World War Quilts for Relief and Comfort

Just days after the United States entered World War I (1914-1918), President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation to the American people titled, “Do Your Bit for America.” Women did their bit in many ways, one of which was to make quilts and “save the blankets for our boys over there,” as one slogan put it.1

Women also made quilts to raise funds for the Red Cross’s war relief work. Modern Priscilla, a popular magazine of “fancy work” for women, published a Red Cross quilt pattern in December 1917. Red Cross volunteers following this or similar designs collected money from people who wanted their names embroidered on the quilt. Volunteers auctioned or raffled the quilts to raise more money. Following the war, some women made quilts that commemorated Americans who died in combat, often representing the fallen soldier or sailor with an appliquéd gold star.

During World War II (1940-1945), women had to fit quiltmaking around their new roles: working in war industry, volunteering in emergency preparedness efforts, or additional responsibilities caused by commodities rationing and husbands or sons away at war. Nevertheless, women made quilts for Red Cross or religious relief programs and as a way to cope with the difficulties of war. In addition, quiltmakers emblazoned the letter “V” for Victory or military symbols on their red-white-and-blue quilts to express their patriotism, sometimes following one of the many commercial quilt patterns available.2

1. Thomas K. Woodard and Blanch Greenstein, Twentieth Century Quilts: 1900-1950 (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1988), 8.

2. Sue Reich, World War II Quilts (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub., 2010), 152-183.