Notes on collections at the RIHS
The 2018 programming theme for the Rhode Island Historical Society is Rest and Relaxation in Rhode Island. This can mean many things to different people but in this cold, wintery start to 2018 my mind is very much on indoor recreation. I started a few new craft projects at home and began thinking about some of the crafty collections we have.
The first that came to mind was the EMBREASO Club (MSS 77), which began in 1897 when a group of seventeen women met to embroider while one of them read. The club name is an acronym devised by one of the women’s son’s by combining the words EMBroidery, REading, and SOcializing. Their motto was:
Needles Swiftly, deftly plied,
Gems of thought from mind to mind,
Strains of music all sublime,
Friendship’s ties shall bind.
The club met regularly “for the intellectual and social culture of its members.” Their calendar of meetings listed a range of topics including antique needlepoint, the development of music, glassware, and various historical and literary subjects. EMBREASO was a selective club, limiting membership to fifty women; they continuously had a waiting list.
The late nineteenth century saw an explosion of women’s organizations and social clubs beyond those auxiliary to men’s clubs. These groups gave women a space to participate in literary, artistic, and even political conversations at a time when they were not given space in the public sphere. As the Progressive Era took hold more men and women participated in organizations that furthered the advancement and improvement of society (education, labor safety, women’s rights, sanitation, etc.).
The EMBREASO club was no different. Even with the initial focus on crafts and socializing, its members spent time together discussing and participating in charitable activities. They organized clothing and monetary donations to disaster relief funds and local charities. These philanthropic interests often overlapped with other local women’s organizations such as the American Homemaker League (MSS 33) and the Edgewood Women’s Club (MSS 989). Membership also overlapped. You can read more about the American Homemaker League here.
While the Rhode Island Historical Society Records for EMBREASO continue through the mid-1960s, it is unclear when the club disbanded. The Historical Society also holds the yearbooks published by the club.
In addition to the records of several women’s social and charitable clubs, the Rhode Island Historical Society also has an extensive collection of samplers that I am sure would be the envy of every EMBREASO member!
~ Michelle Chiles, Research Center Manager