Editor's note: The following essay was published on June 28, 2007 in Resource Library with permission of the author and Westmoreland Museum of Art. It was written concerning an exhibit titled Made in Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition, organized by the Westmoreland Museum of American Art with four guest curators, on view at the Museum from June 23 - October 14, 2007. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay please contact the Westmoreland Museum of American Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


Western Pennsylvania Textiles

by Harley N. Trice


This exhibition of western Pennsylvania-made nineteenth-century textiles focuses mainly on samplers, but also includes a unique Civil War commemorative quilt as well as a small sampling of woven coverlets.



For two hundred years, young girls throughout America learned to initial, or "mark," household linens and other textiles with thread for identification purposes. Such pieces are known as band samplers because they were usually limited to horizontal rows, or bands, of letters and numerals worked in silk thread on a linen background (cat. 1). A more challenging form of schoolgirl needlework was the pictorial, or "fancy," sampler, which contained images of people, buildings, trees, flowers, birds, or animals. Because these pictorial samplers were difficult to design and execute, they were usually made under the instruction of a skilled needlework teacher. Although grammar schools, Latin schools, and colleges were established early in the colonies, they were generally for the education of boys. Most private schools for girls were not organized until about 1815, where the standard curriculum included art, music, language, and needlework. The age of fancy needlework came to a close in the 1850s, when Berlin work-involving the use of transferable graph-paper design patterns, sold with matching wools colored by chemical dyes-became popular (cat. 17).

The first recorded school for girls in Pittsburgh was opened in 1786:

A Boarding and Day School for Young Ladies will be opened on Wednesday the fifteenth instant, by Mrs. Pride, in the house where John Gibson formerly lived, behind his stone house, where there will be taught the following branches of needle work, viz, plain work, coloured ditto, flowering, lace both by bobbin & needle, fringing, Dresden, tabouring and embroidering. Also, Reading, English, and knitting if required. Mrs. Pride from the long experience she has had as a teacher, and the liberal encouragement she has met with hitherto, both in Britain and in Philadelphia, flatters herself, that by the utmost attention in teaching the said branches, as also taking the strictest care to the morals and good breeding of the young ladies placed under her care, that upon trial she will also merit the approbation and encouragement of the inhabitants on this side of the Allegheny Mountain. [1]

By 1800, Pittsburgh had a population of only 2,400. [2] Consequently, educational opportunities for girls were still very limited, and some traveled east to boarding school:

[Eliza Leet Shields'] grandmother . . . in 1800 . . . was taken by her father, an officer of the revolution, from her home in Western Pennsylvania on a mule, over the Allegheny Mountains, her father riding beside her and two attendants following behind, with her wardrobe, packed in paniers, a blue satin pelisse being one of the articles, which I remember she never forgot to speak of as having been very much mussed by the close packing. She attended a school at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, kept by Moravian Sisters, where in addition to the usual branches of English, she was taught to cook, sweep, embroider beautifully, paint in oils and play on the piano. [3] (emphasis added)

In 1825, after the death of her mother, Mary Cowan left western Pennsylvania at the age of thirteen to attend St. Joseph's Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she embroidered a memorial sampler (cat. 33).


By 1816, there were a few private schools for girls in Pittsburgh, offering instruction in "all branches of English education and . . . needlework." [4] Ten years later, "there [were] in Pittsburgh, upwards of forty academies, schools and other places of learning."[5] Samplers associated with eight western Pennsylvania needlework schools are included in this exhibition, along with other regional samplers. Our earliest needlework is an 1808 band sampler made by Rebekah Hancock (cat. 1); it is not known whether she received instruction from a needlework teacher, although we know that her daughter did (cat. 4).


Allegheny County


Jemima Hartzell Dumars School (active 1823-1831)

Jemima Hartzell, identified as a "widow, school mistress," lived in Pittsburgh's Jail Alley, near Liberty. [6] Her maiden name is unknown, but she was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, in 1794. A George Washington memorial sampler dated 1828 by Susan Frisbee is inscribed: "wrought . . . under the tuition of Jemima Hartzell" (cat. 6). No other known samplers have the Hartzell name; however, three later samplers that are very similar to the Frisbee sampler have the name Jemima Dumars as teacher, indicating that Jemima remarried. [7] James Dumars, listed as a teacher in the Pittsburgh Directory from 1819 to 1841, was widowed when his wife, Sophia Roberts, died in 1825. James and Jemima must have married sometime between 1825 and 1830, as "Jemima Dumars" first appears on a sampler dated 1830 (cat. 3).

