and colleges for African-American students. 

Suggestion for a sewing basket to be sold at a bazaar.

In 1879 the ladies, no longer young, held a fiftieth anniversary celebration at their August fair, which they noted was the 47th annual late summer bazaar, indicating the first was held in 1832. They exhibited articles sold at that first fair. Over the years, "The Society has given more than $18,000 for missionary work, mostly in our own country."

An 1893 history of the organization tells us that three of the original members were still living. "Methods of raising money have varied but little since the early days. At first meetings were held from house to house, at which time members engaged in work which brought in some pecuniary remuneration to the Society." 

The early fairs were held in the afternoon and cake and ice cream were served. Items from the first fair included: "Watchchains, shirtees, navarinos, surtout coats (faced), vests, roundabouts, dickeys, pantaloons, ruffles, calashes, watch-papers, lamp-mats, bead bags, polishboots and ottomans." 

"Quilts have been made each year, though now taking the form of our more modern spreads [modern in 1893]. It is said that in years gone by some quilts have sold for as high a figure as $30."

"From the first all articles have been disposed of at reasonable rates and no raffling of any description has ever been permitted."
The women in charge were quite pious so gambling was frowned upon.

In 1919  they organized a quilt show to celebrate 90 years: "Forty-seven quilts, made by the members of the society, some dating back to 1831, were on exhibition."

Several of the Stillson Society quilts survive in museum collections, including the one at the top of the page, the only photo I've found. The Greenwich Historical Society has two others dated 1851-1852 and 1855, and 1861-1862, according the the records at Historic Deerfield.

Historic Deerfield owns another Mariner's Compass in red and green with the ink inscription: "Mrs. Rev. Mark Mead / presented by / Stillson Benevolent Society." Hannah Mead Mead (1783-1873) had retired to Greenwich with her husband and her signature is on two in the Greenwich museum.

1905 Mead Family Reunion
Collection of the Greenwich Historical Society

The workbaskets come from this book of Bazaar How-Tos

The Lady's Bazaar & Fancy Fair Book:


  1. Not sure what to make of their workbaskets. Kind of cool, kind of cumbersome-looking.