QUILT HISTORY STORIES
ROCK ISLAND, ILLINOIS
Rebecca (Mosenfelder) Simon
Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa
The Tri-Cities Authority on Quilts
Prior to WWII the Mississippi River towns of Davenport, Iowa, Rock Island, Illinois and Moline, Illinois were called the Tri-Cities. This same area is known today as the Quad Cities, a misnomer because five cities, Bettendorf, Iowa, Davenport, Iowa, Rock Island, Illinois, Moline, Illinois, and East Moline, Illinois instead of four make up that designation. It is an area rich in Civil War history with the former Camp McClellan and the Rock Island Arsenal Confederate Prison located on opposite shores from one another. The compound and buildings for both gone, only the Arsenal’s Confederate Cemetery remains as a physical reminder these Midwestern communities played a part in the War Between the States.
Camp McClellan was located in what is known today as the Village of East Davenport and is surrounded by magnificent period homes behind and along east River Drive in a neighborhood known as McClellan Heights. Did you know this area of the Quad Cities has another claim to fame, one dear to our quilt history loving hearts? It was the home of Rebecca (Mosenfelder) Simon during the twilight years of her life and she, Mrs. Leopold Simon, was the Tri-Cities authority on quilts from the 1900s-1930s.
Rebecca (Mosenfelder) Simon
Rebecca Mosenfelder’s Early Years
Rebecca Mosenfelder was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in August 1855 to German-Jewish immigrants Julius and Barbara Mosenfelder. Miss Mosenfelder’s seven siblings were Elizabeth (Mrs. Jonas Bear), Alphons (Mrs. Amelia “Emily” (Holtz) Mosenfelder), Rebecca (Mrs. Leopold Simon), Elias, Regina “Rena” (Mrs. Louis Kohn), Louis, and one child died infancy. About 1856 Julius Mosenfelder moved his family from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Illinois where he started up a neighborhood grocery store in Rock Island on the southwest corner of Seventeenth Street and Sixth Avenue. Rebecca obtained her formal education in the Rock Island School System and her informal education in the matters of household management, handiwork, and service work from her mother Barbara.
Leopold and Rebecca Simon
Rebecca married German immigrant Leopold Simon on April 28, 1878 in Rock Island, Illinois. Upon his arrival in Rock Island (via Chicago, Illinois) and shortly after his marriage, Mr. Simon formed a partnership with Rebecca’s brother Alphons in a clothing store business named Simon & Mosenfelder. Leopold and Rebecca would make Rock Island their home, building a Queen Anne style home at 842 19th Street, Rock Island in the late 1800s which was later sold to William Sharp McCombs of Young & McComb Department Store. The Simon-McComb home still exists in the Broadway District of Rock Island and, with other homes in that historic neighborhood, has been restored to its former glory.
Photo Courtesy of Jill Doak
Family was important to Rebecca Simon. She and her husband were blessed with children all born in the Rock Island: Jacob Simon (later of Davenport, Iowa), Alfred G. Simon (later of Monmouth, Illinois), Maurice Simon (later of Buffalo New York), Elsa Simon (later Mrs. Bertram G. Landau of Huntington, West Virginia) and Hugo Simon (later of Davenport, Iowa). Ten grandchildren would round out the family: James, Harold, and Maurice Simon of Buffalo, New York, Betsy and Bertram Landau of Huntington, West Virginia, and Ben, Elsa Claire, and Leopold Simon of Davenport, Iowa, and Hubert and Margaret Anne Simon of Davenport, Iowa.
Some time around 1902-04, Rebecca’s husband and brother dissolved their partnership and each went on to establish men’s clothing stores under new names on opposites sides of the river. Mr. Simon and Moritz Landauer formed a partnership and founded Simon and Landauer, a men’s clothing store, at Second and Harrison Streets in Davenport, Iowa where it remained until 1933 when it moved to the corner of Second and Main Streets. The Simon family left Rock Island and moved to Davenport about 1905 to a home on 2500 East River Drive, known then as the Camp McClellan area, but today is called the Village of East Davenport and McClellan Heights.
Known for her philanthropic efforts and support of “quiet charities,” Rebecca Simon was affiliated with numerous service clubs and organizations in Davenport such as the Davenport Woman’s Club, St. Luke’s Hospital Women’s Board, Tri-City Garden Club, Clionian Club, Temple Emanuel Sisterhood. During WWI, she helped the war effort in various capacities including arranging formal and informal social gatherings to entertain and ease the burdens of the Jewish soldiers stationed at the Rock Island Arsenal.
A 1930 Davenport newspaper article reveals that Mrs. Simon enjoyed writing verse which filled a creative need in this kind-hearted soul. Her poetry appeared occasionally in “Idle Thoughts” in The Times. Perhaps none of her poems are so self-revealing and gives us a clearer picture of her character as the following piece she wrote:
“Have I Made the Best of Life I Could?
Have I made the best of life I could?
Came the thought as on its brink I stood.
Oh give me more time—and let me think—
Have I given the sick a cooling drink?
Have I sent the dewy, fragrant flower,
To lessen the gloom of recent sorrow?
Have I given enough of my worldly store,
And earnestly wished I could give far more?
Have I taken the ‘failure’ by the hand
And hold him upright, until alone he could stand.
