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History Of Fund Raising Quilts

Portions of this article taken from
By Roderick Kiracofe  c. 1993
p. 179-181

The tradition of quilting for worthy causes has its roots in the female benevolent associations.  As early as 1800, the Boston Female Society for Missionary Purposes worked to raise funds to support frontier ministers.  Evangelical Protestantism, social reform, sewing, and fundraising were closely related in these societies.

A Log Cabin quilt made in 1866 in Missouri raised money to aid needy families of ex-Confederate soldiers.  “Feed the Hungry” is written with sequins in the center of the quilt.

Another cause brought women’s needles out in force.  That was the war in which women of the North and South joined, in the 1870’s, against alcoholism.  Women’s Christian Temperance Unions were formed so quickly in certain areas of the United States that they were said to be sweeping “like wild prairie fire,” in the words of Frances Willard, the leader of the movement from 1879-1898.  In addition to the issue of male alcoholics, whose illness tragically affected their wives and children, the WCTU addressed the issue of the eight-hour work day, child care for working women, vocational training for women, prison reform, and suffrage.

Local women saw to it that there was a WCTU booth at every exposition, state or county fair, and the chapters employed quilts extensively as fund raisers, especially the ten-cent signature quilt that was so widely used by American women for a variety of fund raising purposes throughout the century.

These signature quilts generated funds in two ways.  First, individuals donated money to have their signatures on the quilt, and later, the finished quilt itself was sold or raffled.  The prices paid to sign the quilt varied with the position the name occupied on the quilt:  The quilt’s center space usually brought in the highest amount, commonly 25 or 50 cents.  Other positions commanded the sum of 10 cents, and some as little as 2 cents.  Red on white is the most common color combination for signature quilts, because of the fastness of Turkey red dye, but orange, blue, old rose and gold were also used in combination with white.

Although the signature quilt has fallen out of fashion, fund-raising quilts are popular to this day. 

On display at the Pine Island Area History Center is a red and white signature quilt made by the Pine Island Women’s Christian Temperance Union in July of 1888. 

This signature quilt also known as a “redwork quilt” came back to Pine Island in 2005.   The owner, Susan Myers of Mundelein, Illinois inherited it from her mother-in-law’s mother, Ethel Schwab.  Sue, being a quilter herself became very interested in its origin.  Not knowing where Pine Island Minnesota was she contacted a member of the Historical Society and after some communication she brought the quilt to the History Center (which happened to be on her way to visit her sister in Eagen, Minnesota).  We can not thank Sue enough for her interest in the “Pine Island redwork (signature) quilt”.

Signatures on the quilt along with various pictures are:  Mrs. L. F. Irish; Mrs. Revill; Mrs. R. Newton; Nancy R. Gould; Florence C. Ingalls; Mrs. I. F. Clark; S. A. Hutchinson; Miss J. P. Wright;  Mrs. Kate Smith; Mrs. H. Cogswell; M. I. Jewell; Mrs. M. A. Hudson; Mrs. Polly Billings; Mrs. John Thomas; Mrs. S. A. Harmer; Rose Jewell; Mrs. W. W. Cutshall; R.J.L.; Jennet Wright.

The center block reads:
W.C.T.U
Pine Island
Minn.
Mrs. M. A. Hudson       July 7th, 1888


Pine Island Record, February 22, 1917:

WCTU and the Progress Club…..hereby jointly offer a reward of $50 for evidence….of selling intoxicating liquors in violation of the law of this state with said Village of Pine Island.


(Printed in Pine Island Area Historical Society Newsletter  July 2008)