Frances McDonald Boyd




Frances McDonald Boyd




Frances McDonald Boyd


Evelyn Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Brenda Brinn


Washington, D.C.


Evelyn Salinger


Evelyn Salinger (ES): Today is November 2, 2004. We are interviewing Frances McDonald Boyd for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project in Northeast Washington, D.C., during a Daughters of Dorcas meeting. Her number is [DC.] 20002-007. The interviewer is Evelyn Salinger. The time is around 11:15 a.m. Hi, Frances.

Frances Boyd (FB): Hi.

ES: It is nice of you to come today to be interviewed. We have been wanting to get you to talk for a while and tell us of your interest in quilting. First of all, let's look at what you brought to show today. You have brought us a wall hanging, here. Will you explain what this wall hanging is?

FB: We had a project. We were to make a building in Washington, D.C. And that shows the Frederic Douglas Home in Southeast Washington.

ES: And you did all this by hand? Or some of it by machine?

FB: Uh-hum. Some of it is by machine, and some is glued on, and the quilting is by hand.

ES: Let's see, when was that made? You have a label on the back. It says, 'November 1997. Frederick Douglas Home.' Okay. That's very nice. And why did you pick this one in particular?

FB: Well, I had to choose to do something, a building in DC, and this is close to my home. I live in Southeast Washington. So, then I went over to the Home, took a tour of the Home, and went in the lower level where they have a little shop where you can get post cards. This is part of the [National.] Park Service in D.C. The Home is. So then I bought the post card, the little booklet about the Home. And I am not an artist, but I got my son's friend who has helped me to make the pattern from the picture on the little booklet, that I bought there.

ES: This is very nice. You have a nice red roof, and grey and black windows and shutters on a white house, and nice green lawn with the brick walkway and flowers decorating in front of the house. And did you have this hung in a show?

FB: I think I had it hung at--

ES: Was it hung at the Sumner School. We had that exhibit there of buildings in D.C, I think we did. And now at home, do you hang it at your house?

FB: No, I've hung it at my church. One time. I think it was in February. [for black history month.]

ES: Well, it is certainly of historical interest in DC. And you have brought a bigger piece here to show us today. Would you describe the other quilt that you have here?

FB: This was a quilt that I wanted to make for a long time. It is called Cathedral Window. And it took me quite a while to make this.

ES: And on the label, it is mysterious, but it does say, '1977 to 1990.' But you don't remember it took you 13 years, but it did take awhile as you did say.

FB: Yes, it took a while to make it, but I don't know how I got that date on there.

ES: You said you were working on it when you first joined the Daughters of Dorcas?

FB: I made the whole thing since I joined.

ES: Do you remember when you joined? Was it near the beginning of the founding? [1980.]

FB: I can only remember that a lady came to my church, the Baptist women were asking people to make quilts and I didn't know how. I had always wanted to make a quilt and I had started on them on my own, with no help, no teacher. And as my husband used to tell me, 'Whenever I see you pull that quilt out, something went wrong at work today, didn't it?' [laughter.] But the first quilt I made, I think is down on exhibit now, down at the--

ES: Oh, at the Sumner School now? Oh, it's the first one you ever made? That's interesting.

FB: It was embroidery. Cross stitch.

ES: Oh, yes.

FB: Called Williamstown.

ES: Those cross stitched ones do take a lot of time.

FB: Yeah, uh-hum. That was already stamped.

ES: This particular [Cathedral Window.] one has lots of different colored windows. Did you have--

FB: Most of these fabrics are [ones.] I saved over the years, looking forward when I, should the day [come.] when I would be able to learn to quilt. And I moved one, two, three times and I carried the dirty scraps with me all the way. They were filthy when I got to them.

ES: Oh, my.

FB: These were clothes I made for my daughter and myself over the years. These prints.

ES: Aha. I was going to ask you about your early life. Did you learn to sew as a young person?

FB: Yes. My mother taught me to sew.

ES: And did you make all your own clothes in the family?

FB: In high school, I learned a lot from my sewing teacher. As a matter of fact, I was her assistant because my mother had taught me to sew. The pedal machine, you know?

ES: The treadle machine, yeah. I did too, I learned that way.

FB: So I saved these scraps over the years, and when I took them out and washed them, but all these fabrics in here were clothing that I'd made.

