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Samplers and Embroidered Pictures

Sampler, 1797, made by Elizabeth Simon

Stitching samplers were considered an important educational tool for European and American girls from the 1600s through the mid-1800s. Girls practiced useful stitches under the direction of a teacher and learned virtues such as neatness and perseverance. The inclusion of an alphabet proved literacy, while pious verses and religious motifs demonstrated moral virtue.

While the schoolmistress chose the motifs, borders, alphabets, verses, and types of stitches, each girl combined these features—often along with her name and family names—with varying degrees of skill and artistry to make her sampler unique. A girl’s sampler was proudly displayed as a sign of her education and accomplishment.

The museum’s renowned collection of more than 700 schoolgirl embroideries includes some 500 collected by the Philadelphia-based candy company Whitman Chocolates, whose signature “Sampler” box of chocolates—introduced in 1912—has always featured motifs derived from samplers.