Great granddaughter of Noah Webster, author of America’s first dictionary, Frances Louisa Goodrich (1856-1944) was born in 1856 into a family of intellectuals and Presbyterian ministers. She was among the first to promote a revival of weaving as a cottage industry in the North Carolina mountains, founding Allanstand Cottage Industries, later donating its assets to the newly formed Southern Highland Handicraft Guild. Older than most of her colleagues, Goodrich was admired and revered as a “pathfinder in mountain arts and crafts.” 1 A diminutive woman, barely five feet tall, she was often seen astride her pony Cherokee, riding into remote coves to visit neighbors and craft workers.
Before moving to North Carolina where she became enamored with mountain handicrafts, Frances Goodrich attended college at Yale (1879-1882), following in the footsteps of four generations of Goodrich men. The Yale School of Fine Arts was the first division to open their doors to women. Still, the university withheld degrees from them, instead offering women certificates of attendance. 2 In 1890 Frances Goodrich traveled to Riceville, North Carolina to assist at a Presbyterian mission located nine miles outside Asheville. After two years, she moved to Dula Springs in Brittain’s Cove in northern Buncombe County where she established a small mission community. Goodrich built a cottage she named “The Sparrow’s Nest,” a schoolhouse and meeting place dubbed “The Library,” and a church in memory of her father. 3
Writing in the third person, Goodrich recalled her early days of work in western North Carolina. “[I]n the year 1895,” she wrote, “two women were living together in Brittain’s Cove, twelve miles from Asheville, North Carolina. In those days twelve miles was a long distance, and the journey to town, made in a mountain wagon or in the saddle, consumed three or four hours....One of the women in the cottage at the Cove taught the school; the other... [referring to herself] was dubbed ‘the woman who runs things.’” 4
Frances Goodrich often told the tale of how she came to become interested in weaving. “[O]ut of pure good will” a neighbor woman brought her a gift of a forty-year-old coverlet, woven in the Double Bowknot pattern “golden brown on a cream-colored background. The brown had been dyed with chestnut oak,” she explained, “and was as fine a color as the day it was finished.” But more important than the coverlet itself was the fact that the maker presented Goodrich with the pattern’s draft, “a long strip of paper covered with figures very mysterious.”
A draft is an abbreviated notation that a weaver follows to reproduce a particular pattern, a blueprint of sorts. Goodrich was as captivated by the draft as she was by the coverlet that inspired her. “Here was a fine craft, dying out and desirable to revive. Did she hold the clue to her puzzle in her very hand?” she mused. The coverlet and draft set Goodrich to thinking, “Could we produce the coverlets at a moderate cost? And if so, could we find or make a market for them?” 5 Goodrich answered the last part of her question by taking the Double Bowknot coverlet North and showing it off to potential customers. Goodrich would soon learn that coverlets were made in many different patterns, often with fanciful names like “Nine Snowballs” and “Cross and Dog Tracks.”