ES: So that is a lot of memories you have in that quilt. Are there any specific ones that you remember that were something of yours or your daughter's?

[background noise.]

FB: That one is when people wore those pajama-like things. They were pants. And my husband was a man who loved entertainment. This is the same piece, here. This was my daughter's, something I made my daughter. [pointing out a particular fabric.]

ES: Well, there are all different colors, here. It's very nice.

FB: Uh-hmm.

ES: Do you use this Cathedral Window quilt?

FB: Well, I did use it. You know my daughter-in-law was very ill and died of breast cancer. Her mother came to stay with her during her last days. And I let her use my quilt. But I sleep under a quilt, yeah. There are two that I sleep under.

ES: That's great.

FB: But I put my quilts that I have left in my Will.

ES: That's a good idea.

FB: Uh-hum. Because I have a lot of sisters and cousins and nieces. So I've designated which ones I will leave to them. Also, I have several unfinished quilts. Most of us do, don't we?

ES: Yes, we do. [laughter.] Would you describe for me some of your earliest memories of quilts or quilters?

FB: Well, my mother didn't do quilts, my mother taught us to make clothing. But she never quilted. What she did--I'm from a very large family. There were twelve of us. And my mother taught us to sew, but she didn't quilt, but she would put together quilts, all kind of quilts, just stuff to keep you warm. She'd take old coats and things, and just put them on the sewing machine and put them together for covering.

ES: Oh, very good. You would have piles of those on you at night to keep warm.

FB: Well, I do have two very old quilts that my husband's cousin, from South Carolina, she brought over to my house one day and said, 'I don't know of anybody [laughs.] who would want these raggedy things, but you.' [laughter.] But they were well worn. And they have just been in the box--just they gave them to me.

ES: Oh, my. I wonder if--

FB: They are like--all the edges--

ES: Are worn. I wonder if they even could be washed, or anything at this point, and used?

FB: I think I washed the one. But I just didn't--I put in the wash machine but I did not--

ES: Agitate it.

FB: But on the real low cycle. But I soaked it and I don't know how I did it. But I know I didn't agitate it, because I know it's just old. [bells ringing.]

ES: Yeah. Is it made out of cotton or wool?

FB: Mostly cottons. But they didn't care what kind of things they could gather. They put all--that's what my mother did. She just made something to cover us, to keep us warm. [bells.]

ES: You say you came from what state?

FB: I came from Kentucky. I was raised in Louisville, Kentucky. I went all the way through college.

ES: What did you major in, in college?

FB: Undergraduate, biology. Undergraduate school. When I went to the University of Michigan, I have my Masters in public health education.

ES: Uh-hum.

FB: But it was very hard at that time to get a job. Meanwhile, I married just before I finished college. And my husband went overseas. And then I went to the University of Michigan while he was over there.

ES: And this was during the Second World War?

FB: Uh-hum.

ES: When did you come to Washington, DC?

FB: In, I guess it was in the forties.

ES: And that was because of your job or his job, or both?

FB: I married just before I graduated from college because he was getting ready to go overseas. And I lived for six or eight months at Fort Knox, Kentucky, before he went overseas. He was in India during the war. And he was an officer in the army. He was from Washington, D.C. He went to Miner Teachers' College here. So while he was overseas, I went to the University of Michigan. When he came back, he came and got his Master's in Michigan.

ES: I see. Then what jobs were you doing here, then?

FB: I taught. I worked in public health on a W.K. Kellogg scholarship in Battle Creek, Michigan, while he was away. And then when he came back, I got a job in the school system in D.C. But it was a teaching job, teaching biology. And then I started working with handicapped children. I liked that, so I took some more courses and the rest of my career was with children homebound and hospitalized children in the District. I also did different hospitals and homes.

ES: Oh, that's nice.

FB: I became supervisor in [1970.].

ES: And you worked for many years doing that.

FB: I worked in the system 28 years. [background noise.]

ES: Was your husband also a teacher?

FB: He was a principal. He of course started out as a teacher, but then he was the principal of elementary school. So is my son, now.

ES: Oh, my. Teaching goes down in the family, doesn't it?

FB: Uh-hum. I kept that job until retirement.

