Since the early days of quilting, women have used needle and thread to express their social and political views as well as patriotic sentiment.
Eagles first appeared on quilts during the Federal Period, as early as 1812. The eagle, symbolizing liberty and freedom, was the focal point of the official Great Seal of the United States adopted in 1782, which is credited as being the source for eagles and stars found on quilts.
This Four Eagle quilt, made by a member of the Swengel family in the 1870s, is of a specific type believed to be unique to Pennsylvania with most examples originating from Centre, Snyder and Union counties. Most quilts are red, green and yellow on a white background with a star or serrated, concentric circles in the center.
This quilt was likely made by one of two women living in Union County. Originally, the quilt was attributed to Catherine Swengel who is known to have crafted an earlier quilt also kept in The State Museum’s collection and donated by her granddaughter, Cottie Gudila Albright-Cooper. However, at the time of the donation, she expressed uncertainty as to whether or not her grandmother had also made the Four Eagle quilt.
The earliest known dated example of a Four Eagle quilt is 1876. Many of these quilts are believed to have been made in the 1880s in the years following the American Centennial. Given that Catherine Swengel died in 1872, this raised concerns about the original attribution of the quilt.
Catherine Gudila Bingaman Swengel was born in Union County on October 1, 1832. She married William Swengel of Union County and the couple had three children including a five year old son who died in 1871. Catherine passed away the following year, survived by Amanda, 12, and Howard, 15. Eventually, William Swengel married Mary Elizabeth “Elsie” Duke (1832-1910), the daughter of Anna Daok and Daniel Duke, a tailor.
Curators with The State Museum suspect the quilt may have actually been made by William Swengel’s second wife, Elsie, and not his first wife, Catherine. Elsie may have presented the quilt as a gift to her step-daughter, Amanda Swengel Albright, around the time of her marriage in 1883.
Cottie Gudila Albright-Cooper, Amanda Swengel’s daughter, donated the quilt to The State Museum in 1965.
This Pennsylvania Treasure, selected by CAP Curator Maureen Lane, will be featured in the upcoming Pennsylvania Icons exhibit. Curator Katie McGowan provided research assistance.
About Pennsylvania Icons:
Featuring a diverse array of artifacts from the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historic sites and museums, Pennsylvania Icons tells the story of our commonwealth, its people and the role they played in shaping the nation. The exhibit features historic artifacts ranging from a 1654 map of the Philadelphia region to pieces of the Walnut Street bridge in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Icons opens to the public on Sunday, November 8, 2015.
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.