Women in the United States could not vote until the passage of the nineteenth amendment in 1920. This date, however, was not the beginning of their political careers or partisan participation in public life. The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 marked the public entrance of women onto the political scene as a group with their Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. Women had been placing moral, religious, and political sentiments into their handwork—samplers, quilts, journals, and letters—long before this time.
A common way for quiltmakers to express their patriotism and, sometimes, their partisan views has been through imagery and motifs pieced, quilted, or appliqued onto bedcovers. Eagles, laurel wreaths, flags, shields, stars, red-white-and-blue color schemes, and patriotic sayings are frequent themes. Some of these quilts were made for significant events—the Centennial or Bicentennial or for a particular political campaign. At other times, they have activist purposes as in the cases of those made in support of or against military action, as feminist activism, or in support of social or political causes. At other times, only the name of the pattern—such as Polk’s Fancy, Whigs Defeat, Mexican Rose, or Dolly Madison’s Star—references a possible political connection.
There is no particular type of quilt that reflects political sentiment. Wholecloth quilts, album quilts, Crazy and Log Cabin quilts, signature quilts, pieced block-style quilts, and studio art quilts have all incorporated political sentiments or imagery. Printed textiles of the 19th century portraying Zachary Taylor’s campaigns in the Mexican-American War were used in quilts just like World War II commemorative handkerchiefs and propaganda textiles were in the mid-20th century.