By Mary Giorgio
Wabash-born Hoosier Marie Daugherty Webster was more than just a great quilt designer and entrepreneur – she (literally) wrote the book on American quilting.
In 1915, Webster’s Quilts, Their Story, and How to Make Them became the first book published on quilting in the United States and was reprinted as recently as 2009.
Her former residence in Marion was named to the houses the National Register of Historic Places in 1993 and currently hosts to the Quilters Hall of Fame (an organization which she, as the literal writer of the book on quilting, is, of course, a member).
Marie Webster was born in Wabash in 1859 and was introduced to hand sewing by her mother as a child. Sewing became a favorite pastime of hers, but it wasn’t until much later in adulthood that she discovered her true calling – the quilt.
In the early 1900s, inspired by the arts and crafts movement, Webster began designing quilts and had her first designs printed in the ‘Ladies Home Journal’ in 1911.
She would continue printing designs and contributing articles to the magazine over the next several years. Her quilt patterns, which are known for their floral designs and pastel colors, became popular thanks to this early exposure.
By 1915, Webster was respected in quilting circles and was hired to research and write her book by New York publisher Doubleday, Page & Co. This was considered an authoritative text on quilting and was reprinted in 1916, 1926, 1928, 1929, 1943, 1948, 1990 and 2009.
Following the success of her book and her ‘Ladies’ Home Journal’ contributions, Webster saw an increased demand for her designs. She published a four-page catalog and founded her own business. By 1921, Webster had formed The Practical Patchwork Company alongside her sister Emma and two friends Ida Hess and Evangeline Beshore. The four women packaged patterns, instructions and fabric swatches, which they shipped across the country via mail.
After the death of her husband in 1938, Webster took a less active role in the company. By 1942, she moved from her long-time home in Marion to live in Princeton, New Jersey with her son Lawrence and his family. She passed away in 1956 at the age of 97.
In recent years, her quilts are displayed in museums across the globe as well as her former home. Despite her personal attachment to the Quilters Hall of Fame, the largest collection of Mary Webster Quilts in the country is located at The Indianapolis Museum of Art.