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Women's Collections: Textiles as symbols of social status and identity


Philadelphia Quakeress, Mary "Polly" Norris (1740-1803) was the daughter of Isaac Norris II (1701-1766) and Sarah Logan (1715-1744) of Stenton. Polly's blue silk whole cloth quilt in the Stenton Collection was a treasured object. Its exceptionally good condition suggests it was placed on the best bed for special entertaining occasions to reflect light and Polly's elevated social status, as textiles in general were costly, especially imported silk. Likely assembled in Philadelphia of imported textiles, Polly's quilt shares similar decorative motifs with a group of quilts owned by other elite Quaker women. The quilt represented Polly's membership in an elite Quaker cohort, whose show textiles reinforced the group identity. Image above: Mary "Polly" Norris (1740-1803), Mrs. John Dickinson and her daughter Sally, 1772, oil on canvas, by Charles Willson Peale, Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection at the Philadelphia History Museum.

Left Image: Fairhill, seat of Isaac Norris, built 1712-1717. Norris's granddaughter Polly and her husband John Dickinson used Fairhill as a country retreat. This print created for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania notes Fairhill's location along the Germantown Pike, suggestive of its intended use as part of a highways and byways publication. This view is based on a 1760s sketch of the property in the Joseph Downs Collection in the Winterthur Library and offers a sense for the landscape arrangement and situation for a gentleman's house. Stenton collection.


Right Image: Whole cloth quilt, c.1770, Philadelphia. Blue silk face; English, indigo, block-printed cotton back with floral sprigs on a diaper-and-dot background.

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