While digging through the history of Quilts in Canada, Pam Robertson Rivet, who is leading the fundraiser to bring Canadian-made World War Two Quilts back after 80 years, discovered the stories of two incredibly brave Canadian women during World War Two. Those women were Ethel Rogers Mulvany and Margaret Eaton Bishop. 

Mulvany was a prisoner of war during World War Two in Singapore. She was born in Manitoulin, Ontario, and was eager to volunteer with the Red Cross in Singapore. 

“When the Japanese invaded, they took all kinds of people as prisoners of war: soldiers and civilians,” she stated. “Technically she was a civilian even as a volunteer with the Red Cross and her husband was a doctor. As prisoners of war, they were not well treated. They were hungry all the time, they were sick, and Ethel going into the war was somebody who was affected by bipolar disorder.” 

Despite her health issues, Mulvany got other women in the camp involved in quilting projects. Since the woman and the children were separated from the men at the camp, they would embroider messages to their husbands on the cloth. 

“They're an incredible study of resilience and strength,” Robertson elaborated. “For example, Ethel's quilt block that she embroidered has two Maple leaves on it and just the name Ethel, but there was a woman, who was captured with her two children, so she embroidered two bunnies on her quilt block so that her husband would know the children were okay.” 

The finished quilt was sent to be used in the camp hospital where the men were able to read the messages. 

“Prisoners of war were in and out of those hospitals all the time, and the men could actually see the quilt and read the messages there, which was an incredible risk that the women were taking at the time and just an incredible study of resilience,” she continued. “The quilts that they made, there are two of them in Australia, because there were a tremendous number of Australians that were captured at the time, and one is in the British War Museum in England.” 

photo of quilts

Margaret Eaton Bishop was an Air Force wife married to Billy Bishop, a World War One flying ace. By World War Two, he was training pilots and recruiting Canadian pilots. While he was travelling back and forth to England, his wife was inspired by the tradition of signature quilts as fundraisers. 

Margaret began sending pieces of fabric overseas with her husband to collect signatures on, while she began doing the same thing back home. 

In total, the Bishops gathered 1,100 signatures for the quilt including at least 100 famous individuals such as Winston Churchill, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, and Walt Disney contributed a signature for the historical quilt. 

Margaret, who was an active member of the Air Force Wives Association in Ottawa, embroidered the Royal Canadian Air Force emblem in the centre block and oversaw the Ottawa volunteers of the Air Force Officers’ Wives Association while they intricately stitched signatures with embroidery thread. 

Once completed, she used her family connections to tour the quilt across the country to different Eaton stores that sold tickets for individuals to see the quilt. 

signature quilt

“It was just such a huge and phenomenal effort, it really, really was,” Robertson Rivet added. “That quilt as far as I can tell, in all the research that I've done, raised more money than any other quilt of its time.” 

In 1943, when it was raffled off, ‘Mrs. Bishop’s Famous Names Quilt’ had raised $12,000 to aid charities supported by the Air Force Officers’ Wives Association. Today, that would be just over $210,000. 

Mrs. Bishop’s Famous Names Quilt is now located at the C2 Centre for Craft in Winnipeg, Manitoba. 

For more information on these women, click here.