Highlights of the AHS Quilt Collection – Introduction

Bedding and quilts in particular are an interesting way to imagine the everyday or perhaps rather “everynight” lives of people in our past. We all have blankets, bedding, quilts, comforters and afghans for all seasons for all of our beds. Usually only our closest family and friends come into our bedrooms or use our blankets. Peering into the past by examining bedding is an intimate way to get to know someone, especially a long-gone stranger from history.

It is easy to imagine that bedding and sleeping has always been the same. We all have to do it, we all get sleepy and need to sleep somewhere, on something. However even sleeping eight hours a night is a fairly new concept. Our ways of sleeping, our beds, and how and why our bedding is made have changed dramatically over the years, and tell us a lot about how people lived while they were awake and asleep.

Over the past six months, I have inventoried and cataloged the quilt collection of the Arlington Historical Society. Researching the families, people, and culture these quilts came from was a soft and cozy tour through the course of American history. Imaging the generations of hands that spun, wove, sewed, washed, and cuddled up under these quilts has sparked my imagination in many ways. Over the next few months I will be sharing history, details, and photographs of a few of the highlights of the quilt collection.

Take a look at the Jason Russell House children’s room, and best room. It is a small house, currently with just two beds in the only two rooms on the top floor, and a small attic at the top of the house. Imagine Jason and Elizabeth, most of their nine children, one known slave Kate, possibly other servants, and any visiting family or guests. All in this tiny house! Beds and bedding must have been a hot commodity, even with everyone sleeping two, three, four or more to a bed. With that in mind, the first post in a few weeks will be a beautiful thick wool quilt that would have been right at home in the Russell house in 1781.


Nylander, Jane C. “A Warm Bed in a Cold Room.” Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of the New England Home, 1760-1860. New York: Knopf, 1993. 92-96. Print.


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