1876 Ellen Harding Baker's "Solar System" Quilt

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This "Solar System" quilt was made by Ellen Harding Baker of Cedar County, Iowa, in 1876. The wool top of this applique quilt is embellished with wool-fabric applique, wool braid, and wool and silk embroidery. Included in the design is the appliqued inscription, "Solar System," and the embroidered inscriptions, "E. H. Baker" and "A. D. 1876." The lining is a red cotton-and-wool fabric and the filling is of cotton fiber.
The maker, Sarah Ellen Harding, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 8, 1847, and married Marion Baker of Cedar County, Iowa, on October 10, 1867. They lived in Cedar County until 1878, and then moved to Johnson County, where Marion had a general merchandise business in Lone Tree. Ellen had seven children before she died of tuberculosis March 30,1886.
The design of Ellen's striking and unusual quilt resembles illustrations in astronomy books of the period. Ellen used the quilt from time to time as a visual aid for lectures she gave on astronomy in the towns of West Branch, Moscow, and Lone Tree, Iowa. New York Times (September 22, 1883) mentioned this item from an Iowa paper: “Mrs. M. Baker, of Lone Tree, has just finished a silk quilt which she has been seven years in making. It has the solar system worked in completely and accurately. The lady went to Chicago to view the comet and sun spots through the telescope that she might be very accurate. Then she devised a lecture in astronomy from it.” Astronomy was an acceptable interest for women in the nineteenth century and was sometimes even fostered in their education.
Currently not on view
National Museum of American History
Baker, Ellen Harding
Baker, Ellen Harding
Credit Line
Gift of Patricia Hill McCloy and Kathryn Hill Meardon
Physical Description
fabric, wool, cotton/wool (overall material)
thread cotton, silk, wool (overall material)
filling, cotton (overall material)
overall: 89 in x 106 in; 225 cm x 269 cm
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Cultural and Community Life: Textiles
Science & Mathematics
place made
United States: Iowa
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