On the first anniversary of the Women’s March, Norwich residents woke to find a giant pink pussy hat atop the welcome sign at the entrance to town.
It was an act of craftivism in keeping with a long tradition of Norwich women speaking their minds through handwork and craft. And it reminded me of another group of ladies who had assembled at the Norwich Congregational Church in 1843, to hear a speech about American slavery.
Afterwards, 34 women formed the Norwich Female Abolition Society, taking a stand against slavery and gathering monthly at each other’s homes, often quilting or sewing while one member read anti-slavery newspapers or fugitive slave narratives.
Gathered by the fire, heads bent together, they discussed what to do with their handwork. One bundle of clothing was sent to Ontario for fugitives beginning new lives. Canada was experiencing a real refugee crisis, and the ladies were glad to find a way to help.
They also sent clothing to a clergyman in Troy, NY, who was supporting fugitives heading north through the city. And they sympathized with a woman from Illinois, whose husband was imprisoned for assisting fugitives, and had no way of supporting herself. They sent her two bed quilts.
This work was not without complications, however, and not everyone in Norwich agreed with their sentiments. The cotton thread and fabric they purchased for their benevolent work was most likely slave produced, and Norwich account books confirm that some of their supplies came from the South.
Then too, at that time Norwich University was located just across the street from the homes where the Society met – and Norwich had students from the South. In fact, archives reveal that one young Virginian instructed his mother to hire out a family slave to augment funds he needed to pay his Norwich bills.
Strands of ethics, economics, empathy, and craft were a tangled web, but the Norwich women spun them into cloth that they bound into quilts for those in need. They made a difference in peoples’ lives, while taking a stand for their beliefs in a way that was appropriate for their era.
175 years later, knitting pink pussy hats took place by the fire in some of the same rooms where clothing and quilts had been sewn.
Proving that taking a stand in Norwich matters - both then and now.