Around 1890, two enterprising teenaged girls from Owaneco, Ida Ramseyer and Laura Fry, came up with an ambitious plan: they would write to the wife of each state’s governor to request swatches of fabric from their ball gowns, then use those swatches to create a crazy quilt.
Every single governor’s wife replied to the girls and generously sent along the requested swatches. The plan for a crazy quilt was abandoned, and instead the girls created this square, grand piano cover. The central design features a map of the United States embroidered with the date each state entered the Union (at this point Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Alaska, and Hawaii were not yet states) and the names of their capitals. The swatches from the first ladies’ gowns are in the appliqued floral-and-vine motif circling the map. A swatch from President Benjamin Harrison’s wife is located in the bottom right corner.
This remarkable textile stayed in Ida’s family until 1989, when her children donated it to the Illinois State Museum, along with all the letters the girls received from the governors’ wives.