Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Wartime Wednesday: Pillow Talk

Wartime Wednesday: Pillow Talk

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Unlike “sweetheart jewelry” that got its start during World War I, the giving of sweetheart pillow covers or shams seems to have started during the War of 1812. In a letter from Private Abner McDonough of Wilmington, Delaware to his mother, he says, “some of us fellows took ahold {sic} of a good idea, Sunday week, which has led us to make special remembrances for our loved ones back home. We was wondering what to do with the sacks the feed for the mules comes in, and they’re {sic} being a lull in the fighting hereabouts and us having some free time for a chance, we got us some needles and colored threads and sewed words of true sentiment, and designs too, on the sacks, then stuffing them with pine needles and sewing up the ends…”

The Civil War also saw soldiers and sailors send home pillow covers, but by the Spanish American War, “Mother” pillows were massed produced by commercial companies and sold on military bases. Some were also sent home from members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. According to one source, “it was America’s entry into World War I that opened the floodgates to the manufacture and sale of Mother pillows.” Statistics from the Federation of American Retailers of Felt Products and Novelties, more than twelve million pillows were sold between 1917 and 1920. World War II would see almost that many sold. One site indicates the cost was approximately $7.00.

Because silk was required in the manufacture of parachutes, the covers were initially made of rayon, a
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fiber generally derived from wood pulp. Eucalyptus trees are the primary source, but bamboo, soy, and cotton may also be used. With the invention of nylon in 1938 by DuPont, many covers from the mid- to end of the war were of this fabric – often touted as helping the Allies win the war.

Rarely used to cover pillows, the shams were often framed and hung on the wall, or stashed in a cedar chest for safekeeping. The majority of the covers denoted the military base, and many included poems or sentiments. Some just indicated Mother, Wife, Sister, or Sweetheart. Scenes and unit or branch insignias were often embedded among ivy or flowers. More often than not, fringe edged the covers.

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The Wright Museum is the proud recipient of a collection of nearly two hundred covers and associated items from author Patricia Cummings, whose book Sweetheart & Mother Pillows: 1917-1945 is considered a landmark study. The covers were featured in the museum’s 2021 exhibit Shaped by Conflict.

Have you ever seen a sweetheart pillow?


Estelle's Endeavor

Will a world at war destroy a second chance at love?

Estelle Johnson promised to wait for Aubry DeLuca, but then she receives word of his debilitating injuries. Does she have the strength to stand by him in his hour of need?

Aubry DeLuca storms the beaches at Normandy, then wakes up in the hospital, his eyes bandaged. Will he regain his sight? Will the only woman he’s ever loved welcome him home or is he destined to go through life blind and alone?

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