Sunday, June 6, 2010

Quilts and Fairs

Kathy sent pictures of a wonderful cased photo she recently inherited.

My Aunt recently gave me a diploma that one of my ancestors received. It is in a miniature vulcanized rubber frame with the diploma on one side and what looks like a photo of a fairground on the other side.

It says: DIPLOMA AWARDED BY THE SHAWNEE COUNTY Agricultural Society to
Mrs Sarah Ives
for Cotton patched quilt
Topeka Sept 28, 1875.
A J Huntoon sp Pres.
S H Downs Sec'y.
I became a quilter 3 years ago. So, I am thrilled that I was the one to inherit this.

 My guess is Kathy's photo case contains a prize won at the Shawnee County Fair (Topeka) in 1875 for a patchwork quilt. A diploma like the one in the case was an award---less than a medal but higher than honorable mention.

We are used to ribbons as fair prizes but in the past judges awarded a variety of prizes.

I consulted two friends at the Kansas Museum of History, curators Nancy Sherbert and Rebecca Martin, who believe that the cased photo was a homemade souvenir of the quilt prize. Someone took an old deguerreotype holder and cut Sarah's diploma to fit. On the other side they put a photograph of a drawing of the fairgrounds by Henry Worrall, a Topeka artist.

I found out a little more about Sarah Ives. In 1873 she won an award at the state fair. The annual records for that year list "Mrs. Sarah Ives, Topeka. Best Plain Knitting by a lady over 60."

This is not Sarah Ives, but a great picture
from the Farm Security Photos at the Library of Congress

Certainly wish we knew what Sarah Ives's quilt looked like!

Gonzales County, Texas fair, 1939. Photos by Russell Lee.
I found these pictures of fairs, mainly in the 1930s, by searching for the words County Fair at the Library of Congress website: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/

Grapefruit display at the Imperial County fair, California

Why did white anklets and spectator pumps go out of fashion?


  1. I love all the vintage photos. Very cool

  2. I'm curious about something. You mentined that the award was for "Mrs. Sarah Ives, Topeka. Best Plain Knitting by a lady over 60."
    Was quilting called knitting or was the blanket actually knitted? I have heard knitted referred to before for quilting and just wondered if this was common around that time period.

  3. The quilting award was for 1875 - the knitting award was for 1873 - Sarah did several types of hand work.

  4. Robyn
    I am guessing that plain knitting was knitting---there was plain sewing and fancy work. Plain sewing was clothing like shirts and baby clothes, household linens like pillowcases. Fancy sewing was embroidery, some patchwork, etc. I think they must have classified knitting in similar fashion

  5. I don't know why spectator pumps and anklets when out. I do love spectator pumps, probably because people don't really dress well anymore. They would look rather odd with pant waists to the knees or pubic bone and mid-drift tops.
    I think the bigger question that I would like to know is..."why is she standing on a crate to give a child money?"
    And yes... I would also love to know what the quilt looked or looks like.
    Thank you for sharing the photos, I am alway amazed at where you come up with these. They are great.

  6. Well, maybe we should form the ladies' white anklet and spectator pump society. It would be like a secret handshake!

  7. I had a Ukrainian friend in New Orleans in the 1980s who wore this combination of pumps and anklets simply because she loved them. She was born in the Ukrain but grew up in the Chicago Ukranian community and married someone from New Orleans. She was a beautiful woman and wasn't afraid to dress as she pleased. I admired her for that.....but I didn't have the guts to do it at the time. But the older I get, the more guts I discover.