“The Bicentennial is to be more than a ceremonial occasion. The way we, as a nation, choose to celebrate the 200th anniversary will have an important bearing on what we learn from it and on the inspiration we draw from it…Some of this work will be solemn. Some will be festive…”
In 1976 the United States celebrated the 200th anniversary of the events leading up to independence from British imperial rule in 1776. Propaganda and rhetoric around the celebrations surrounding these events were meant to bring a renewed sense of energy, hope, and patriotic spirit to a nation and a people in cultural and social turmoil. The Civil Rights Movement, feminism, the sexual revolution, Watergate, the Vietnam War, and the oil embargoes of the Oil and Petroleum Exporting Cartel had created deep divides throughout the country.
Quilts commemorating the Bicentennial reflect both patriotic fervor and constructive criticism of the government. As individuals and as groups, women chose quiltmaking for its symbolism as a women’s art form. Communities across the country made bicentennial quilts documenting local history and families. Other groups made friendship quilts with patriotic themes and color schemes. Often executed in album or sampler formats, group quilts were ideal for teaching novice quilters while experienced quilters could show off their handiwork.
One of the most successful celebrations of quiltmaking was The Great Quilt Contest sponsored by Good Housekeeping magazine, the U.S. Historical Society, and the Museum of American Folk Art. There were 9,954 entries representing all fifty states, making it more geographically wide-reaching than the 1933 Sears, Roebuck, and Co. Century of Progress Quilt Contest.