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American Embroidered Samplers and Pictures

The earliest known American sampler was made by Loara Standish of the Plymouth Colony in about 1645. By the 1700s, samplers depicting alphabets and numerals were worked by young women to learn the basic needlework skills needed to operate the family household. By the late 1700s and early 1800s, schools or academies for well-to-do young women flourished, and more elaborate pieces with decorative motifs such as verses, flowers, houses, religious, pastoral, and/or mourning scenes. Young women proudly displayed these embroideries as showpieces of their work. In the early 1800s, silk-embroidered pictures became a popular form of needlework in America. Young women could learn this challenging needlework technique at specialized academies. In addition to patriotic scenes, subjects included classical, biblical, historical, and the ever-popular mourning pictures.

In recent years, samplers and embroidered pictures have become important in museum collections as representations of early American female education. Many are signed, and some are inscribed with locations and the names of teachers and schools. The emergence of large numbers of these samplers and pictures has engendered much research in diaries, account books, letters, newspaper ads, local histories, and published commentary that is helping to illuminate the lives of women in early America.


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