Columbia’s Daughters provides a rich and rewarding view of a fascinating but as yet under-studied center of girlhood education and embroidery production – the District of Columbia.
In focusing on a single urban region, Dr. Allen takes the study of girlhood education and embroidery to a vibrant new level – offering readers a closer focus and greater depth than state-wide surveys. Unique historical circumstances render the District of Columbia unexpectedly fertile ground for investigating a variety of embroidery traditions – and their interactions within a relatively confined geographical locale.
The District’s creation as the site of the national capital in 1790 coincided with the blossoming of female academies aimed at educating the daughters of the new Republic. After the removal of the government from Philadelphia in 1800, the new federal city of Washington attracted a mobile and frequently well educated population. Government officials, political appointees, office workers, foreign emissaries, immigrant refugees, transient entrepreneurs, and free blacks – all rubbed shoulders with the more established residents of the District’s two older communities, the Potomac river ports of Georgetown and Alexandria.
The range of curricula, teachers, and students produced a striking array of needlework – from Scottish traditions and Quaker motifs in Alexandria to French traditions and Catholic motifs in Georgetown, to Philadelphia traditions and architectural samplers from the neighborhood of the Navy Yard in Washington City. Columbia’s Daughters provides a comprehensive catalogue of works that can currently be traced to the District’s three communities, including a number known only from early publications.
Susan P. Schoelwer, Curator
George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens