Smithsonian Elevates the Frequently Ignored Histories of Women

Historians in the News
tags: Smithsonian, museums, womens history

Historians remember September 1781 as the month the Continental Army began its last major land battle, bolstering the rebel Americans’ morale and breaking Britain’s will to fight. But something more prosaic happened that month when 13-year-old Betsy Bucklin sat down with needle and thread to work on her sampler. She was not alone: Countless girls of the era stitched samplers to show off their most advanced needlework skills. As Bucklin sewed in her Rhode Island home, she worked the delicate silk threads into the shapes of animals, trees, flowers and people.

Upper-class girls like Bucklin did not go to war. Instead, the war came to Bucklin’s sampler as she stitched. “While hostile foes/our coasts Invade/in all the pomp of war arrayd Americans be not dismayed nor fear the sword or Gun,” she sewed. “While innocence is all our pride and virtue is our only Guide Women would scorn to be defyd if led by WASHINGTON.”

Did Bucklin write the patriotic verse herself, or did she stitch it at the behest of her sewing teacher? The answer is lost to history. But Bucklin’s sampler still exists today, a testament to past girlhood and the passionate sentiments held by women during the Revolutionary War.

Bucklin’s handiwork is one of the hundreds of artifacts featured in Smithsonian American Women: Remarkable Objects and Stories of Strength, Ingenuity, and Vision from the National Collection, out now from Smithsonian Books.

Packed with ordinary objects made and used by American women, the book considers their contributions to the nation’s history through the lens of the things they invented, created and owned. It’s a sampler unto itself, taking a wide-ranging tour through the Smithsonian Institution’s massive collections and pulling out everyday items with extraordinary tales to tell.

Read entire article at Smithsonian.org

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