Susan Reed, who made this delightful quilt in the pattern called “Wild Goose Chase,” was born and raised in Forestburgh, Sullivan County, New York, where she became a schoolteacher at the Hartwood School. Reed's marriage certificate, family register, some family photos, six letters written to her future husband, and two quilts made by her daughter (1976.198.2 and 1976.198.3) were donated to the Museum along with this quilt.
Susan Reed was born on July 25, 1839, the oldest child of Isaac and Elvina Drake Reed. Her father, who was a farmer and a lumber dealer, held a number of public offices in Forestburgh, including the job of town clerk in 1864. That same year, the town supervisor was John Ruddick (1822-1902), owner of a lumber mill, who was to be Reed's husband. John was a widower; he had been married in 1847 to Catherine A. Green, who died in 1862. The earliest of the extant courtship letters from Susan to John is dated February 14, 1866. She was then twenty-six, and he was forty-three. The letter begins:
Having a new pen & being anxious to test its qualities, I don't know as I could do it better than by writing you a valentine; for you know or ought to know that today is the day sacred to St. Valentine. He must have been an amorous Saint judging by the epistles full of loves & doves flying about on the day called Valentine's day.
Did I say I would write you a Valentine? Well I think I will not (for if I did it would be the first I ever wrote) but instead will try to write a plain common sense letter if I can collect thoughts enough to do such a thing. Some-times I find it difficult (after teaching all day) to collect material for a letter much less putting it in shape.
After much discussion of the doings of friends and the local Methodist church to which they both belonged, Reed ended her letter: "Now I will close by bidding you good night, assuring you of all the best wishes of one who feels a deep interest in your welfare. I shall expect an answer—Sue."
The next letter that survives, dated November 12, 1866, shows that Reed was still using her excellent sewing skills. Sewing, however, was not foremost in her mind: "Being alone tonight I set myself sewing for a time, but my thoughts were busyer than my needle, consequently the sewing was discarded altogether, and reading took its place; failing to become interested in my book + a spirit of loneliness creeping over me I thought I would write a bit."
In the next letter, dated December 31, 1866, it becomes obvious that some sort of problem was keeping the pair from making their friendship public:
When I last saw you, you asked me to write you once in a while, which I refused to do, giving as a reason, the existing circumstances which it is not necessary to mention to you; but I thought the matter over and came to the conclusion that under the existing state of things no wrong could possibly accrue from a friendly correspondence between us; hence the letter you will receive. . . .
I have already written longer than I intended and will close hoping you will not preserve this scrawl. I need not ask you to answer for had you not intended to do so you would not have asked me to write you. I have written nothing with which the most fastidious could find fault therefore no wrong can come of it, even if this should fall in the hands of one of the gossips of our small town—it would be a mystery to them.
Your sincere friend, S. R.
Anger and disappointment are expressed in a letter dated July 22, 1867, which reveals the nature of the problem. John was involved with another woman before he became friendly with Susan, and that "certain lady," as Susan refers to her, has made it widely known that she disapproves of Susan's friendship with a man to whom she has a prior claim. Susan wrote to John:
Your interview must have been a stormy one judging from the indignant manner in which her private opinion was publicly expressed. I am very sorry I am the unfortunate offender. . . . What the result of the interview was I do not know as I took no pains to inquire but I suppose you are on probation again provided you will not be ‘running after every thing.’ John, that expression hurt me not a little, as I thought you had told her that you kept no company but mine besides hers, for the last eight or nine months, at least I thought you had not. The every thing must mean me. . . . I may have done wrong in receiving attention to which she alone had a right but you know all about it—how it was and the result.
Susan goes on to tell John about a job offer she has received to become head of a junior school in a town some distance from Forestburgh. Perhaps at that moment, the idea of moving away from Forestburgh seemed very compelling. Somehow, the conflict was settled. The last letter in the group, written in November 1867, is a chatty discussion of a visit Susan was making to some friends in another town; it mentions nothing of the circumstances set forth in the previous letter. The couple was married in April 1868. Unfortunately, Reed's story does not end on a happy note. She became pregnant soon after she was married and, on February 4, 1869, gave birth to a daughter, Anna Susan Ruddick. Reed died twelve days later at the age of twenty-nine and was buried in the Forestburgh cemetery.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]