The Quakers, or the Society of Friends, played a primary role in establishing the earliest charity schools in New York City, which provided access to secular education for those who would not otherwise have had the opportunity. During the Revolutionary War, the Quakers' strict adherence to principles of non-violence made them suspect to their countrymen. Compelled to find alternative ways to serve, they were responsible for the creation of the earliest large-scale war relief program. After the war, the scope of their efforts grew. In 1794, female Quaker ministers began emphasizing a policy which would later be coined "not only ours, but others," encouraging Quaker women to attend to the care and education not only of their own children, but also the poor.
Early in 1798, a group of ladies, all members of the Society of Friends, formed the Female Association for the Relief of the Sick and Poor of New York City. Although the education of poor female children was not the focus of the society, it was widely held that the lack of adequate education was a root cause of destitution. The first Female Association school opened in 1800, with the goal not only of teaching basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also to prepare young women to change their circumstances, primarily by teaching or working as domestic servants. To this end they were also taught basic sewing, marking, and embroidery.
Unlike Catharine Parsell's sampler, most of the surviving Female Association samplers were intended as gifts, and bear inscriptions to important visitors or supporters of the school. Catherine's simple text bears evidence to the influence of the school's Quaker founders, while the use of the strawberry vine border is a common element of New York City samplers.
Jennifer N. Johnson holds a degree from the Parsons/Cooper-Hewitt Master's Program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design. While pursuing her studies, she completed a two-year fellowship researching the Cooper-Hewitt's American sampler collection. She is currently a Marcia Brady Tucker Fellow in the American Decorative Arts department at Yale University Art Gallery.