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THE SPINNING WHEEL: A Symbol of American Protest

04 Jul

 

Spinning Wheel Bookends: grey metal with faux ivory (celluloid) face and hands, bakelite base.  Height 6.5 inches. Marked J. Ruhl (sculptor John Ruhl,  1873-1940 ).  Attributed to Hirsch foundry.  circa 1930.  The drive wheel spins at a touch. 

In Colonial times, women spun fibers into yarn on spinning wheels and produced home-made clothing. As the colonies grew, production of wool and wool products allowed for export of these commodities to Britain and other nations.  In 1699 the British forbid their colonies to export wool products in order to protect their textile industry.  The effect of this WOOL ACT of 1699 was to force all commercially produced wool and wool products to be sold to England after which it was resold back to the colonies.  Colonial people then persevered in spinning yarn and producing cloth in order to protest against the Wool Tariffs imposed by Britain. 

The spinning wheel became an important, widespread symbol of resistance to British rule in the run-up to the American Revolution.   At that time, to quote from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s The Age of Homespun (Vintage, 2001), “Only six newspaper stories explicitly described the spinners as ‘Daughters of Liberty.’ ‘Young women’ was the usual designation, though terms like ‘Daughters of Industry,’ ‘the fair sex,’ and even ‘noble-hearted Nymphs’ also appeared. Reports from Roxbury and Chebacco alluded to public events, referring to the ‘intolerable Burdens now Laid upon us’ and to the necessity of recovering ‘our rights, properties and privileges,’ but the story from Harpswell cautioned that ‘the Ladies are impressed with such a nice Sense of their Liberties derived from their Maker, as not to be very fond of the tyrannic Restraints or the scheming Partisans of any Party…’”

The art of spinning in the United States is kept alive by handicrafters who demonstrate their skill in spinning, weaving and sewing at nostalgic museums such as Williamsburg, Old Salem, and in exhibitions at fairs such as the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar.  Even as spinning has become an re-enactment art form and no longer provides a means of protest ……………..these bookends remind us of our early resistance to foreign domination. 

 

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