A quilt top sits on the back of a couch at the home of Margaret Prentice in Liberal. The top was found by her daughter, Chris McCabe, who lives in San Antonio and found the top at an antique fair in Round Top, Texas. The quilt is has 104 names of women living in Liberal in 1935. L&T photo/Rachel Coleman
Liberal native stumbles on local artifact
By Rachel Coleman
Leader & Times
The women stitched each star by hand, piecing printed diamonds into an orderly geometric pattern. Butter-yellow anchored the differently hued stars, some pastel, some intense. Finally, they added their names, 104 in all, embroidered in colored thread on white cotton.
It was a quilt top and a token of affection — most likely a farewell gift presented to Pauline Wright on Dec. 25, 1935. The wife of a local pastor, Wright and her family moved shortly after Christmas, taking the quilt top with them.
Nearly 80 years later, the quilt top reappeared. Draped over a barbed-wire fence, blotted with bird droppings, one star severed, the quilt top caught the attention of three women at an antique show held in a pasture.
“We just stumbled across it,” said Chris (Prentice) McCabe. A Liberal native, McCabe had traveled to Round Top, Texas, with her two daughters. Though the town’s population numbers less than 100 people, its twice-yearly antique fair is well-attended by guests from San Antonio, Houston and Austin. Antique dealers set up tents and tables in pasture-land surrounding the town’s one square mile.
“It was so hot, and we were just looking around when one of my daughters said, ‘Oh, look at this quilt top,’’ said McCabe, a quilter herself. Even so, she was not particularly interested in acquiring what was likely to be an expensive item — until her daughter added, “It says ‘Liberal, Kansas.’”
“I was immediately interested, and really thrilled when I took a closer look,” McCabe said. “I played it cool with the seller, because I didn’t want her to charge me $2,000. She sold it for $25.”
The quilt top, McCabe felt, “was a treasure, a steal. Who in the world would be interested in something like that, and what were the chances that someone from Liberal would come across it? My daughters and I were so tickled, and I couldn’t wait to call my mother.”
Margaret Prentice, 81, still at home in Liberal, was delighted by the news of her daughter’s unexpected find.
“I just wanted to show it to as many people as I could,” Prentice said. “It really belongs to the community.”
In keeping with that sentiment, Prentice and McCabe plan to donate the quilt to the Coronado Museum later this year.
“It’s appropriate, since the Coronado used to be the Larrabee family home, and one of the names on the quilt is Mrs. Lee Larrabee,” Prentice said.
Other landmark names from Liberal and Seward County appear on the quilt: Tobias, Salley, Boles, Feather, Mahuron, Rindom and Baughman. Then, of course, are lesser-known names of unmarried women whose stories have vanished.
The fact that more than 100 women collaborated on the project bears witness to another phenomenon lost to history: female friendship and the role of groups of women in the community.
“I think the quilt top is pretty special,” said local historian Lidia Hook-Gray.
Gray used the Internet search engine ancestry.com to try to puzzle out the story of what happened to the quilt top after Pauline Wright left Liberal.
“We found a census record that showed she lived in Hutchinson County, Texas, near Borger, in 1940,” she said. “And an entry in the old Seward County history book mentions a Rev. Jimmy Wright as pastor of the First Baptist Church. But that’s all we have found.”
McCabe said the antique dealer recalled purchasing the quilt top as part of a lot of items retrieved from storage.
“I think it was the granddaughter who was clearing out things of her grandmother’s,” she said. “It had been in storage for 30 years or more.”
Regardless of the quilt top’s journey, its beginning represented a lost era, both in terms of Liberal’s development and the lives of women in that time period.
“It’s very, very cool. Women did so much to build the community, but we never hear about that,” Gray said. “Sometimes, I’ll find something when I’m doing research, and I think, ‘hey, there’s something a gal did!’”
In the case of the quilt, a few conclusions are clear: many women in 1935 were proficient with needle and thread; women made time for each other, socially and in service; many of them were fond of Pauline Wright.
“We have so many other ways to fill our time today,” said McCabe. “I think we probably have deprived ourselves of female companionship.”
Prentice, too, is fascinated by the diversity of women represented on the quilt top.
“There are so many, perhaps from two different quilting guilds and many different churches,” she said. “We talked with Lois Morrissey and Joan Fitzgerald, who remember some of the ladies. They came from all denominations, and there was even a Jewish lady who participated.”
While it’s impossible to uncover the many stories, friendships and conversations connected to the quilt top’s construction, Prentice and McCabe are clear about one thing: “I think it’s a treasure, and it belongs to the community,” Prentice said.
“So many people have had so many ideas about what to do,” McCabe said. “Sell it on eBay. Finish sewing it into a quilt. Replace the missing square.”
There was never any doubt in her mind what to do, McCabe said. “I’m going to donate it back to Liberal. It needs to go back home where it came from.”
Quilt presented to Pauline Wright, Dec. 25, 1935, with these names
Mrs. Roy Smith
Mary Jane Higgins
Mrs. Ross Hogue
Mrs. W.T. Grove
Mrs. H. Roseberry
Mrs. E.R. Kemper
Mrs. H. Bush
Mrs. Sarah Salley
Mrs. Frank Boles
Mrs. George Ragsdale
Mrs. H.G. Vessels
Mrs. L.G. Stoner
Mrs. Jack Sturman
Mrs. R.C. Mauldin
Mrs. W.H. Feather
Mrs. H.G. Massey
Mrs. S.C. Jones
Mrs. Lowell Roach
Mrs. Van Buskirk
Mrs. J.G. Blair
Mrs. Lee Larrabee
Mrs. W.E. Carr
Mrs. R.O. Tobias
Mrs. Frank Grey
Mrs. J.O. Brooks
Mrs. A.F. Gorman
Mrs. Ira Salley
Mrs. R.V. Phelps
Mrs. Lee Fuller
Hallie M. Snyder
Mary Joy Jones
Mrs. R.C. Eastman
Mrs. C.J. Malone
Mrs. N.B. Mahuron
Mrs. E. Craven
Mrs. J. Williams
Mrs. Alice Rindom
Mrs. C.E. Ames
Mrs. E.E. Kelly
Mrs. Charles Taylor
Mrs. M.W. Lear
Mrs. J.E. George
Mrs. E.S. Irwin
Mrs. J. Baughman
Mrs. L. Patten