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Barton, Mary Alice Pemble

Published onJul 30, 2021
Barton, Mary Alice Pemble

(June 9, 1917 - December 7, 2003)

Quick Facts

Landscape architecture graduate with a national reputation as a quilt historian, Barton donated the Fashion Illustration Collection, containing historic materials on fashion from 1776-2008 and a quilt collection to the historic Farm House Museum.



Born to Harold and Edith Pemble, on June 9, 1917 in Indianola, Iowa. As a young child Mary moved a lot living in Plymouth and East Lansing, Michigan and Indianola, Iowa. In 1936, Mary graduated from Indianola High School and attended Simpson College.

In 1942, Mary graduated from Iowa State College (University) with a Bachelor of Science degree in landscape architecture. During World War II Mary was employed by the Navy Hydrographic Office in Washington, D.C. On July 1, 1942 Mary married Thomas A. Barton (Head of the Landscape Architecture Department, Iowa State University), in Indianola, Iowa. In 1955, Mary and her husband moved to Ames, Iowa.

During her life Mary was a member of Pi Beta Phi, Questers, and Iowa State University Faculty Women’s Club, where she served as Faculty Women’s Club president in 1974-1975. Mary also had many lifelong interests, one of them was quilting. On September 29, 1984, during the Sixth Continental Quilting Congress, Mary was inducted into the Quilter’s Hall of Fame. Mary received this honor because of her hard work in collecting, researching, and sharing of information. Before her death on December 7, 2003, in Ames, Iowa, Mary was known as a quilt historian who became so skilled, self-taught, that she had a national reputation to judge a quilt’s origin and age. Because of Mary’s extensive research of quilts, she left a copious amount of research materials.

Mary’s most significant contribution to Iowa State University is the Fashion Illustration Collection housed in the Special Collections Department of Parks Library. This collection is housed in 15 document boxes, 12 oversize boxes, and one map case folder equaling 15.75 linear feet. The collection dates from 1776-2008, with the bulk of the collection from 1804-1935. The collection contains a large array of fashion plates, as well as fashion magazines that examine fashion during different time periods. The time periods are Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, and Modern. The collection is not limited to quilts, but includes numerous fashion categories. Examples of some of the categories are: maid uniforms, men’s fashion, footwear, beach fashion, as well as many others.

Quilt: Fool's Puzzzle, c. 1910. Cotton.
Gift of Mary Barton. In the Farm House Museum Collection, Farm House Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 80.3.4

Barton’s generosity of donating quilts before her death, enhanced the collections of the Living History Farm, the State Historical Society of Iowa, Simpson College, and the Farm House Museum at Iowa State University. Her generosity has also allowed the students and faculty in the Apparel, Merchandising, and Design program at Iowa State University to have a database for their research.

Mary’s focus on quilts were historical. Clothing was a clue to quilts and vice versa. Women telling the stories of their lives in quilts.

"I just try to preserve material which will be useful to future historians."
-Mary Barton, Quilter's Newsletter Magazine, no. 141 (April 1982), p. 29

Mary Barton’s legacy is as a collector, creator, and historian of quilts.

Selected Sources

Mary Barton Papers, RS 21/07/009, University Archives, Iowa State University Library.

Fowler, Veronica. 1987. "There's a pattern to Mary Barton's puzzling work as a quilt historian."

Des Moines Register. Des Moines: Des Moines Register, August 30. NA. 2003.

Ames Daily Tribune. Ames: Ames Daily Tribune, December 9.—. 1984.

Ames Daily Tribune. Ames: Ames Daily Tribune, October 25.—. 2008.

"Patterns for learning." Des Moines Register. Des Moines: Des Moines Register, July 8.

Scott, Anne. 1995. "A tale of two quilters." Ames Daily Tribune. Ames: Ames Daily Tribune, August 30.

Yacknin, Rosalie. 1979. "Truth and comfort stitched into quilts." Ames Daily Tribune. Ames: Ames Daily Tribune, March 30.

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