An 1841 listing of "Select Private Schools and Seminaries" included: "Mr. and Mrs. [James] Dumars, on Third, between Wood and Smithfield, [who] teach select schools, both male and female. The common branches of an English education, together with needlework of every description, are taught."[8] Jemima died on December 9, 1850. All six known Dumars School samplers are illustrated here and show more range of subject matter -- memorial samplers, fancy samplers, and an embroidered picture -- than those of any other western Pennsylvania school thus far identified. [9]


Mary Callan's School (active 1826-1830)

"Tierney & Callan" were recorded in 1819 as "teachers, N Side of 5th, between Wood and Market Sts."[10] James Callan (d. 1854) was listed as a teacher at the same address in 1826. [11] An 1826 sampler "done at Mrs. Callan's/School, Pittsburgh" includes an image of the school -- marked "Academy" -- and a chapel or pavilion, next to which stand a man and a woman (cat. 8). These buildings and the adult figures, probably James and Mary Callan, also appear on the other two known Callan samplers.[12] The academy building is more realistically rendered than the stylized houses of the Dumars and Tidball schools, and the figures -- including a child playing with a dog -- are very accomplished.


Edgeworth Seminary (1825-1865)

Founded in Pittsburgh in 1825 by Mrs. Mary Olver, an Englishwoman, this school was named for her friend the Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth. [13] The school opened with three day scholars, and moved two years later to Braddock's Field, a small town just east of Pittsburgh, where it was known as the Edgeworth Ladies Boarding School and as Braddock's Field Seminary. It attracted "pupils . . . from the West and the South as far as Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia."[14] In 1836, the seminary moved to Sewickley, on land purchased from the estate of David Shields, and became the Edgeworth Ladies Seminary. Margaret Sturgeon's undated sampler, the only recorded example from this school, refers to both "Famed Edgeworth" and "Braddock's field Seminary," and was therefore probably made between 1827 and 1836 (cat. 10). In 1865, the Edgeworth Ladies Seminary was damaged by fire and never reopened; today it is a private residence.


Star School (active 1823-1828)

Three samplers are so similar that they were clearly worked under the direction of the same unidentified teacher (cat. 11­13). The school is referred to here as the "Star School" because of the cluster of seven starlike devices above the brick house, or school, on each sampler. They are attributed to Allegheny County based on genealogical information.


Mrs. Tulpin's School (active 1841)

In 1841, Mrs. Tulpin's "select school for young ladies" was located on Third Street, adjoining the Pittsburgh Bank, where she was "assisted by Miss Washburn who teaches drawing, painting and embroidery."[15] Although no sampler by a student of this school has been identified, Hannah Jacobs Washburn's own sampler and watercolor memorial picture remain in her family (cat. 14 and 14a). Worked in 1831 in Hancock, Connecticut, where Hannah lived before moving to Pittsburgh, her sampler contains very realistic floral decoration. Hannah married C.B.M. Smith of Pittsburgh, and their son, Edwin Whittier Smith, became a founding partner of the Pittsburgh law firm Reed, Smith, Shaw & McClay LLP, now Reed Smith LLP. [16]


Mary Tidball School (active 1834-1854)

Due to the quality and quantity of surviving works, the Mary Tidball School is the best-known western Pennsylvania needlework school. [17] The school was located near the Bethel Presbyterian Church in Bethel Park, a southern suburb of Pittsburgh. Samplers from this school are large, highly stylized, and brightly colored, and some contain the names of the student's parents and/or instructor, Mary Tidball. Hummingbirds were a common Tidball motif, and houses appear on samplers dated 1838, 1840, and 1852; human figures were not depicted.


Beaver County

Harmonie School (active 1805-1863)

In 1804, the followers of separatist George Rapp (1757-1847) emigrated from Germany to Harmony in Butler County and were known as the Harmony Society. They left Harmony in 1814 to establish Harmony in Indiana, and returned to western Pennsylvania between 1824 and 1826 to settle Old Economy Village on the Ohio River near Ambridge in Beaver County. Although no needlework teacher's name is known, the similarity of the two samplers inscribed "Harmonie" (cat. 22 and 23) suggests formal instruction. These samplers are typical of the German tradition of needlework, which favored the use of symbols or motifs rather than the pictorial landscapes of the English schools. The only other known sampler from this school is inscribed "Oeconomie" (for "Old Economy") and is dated 1863. [18]


Westmoreland County


Margaret Price School (active 1837)

This needlework school was identified by the discovery of Elizabeth Eichar's 1837 sampler, which refers to "the school of Margaret Price in Mount Pleasant, PA" (cat. 32). When it became a borough in 1828, Mount Pleasant was a small farming town in southern Westmoreland County with a population of only three hundred. The quality of Elizabeth's sampler shows that her teacher was very skilled.



