IOOF in Quilts

Three boat builders, a comedian and a vocalist go into a tavern…sounds like the start of a bad joke, but instead it is the unofficial start of the International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) in America in 1806. The official start is traced to the Baltimore Maryland lodge in 1819 and four quilts are associated with the specific lodge, made either to honor the member initiation or obtaining a high office in the lodge. It makes me wonder if more quilts associated with the IOOF Baltimore Lodge are out there.

I started on the journey when I was asked by a colleague to help a family find a missing family quilt with the image of the Baltimore IOOF founder lodge in the center. I didn’t have a clue, but I posted the photo in the AQSG Facebook page to see if anyone knew the answer.  Ronda Harrell McAllen, knew that the missing quilt was located at a museum for one of the IOOF founders, Michael Wildey.

Since I was already going down this rabbit hole, I began to explore the symbolism of IOOF as it relates to quilts. About 60 different symbols are associated with IOOF, many which can be found in quilts such as: three chains, three chains with F.L.T in the center (Friendship, Love, Truth), heart in a hand, large eye with radiant beams, keys, globe, hourglass, skull, coffin, and more. Does it mean every time you see three chains stitched into a quilt it is IOOF, likely, but the chain with initials is diagnostic.

Add to this hunt the fact that some of the symbols used in the 19th century by the IOOF have been “lost” to modern day viewers such as: the rainbow, axe with three links, shining sun, the art of Noah, horn of plenty (is there a reason so many Baltimore Album Quilts include a horn of plenty?), the lamb and more. Many of these symbols are also used for Christian symbolism too, so unless you have provenance on the quilt or other IOOF diagnostic symbols in a quilt it may be difficult to prove.  I can see more rabbit holes just waiting to be explored on this topic!

 

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