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Hidden Histories

North Carolina Samplers

What is a sampler? And how do historians use these pieces of schoolgirl art to find out more about the lives of girls and women in the 1700s and1800s? See a selection of samplers and needlework pieces in the collection of the North Carolina Museum of History, and learn about the stories they tell.

Contact: Raelana Poteat (

“In a Very Tastey Style”:  Portraiture and Painting in the South

Every painting tells a story, but the stories they tell change over time. Portraiture and paintings were once reserved for the affluent who commissioned art to reinforce social and economic status.

Following the American Revolution, the United States experienced a period of immense consumerism that contributed to the development of a “new” middle class. This burgeoning class wanted art to display in their homes on a par with their wealthier European and American ancestors. How did the established social hierarchy view this “middling art”? How did people of color fit into this middle class?

The invention of photography in 1826 changed how individuals could define themselves. Has the meaning of portraiture and paintings changed for us today? Do we still value images of ourselves in this age of never-ending disposable selfies?

Contact: Michael Ausbon (

Sophia Arms Partridge: Educator, Artist, Entrepreneur, Community Leader

Discover the story of Sophia Partridge (1817–1881)—educator, artist, entrepreneur, and community leader—and hear how she navigated the opportunities and constraints of respectable white womanhood in the mid-1800s. This remarkable woman:

  • ran a school in Raleigh for 14 years: 1846–1851 and 1858–1865;
  • was well known as an “amateur” artist (who also earned money on commissions);
  • was an ardent supporter of the Confederacy, despite her Northern roots;
  • raised money and goods for Confederate soldiers and visited sick soldiers in Raleigh; and
  • played a key role in the establishment of Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery.

Contact: Raelana Poteat (

Reading, Writing, and Race: One Children’s Book and the Power of Stories

“Why does no one in my books look like me?” One day during the Great Depression in rural Hillsborough, NC, an African American boy asked that question of his neighbor. She, a white schoolteacher, set out to write a new kind of children’s book, one that told her neighbor’s story of an African American boy living on a farm. Published in 1939, with dozens of rich black-and-white photographs, Tobe: A Six-Year-Old Farmer was one of the first children’s books that aimed to feature realistic depictions of everyday African Americans. Did it achieve that goal?

Seventy-five years later, Filene set out to find the real-life people featured in the story, a search that led him to African American communities in Greensboro, Hillsborough, and beyond. The seemingly simple story of Tobe opened up in rich and unpredictable directions.

Contact: Benjamin Filene (

Searching for Florence: Small Stories in the Big Picture

It starts with a photograph, a flashing-eyed girl, perhaps 12 years old, posed proudly in front of her piano. The back of the photo says “Florence Blood, 1912.” But who was this girl? Can her story be reclaimed from history? For curator Benjamin Filene, the search takes twists and turns and leads to an unexpected climax. Along the way, the hunt prompts Filene to reflect on the role of stories in history and how ordinary people’s stories reshape our understanding of the past.

Contact: Benjamin Filene (