I posed the question a while ago about which books my parents and grandparents would have been reading. Now I’m going to raise the question with regard to knitting.
The current issue of Piecework Magazine is featuring historical knitting and there is an article entitled “First Lady Grace Coolidge and the Story of a Knitted Counterpane.” Now Grace Coolidge was the wife of Calvin Coolidge. Her dates are 1879-1957. Her husband, the 30th President of the United States was born in 1872 and died in 1933. He served as President from 1923-1929. Coolidge was a Republican lawyer from Vermont. When he was propelled into the White House upon the fatal heart attack of President Warren Harding, it was customary for the First Lady to remain very much in the background and to maintain her privacy.
Grace Coolidge, the new First Lady, was an accomplished needlewoman who according to this article loved to knit. It is plausible that she would have valued a counterpane (bedspread) pattern entrusted to her as a family heirloom. The pattern was a gift to her during the time she was in the White House and is here called Grace Coolidge’s Great-Grandmother’s Counterpane.
The pattern was part of a fund-raising effort for the Home for Needy Confederate Women in Richmond Virginia. So that takes us back to the era of the American Civil War. My grandparents were born in the early 1870′s, 1863, and 1836. So they span that Civil War time. And the pattern for the counterpane was knitted by Mrs. Calvin Coolidge when she was in the White House. The author of this article in the current issue of Piecework, found the pattern for Grace’s great-grandmother’s counterpane in a 1941 edition of a book entitled Decorative Bedspreads Knitting, published in Nashville Tennessee by the Anne Orr Studio in 1941. And the fact that Grace Coolidge knit this pattern is testimony to the revival of knitting in the U.S. in the 1920′s when there was a general feeling that the homey household arts of the Revolutionary era should be restored.
So the question might be raised, did my grandmothers knit these huge coverlets? Or did they confine their knitting to smaller practical garments for their growing families.
A further question might be raised as to how my paternal grandmother came to marry a man 30 years her senior. No internet partner searches back in those days, but my grandfather, living in Newark or Mt. Vernon Ohio, did advertise in the newspaper (what newspaper?) when he became a widower and needed a housekeeper for his 2 children. My grandmother, in Crown Point New York, persuaded her father that she wanted to take on this job. So she went West in the early 1880′s and became the housekeeper and in 1882 she married the man. I don’ t know what happened to those 2 children by the first marriage, and their descendants. But my paternal grandfather and grandmother proceeded to have 5 children, one of whom was of course my father, born in 1891. My father was in fact born in Peoria Florida where the grain business pursued by my grandfather had taken the family temporarily. My father grew up in Newark Ohio and his first wife hailed from there.