Doris’ Christmas Gift Legacy

qs_to doris from motherDoris Morris (yes, her real name) was a typical eight-year old girl in 1934. She went to school. She did her school work. She did her chores. She tried to help her mother in the kitchen. She idolized her older brother, Gerald. She fought with her younger brother, Rex.

She went to the Athelstan Quilt Guild with her mother, Nellie. She played with her friends while their mothers stitched and made warm quilts for the family. The younger girls ran around and played. They brought their dolls and played house. The older girls sat on the porch if it was warm or in the corner if it was cold, and worked on their stitchery. The older girls were already talking about boys and making dish towels and aprons for their hope chests.

In October of that year, Ideal Toy and Novelty Co. produced the first Shirley Temple doll. Some of the families in Athelstan that were a little better off financially had taken the children to the movie theater in Bedford to see Shirley Temple in Stand Up and Cheer and Little Miss Marker The girls chattered like a nest of magpies. They all wanted a Shirley Temple doll, even the older girls who couldn’t be bothered to play with dolls any more.

Doris wanted a Shirley Temple doll. She pestered her mother day in and day out, “Mother, I really, really, really want a Shirley Temple doll for Christmas,” she repeated.

“You know we don’t have the money for such foolishness,” Mother replied. “There’s too many bills and not money to go around. Farming doesn’t pay worth a hoot. We’re lucky we have a roof over our heads.”

Doris pouted. Mother fretted. If only they had the money for a special gift, she thought.

At the next quilt guild meeting, she was talking to her friends, China Scott, Susie Bownes, Georgia Older and Eva Maria Byrns.

“Let’s make Doris a friendship quilt,” Georgia Older suggested. “I have lots of muslin at the store. Clarence won’t mind if I appropriate a bit for a special project. When you stop in for your mail, pick up a square from me.”

Nellie mused, “What kind of squares should we all make? They should match somewhat.”

“How about Sunbonnet Sues and Overall Bills?” Eva Marie asked.  “I’ve been wanting to try my hand at an appliquéd Sunbonnet Sue. I can make one and sign Leona’s name to it.” Hearing her name, Leona looked up and paused from toddling around the living room.

Everyone pitched in and stitched away on the sly, whenever Doris wasn’t around.

China Scott made a square for her daughter Berneice and her step-grandchild Thelma Weaver.
Minnie Weese made a square for 7-year old Madelyn.
Katie Kemery made one for her and one for her daughter Norma Gean.
Katie Fidler made one for herself. Her children were all grown, married and off starting their own families.
The older girls made their own squares: Deliliah Rusco, Leona and Darlene Booher, Betty Balch (with one for her brother, John) and Evelyn and Maxine Bownes..
Some of the younger girls made squares too: Jean Marie Carroll, Beverly and Dorothy Barnett, Minnie & Josie Bownes (with one for Charls Bownes), Lelah Clark, Grace Murray.
Georgia Older, the postmaster’s wife, made one for her and one for her mother, Mrs. EJ (Eliza Jane) Bownes.
Mrs. Yoder made three for her family. Being Amish, she didn’t sign their names on their squares.
Zelma Weese made two for her little one Dean. She couldn’t decide on the Sunbonnet Sue or Overall Bill, so since Dean was two years old, she made one of each.
Eva Marie Byrns made a square for Leona and added her age, 18 months.
Nellie Morris finished up the set with two squares, one for little Rex and one for Doris. On Doris’s square she signed ‘To Doris, From Mother’ and added ‘1934 in the bonnet.

Doris was surprised on Christmas Day that year. She didn’t get her Shirley Temple doll. But she had a stack of memories, stitched by her friends and family, memories that she would keep her entire life. She never did piece the squares into a quilt. Yet, the square remained as one of her treasured processions.

When Doris died January 10, 2005, at the age of 78 years old, the quilt squares finally left the family, to be happily purchased by me at a yard sale. The set of 30 quilt squares live on, calico memories of when the paths of these 30 people all crossed in Athelstan, Iowa, living on long past Doris and the demise of Athelstan.



  1. What a fabulous story and an amazing find for you, both the squares and their history. Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks Chris. I have really been enjoying finding out more about these women from the past. I am soooo glad I stopped at the yard sale that day’

    • Beautiful embroidery work! I especially like your herb garden piece.

  2. That’s fascinating! How’d you find out the back story?

    • Thanks JoJo! LOTS (and LOTS) of computer time lol And I’ve botten in touch with a few descendants of the squares and we’ve had some email correspondance. It’s been a lot of fun!

  3. Nita

    I’m so glad you got the story to go with the squares. Now when the quilt is put together it will have two known stories, Doris’s and yours. 🙂 Because as we know, every quilt has a story or ten.

    • Yes, Nita, so true!! And this set has 30 different squares, so at least 30 stories with this one.
      I contacted the local museum in Taylor County Iowa, and will take the squares to them. The director is in touch with two quilting guilds interested in piecing the squares into a quilt.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Thanks for sharing this heart warming bit of history!

    • Thanks Nikki! I’ve gotten rather attached to the people behind these squares and love to share their stories any chance I get.

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