I came into this group, a lady came to our church, I can't put it all together, but they were trying to get people to make quilts. And I told her, I had bought these quilts, like I told you were on exhibit, [the cross stitch.] but they are--

ES: Some kind of kits?

FB: Kits. I went home to visit my mother and one of her friends was coming down the street with this quilt over her arm. So I said, 'Miss Joyce, where'd you get that quilt?' She said, 'I made it.' And she said, 'If you want to buy one', evidently there was a store called Stewart's in Louisville, getting rid of all the stuff, kits and things like that. So I bought two. That one, that's on exhibit now, and another one that I gave to my sister, who's a nurse, when she retired. See, I have given away several quilts. Uh-hum. I have the pictures of all of them.

ES: I was going to ask you, do you keep track of the things that you have made?

FB: I have some pictures, like the cross stitch one that's on exhibit now, was one of the kits, and the second one was called Poppies. So I bought two of those. And over the years, I worked on them. When I got into the group [Daughters of Dorcas.] I was still working on them. And I brought them in to show them to Viola [Canady.], she said, 'That's the dirtiest quilt I have ever seen in my life!' [laughter.] But I finally finished them.

ES: Those are tough to finish. So since you have been in the group, what sort of things have you worked on? Do you work on large quilts mostly, or wall hangings?

FB: I have a lot of wall hangings. I haven't counted the quilts. I have pictures of most of them in a scrapbook. But I've worked on the baby quilts each year.

ES: The charity quilts that we do.

FB: Uh-hum. And my husband was--I made a quilt that I gave to the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop for them to raise money for a little memorial for my husband in their yard, 'cause he died. I'm getting old. I made one quilt for them. I have that picture in the book.

ES: You have some pictures here, since we are talking about making quilts for other people. You have pictures here of a quilt you just finished, recently.

FB: Ladies helped me.

ES: And this is for your--

FB: My sorority.

ES: Now the sorority is a professional women's sorority?

FB: It's the undergraduate--the oldest black sorority.

ES: Oh, my. And what is the name of it?

FB: Alpha Kappa Alpha.

ES: And that was in Kentucky.

FB: Uh-hum.

ES: And your pictures here show that it's a large--

FB: I'm going to have some more pictures before I give it to them.

ES: Yes. Oh, you have not given this quilt away, yet.

FB: I will be taking it Saturday, the sixth, to the Chapter.

ES: Very nice.

FB: It was founded, as you can see on here, 1908 at Howard University. I think it's the oldest black sorority.

ES: And the pictures of the women that are around the edge here--

FB: The founders. That's the founders' quilt.

ES: And that is a sort of light pink background?

FB: Very, yeah.

ES: Around the edge is light green with dark green vines going around.

FB: Ivy.

ES: Oh, that's very nice. So this took you--and you said that you had some help from the Daughters of Dorcas.

FB: Toward the end, when I went to the hospital for the last and had this setting, last stroke, they--you sewed on it, too.

ES: Well, I do see a picture [photo.] of myself here. [laughter.] Yes, well all of us who were here those few weeks, we helped with the last bit of quilting.

FB: They helped on all the border. I had put the ivy on the border.

ES: Yes, you had. It was just a matter of quilting.

FB: They did not have the border on first. This is a picture made earlier. But this is the ivy.

ES: Well, this is a very nice quilt. Do you know if they will hang it some place, or put it out at meetings?

FB: They will do, probably do both. The sorority house is on 14th street Northwest. It will be given to the graduate chapter. I started the quilt for my bedroom after I had to get some professional help for the art work and the printing. My son had a friend who is a graphic artist, who did that on this. It was kind of expensive. And I said, 'After I put all this work in this, just to have it in my bedroom, nobody would get to see it.' So, I am a member of the Golden Soror board, [members.] in the sorority over fifty years. So, they paid for it. I had bought all the fabric, but they paid for the art work and things like that I had to do.

ES: The center is an interesting piece. It's somewhat raised.

FB: Uh-hum.

ES: And it is sort of a maple leaf shape--

FB: That's the ivy. The pin has twenty pearls around it.

ES: Ohh. So those are the big white raised things around the green piece of ivy.

FB: Muriel. You know Muriel [Drew.]. She did the pearls. Viola [Canady.] showed me how to do this middle part.

ES: Was that trapunto in the middle? Is it padded behind it?

