Silk floss, silk chenille, silk ribbon, silk crepe and paint on silk ground; needlework depicts a young boy and his dog on a leash with a simple painted landscape background, all within a floral wreath; boy is wearing a suit with a lace collar and appears to be holding a fishing pole; part of the simple landscape background, the boy’s face and the boy’s hands are painted in oil and attributed to Daniel Welfare (1797-1841). Wreath surrounding picture and foreground of landscape is stirched; wreath surround is composed of leaves around the top half and crepe and ribbon flowers that compose the bottom half of the wreath and extend into the center picture. Although most of the colors have faded to golds and greens on the front of the needlework, a few flowers remain bright red. Images of the reverse of the needlework reveal the vibrant original colors (various greens, yellow, pinks, and reds) including that the boy’s suit was crimson.
As soon as the first little Moravian girls moved to Salem in 1772, residents of the town requested a school for their daughters. The first Salem Girls’ School was established by the Single Sisters and Elizabeth Oesterlein took charge as the first teacher. In addition to academic subjects, the first students learned the essential life skills of sewing and knitting—the skills they would need to make, mend, and mark the clothing, linens, and other household textiles they and their families would need throughout life.
Salem’s school for girls was a bit of an anomaly in the eighteenth century. Educational institutions for girls elsewhere in the South were few. By the end of the 18th century, visitors to Salem encouraged the Church to consider opening a girls’ boarding school for outsiders similar to the two successful Moravian girls’ seminaries already in Bethlehem and Lititz, Pennsylvania. In 1802, recognizing both the evangelical and financial potential for such an endeavor, the Salem Church Board voted to establish such a school. In 1804, the Salem Girls Boarding School accepted its first non-Moravian pupils.
Single Sisters served as teachers, and the curriculum of the Girls Boarding School was rigorous. Academic subjects taken by every student included writing, arithmetic, grammar, history, and geography. Instruction in plain sewing and knitting were also included in the tuition paid for each student. For an added fee, students could add “ornamental branches” such as painting, drawing, music, and fine needlework to their course of study.
Accomplishment in the ornamental branches was considered important evidence of a young girl’s civility, gentility, and “taste and industry.” Consequently, parents and guardians delighted in hearing of their daughters’ success in these endeavors . Letters from the school Inspector (the headmaster) often included comments about a student’s progress in fine needlework mastery. At times, the Inspector would mail “specimens” of a student’s needlework home as evidence of her achievement.