Civil War Era,  Women's History

Celebrating the American Centennial

As 1876 dawned, Americans across the country prepared to celebrate the nation’s centennial. In May, the grand and much anticipated Centennial Exhibition opened in Philadephia complete with all manner of sights to behold. Tens of thousands of people descended on the city. During the week of July 4th, all work ceased, and half a million people watched as a parade made its way through the streets to a platform filled with American politicians and foreign dignitaries. There, the Declaration of Independence was read from the original manuscript followed by a massive display of fireworks.

Other parts of the nation celebrated in their own ways. Cities and towns presented programs and parades appropriate to their size and financial means, church bells rang out, bands played in town squares, community picnics filled park spaces, and families commemorated the day in a variety of creative methods. Such was the case for the Bradbury family of Charleston, New Hampshire. 

John Henry Bradbury was a merchant in the New York dry goods wholesale trade. The firm he worked for received numerous commemorative fabric samples from manufacturers, which he then proceeded to bring home to his family in New Hampshire. Twelve year old Harriet, along with her mother Emily and grandmother Maria, stitched together the samples to create a quilt commemorating the centennial. The textile features various popular patriotic motifs, such as eagles, flags, muskets, cannonballs, liberty bells, and images of George Washington. It is certainly a piece equal to the celebration it memorializes!

[From the exhibit Covering America: The Textile Heritage of 19th-Century Quilts]

  • NMAH. “1876 Bradbury Family’s 1876 Centennial Quilt.” National Quilt Collection. Accessed October 21, 2022.
  • Nugent, Walter. “The American People and the Centennial of 1876.” Indiana Magazine of History 75, no. 1 (March 1979): 53-69.

*Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History