Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A History Lesson for Knitters Part 1

I’m not much of a historian. Actually you would think that being a college graduate and all, I would have taken some post high school history classes. That is not the case. My study of history in high school was also very limited. I took only US History that was a required class my junior year of high school and the teacher was the basketball coach so he relied on filmstrips (yes, I know how much that dates me.....) to teach us while he visited with the other coaches out in the hallway. Nice guy, but I learned little about history. A lot of my knowledge of history comes from studying for history tests with my 2 sons through the years.

I never really thought much about knitting in the early days of the United States. I ran across something on the internet that I found very interesting. The blog I was diverted to is: I did some googling of my own and came up with today’s topic.


The Sophia Smith Collection - Women’s History Manuscripts

The 1892 exchange between Elizabeth Cady Stanton
and Eliza Wright Osborne is excerpted below:

Dear Eliza,

In a recent letter to Mrs. Miller, speaking of the time when we last met, you say, 'Why was Mrs. Stanton so solemn?' to which I reply: Ever since an old German emperor issued an edict, ordering all the women under that flag to knit when walking on the highway, when selling apples in the market place, when sitting in the parks, because 'to keep women out of mischief their hands must be busy,' ever since I read that, I have felt 'solemn' whenever I have seen any daughters of our grand Republic knitting, tatting, embroidering, or occupied with any of the ten thousand digital absurdities that fill so large a place in the lives of Eve's daughters. Looking forward to the scintillations of wit, the philosophical researches, the historical traditions, the scientific discoveries, the astronomical explorations, the mysteries of theosophy, palmistry, mental science, the revelations of the unknown world where angels and devils do congregate, looking forward to discussions of all these grand themes, in meeting the eldest daughter of David and Martha Wright, the niece of Lucretia Mott, the sister-in-law of William Lloyd Garrison, a queenly-looking woman five feet eight in height, and well proportioned, with glorious black eyes, rivaling even De Staël's in power and pathos, one can readily imagine the disappointment I experienced when such a woman pulled a cotton wash rag from her pocket and forthwith began to knit with bowed head. Fixing her eyes and concentrating her thoughts on a rag one foot square; it was impossible for conversation to rise above the wash-rag level! It was enough to make the most aged optimist 'solemn' to see such a wreck of glorious womanhood.And, still worse, she not only knit steadily, hour after hour, but she bestowed the sweetest words of encouragement on a young girl from the Pacific Coast, who was embroidering rosebuds on another rag, the very girl I had endeavored to rescue from the maelstrom of embroidery, by showing her the unspeakable folly of giving her optic nerves to such base uses, when they were designed by the Creator to explore the planetary world, with chart and compass to guide mighty ships across the sea, to lead the sons of Adam with divinest love from earth to heaven. Think of the great beseeching optic nerves and muscles by which we express our admiration of all that is good and glorious in earth and heaven, being concentrated on a cotton wash rag! Who can wonder that I was 'solemn' that day! I made my agonized protest on the spot, but it fell unheeded, and with satisfied sneer Eliza knit on, and the young Californian continued making the rosebuds. I gazed into space, and, when alone, wept for my degenerate countrywoman. I not only was 'solemn' that day, but I am profoundly 'solemn' whenever I think of that queenly woman and that cotton wash rag. (One can buy a whole dozen of these useful appliances, with red borders and fringed, for twenty-five cents.) Oh, Eliza, I beseech you, knit no more!

Affectionately yours,


Dear Mrs. Stanton

In your skit,

Against your sisterhood who knit,

Or useful make their fingers,

I wonder if–deny it not–

The habit of Lucretia Mott

Within your memory lingers!

In retrospective vision bright,

Can you recall dear Martha Wright

Without her work or knitting?

The needles flying in her hands,

On washing rags or baby's bands,

Or other work as fitting?

"I cannot think they thought the less,

Or ceased the company to bless

With conversation's riches,

Because they thus improved their time,

And never deemed it was a crime

To fill the hours with stitches.

They even used to preach and plan

To spread the fashion,

so that man

Might have this satisfaction;

Instead of idling as men do,

With nervous meddling fingers too,

Why not mate talk with action?

But as a daughter and a niece,

I pride myself on every piece,

Of handiwork created;

While reveling in social chat,

Or listening to gossip flat,

My gain is unabated.

That German emperor you scorn,

Seems to my mind a monarch born,

Worthy to lead a column;

I'll warrant he could talk and work,

And, neither being used to shirk,

Was rarely very solemn.

I could say more upon this head,

But must, before I go to bed,

Your idle precepts mocking,

Get out my needle and my yarn

And, caring not a single darn,

Just finish up this stocking.

Eliza Wright Osborne

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