A colorful quilt made from personalized pieces created in Greene County nearly 100 years ago is being preserved as a family heirloom in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.
Claudia (Bragdon) Powell recently shared the fascinating story of the Dutch Girl-pattern quilt with The Greeneville Sun in hopes it would bring back fond memories for many local families.
The quilt belonged to Powell’s great-aunt, Mary Hurley Wells, a longtime educator and principal in both the Greene County and Greeneville City school systems.
Wells’ career in education lasted from 1925 until retirement in 1971, after which she returned for a three-month stint as substitute during the 1972-73 school year.
During her 46-year teaching career, she taught at or was principal of several local schools: Bradburn Hill (1925-26), Glenwood (1926-27), Mosheim (1927-28), Roby Fitzgerald, Greeneville’s first public school, (1928-29), Mt. Airy (1929-31), DeBusk (1931-34), Walkers (1934-1948), Glenwood (1942-48) and Greeneville Junior High (1948-72).
Wells was instrumental in the education of many Greeneville and Greene County residents from such family names as: Babb, Brooks, Bryant, Cutshall and Cutshaw, Farnsworth, Fortner, Haney, Hardin, Harmon, Lamb, Lowery, Morrison, Parton, Renner, Roberts, Shelton, Tullock, Wells, Wykle and many others.
In 1932, Wells’ students at DeBusk made the quilt pieces as a Christmas gift for her.
“During that time, people were continuing to recover from the economic hardships caused by the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. Times were hard, and money was difficult to come by, especially for extras such as gifts for teachers,” Powell said.
“‘Grandmother’ Farnsworth, the grandmother of three of Mrs. Wells’ students, came up with a unique and creative idea for a Christmas gift. Having the Dutch Girl quilt pattern, Ms. Farnsworth shared it with any of the parents who were interested in making a quilt piece as a gift for Mrs. Wells. To make the quilt pieces even more special, the parents who made the pieces also sewed their child’s name on the quilt square,” Powell said.
The following names are sewed on the quilt: Alvia J. Ball, Troy Ball, Ruby Blankenship, Cora Branks, Madeline Brank, Willie K. Brooks, Willis Brooks, Junior Bryant, Velma Cannon, Clifford Cutshall, Flossie Mae Cutshaw, Loveady Cutshaw, Alyne Farnsworth, Fred Farnsworth, Josephine Farnsworth, Grandmother, Elbert Haney, Nellie Ruth Haney, Ralph Haney, Ross Haney, Bennie Lamb, Nellie Lowery, Pansy Parker, Lucille Parton, Billie Reed, Fern Renner, Arlin Roberts, Bessie Roberts, Pauline Roberts, Merrill Wells, Edna Wykle, Monte Wykle, Leroy Wykle and Ray Wykle.
Wells cherished the quilt pieces until passing them along to her niece, Mary-Margaret Bragdon, who had them sewn into a quilt. Bragdon passed the quilt along to her daughter, Powell.
“The quilt is and always will be a cherished family treasure,” Powell said.
In addition to the quilt, Powell has a record book in which Wells wrote the names of every student she taught during her career.
Wells was a very meticulous and organized person, who earned her degree from East Tennessee State Teachers College (now ETSU) during a time when teachers were not required to have a college education.
Wells labeled the book by writing, “Students I have taught. 1925-1973.”
Powell shared the list of names from 1925-26 at Bradburn Hill. The list begins with Mary Hurley as principal, Sallie Mysinger as assistant, and Alice Wells, then continues with a list of 23 student names sorted with girls first.
The 15 girls were: Roxie Hardin, Helen Harmon, Nellie Gray Shipley, Madeline Willet, Helen Fortner, Laura Harmon, Susie Shelton, Lillie Tullock, Carmen Fortner, Della Graham, Beulah King, Ella Mae Morrison, Freda Babb, Ethel Babb and Bonnie Tullock.
The eight boys were: Carl Fortner, Buster Combs, Fred King, Herbert Harmon, Robert Reel, George Justice, Raymond Morrison and Sherman Tullock.
The list notes that Helen Harmon was killed by lightning, Susie Shelton was killed in a car wreck, and Della Graham died of pneumonia.
Powell is the daughter of Mary-Margaret Bragdon and the late Roger Bragdon. She was born in Greeneville and attended Greeneville City Schools.
Following her graduation from Greeneville High School in 1976, she attended Mars Hill College and Eastern Kentucky University, where she received her degree in occupational therapy.
She and her husband currently reside in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.