The coverlets in this exhibition are referred to as "fancy" because they depart dramatically from earlier coverlets, which had simple geometric designs. By the mid 1820s, technological advancements enabled weavers of these bedcovers to produce complex pictorial designs on their handlooms, including architectural, industrial, figural, and natural motifs. Coverlet weavers were almost exclusively male, and many were of German ancestry. The majority of weavers signed and dated their coverlets. Some, like Henry O. Overholt, also identified their customers (cat. 35). After the Civil War, textile production became more industrialized, and fancy coverlets disappeared around 1870.



Throughout nineteenth-century America, women made quilts, primarily for their families' use. Western Pennsylvania has a rich tradition of quilt making, in both the appliqué and pieced techniques. By the end of the century, the graceful floral and geometric designs of the earlier period were replaced by "crazy quilts," which had a seemingly random patchwork of designs, fabrics, and colors. The late nineteenth century Civil War commemorative quilt is unique (cat.)



1 Pittsburgh Gazette, Nov. 11, 1786. Mary Pride (d. 1832) was listed in James M. Riddle, Pittsburgh Directory for 1815 (Pittsburgh, 1815), p. 68, as "widow, school mistress, N side Front between Cherry Alley and Grant St."

2 Riddle, p. 2.

3 Eliza Leet Shields, "School Girls of 1850," Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 30 (1930), 182. The Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies opened in 1749 and admitted non-Moravian girls in 1785. Betty Ring, Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers and Pictorial Needlework, 1650-1850 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), 434.

4 John Newton Boucher, A Century and a Half of Pittsburg and Her People (New York: Lewis Publishing, 1908), 276-77. Among these early schools were Mrs. Carr's on Third Street, Mrs. Graham's on Second Street, Mrs. Gazzam's on Fifth Street (needlework at $4 per quarter), and that of sisters Anna and Arabella Watts.

5 S. Jones, Pittsburgh in the Year Eighteen Hundred and Twenty-six . . . Together with a Directory of the City (Pittsburgh: Johnston & Stockton, 1826), 86.

6 Jones, p. 124, where Jemima's last name is misspelled "Heartzel."

7 Cat. 3, 4, and 7.

8 Isaac Harris, General Business Directory of the Cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny (Pittsburgh: A.A. Anderson, 1841), 114.

9 The author thanks Sheila Connolly for sharing her research on Jemima Hartzell Dumars and the design source for Cat. 7, and is indebted to the lenders for genealogical information.

10 J. M. Riddle and M. M. Murray, The Pittsburgh Directory for 1819 (Pittsburgh: Butler and Lambdin, 1819).

11 Jones, p. 110.

12 Cat. 9, and an 1830 sampler by Rachel Ann Davis Applegate in a private collection.

13 George A. Hays, Reminiscences of the Sewickley Valley (Pittsburgh, 1988), pp. 12-16.

14 Hays, p. 14. The Olvers moved to Pittsburgh from Indiana.

15 Harris, General Business Directory (Pittsburgh, 1841), 115. Mrs. Tulpin's School was located for a time at Fourth Avenue between Wood and Market Streets. John Jay Heard, Edwin Whittier Smith (Pittsburgh: privately printed, c. 1970), 8.

16 Heard, pp. 8 and 9.

17 Ten Tidball School samplers are referenced in Stacey C. Hollander, American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001), 517-18. An 1847 Mary Tidball School sampler by Susan Morrow is recorded in the Index of American Design, accession no. 1943.8.2741.

18 Private collection.


About the author

Harley N. Trice (Pittsburgh, PA), guest curator for textiles, has selected 33 nineteenth century samplers from seven southwestern Pennsylvania counties including examples from newly identified needlework schools in Allegheny, Beaver and Westmoreland Counties. In addition, four coverlets and an unusual commemorative Civil War quilt will be on view.

About the exhibition

Made in Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition, organized by the Westmoreland Museum of American Art with four guest curators, will be on view at the Museum from June 23 - October 14, 2007. This exhibition presents important examples of fraktur, salt-glazed stoneware, tanware, textiles, and painted furniture, most originating in western Pennsylvania.

Made in Pennsylvania brings together for the first time almost 400 significant examples of folk art that will enable comparisons of style, maker and region. These objects come from both public and private collections, in addition to the Museum's own collection. 


(above: Memorial Sampler, c. 1825, Attributed to Mary Ann Cowan, Collier Township, St. Joseph's Academy Maryland, Silk, chenille, paint and ink on silk, 19 _ x 23 inches. Collection: Mrs. Robert (Elizabeth) Dickey, III Photography: Mark May Photography

This sampler memorializes Mrs. Eliza Cowan, who died on July 19, 1822, at age thirty-four. Eliza M. Kirkpatrick married Christopher Cowan at the Neville House in Collier Township near Pittsburgh in 1810, and they resided there from 1814 with their seven children (Ronald C. Carlisle, The Story of Woodville [Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, 1998]). It is likely Mary Ann Cowan (1812-1896) made this memorial to her mother in 1825 or 1827, the years when "Mary Cowan" was enrolled as a student at St. Joseph's Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland. St. Joseph's Academy was founded in 1809 by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821) as a Catholic girls' school, and the academy buildings in the background of Mary's sampler appear in several others from this school. The academy closed in 1972.)


