Jump to Navigation

Cool Things - Flag Quilt

Boyd's Girl Cadets quilt

Patriotic quilts often appear during times of world conflict. In the United States they frequently incorporate the colors of the flag and the eagle, a well-known symbol of the nation. It is rather unusual, though, to find a quilt so closely replicating the flag.

This flag quilt was made in 1899 by Horatio Boyd's Girl Cadets. According to their organizer, the Cadets were the only uniformed and regularly armed company of girls in the United States.

It is unclear exactly why Boyd organized the Cadets, but it probably was due to events leading up to the Spanish American War.

Cuba had begun a war for independence from Spain in 1895, and over the next two years separatists engaged in a campaign to gain sympathy in the United States. The press portrayed Cuban guerrillas as heroic and played up Spanish "atrocities." It was in a climate of increasing tension between Spain and the U.S. that Boyd organized his Girl Cadets in 1897.

Horatio Boyd with two of his Girl Cadets

The Cadets consisted of 40 women in blue uniforms and military caps, armed with discarded Springfield rifles. The rifle barrels, apparently bent, were sawed off and replaced with bored-out broomsticks. The women drilled at the statehouse in the evenings, accompanied male army recruits to the railroad depot, and marched in the Senate chamber of the Kansas Capitol and in parades. (View a group image of the Cadets)

Broom drill squads were popular in the late 1800s, an era when exercise and sports became more acceptable pastimes for women. The broom drill was the female equivalent of the rifle drill. Broom drills often were organized to raise money for a charity.

Mostly young women from Topeka, the Girl Cadets were clerks, bookkeepers and stenographers in stores and offices in town; a few were described as "society" girls. The group included Boyd's daughter and several of her friends.

Boyd was serving as the Assistant Adjutant General of Kansas at the time he organized the Cadets. Himself a Civil War veteran, Boyd had enlisted in the seventh regiment Illinois Cavalry at age 16. He left Illinois for Kansas in 1877 and tried his hand at a variety of occupations, including newspaperman, farmer, teacher, and politician.

The Cadets' quilt was made in 1899, about one year after the U.S. issued a formal declaration of war against Spain. Measuring 76 inches by 84 inches, it includes 45 stars embroidered with the Cadets' names. Fancy embroidered text on two of the white stripes proclaims its origins:

BOYD'S GIRL CADETS
TOPEKA KANS. 1899.

The Boyd's Girl Cadets quilt is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History.

Listen to the Flag Quilt podcast Play Audio

Entry: Cool Things - Flag Quilt

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2002

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.