by Fredda Cassidy

MyHerstory quilt collage illustrates six advances in a century of women’s rights that I intimately experienced during my seventy-four years of life: (1) eighteen consecutive years of an excellent, free, public EDUCATION; (2) decades of absurd DRESS CODES now obsolete; (3) lessons about birth control, The Pill, SEX, and the vagaries of the female body my mother never taught me that I taught my daughters; (4) the year "1971"—ten essential things I can easily do now but by law or convention couldn’t do then; (5) my first time witnessing a woman VOTE, experiencing disenfranchisement as an out-of-state graduate student, then ultimately voting in every election since; and (6) TERMINATION of my unplanned, perilous pregnancy.

I wrote, typeset, digital-printed onto transparent chiffon, stripped into obscurity, gathered and stitched together my stories—overlaying them to depict their overlap with the progression of women’s rights. I researched and verified my stories and historical events—resources are typeset in blue type. The foundation denim, pieced from my daughter and granddaughters’ jeans, celebrates generations of women bound together, especially my family.
A generic-woman, cut from a purchased, full-size, vintage quilt top, is faceless, limbless, of no particular ethnicity, living in no specific time. Fashioned from a textile created by an anonymous woman a generation ago, she is sewn on facing wrong side out, showcasing her sewist’s craft, and highlighting the patience it takes to cut and hand-stitch hundreds of pieces of odd fabrics into whole new cloth—as a multitude of women activists pieced together a myriad of human rights, one step at a time. Imperfect echo quilting and uneven fabric edges throughout encapsulate the emanation of women’s rights through the century while stressing that work for women’s equality remains messy and unfinished. Her exquisitely embroidered chapeau, handmade in Paris a century ago, embodies women’s fashion then and now—gifted to me by a dear friend whose grandmother purchased it in Denver, circa 1920. 

The backing, a rectangle cut from the same vintage quilt top faces right side out to represent rights American women have achieved and I currently enjoy. I cross-stitched my six thematic story words directly into the quilt back frame with metallic threads to indicate my hope that hard-won women’s rights will endure.

Ultimately, this piece is for my daughters and grandchildren to gauge how far women have come in my lifetime, and to set a marker showing how far we still need to go. It will be up to our next generation to achieve gender equality. I wish you a smooth path ahead.