Monday, December 12, 2022

National Recovery Act Quilts from the 1930s


The Know-It-Alls are going to be talking about quilts from the Franklin Roosevelt
years 1933-1945 in our Episode #21 premiering on December 14th.

I've always been a fan of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and have quite a collection of FDR artifacts collected in the thrift stores of the 1970s. But no quilts---just photos.
Appliqued and embroidered quilt by Sarah Anne Bauers, 1934
The Minnesota project included this quilt commemorating the
1933 National Industrial Recovery Act (N.R.A) in their book.

The Know-It-Alls recently got an inquiry about NRA quilts so I looked through the picture files and found out some things I hadn't noticed before. One thing: There are two kinds of N.R.A. quilts with the logo and words on them. Some are patchwork versions of the Blue Eagle.

This pieced, gridded version of the NRA logo has been traveling
with the Ken Burns quilt collection.

Julie Silber Collection

Three N.R.A. symbols in a sort of tile quilt or free-form applique.

But first I should tell you about the N.R.A., the National Recovery Act.

The N.R.A. was a Congressional law passed in June,
1933, soon after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was 
inaugurated, part of his New Deal to get the country out of
the Great Depression.

The act had dramatic actions, suspending antitrust laws and
establishing fixed prices, wages and production quotas.

It also had dramatic effects, thanks to a terrific public relations campaign.

Ad agency artist Charles T. Coiner (1898-1989) designed
 the effective Blue Eagle logo.

Janneken Smucker found this Library of Congress
photo of NRA Head Donald Richberg working under a yo-yo quilt.
See her website A New Deal for Quilts:

The new Nancy Cabot quilt column in Chicago's Tribune
designed a pieced Blue Eagle for the October 8, 1933 issue.

Katharine Mantle of Bloomington showed off
her version in 1934.

No picture but Mrs. Arthur Smith of Belleville, Illinois may have
used the Cabot pattern for her "Blue Eagle Quilt."

Katharine Bridgeman of Mount Vernon, New York
seems to have appliqued her eagle,
"A unique record of the New Deal and the Diminishing Dollar."

I bet those ever-smaller circles represent gold pieces shrinking in value.

Mercer Museum in Pennsylvania
Embroidered slogan in a crazy quilt attributed to Laura Brashears (About 1875-1959), 

Mercer Museum 
Laura & Frank Brashears in 1906

Embroidered corners in a quilt in Sharon Waddell's collection.

A tribute to bi-partisanship with the Republican and Democratic
symbols from 1931 Kansas City Star patterns designed by
Eveline Foland.

Similar corners in a 1933 embroidered quilt with
a portrait of unsuccessful Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate
Elza Leon Mitchell. Does this quilt survive?

Look for a quilt with this guy in the middle.

Americans were encouraged to display NRA posters and banners
and they certainly did. There must have been a large industry 
printing the logo on paper and cloth.

N.R.A. laws gave hope to Americans that the government could do something to relieve the economic disaster. The Act probably marked a turn around in the depression but business resented wage increases, price controls and regulations. The Supreme Court struck down the law in May, 1935, infuriating Roosevelt and the New Dealers.

The short life of the The National Recovery Act is a clue to dating quilts that feature the logo: 1933-1935.

 The second type of NRA quilt is one that uses the printed banners and flags. 

Mrs. Otto Herbert of Burley, near Tacoma, Washington sent
this quilt to the Roosevelts in 1934. It's probably composed of
printed eagle images.

Hexagon quilt in the collection of the Warm Springs Foundation (?) in Georgia

 The quilter here enhanced the Blue Eagle but the logo
 looks printed rather than appliqued.

The West Virginia project saw this quilt of printed yardage.

A banner

Roosevelt Library photo
Quilt attributed to Braymore, Missouri---as there is no
 Braymore, Missouri--- possibly Raymore or Braymer

Quilt made in Menlo Park, New Jersey
recorded by the Arizona Project and the Quilt Index.

A good deal of yardage must have been printed. After the 1936 ruling much was probably sold at a loss: Leftover banners, etc. were a surplus that may skew the date with quilts possibly being made beyond the act's 1936 end.

One industry affected by the act was the bedspread business in the south. Wages went up
and production increased.

One of these bedspread mills created a N.R.A. spread

Fringed bedspread in collection of either Hyde Park
Library or Warm Springs Home.

Cullman, Alabama. 1935
The article uses the word quilt but I'd guess they mean woven bedspread.

And I bet you didn't know that the Philadelphia Eagles were named for the Blue Eagle symbolizing The National Recovery Act.

A label quilt from the Michigan project & the Quilt Index.
Perhaps a ribbon to be worn or a label.

Clothing carried a label that the manufacturers complied with
the program.

A few more mentions with no pictures:

Mrs. L McManus, Pineville, Louisiana, signed and dated hers
and took it down to the newspaper office to show it off.

Family of Mrs. George Hoerath of Kansas showed
her blue eagle quilt recently.


  1. Are there Quilt Projects and/or Quilt Museums in every state? You mention lots of different ones in your articles.

    1. Not every state did them but most. They should be revived 30 years later. A few places are still documenting family and museum quilts.

  2. I actually found an NRA quilt last year at a market in Ohio. I thought it was National Rifle Association until I did the research on it .
    Probably going to sell it but have no idea of value and who are the collectors.
    Any help would be appreciated because we are heavy into American antiques and certainly desire that it goes to a good home.
    Thanks for your article.
    Steve and Karen