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What this embroidered shawl reveals about Victorian-era romance

February 9, 2016

Filed under Collections, Community and Domestic Life, Pennsylvania Treasures

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This story of Amanda Degall and Matthew Rodgers is a fitting one for Valentine’s Day.

In 1835, Amanda Degall (1819-1899) embroidered the lines: “And when those hands / that marked these lines / in death’s cold grasp shall be / by all you love in Earth or Heaven / Will you remember me?” It was an overly Victorian sentiment, seen on countless school-girl samplers of the time. What made Amanda’s embroidery unusual was that it appeared on a fichu, or shawl. A fichu covered exposed areas of the neck and shoulders. Dresses of this time, particularly ball gowns, often featured low-cut and wide necklines. This particular shawl is a sheer-white cotton muslin, embroidered with flowers and drawnwork at the tips. The dainty, cross-stitched inscription on the shawl is done in a pale brown or tan thread.

Amanda, 16, included the initials “M.B.R.” in one corner, and stitched her full name in two places along with the name, “Matthew B. Rodgers”. The duplicated names are stylistically different, as though Amanda had been experimenting with placement or design before deciding on the finished product. Why Amanda chose to embroider a functioning garment this way is not known, however, her affections for Matthew are clearly demonstrated. During the Victorian era, when Amanda embroidered her shawl, couples often exchanged handmade cards or tokens for Valentine’s Day.

Matthew Brady Rodgers (1811-1882), son of Alexander Rodgers and Sidney Kirkpatrick, worked as a physician in Carlisle, although he did not have formal training as such. Amanda Degall was born to Louis Degall of France and Sarah Huston of Carlisle, Pa. Documents failed to record Louis Degall’s occupation, but in 1828, he applied for an insolvent debtor’s petition and was unable to pay his creditors, citing “poor weather conditions.” Tragically, he died the following year in September of 1829. His widow, left to raise several small children, remarried in January 1830 to Daniel McCarty.

Matthew Rodgers and Amanda Degall wed on March 29, 1838. Their amorous union produced at least 10 children between 1839 and 1862. As it turns out, Amanda outlived Matthew by 17 years. They are buried in the Carlisle Springs Cemetery, in Cumberland County, Pa.

This Pennsylvania Treasure was submitted by CAP Curator Katie McGowan.


About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.