By KAREN C. LUND
"Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929" is a new presentation available from the Library's American Memory Web site. The site assembles an array of Library of Congress source materials from the 1920s that document the widespread prosperity of the Coolidge years, the nation's transition to a mass consumer economy and the role of government in this transition.
The collection includes nearly 150 selections from 12 collections of personal papers and two collections of institutional papers; 74 books, pamphlets and legislative documents, including selections from 34 consumer and trade journals; 185 photographs; and five short films and seven audio selections of Coolidge speeches.
The site is particularly strong in advertising and mass-marketing materials and will be of special interest to those seeking to understand economic and political forces at work in the 1920s. The production of this collection was made possible by the generous support of Laurance S. and Mary French Rockefeller.
"Prosperity and Thrift" contains especially rich resources on African Americans in the consumer economy. While many African Americans, especially in the South, experienced continuing poverty and hardship in the 1920s, the decade was also to some extent an era of opportunities. The pursuit of a higher standard of living, increased personal autonomy and less discrimination led many African Americans to migrate to the urban North from rural areas in the South.
Merchandising and advertising during the Coolidge years are also a focus of the collection. The policies of the Coolidge administration supported business and spurred tremendous commercial growth.
A second new online presentation showcases American craftsmanship at its finest and most colorful in "Quilts and Quiltmaking in America." The materials are from the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress: the Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project Collection (1978) and the contest winners from the 1992, 1994 and 1996 All-American Quilt Contest sponsored by Coming Home, a division of Lands' End, and Good Housekeeping. Together these collections provide a glimpse into America's diverse quilting traditions.
The quilt documentation from the Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project, an ethnographic field study conducted by the American Folklife Center in cooperation with the National Park Service, includes 229 photographs and 181 recorded interviews with six quilters in Appalachian North Carolina and Virginia. These materials document quilts and quilting within the context of daily life and reflect a range of backgrounds, motivations and aesthetic sensibilities.
The Blue Ridge interviews were conducted in a limited geographic area over a period of two months with a small number of women identified by the researchers as traditional quilters -- that is, those for whom quiltmaking was an integral part of their lives in a rural economy. Their stories include learning to make quilts from older relatives, using remnants from home sewing and re-creating patterns passed down from earlier generations. These interviews, recorded in 1978, document an important transition in quiltmaking history: the early influences of its late-20th century revival. At the time of the Blue Ridge interviews, quilting was practiced primarily as an individual or local activity by older women, and there were as yet few indications of growing general popularity.
The other major portion of "Quilts and Quiltmaking" features entries from the Lands' End All-American Quilt Contest, including approximately 180 winning quilts from across the United States. In 1992 the Coming Home Division of Lands' End Direct Merchants teamed up with Good Housekeeping magazine to sponsor an "All-American Quilt Contest." From the entries received, judges selected both a first-prize winner from each state and a national winner. The contest was repeated in 1994 and 1996, with the theme "If Quilts Could Talk." Many quiltmakers took the opportunity to share the stories of their quilts, and while a collection of prize winners may not represent the full range of American quilts, their stories, motivations and meanings connect them with hundreds of thousands of other quilts that decorate beds, comfort children, document weddings and birthdays, and give pleasure to the makers and their loved ones.
American Memory is a project of the National Digital Library Program of the Library of Congress, which now offers more than 2.5 million items in more than 60 diverse collections of online materials from the world's largest library. By 2000, the Bicentennial of the Library, more than 6 million items will be available as part of the Library's Bicentennial "Gift to the Nation."