Many classrooms today are filled with tablets, computers, and other gadgets that provide a variety of ways for students to learn. As you travel back in time, these opportunities not only dwindle for technology but opportunities to learn based on gender diminish as well. For women in the early 19th century, society limited their education primarily to learning domestic skills such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for children. There were only a few cases where women received a formal education, most of which still involved learning a domestic skill. A popular example of this can be seen through a young girl’s sampler. This sampler not only shows the progressive nature of the school at that time, but it indicates how much women’s education changed to produce more knowledgeable citizens who could vote by passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.


You might be wandering what is a sampler? A sampler is a piece of cloth that is usually embroidered with patterns, pictures, or letters. The sampler was often used to practice domestic skills and show off one’s sewing abilities. This sampler created by Ann Truman, a student at the Weston School in Chester County, Pennsylvania, shows elite skills sponsored by a Quaker school at that time. Although Truman’s work was domestic at is core, the details surrounding the sampler indicate she was afforded a quality education that many girls could not receive at that time.


Student Weaving Sampler, 1805, Ann Truman, linen and threads, H: 10.125 x W: 10.125 in. The Farmer’s Museum, Cooperstown, New York, F0393.1953

The sampler states her name, the school she attended, and the year it was made. In between the weave it says, “Ann Truman Weston School 1805”. These words are stitched in dark blue thread. The correctly spelled words show a command of writing and the English language. The necessary letters are capitalized, the “A” and “T” in her name, and there is a noticeable difference between the uppercase and lowercase letters. This immediately shows that she could write well and read, something that many Americans could not do in 1805. The school, still active today as the Westtown School, is proud of its origins and broad curriculum. The institution’s statement of purpose explains this: “Students in the early years-boys and girls had plenty of training in practical subjects: reading, penmanship… and a strong exposure to mathematics and the natural sciences. Girls were also instructed in sewing [1].


Although Ann Truman’s education was very progressive for her time, much needed to be changed in order to produce more eligible voters. It was not until around 1850 that most states passed mandatory attendance laws for schools. According to historian Lynne Anderson, it was at this point that sampler became less common as girls education began to focus on less domestic issues [2]. Soon more public coeducational schools came about which provided women with equal opportunities as men. This showed that education was the great equalizer and building blocks needed to make America a truly democratic country.


By: Christian Stegall ‘18


[1] The Westtown School, History,

[2] Lynne Anderson, Samplers International: A World of Needlework (Eugene, OR: The Sampler Consortium, 2011), 9.