In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Lubec, Maine

A Border Town Shaped by the Sea

A Signature Quilt

By Ronald Pesha, Lubec Historical Society
Wormell Sisters image from Betsey Leavitt Josselyn

Signature Quilt, Lubec, 1889
Signature Quilt, Lubec, 1889

Item Contributed by
Lubec Historical Society

“I felt this quilt should come back home to Lubec,” said Mrs. Betsey Josselyn. She donated her family signature quilt to the Lubec Historical Society in 2008. The late 19th Century quilt features squares autographed by women bearing names including Case, Calkins, Kelley, Woodward, Guptill, and Small...all old-time Lubec families.
Quilting brought women of the 19th Century together socially while engaging in work essential to their families’ well-being, even survival. The autographed “signature” quilts created memories for those about to leave, whether to “go west” or enter marriage.
Consider the first square shown here, signed by Almeda J. Case née Wormell.

Almeda J. Case
Almeda J. Case

One of five surviving Wormell sisters, the women were daughters of Ebenezer Wormell, lightkeeper at West Quoddy Head Light Station in the 1840s-50s, which explains Almeda’s locater, South Lubec Road...the Lighthouse Road.
The 1888-89 dates on this quilt indicate decades of technological progress developing “indelible” inks which neither laundered out nor damaged the fabric. Tannic acid in early inks caused deterioration in cellulose fibers. However the ink remains subject to fading. Other mostly legible squares shown here are Edna Calkins West Lubec no date.

Edna Calkins
Edna Calkins

Mrs ? Calkins West Lubec Maine 1889

Mrs. ? Calkins, West Lubec
Mrs. ? Calkins, West Lubec

Miss Hillie? Guptill, Lubec, Maine

Mrs Hillie? Guptill
Mrs Hillie? Guptill

The only out of towner was Miss Jennie Skillings of Portland Maine. Perhaps she was visiting friends in Lubec.

Mrs. Skillings of Portland
Mrs. Skillings of Portland
Wormell Sisters of South Lubec, ca. 1885
Wormell Sisters of South Lubec, ca. 1885
Almeda J. Case née Wormell is seated on the left side.
Item Contributed by
Lubec Historical Society

Zoom in on this tintype photo for intimate views of these faces from so long ago. Standing are (left to right) Wealthy Ellen Wormell Leavitt, (Betsey Leavitt Josselyn’s great-great-great grandmother) and Mary Elizabeth Wormell Marston. In front, quiltmaker Almeda Wormell Case, Eliza Ann Wormell Marston, Clarinda Wormell McLaughton. A sixth sister, Selinda J. Wormell, died in 1862. She was the first wife of Loring Leavitt who later married Wealthy Ellen after Selinda’s death. Betsey Josselyn estimates the photo as ca. 1885.

The quilt passed down directly to Betsey Josselyn’s great-great grandmother, Lulu Ellen Leavitt. “I’m curious now as to what might have happened in 1888/1889 in Lulu Ellen’s life,” wrote Betsey, “for her to be in possession (probably from a gift) of the quilt. I am not sure that it came to my grandmother from her mother, it could have been Wealthy Ellen’s, as her sister Almeda made a square. I’m betting it might have been an engagement present for Lulu Ellen and Eugene Mahoney, who were married in 1891.”
If you possess an old quilt, exhibit it only in dim light. Leave cleaning, restoration and repair to historic textile experts. Store it unfolded or preferably rolled in archival paper and box. And revere it as a priceless object of our cumulative past.