By Samantha Reinders ad Rebekah Bain
The quilts on our bed during these cold months are meant to keep us warm. Some also have a story behind them while others are purely decorative.
Signature Quilts tell a story. They were created in America as fundraisers for different organizations and causes. People would pay a small fee, such as ten cents, to have their name added to the quilt, which would then be auctioned off to raise yet more money. This blue and white cotton quilt may have been a fundraiser for the Woman’s Relief Corps sometime around 1930. There are many fraternal military organizations sewn onto the quilt besides the WRC, including the American Legion Roy L Vingers Post No. 52 and Auxiliary, the Thomas Rooney Ladies Auxiliary VFW of the US No. 1530, the United Spanish War Veterans, M.C. Casberg Comp. No. 11, the Grand Army of the Republic, and the Auxiliary of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
The Grand Army of the Republic was an organization created by Union military veterans who had served in the Civil War, and the Woman’s Relief Corps was their female auxiliary group. Both the GAR and WRC were large national organizations that were socially and politically influential. They even still exist today today, and focus their energy on patriotism, and Civil War education and memorials.
Today, women’s auxiliaries are less common, now that most organizations, including veteran’s organizations, admit women, but these women’s groups used to be an important force for charitable work and community organizing.
This signature quilt is embroidered with 699 names, many of which can be traced to the La Crosse area. These, and the insignia of many veterans’ organizations active here, give this object a double identity: it is both a bed covering and an historic document, a record of the people who lived here and what they cared about.
Another, similar, signature quilt will be featured in the exhibition “[art]ifact, Where History Meets Art,” on display from Feb. 26 through April 17 at The Pump House Regional Art Center. It will be featured alongside an original piece of art inspired created by Kate Vinson as a response to the quilt. “[art]ifact” is a collaboration of the Pump House, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Public History Program and the La Crosse County Historical Society.
This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.