Women are not present in many written narratives, and until recently in the US women’s valuable belongings could not pass reliably to daughters. This means students and scholars of Women’s History must innovate and compromise, learning through the material traces of women’s lives as much as through written word. Often textiles were the only way to pass on personal narratives, family traditions, advice, and identity through female lineage. When women could not speak loudly, publicly, openly, they could still communicate through fabric. Evidence of habits, travels, and financial standing can be discerned from the textiles left to us by previous generations: Structural seams in patches on quilts; Whether and where there are sweat stains; How carefully a tear was repaired; Mud on a hem; A cluster of scorch marks on the skirt; Tobacco in the pocket.
This talk describes the role of sewing in a woman’s life through the early 20th century and revisits the importance of recycling by passing clothing to younger family members, modifying dresses from decades earlier to fit current style, using old clothing that is too worn to create quilts or to stuff other household items, and using scraps for toys.
Cassandra Peltier is the Executive Director of the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams, Massachusetts. Cassandra graduated magna cum laude from Mount Holyoke College in 2018 where she completed two internships and an assistantship at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum and affiliated Joseph Allen Skinner Museum learning about museum education, collection care, NAGPRA coordination, curation, and exhibit installation. Her historical research focuses on the politics and history of women’s fashion in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to coordinating Suffrage Centennial programming and online resources for the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum, Cassandra serves on the Adams Suffrage Centennial Celebration Committee, the Northern Berkshire Suffrage Centennial Coalition, and the speaker’s bureau for the Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance, helping to commemorate women’s and local history in 2020 and beyond.