Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Bertha Waldauer Marshall's Crazy Quilt

 Crazy Quilt (about 1886) attributed to Bertha Marshall, 
Tennessee State Museum, 2008.185. Gift of Alan Callner. 

A while ago I did a post on crazy quilts with these
plush work swans.

Lida Finnell Allin's quilt in the collection of the Smithsonian.

They seem to have been a Kentucky product with some very elegant examples surviving in museums and private collections.

Bertha's quilt has the embroidered floral borders seen in the Kentucky quilts as well as the swan.
Her family thought the quilt might have been made near Memphis, Tennessee in the 1880s.

Bertha Waldauer Marshall (1858-1950)
towards the end of her long life.

But Bertha spent the 1880s in Greenville, Mississippi where her five daughters were born between 1883 and 1897. She'd arrived there with her mother Henrietta Rathchild Waldauer (1828-1910), her four brothers and two sisters in the 1870s.

Her parents, German immigrants, moved quite a bit. She was born in Wisconsin and spent her childhood during the Civil War in St. Louis among many other German immigrants where her father Abraham Waldauer was a bootmaker. After the peace they moved to New Orleans. Abraham died in 1867 in one of the regular Yellow Fever pandemics that afflicted the city. 

Bertha's father was buried in New Orleans
but his marker has been moved to Greenville.

Lockdown in New Orleans

The 1870 census, three years after Abraham's death, finds Henrietta still in New Orleans 
where she "Ret Dry Goods Store"---retired?
Update: No---Peggy says Retail. Retail Dry Goods.

According to family memory Henrietta, wary of the city's unhealthiness, took the children up the Mississippi to Greenville where she remained the rest of her life. They may have arrived in 1873.

Henrietta appears to have been quite resourceful, again owning or managing a dry goods shop in the river port as her children grew.

Shipping in Greenville, about 1900
Library of Congress

Greenville was a retail hub for the area.

The family owned dry goods stores from the 1870s into the 20th century. Erlich & Waldauer was a dry goods store with a dressmaking department on the top floor established by brother Louis in 1886.  The Waldauers sold their share to Erlichs about 1904 and Louis founded the Waldauer Cotton Company

The river port in cotton country was a center
for cotton brokers dealing in wholesale cotton and loaning
money on future crops.

Bertha Waldauer married Edward G. Marshall (1851-1910) in March, 1883 when she was 25. He was a Greenville neighbor, a German immigrant and either a competitor or associate in the dry goods business. 
1890 ad for Edward's store

A Mississippi store with piles of drygoods

The 1900 census records Henrietta living with Ed and Bertha. He was a "Merchant Dry G." 

1910 was a terrible year for Bertha. Her husband died of  heart disease in New York in February and mother Henrietta died in December. In 1911 Bertha began advertising her retirement. She sold the store the following year and spent much of the rest of her life living with one daughter or another in various states. One daughter lived near Memphis which may be how the quilt became associated with Tennessee.

Her grave in the Jewish Cemetery in Greenville

The swan crazy quilt probably took several years to finish and by the style it looks like it was begun around the time of Bertha's 1883 marriage. Were the scraps of silk satins and velvets from the family store?

A more important question is why is the central swan so similar to the Kentucky embroidered silk quilts?

One Mississippi swan at top left with Kentucky swans.

Did Bertha go to school in Kentucky? Her oldest brother Joseph Waldauer received two degrees in medicine in Louisville.

A prosperous Greenville in the early 20th-century

"For much of the 20th century, Greenville had the largest Jewish population in Mississippi, with the most concentrated population of Jewish merchants in the state as well."

Bertha's quilt also gives us a window into Southern Jewish life. The Waldauers, the Marshalls, the Erlichs were all part of the substantial Jewish community that formed commercial life in the South. Southerners who considered themselves aristocratic disdained "trade" and Jews prospered by filling that gap. One of the Marshalls' Greenville competitors was Sam Stein whose Steinmart has grown into a national chain.

Further reading:

See a 2009 article on the quilt and the family in The Tennessee Genealogical Magazine here:

An interview with 80-year-old Ernest Waldauer in 1977. Oral History Project / Washington Co. Library System

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