Have I learned the lesson or been made to feel
That the test of friendship is a grip of steel?
If not, then let me retrace my way
And on bended knees earnestly pray
For the blessing of truth and divine power
To fill with good each fleeting hour,
For now at last I truly realize
That deeds and actions alone must visualize
And after the battle of strife and strength
Will come the glory of peace at length.
For love is the power best understood;
Have I made the best of life I could?”
Authority on Quilts
There is no debate that from 1900 to 1930 Rebecca (Mosenfelder) Simon was the authority on quilts, rug making, and all manners of fancywork in the Iowa and Illinois communities known as the Tri-Cities. She loved quilts and in her younger years was very proficient in the making of patchwork quilts and hooked rugs.
Edward William Bok, editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal, must have been a fan of quilts and quilters because he was publishing articles about the subject in the early 1900s. Submitted under the name Mrs. Leopold Simon, Rebecca wrote “When Patchwork Becomes an Art” which appeared on p. 45 of the August 1908 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal, three years before Marie Webster’s designs of Pink Rose, Iris, Snowflake, and Windblown Tulip would appear in the January 1911 issue of the same publication. Rebecca Simon’s article was really a pictorial of five quilts, featuring patterns known as Tulip Pattern, Sun-Burst, Rose Quilt, Blue and White Quilt, and Olive Branch. There is no concrete evidence to indicate whether these quilts were Rebecca’s creations or ones found in her collection, but the “oral history” is all of them, her creations or not, belonged to her.
Blue and White Quilt
The article, only three paragraphs long states:
“Of the several hundred designs to be found among quilted spreads the five illustrated on this page form an interesting group (of quilts). The widespread interest in this branch of needlework and the revival of it are due to the patriotic spirit governing the American women of the present century.
There are two distinct methods of making these covers. One is to cut out carefully and sew together neatly the pieces that form the flowers or designs; and the other style is to apply the design, the edges of which have been turned and neatly basted to the white square. This is what was long ago called “Laid Work.”
After these blocks are joined together they are padded and quilted in either plain or elaborate tracery. The background of the cover is often quilted in square, diamond, or shell forms – the un-worked squares and stripes in wreaths or feathers and baskets of flowers.”
“When Patchwork Becomes an Art”
Mrs. Leopold Simon
Ladies’ Home Journal
Speaking Out About Quilts
In her later years Rebecca turned her attention towards quilt education and became a recognized quilt speaker in the Tri-City area. At 2:30 p.m., on Friday, February 19, 1926, Mrs. Simon was invited speak at a Colonial Tea organized by the First Presbyterian Church Workers’ Society in the social rooms of the church. Her lecture entitled “Quilts: Ancient and Modern” was illustrated with “some handsome samples of handwork of her own in Colonial patterns as well as some old quilts that have come down from early days.” Mrs. Simon talked about the “history of quilt making of our grandmother’s day, of the different patterns and quilts that were treasured by the prospective bride in Colonial days.” Rebecca brought eight of her own handsome quilts to the lecture and pointed out the different patterns and shared some of her quilt construction experiences with would-be borrowers of her designs. There was an additional exhibit of quilts, bed spreads, and coverlets hung from the curtain poles that divided the Sunday School classrooms, both in the gallery and on the first floor. “In the collection were 56 patch work quilts, 31 old hand woven coverlets - many with the name of the weaver worked in, six crochet bed spreads, three old fashioned silk quilts, one 145 year old ‘Mount Mellick bed spread’, eight hand-tufted spreads of which the linen was also hand woven by the maker, and assorted other linens and antiques displayed.” At the close of the program and the beginning of the social hour, tea was served on the balcony with all the women “taking part” dressed in Colonial costumes. Over 400 women attended the tea and a large sum of money was realized for the Church Workers’ Society.
Rebecca would reside at the beautiful East River Drive home in Davenport, Iowa until her passing from pneumonia on March 10, 1930. The funeral service was held at home with the Rabbi S. D. Hurwitz of Temple Emanuel officiating. The burial took place at the Chippiannock Cemetery, Rock Island, Illinois. Leopold Simon would outlive his wife by ten years passing away in May 1940 in his daughter’s home in Huntington, West Virginia.
Mrs. Simon had an unusually fine collection of designs and patterns, colonial and modern, in the quilt line and some of the patterns she had made herself and worked out in special colors. Before she distributed her “specimens” among her children she had a collection of quilts in her home which was worth traveling many miles to see.
The question remains, did any of her quilts survive? There is no concrete answer to that question at the time this piece was written in 2009, but there is hope, now that this historical review has reached the public eye, that a family member, historical society, private collector, or museum will step forward and say, “We have a Rebecca (Mosenfelder) Simon quilt in our collection. Would you like to see it?”
With the exception of one pattern, all of Rebecca Simon’s quilt patterns from the Ladies’ Home Journal article can be found in Encyclopedia of Applique by Barbara Brackman.
Rose Quilt No. 2.71 p. 52
Tulip Pattern No. 14.73 p. 72
Sun-Burst N/A N/A
Olive Branch. No. 43.74 p.125
Blue and White Quilt No. 45.14 p.126
If anyone has any additional information concerning Rebecca (Mosenfelder) Simon, please contact: Susan Wildemuth, 18621 US Highway 6, Atkinson, Illinois 61235