Returning home encouraged, Goodrich enlisted the help of a local family, the Angels—Daniel and Lucy with daughters Nancy and Clarissa—and angels they were. They introduced Goodrich to traditional methods of coverlet weaving in a manner that underscored the meaning of term “homespun,” in which all aspects of the process were completed on the family farm. But Goodrich soon organized her own methods. Carding, spinning, dyeing, and weaving were no longer done on a single homestead, instead, Goodrich developed a system of “putting out” the various aspects of the weaving process. In his introduction to the reissue of Goodrich’s memoir, Jan Davidson points out that Goodrich replaced the traditional method of one-family production with a system involving multiple members of a community. From Goodrich’s perspective, her method enabled more people to participate in the economic benefits of her enterprise, but from the point of view of a “revival,” her methods were as much innovation as they were preservation. 6
If one follows Frances Goodrich’s logic, it also made sense to market smaller items, derived from the basic woven form from which coverlets were made. She encouraged neighbor women to weave shorter lengths of fabric and make them into table runners, pillow tops, and other smaller, decorative pieces. The changes that Goodrich brought to her mountain community were mixed. While she enabled women to weave and, thus, provide for their families, her awareness of market forces pushed weavers away from traditional forms. Hers was not a revival that focused on authenticity of form. Instead, craft forms evolved with incoming orders. Such documented change has spawned contemporary texts highly critical of Goodrich and her colleagues. 7
But from the revivalists’ point of view, the Craft Revival was not so much about objects as it was about people and preserving hand skill. They viewed craft from a dynamic lens, seeing it as a living—and changing—activity. Goodrich imagined weaving—as a community cottage industry—was a solution to the region’s problems. For her, change was not something initiated from within the rural community; instead, she viewed external forces as affecting the nature of rural life. “To us who have cast our lot with the dwellers in the mountains to live and die with them, the problem of their future is now full of interest. Swift changes are taking place. On every side new forces push in.” 8
In 1897 Frances Goodrich moved to the Laurel community in Madison County, maintaining a home there until her retirement to Asheville in 1918. Laurel was a remote crossroads known as Allan’s Old Stand, where a man named Allen ran a rest stop for drovers passing through the area. Before the days of large wheeled transport, livestock was moved on the hoof. Large herds moving from farm to market were walked through the countryside, stopping at waysides along the way. Allan’s Old Stand was one such wayside, a gathering place. It was here that Goodrich established Allanstand Cottage Industries, a weaving cooperative.
Like other craft promoters, Goodrich used a system of “putting out.” That is, she paid women to weave in their homes and purchased work piece by piece. Her goals were multiple: to bring money into communities far from the usual markets, to give paying work to women, to give pleasure in producing beautiful things, and “to save from extinction the old-time crafts.” Goodrich maintained Allanstand as a meeting place for weavers and the hub of her operations, calling it her “pioneer shop.” In 1908 Goodrich opened a sales showroom in downtown Asheville to take advantage of the tourist trade.
In February 1931 Goodrich invited three colleagues to her home: Olive Campbell, Clementine Douglas, and Marguerite Butler Bidstrup. “Around the fireplace in her living room, Miss Goodrich told the three that there had been people who had wanted to buy Allanstand from her” but, instead, she announced that she wanted to give the operation to the Guild. 9 Olive Campbell recorded this story as well in a short essay titled “In Losing Ms. Frances Goodrich.”
Frances Goodrich’s gift of her assets to the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild helped sustain the fledgling organization, allowing it to profit from the operation of a sales shop. Many Guild supporters spoke of the gift. She “very simply, gave them Allanstand. Gave Allanstand to the Guild as their shop. Gave Allanstand so that Guild members would always have a market from which their crafts could be shown and sold... Gave Allanstand to the Guild to encourage craftsmen to keep on with their creative work.” 10 In 1935 she followed this gift with another, a collection of regional crafts that form the cornerstone of today’s Southern Highland Craft Guild permanent collection.
In 1918 Frances Goodrich “retired” to Asheville, but she remained active in the movement, serving on the board of the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild and writing a memoir, Mountain Homespun, which was published in 1931, and reissued in 1989. When she died in 1944, the Conference of Southern Mountain Workers presented a series of testimonials to her contribution to the movement. Among those that spoke on her life were Olive Campbell and Lucy Morgan, each founders of their own craft enterprises.
- M. Anna Fariello, 2006
1. Frances Louisa Goodrich, Mountain Homespun, (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1931) 21.
2. Jan Davidson, Mountain Homespun, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989) 9-15.
3. Chauncey W. Goodrich in Frances Louisa Goodrich: 1856-1944 (privately printed), 4.
4. Goodrich, 21.
5. Goodrich, 21-23.
6. Davidson, 6-7.
7. David Whisnant, in All that is Native and Fine, and Jane Becker, in Selling Tradition, are two scholars who focus on issues of “cultural intervention” in mountain culture by promoters of the craft revival.
8. Frances Louisa Goodrich, “Old Ways and New in the Carolina Mountains,” Southern Workman, April 1900, 211.
9. Unsigned notes from Southern Highland Handicraft Guild, 1945, 3.
10. Esther Bloxton, Southern Highland Handicraft Guild manager, unpublished document, circa 1944.