As part of its vast collection, The Henry Ford has a considerable number of quilts, each with its own story to tell. One of my jobs as an intern in the curatorial department is to research the quilt makers to learn more about them. For many of our quilts, we knew only a name and place.
One quilt in particular had an elusive story that I was determined to get to the bottom of. I didn’t have much to go on. I knew the name of the quilter was Hazel Crummey of Queen City, Texas, and that she made her quilt sometime between 1930 and 1937. Yet it was unclear whether Hazel made the quilt—or simply donated it.
My first step was to check Ancestry.com. There were several records of “Hazel Crummeys” in Arkansas, New York, and California. However no one by that name turned up in Texas. Could she be one of these but, if so, which one? My next attempt to find Hazel sent me to the Henry Ford Office Papers in the Benson Ford Research Center. From the 1920s into the 1940s, during the time that Henry Ford was gathering objects for the museum, Ford’s secretaries handled correspondence with donors and antique dealers. Since the quilt had come to the museum in 1937, I checked that year’s files for anything that mentioned Hazel or the quilt. I was in luck! Not only did I find a receipt for the quilt, but I found a letter from Hazel herself to Henry Ford.
In this letter, 17-year-old Hazel writes to Henry that this is the first quilt she has ever made and ever since she was a little girl she has wanted to send him her first quilt as a present. Hazel was an admirer of Ford cars. In her letter she writes:
“…i said when i was a little girl the first money i made of my own i was going to buy me a ford car and i still have that in mind to buy me a new ford with the first money i earn of my own for i am a lover of ford cars…”
Was Hazel hoping Henry would send her a car? We don’t really know. But it’s clear that Henry Ford was a man she admired and whose cars she had a passion for.
Hazel tells Henry all about herself, including her age and her father’s name. Hazel even sent him a picture of herself! Using this information, I returned to Ancestry.com and determined which Hazel Crummey was our quilt maker. I found Hazel in the 1930 United States Federal Census living with her parents in Arkansas. The family moved to Queen City, Texas after that. In March 1937, two weeks after Hazel sent the quilt to Henry Ford, she married Frank Wilson of Rodessa, La.
Discovering Hazel’s story really made her quilt come to life. Hazel’s quilt had been transformed from a typical example of a popular early 20th century pattern, Double Wedding Ring, to something special. This young American girl growing up in Depression-era America had sent her first-ever accomplishment as a quilter to Henry Ford, a man whose cars she admired. Ford’s cars—affordable by the masses—had a huge impact on America life in the early 20th century. I hope that Hazel, as Mrs. Wilson, was able to get one of her own.
Lauren Eckler is a Curatorial Intern at The Henry Ford.