Elspeth’s Blocks Found!
Creating a special journal of a new life
It was June 1920 when Elspeth and William were journeying up the Richardson Highway by wagon. While traveling from Valdez up the almost 400 miles, heading to Fairbanks and their new life, Elspeth sewed 20 block of her first quilt.
As they traveled north through the long, Alaskan summer days, she kept a special type of traveler’s journal — a series of letters and quilt blocks. Her letters were short, yet very descriptive and her 20 quilt blocks were pictures in fabric and thread of the sights she and William saw and experienced.
Elspeth only wrote eight letters to her “Dear Friend” who lived outside, in Elspeth’s old home back in Calloway county, Kentucky. The letters were “mailed” at roadhouses along the highway. Every few days a bus or truck would travel from Fairbanks down to Valdez and the roadhouse mail would be collected and delivered for shipment from Valdez back to Seattle.
Beginning a new life together — Married in Murray, Kentucky
Elspeth, b. Jan. 1901, Calloway county, west of the Tennessee river, and William, b. Aug. 1894, New Madrid county, Missouri, were married earlier that year back in Murray, Kentucky.
Their wedding was noted in the Murray Ledger & Times on June 20, 1919…
Married BOGGS – WARRENElspeth receives a “Female education in proper Kentucky style”
MURRAY, Ky., June 20—At the home of the bride's parents in this city, on Saturday evening, June 16, 1919, the Rev. L. Greenfield, married Mr. William John BOGGS, of New Madrid, Mo., and Miss Elspeth Martha WARREN, of this city.
The bride is the daughter of Lawyer and Mrs. J. D. WARREN, and has grown up in this community where she has a host of warm friends. Since 1917, she has been studying music and other college subjects at Bethel Woman’s College, Hopkinsville, Ky.
The groom is a young gentleman of New Madrid co., Missouri, who was discharged from the Army Signal Corps with the rank of sergeant on June 5th, 1919. Mr. Boggs had served in the Army since August 1917. He served in France in the AEF from June 1918 to May 1919. He is highly esteemed by all who know him.
The MURRAY LEDGER & TIMES extends its hearty congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Boggs, and wishes them many years of unalloyed happiness wherever their adventures might take them.
Prior to their wedding, Elspeth had spent two years studying music, nursing, and “other college subjects” at Bethel Woman’s College in Hopkinsville, Christian county. Her mother, Mary Jane, and her two older sisters, Dawn Elise, b. Dec. 1897, and Margaret Ann, b. Oct. 1899, had also studied at what was then Bethel Female College.
Young William’s wild streak is mining, steamboating
William, Elspeth's husband, came from a family in southern Missouri. Originally his family came from the Georgia seacoast. Although William’s father was a well-to-do banker, William had a bit of a wild a streak and left home at a young age.
William has done some mining in Colorado and Utah before coming back to Kentucky and meeting Elspeth. William has also worked as a boy on the Mississippi as a deck crewman on the paddle wheel freighter Col. John Germain. Working the lower river down to New Orleans.
Two young folks meet in Hopkinsville
In 1917, William had met his future bride while she was studying in Bethel Woman’s College in Hopkinsville, Ky. He joined the U.S. Army August 7, 1917 there in Hopkinsville. He served in the Army Signal Corps and attained the rank of sergeant. He was discharged on June 5th, 1919. William served in France in the AEF from June 1918 to May 1919.
Going to Alaska with side trip to California, Oregon
William Boggs had a bit of money from his savings during Army service. His father had given him some tracts of land in New Madrid county, Mo., as part of his father’s real estate business. William sold half of his tracts in a number of land sales.
This provided money to take the railroad to California, Oregon, and Seattle. There was money for steamship passage to Valdez and to buy a wagon and goods for the trip to Fairbanks.
Before coming to Alaska, the young newlyweds had traveled to meet William's uncle in the gold mining country of the Sierra Nevadas in northern California. There they also visited with Elspeth's very old aunt (she was in her late 80s) who worked in a house on the Barbary Coast in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush (c. 1849-1860).
From California they took the railroad north to visit relatives in Linn co., Ore. This was where Elspeth’s mother had been born — Mary Jane WALKER, b. Sep. 1870, Linn co., Ore., on a farm north of Peoria, Ore.
Eventually, in Seattle, they boarded an Alaska Steamship Company steamer heading for Valdez, Alaska.
1920’s pioneers choose wagon rather than bus
When they arrived in Valdez, they found the way to Fairbanks was on the Richardson Highway. While by 1919, most of the highway traffic was motorized, William and Elspeth wanted to save money and to have a more pioneer-like experience, so they bought a wagon and team. The journey was over 360 miles and they took 16 days for their trip.
Back to Elspeth’s new found quilt blocks
Elspeth remained all her life in Alaska — she bore 7 children, raised two additional stepchildren, eventually had 3 husbands, and was a B&B operator in Tok — quilting all the while. When she passed in 1996, in Fairbanks, her quilts were stored. It wasn’t until recently that some of these old patterns were found.
Here is a bit more background of her quilt patterns.
Her wedding hope chest is filled with quilt patterns
When Elspeth was married, one of her wedding gifts was a package of printed quilt patterns.
El’s grandmother, her mother, and her sisters created this collection. They placed it in a hope chest with fabric scraps as a very special gift for their new bride. The hope chest was handmade by her father from Kentucky hardwoods.
Patterns — heritage, traditional, and LHJ, Godey’s — from her family
Grandma Elspeth Martha had cut many patterns from magazines such as the Ladies Home Journal and Godey's Lady's Book. Mary, El’s mother, had collected printed patterns from newspapers and mail order companies when she had traveled to St. Louis for the World Fair in 1904.
Dawn Elise and Margaret Ann, El’s two older sisters, drew patterns from old family quilts and made copies of patterns from mail-order companies. Her two younger sisters, Mattie (Dauphine) and Cleo (Cleopatra), collected four patterns from a local quilter who sold patterns and kits from her home in the county near the Tennessee River.
El’s Great-aunt Marcie had mailed two patterns from California. (Aunt Marcie had once been known as Madame Marcelle. That was in the early days when she worked on the Barbary Coast in San Francisco.)
Quilt block documents are traditional and special
In addition to her wedding collection of patterns, while on her travels, Elspeth pieced adaptations of traditional patterns. She also was becoming a quilt pattern designer and drew new patterns to reflect the sights she experienced in Alaska.
When she arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska, El had 41 block patterns in her collection.
Five blocks found
Moose tracks, spawning salmon, bear paws, raven tracks, and single wedding ring are El’s creations, or modifications of traditionals, which have been added to the ACQC website. Check to see if you can identify these blocks.
Send Peggy and Dawn an email with your guesses. If you are correct, they may send you a small gift and then again, they may not!
The explosion of printed quilt patterns was part of the quilting revival of the late 19th century and the early 20th centuries. This revival, which reached it’s maximum in the 1920’s and 1930’s, was associated with improvements in sewing machine design, electrical sewing machines, and their wide distribution.