(above: Pictorial Sampler, 1854, Signed by Lizzie Mathers, Mary Tidball School, Linen and wool on linen, 24 _ x 24 inches. Collection: Jo Ann Nicholson. Photography: Mark May Photography

Lizzie's sampler is the latest known Tidball School sampler, but retains the design and quality of work characteristic of that school.)


(above: Pictorial Sampler, 1830, Signed by Isabella Brown McKnight, Pittsburgh, PA, Mary Callan School, Pittsburgh, PA, Silk on linen, 21 x 18 _ inches. Collection: Senator John Heinz History Center, Photography: Mark May Photography

Isabella may have been related to the McKee family of Pittsburgh, but nothing else is known about her other than the information recorded on her sampler. The wonderful drapery of angels above the upper panel (see detail) illustrates the embroidered verse: "Where the Angels all Adore Thee, in the Palace of the Skies." The figures and structures in the lower panel appear to be generic. The crowned lions suggest an English sampler as the design source for the lower panel, but there is an American flag above the castle. School buildings also appear in the work of at least two other Allegheny County schools: the Edgeworth Seminary and the Star School.)


(above: Detail of above)



(above: Pictorial Sampler, 1831, Signed by Leah Young, Peters Township, Mary Tidball School, Linen and wool on linen, 25 _ x 24 _ inches. Collection: American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY. Promised gift of Ralph Esmerian

Leah Young was born in Ohio around 1831 and moved to Nottingham Township, Washington County, around 1838, and later to Peters Township. This sampler is typical of the Tidball School, with its bold floral borders with heavily veined leaves, exotic trees, and a variety of birds, including hummingbirds.)


(above: Pictorial Sampler, 1838, Signed by Sarah Tidball, Peters Township, Washington County, Mary Tidball School, Linen and wool on linen, 25 _ x 20 _ inches. Collection: Larry and Lee Lacquement. Photography: Mark May Photography

Sarah and her sister Maria Jane were nieces of needlework teacher Mary Tidball. They moved from Peters Township, Washington County, to Morristown, Ohio. In addition to identifying their parents, both sisters included a memorial inscription about their mother: "Maria Tidball consort of/William Tidball departed/this life January 25, 1834/in the 28 year of her age." Their father remarried in 1838, the year both samplers were worked. It is believed that the sisters were sent back to their Aunt Mary Tidball in Bethel Park for school. Neither sister lived to adulthood. This exhibition is the first time these two samplers have been exhibited together. In addition to hummingbirds-a common Tidball motif-this sampler includes a pair of swans and a small dog with a cow.)


(above: Coverlet, 1845, Inscribed: Henry O. Overholt for Jane Corothers, Wool and cotton tied Beiderwand, 78 x 76 inches. Collection: Harley N. Trice. Photography: Mark May Photography

Henry O. Overholt, great-grandfather of Henry Clay Frick, came to Westmoreland County from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and settled in Donegal. Overholt later moved to Scottdale in southern Westmoreland County, which is now West Overton Museums/West Overton Village.)


(above: Pictorial Sampler, 1820, Signed by Susanna Herron, Star School, Silk on linen, 15 _ x 20 _ . Collection: Louis and Anita Schwartz. Photography: Mark May Photography

Because this substantial three-story brick building with addition appears in two other samplers, it was probably the schoolhouse of the Star School. The star cluster is the unique feature of this school.)



An 80-page catalog accompanies the exhibition with color photographs of all objects as well as a short introduction/overview of each object category. Contributors are the guest curators and Phil Schaltenbrand, author of Big Ware Turners: The History and Manufacture of Pennsylvania Stoneware on salt-glazed stoneware. The soft cover catalog is available at An American Marketplace - The Shop at The Westmoreland, online at www.wmuseumaa.org or by calling 724-837-1500 ext. 41.


Resource Library editor's note:

The above essay was published on June 28, 2007 in Resource Library with permission of the author and Westmoreland Museum of Art. It was written concerning an exhibit titled Made in Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition, organized by the Westmoreland Museum of American Art with four guest curators, on view at the Museum from June 23 - October 14, 2007. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay please contact the Westmoreland Museum of American Art directly through either this phone number or web address:

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Judy Linsz Ross, Director of Marketing/Visitor Services, Westmoreland Museum of Art, for help concerning permission for reprinting the above text


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