At once time there was a room in the White House decorated entirely with handwoven textiles!
When Woodrow Wilson assumed the presidency in 1913 his wife Ellen undertook the traditional First Lady endeavor of outfitting the presidents’ living quarters to suit themselves. One of the rooms she redecorated was the room that had served as a bedroom for Mary Todd Lincoln, Mary Johnson Stover and her three children, May and Jessie McElroy (Arthur nieces), Russell and Mamie Harrison and their children, and Quentin and Archie Roosevelt. Woodrow and Ellen Wilson also used the room as their bedroom.
First Lady Ellen Axxon Wilson also served as the honorary president of the Southern Industrial Educational Association (SIEA), the first philanthropic organization aimed at improving life in rural Appalachia. Hoping to spur public interest in the plight of those living in the Appalachian Mountains, she decorated the president’s bedroom with handwoven textiles from that region. Many of the textiles are overshot in structure using the traditional patterns of Double Chariot Wheels and Sun, Moon and Stars. The fabrics led to the room being called the Blue Mountain-Room or, informally, the Handwoven Room.
Elmeda McHargue Walker of Tennessee, a weaver who sold goods through Allanstand Cottage Industries in its early years, wove the blue and white material for the curtains and furniture. She was 76 years old when she wove 60 yards of overshot upholstery fabric to cover three slipper chairs, an armchair and a chaise lounge as well as fabric for curtains for the two large windows overlooking the lawn and fountain at the rear of the White House.
Allie Josephine (Josie) Mast of North Carolina wove the rugs and other fabrics. The White House paid $98 for the large rug, which was approximately 17 feet square, and $6.16 for the small one that laid under a writing table next to the fireplace. The rugs were rag rugs that used an overshot threading woven on opposites. (Read more about Allie Josephine Mast here and here.)
Ellen Wilson spent $292.16 at the Southern Industrial Educational Association’s craft show where she bought a cream-colored coverlet for the Lincoln Bed. She also purchased three handwoven baskets from that show. One was placed on the floor next to the writing table and another was filled with logs and placed beside the hearth.
When the Blue Mountain Room decor was complete Ellen Wilson commissioned Harris & Ewing photographers of Washington DC to take pictures of the room. Two views of the room were made into souvenir postcards. The SIEA, sold the postcards for five cent apiece.
After the Wilsons left the White House the Blue Mountain-Room served as a bedroom for Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower (on occasion), John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. However, it was completely redecorated once again by the Hardings as soon as the Wilsons departed.
The room formerly called the Blue Mountain-Room is now known as the President’s Den or Living Room, and this second floor room once used by presidents as a bedroom, has been used during recent presidencies as a casual family room or private study. An Internet search failed to turn up any clue as what became of the extraordinary collection of Blue Mountain-Room textiles.
Sources of this information:
- Alvic, Philis. Weavers of the Southern Highlands. University Press of Kentucky, 2015.
- Wilson, Kathleen Curtis. Uplifting the South: Mary Mildred Sullivan’s Legacy for Appalachia. Overmountain Press, 2005.