FB: The leaves are not padded, the pearls are padded.

ES: That's a very special quilt and it will live on for a long time.

FB: It's a lot of work.

ES: Oh, yes.

FB: And when I give it to them next week, we're going to give them information on how to preserve it.

ES: Good idea. Do you do other crafts?

FB: I used to do flower arranging.

ES: Tell us about flower arranging. How did you get interested in that?

FB: When we bought our first house, I wanted to fix my yard up. One of the neighbors told me about the garden club in the area where we were in, in Northeast Washington. I joined. [laughs.] I found a flower show schedule. Never know where a flower show was, hardly. I took her to the meeting and told her, 'Why don't we go and join this?' Most of the white people did not want us to join.

ES: Oh.

FB: They were pretty ugly to us at first. I loved the plants. I was fixing up my own property, so they had the flower shows at the Armory. And they could not keep us out. [laughs.] They tried to embarrass us, but I ended up making-- I guess I won the highest ribbon they give.

ES: You did. Over different years? Or in one particular year?

FB: In the one particular year. Yeah, I won--

ES: The best in the show.

FB: Uh-hum.

ES: Isn't that nice. Great.

FB: But every year I won something.

ES: That is wonderful.

FB: So I spend a lot of time in my yard and going to flower shows and things like that.

ES: Very nice.

FB: I had two children, but they were not interested.

ES: In the flowers, you mean?

FB: Not any more work than raking leaves, though.

ES: Oh, yes, that's typical.

FB: My daughter did learn to sew some.

ES: I was going to ask you if your daughter or son do quilting at all?

FB: No. He did not do anything. My son wasn't involved in sewing or anything like that. My daughter did learn to sew simple things.

ES: Let's talk about; what are your favorite parts of quilting? What techniques are your favorite?

FB: You see the ivy around there?

ES: The ivy? You like to do the appliqué?

FB: I like the appliqué.

ES: Have you made quilts that are all appliqué?

FB: No. The quilt that I made to give to the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop had a little bit, but not much. But I like appliqué. I am going to have to learn to do sewing machine, I think, now, since I can't use this hand.

ES: Uh-huh.

FB: But I much--[ loses train of thought.] You see what that stroke does to me?

ES: You said you have had how many strokes?

FB: Four. Little strokes. But this last one, none of the first ones--

ES: Affected your hand?

FB: Uh-hum. This was the last and it's on my right hand.

ES: Oh, dear.

FB: So I think I'll try the sewing machine to put them together, but I can't quilt.

ES: That's very hard. [stop to turn over tape.] I was going to ask you, have you done some teaching of quilting over the years. Or helping other people?

FB: Six ladies, they were new to this group and nobody was helping them. You know, they came. So we got in the far end and for about six weeks or so, I worked with them to get them started on quilts.

ES: What did you start with, some basic pattern?

FB: Yes. Nine Patch.

ES: And have some of those people taken a hold and gone on from there?

FB: Three of them are still coming.

ES: Amazing isn't it? It is nice to see of this group of people come in [to Daughters of Dorcas.] as novices and in a few years later--

FB: They need some help, some of them.

ES: They do. But then they are so proud of what they have done. When you go to a quilt show what do you look for in a quilt? What sort of thing do you look at?

FB: I like to look at the backgrounds, when I look at quilts. For instance, I like stippling. And I'd like to learn to do some of that. I think I could do some of that on the sewing machine, now, because I can't use this hand. I can wash dishes and do stuff at home, but I can't do the fine quilting. I like quilts with the stippling. Do you do that?

ES: I never have done a stippling one. It takes a lot of time to do all that quilting, but it is very beautiful. I like it because it pulls everything in together and the rest of it puffs out.

FB: I just like quilts. I don't know what my favorite quilt is. I always wanted to make this quilt.

ES: The Cathedral Window.

FB: Uh-hum.

ES: You have.

FB: Most of my quilts have some hand quilting, like I had to put these together on the sewing machine.

ES: Yes, you did. The individual ones. Did you prefer doing hand work?

FB: Yes. Uh-hum. But I enjoy just sitting at home, doing it. They keep telling me I need to get out. I come to this [group.] but my son wants me to go to a day program. I don't want to do that. He says, since his wife died, just the two of us are in the house because his daughter is in college. So I'm at home alone. I don't mind doing that.

