Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Bringing Science to Women in Early Nineteenth Century Samplers

Nineteenth century Quaker sampler showing precise map of the world
with latitude and longitude. Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art just closed a very small but very interesting exhibit of examples of samplers from American and Europe from 1600-1900. You can read about it here.

If you are not familiar with samplers, they were embroidery and needlework pieces that were usually sewn by young women (and sometimes boys) to teach and demonstrate basic sewing skills. Usually samplers had a variety of stitches and included some Biblical saying or inspirational quote along with the alphabet and numbers.
Traditional sampler. Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

What was fascinating about the exhibit was that it demonstrated that there was a distinct change in how samplers were utilized by some communities to not only teach sewing skills, but also to teach science. In the nineteenth century in the U.S. some Quaker communities thought that the gender roles were outmoded and that women and boys should have similar educational experiences. Thus, they used the sampler as a method for teaching about geography and math.

Research conducted by the United Nations shows that countries that provide more opportunities for women do much better on most development indices. The Quakers were on to something important in the early 1800's that helped to create a much more equitable world for women and men. And it all started in the sewing room.

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