In Quilts and Health
(Indiana University Press, 2017), Marsha MacDowell
and her colleagues examine the phenomenon of health-related quilts, of which there are millions around the world. In fact, and as this book documents, almost any illness, disease, or condition is likely to be associated in some way with quiltmaking. Quilts are made to support health education and patient advocacy, to raise funds, to memorialize those passed, to promote personal well-being, and to comfort others in distress. Some quilts even document medical history; for example, Ohio-based quilter Helen Murrell created a piece that serves as a statement of outrage for the unjust treatment of 600 African-American men who, without their knowledge or consent, were subjected to a forty-year medical experiment of the United States government. During the experiment, 399 men were deliberately infected with syphilis and were allowed to go untreated, even after a cure was developed.
Quilts and Health
explores the myriad connections that are forged between disease, recovery, and quilt making. As the authors note, systematic study of quilts and the stories they hold has “great potential to help us understand the human experience for illness and health, advance medical knowledge, and, ultimately, enhance the quality of health, outcomes, and life” (2).
McDowell’s co-writers are Clare Luz and Beth Donaldson, both of whom are also based at Michigan State University. Luz is Assistant Professor in the Department of Orthopedic Medicine. Donaldson is Digital Humanities Project Asset Coordinator at the Museum and Coordinator of the Museum’s Quilt Index.
Rachel Hopkin is a UK born, US based folklorist and radio producer and is currently a PhD candidate at the Ohio State University.