ES: I think most quilters enjoy that peacefulness of being by yourself and creating something.

FB: But I told him that I'm not ready for that. There may be a time. Now I am eighty-seven next week on the thirteenth, I'll be eighty-seven.

ES: Marvelous.

FB: And, I don't do the kind of housework I used to do. I can't do that any more.

ES: No.

FB: I find something else to do.

ES: That's right. You can do something creative. I was going to ask you, how did quilting impact your family over the years?

[some banging noise in the background..]

FB: Well, as I told you, my mother did not do quilts. She would put things together to keep us warm. But she did fine embroidery. She made some bedspreads. And the needle she made, she'd take up and down, up and down, punch work or something. And it stands up. It had butterflies. But she went to some little school down in Tennessee and she learned to sew and do this embroidery, fine work like that. She never worked outside the home because she had too many children. She told me, 'I had a baby every Saturday night.' [laughter.] But we had a big family. And I am the oldest.

ES: You are?

FB: Three of them are nurses. [noise.] You see when I was coming up, teachers, nurses—those are the professions that you'd go into.

ES: Yes.

FB: And how many of your family did get further education? You say four of you so far.

FB: All of us who wanted to went to college. But I had to drop out for three years to save money and go back to college. Because I was the oldest, so two were principals, three were nurses, and I was a teacher, and my sister next to me worked in a laboratory in a hospital. A brother, my twin brothers went into the service, and when Thomas, he was very good at math, he still has an income tax business.

ES: Good. [both talking at the same time.] Your family must have valued education.

FB: [laughs.] Indeed so. I think my father went to seventh grade. My mother went to this little industrial college somewhere in Tennessee. But they appreciated education.

ES: Oh, yes. Do you have any advice for quilters coming up?

FB: I think most people have to have something to do other than their daily work, the way they earn their living. Get away from that and have something you want to do, just for you. And whether sewing, or quilting or whatever, they have to do something else.

ES: Quilting has certainly served you well the last--

FB: It certainly has. Yeah. I have enjoyed it. That's why I feel so bad I can't use my hand any more.

ES: Uh-hum. That's a very hard thing to face. Is there any other quilt story that you remember that you'd like to tell us?

FB: Well, most of my quilting was done with this group, you know, except when I made the quilt for the Capitol Hill Arts workshop. They have a little memorial for my husband. He was on the board of directors at that time. He was the principal of Grant School. Because I served his time out after he died.

ES: On the Board of Directors for this--

FB: Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. Have you heard of that?

ES: No. I was going to ask you what does that do?

FB: They have a program for adults and children. And you can take music, voice, instrumental music--they have a fantastic program.

ES: Is it located in a particular--

FB: It's kind of expensive, though.

ES: school?

FB: No. It's an old school building. It was done over for this particular program. It's on Fifth Street Northeast. [small discussion follows.]

ES: It's mainly a teaching organization for the arts.

FB: They have a full catalog, every season.

ES: And where is the memorial that was made for your husband?

FB: It's just a little, right outside the school. It has a fence. Just a small memorial. My husband was very nice.

ES: It has been a pleasure hearing about your life. Have you had a happy life? You feel like you have had a good life of 87 years.

FB: Yeah. Well, I think I've had a pretty good life.

ES: You have bridged many years of different sorts of things happening in the political scene and the civil rights scene.

FB: That's true. But I used to work with Girl Scouts when I was younger. I went to Girl Scout camp.

ES: And what did you usually do at those?

FB: I was a counselor.

ES: You enjoy the out-of-doors.

FB: I liked gardening. You would not know it now, 'cause I just can't do that any more. But I fuss with my son. I shouldn't do that. I told him, 'Why don't you go put perennials out there?' Annuals are beautiful but I have a lot of oak trees in my yard and they're shady. And most annuals need sun. I say, 'Each year put a few perennials.' He doesn't answer me.

ES: Aww. Yeah. I hope we have covered everything you wanted to talk about today. I appreciate very much your taking the time to do this. Thank you.

FB: But since I've had these strokes, I can't hardly talk.

ES: I can hear you. I am sure we can hear you.

[tape ends.]


“Frances McDonald Boyd,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 19, 2024,