Thursday, December 17, 2009

Quilts bring to life memories of women’s work in China.

"Archival research and collective memories from close at hand and afar are bringing an intriguing story to life--a kind of SERRV project a decade or two ahead of SERRV, a hunger action program 50 years ahead of the Global Food Crisis Fund," reports Howard Royer.

Earlier this fall Royer--who manages the Church of the Brethren’s Global Food Crisis Fund--was loaned two unique quilt pieces by Marjorie Morse Kauffman of Lancaster, Pa.: a bed quilt and a quilted runner. The quilts were made of white cloth, appliqued with blue fabric in a floral pattern.

All that Kauffman knew about them were that the tops had been sewn together and appliqued by women in China as part of the former Brethren mission program there, prior to World War II. The quilt tops were then made available to churches in the US. Kauffman had found the two quilt tops in a trunk of things owned by her grandmother, and had the pieces quilted in Elgin, Ill.

Royer asked Ken Shaffer, director of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives, and his assistant Denise Kettering to find out more about the origin of the quilts.

"Denise and I have spent a couple blocks of time this week looking for documentation of teaching embroidery/sewing/etc. in China," Shaffer reported back by e-mail. "We found this sentence in a June 1931 report written by Emma Horning: ‘Sis. Bright continues to conduct the beautiful sewing of women of Ping Ting, the returns of which support a number of budgets on the field.’ Also we found a photo labeled ‘Mrs. Bright and Chinese helper planning needle work.’"

The same picture appeared in an old issue of the denominational magazine, accompanying a story titled "The Hungry Are Fed" by Minnie Bright. Mentioned in the story was a "Woman's Industrial." A sentence read, "From among the 60 women who are at present doing needlework to support themselves, about 25 have been brought to new life through this means."

Shaffer continued: "In an issue of ‘The Star of Cathay’ (no date but about 1934 or 1935) we found this statement: ‘The industrial needlework in Ping Ting is making it possible for more then [sic] 60 women to provide food for more than 200 mouths. All these women are given class work in reading, hygiene, maternity welfare, and Gospel teaching.’"

Royer found out more after sharing the story of the quilts with Joe Wampler of Santa Cruz, Calif., who grew up in China, the son of missionaries Ernest and Elizabeth Wampler. He pursued the topic with heirs of former China missionaries and reported that embroidery work "was encouraged by many missionary denominations as a way for widows to earn a living in feudal China. In the old days, if a woman’s husband died the widow was practically without resources. So the mission women would set up a cottage industry for these women and then promote their handcrafts in the big cities and also in America.

"In the Church of the Brethren mission the center for embroidery was in Ping Ting and was run by Minnie Bright," Wampler continued. "Homer and Minnie Bright were in China from Sept. 1911 until Feb. 1938.... Marie Oberholtzer remembers it as a major cottage industry run by Minnie in the 1930s. She said that the Chinese women usually embroidered onto linen and made table cloths, bed covers, etc."

The quilt pieces have been displayed at the Church of the Brethren General Offices and at Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill. The church’s Global Mission Partnerships hopes to display the quilt pieces at the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in Pittsburgh next July.

An online photo album offers several pictures of the quilts, go to Those with more information about the women’s handcraft ministries that were part of the Church of the Brethren’s China mission are invited to contact Royer at or Shaffer at

Source: 12/17/2009 Newsline

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