Celebrating Those Who Are Uncelebrated

A Tribute to Evelyn Charlotte Peters

January 12, 1914- February 18, 1931

Cindy Hasse with one of the quilts she created using the block from the early 1900’s

In May 2022, Cindy Hasse contacted the Playhouse to see if we would be interested in some quilts created by someone with Down syndrome. We jumped at the chance and were surprised by the incredible story that came along with these quilts.

Cindy had just learned about our Playhouse from her grand-daughter who visited our Playhouse with her UW-Madison audiology class to perform hearing tests for some of our families.  This connection is a testament to what the ‘ripple effect’ truly is- every person that learns about GiGi’s then shares with their network and awareness grows! We are so grateful to Cindy and her family for this beautiful and meaningful gift.

Cindy shared the following story about how her family was involved and how she ended up with the quilt squares. Cindy was so moved by this story and family heirloom that she wanted to truly honor Evelyn, who created the squares, by completing three separate quilts using Evelyn’s squares!  We now are showcasing these pieces of art throughout the Playhouse for all to enjoy!

Keep reading to learn about Evelyn and her quilt squares:

Evelyn was born in Fort Atkinson, WI. Her father, William, was married to Lottie Kahl, an aunt of Cindy Hasse’s Great Aunt Alice Voigt. William worked in the tobacco industry.

In 1973, Aunt Alice gave Cindy a box containing 36 Redwork Squares.  She shared that her cousin Evelyn, who was not allowed to go to school, stitched them. The families visited each other but according to family stories, it seemed as though there was a distance between the children. Alice indicated she was frightened to be around Evelyn.  Cindy assumed Evelyn had been stricken with a contagious disease.

Cindy had the quilt blocks stored away for many years. After her Aunt Alice died at 96 years of age, she pulled the box out and began examining the work.  She became curious about the girl who had stitched the pieces.  She knew she was 10 when she started work on them, but her life was a mystery to Cindy.

Evelyn’s transitional block showing the original and more colorfast Turkey Red thread.

Cindy’s daughter lived in Lake Mills and after sharing her curiosity about Evelyn’s life they went to the Jefferson County seat to learn more about her. They ended up in the courthouse basement surrounded by walls lined with old records. Using reference materials and the date on the quilt block, they found their way to the book with Evelyn’s birth certificate.  The search pointed to 1921.

They pulled the file off the shelf and the book literally dropped open to her page! As they read, their heart sank. The doctors had written, “A schoolgirl. Born a monstrosity, she had a congenital heart defect and mental insufficiency.”  It is difficult for us to understand why anyone could write something like this about a 17-year-old child.  Down syndrome was not identified until 1959 by French physician Jerome Lejeune but based on the doctor’s description Cindy’s daughter deduced that Evelyn had a Down syndrome diagnosis.

Evelyn’s collection of Nursery Rhyme blocks.

These quilts celebrate the artistry of a young sewer and serve as a tribute to a lonely, misunderstood girl who passed the time while following pencil lines with turkey red thread on flour and sugar sack fabric.  Cindy noted the squares all have consistent tension and length and this was clearly a young girl who had incredible talent and was capable of intricate fine motor work and a strong thought process. Cindy said she felt “sad that Evelyn lived in a time when shame and isolation was the way people with Down syndrome were treated.”

The largest quilt and her Early Blocks- The original thread was red but has faded over the years.

2 Comments

  1. Sr. Fran Dotta, I am fortunate to be Addison Berndt’s great aunt! on June 21, 2022 at 10:25 am

    As a quilter myself, I find this story and the photos just really heartrending And amazing at the same time. This is really a wake-up for people. Every single person is created with purpose and has gifts to share with the rest of us. I am grateful that I saw this article and I applaud GiGis playhouse for all the goodness they are putting into this world and all the true love and generosity that they share.

    • Kelly Antonson on June 21, 2022 at 10:37 am

      Thank you for the kind words!

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