Five years ago, I was cleaning out my parents’ home so it could be sold. In the linen closet, I noticed some bedding. The quilt lay folded and protected in a plastic encasement. I had never seen it before, and I had never heard my mother talk about its existence. As I unfolded it, I had discovered an unexpected treasure. The purple and white bedding featured signature squares of a friendship quilt. When I studied them, I read my grandmother’s signature, Isabella Storer. The last square read, “B.B.C. July 17, 1930”. She belonged to the Busy Bee Club.
Beginning an unexpected research adventure, I copied down the name of each club member. Using the 1930 U. S. Federal Census, I looked up each woman’s name. I wondered how old each person was in 1930, and where each was born. In that particular census, spouses were asked how old they were when married for the first time. I already knew that my grandmother was born in 1903 so she was 27 years old. She was married at 19. She was born in Osborne County, Kansas. The other 22 members of the club ranged in ages from 18 to 57. The youngest age that someone married was 17, and the oldest age was 27. Most of them were born in Kansas while others came from Iowa and Nebraska.
The next part of my unexpected adventure led me to the newspaper archives of the Osborne County Farmer. What could I find out about the Busy Bee Club? Several of these clubs were in Osborne County. The one to which Isabella belonged was the Riverside Busy Bee Club. (The Solomon River weaves itself through their farmlands.) Combing through the articles, I discovered that this club was started in 1926 with a dozen charter members…my grandmother among them. They met twice a month at each other’s homes for lunching, sewing, chatting, and playing star checkers (Chinese checkers). The lunch menu was to be “two eats, a drink, and pickles”. Their motto was, “Let us all do the good we can, in all the ways we can, for we pass this way only once.” The chapter’s colors were purple and white. Members brought their children along so they could play together since babysitters were unknown in 1930 rural Kansas. In July 1930 (the year of the quilt), my mother (Merna Mae Storer) was five years old so she had many playmates to enjoy. My aunt (Mary Lee Storer) was only one year old; when it was time for her nap, she rested in an open drawer or cardboard box…whatever the hostess could provide. Mention of each gathering could be found in the weekly county newspaper. For the rest of her 93 years, my grandmother remained a member of this group.
The third part of my unexpected adventure took me to a Google search. Could I locate a history of the Busy Bee Clubs? There it was…Busy Bees was started by a farm wife in 1920 in Nebraska. Her intent was to gather her farm wife neighbors to her house to quilt and have lunch. It gave the women socialization since farm life could isolate women. Why quilting? Often farmhouses had no heat in the bedrooms so layers of quilts would keep sleepers warm and comfy. When they gathered, they would sew this needed bedding. Sewing friendship quilts was a part of their ritual. Often during meetings, young children would play beneath the quilting frames. News of this club spread across the Midwest, and other chapters sprang up. So, my grandmother’s club started in Nebraska and ended up in their little town in Kansas.
An unexpected discovery of an unexpected treasure led to an unexpected research journey. With loving hands, I can caress the memories that my grandmother helped create 90 years ago.