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Ana Sumner - Legacy Quilt ProjectAna Sumner and Aaron McMullin
00:00 / 16:36

Aaron: I guess the first question is what inspired you to be a part of the Legacy Quilt Project?

Ana Sumner: When you confronted me about participating, it caught my interest, first of all, because you were working with fabric and it's my area. And second of all, because I realized that it was a part of history that I have heard about, but did not understand.

And so I saw it as an opportunity to connect with you as you were working it in the present moment, but as well as to allow myself to really participate in learning about a history that I was not a part of because I am an immigrant in this country. And yet I have lived here most of my life. And so it was a wonderful opportunity to help you, but it was also a great opportunity for myself to learn. And it has been that. It has been awesome, actually.


Aaron: So tell me a little bit about what you've learned and just kind of what's been exciting about that for you.


Ana Sumner: Well, I took the portrait of Frances Seward. At first I just read the basic bio that's provided for her. The one thing that I saw was she had a heart. She had a desire to help, you know, and she didn't close her eyes to the unjust things that were going around her that she took them to heart.

Then I had the opportunity to listen to the book on tape The Agitators. I was just so impressed with how she was so similar to me. You know, I kept thinking overall, the one thing that keeps coming to mind of who she is, It's called A Quiet Courage. She wasn't a loud person. And she didn't have a loud voice. But she was such an intelligent human being. And was educated. You know, had the privilege of her father caring for her and her sister to be educated as young women. And she was able to present that education throughout her life by assisting her husband as a advisor, but also by having a say in how she felt and what was important to her. And also in acting upon the privileges that she had as a woman for her time to do something about helping

the men and women slaves that she had a privilege to cross paths with. So she definitely became an abolitionist in, in a quiet way. Yeah. But in a really powerful way. And, and her opportunities. T's to help and encourage strong women like, you know, uh, Tubman and, and Martha. Um... These are women who were in the limelight who did do something physically in action. She was not that, but she supported them through letters and through encouragement and through helping them through their survival by providing homes. She did so much and and on top of that, She was such an incredible advisor to her husband who is in the end ended up being the Secretary of State for Lincoln during ...wartime.


Aaron & Ana: Right in the midst of the Civil War. Yeah, exactly


Aaron: Like, the most, one of the most important times to be in that position.


Ana Sumner: As like, as I listen and I learned and I'm like, wow. You know, I find it very interesting at this point in life to learn this because sometimes you see history it makes us, um, be more diligent and being strong in whatever capacity we're able to be. So I find that your, your project, I think will inspire so many women to look at themselves in the present moment. It says, whether What kind of person am I? Am I a quiet voice that has courage, or am I a strong voice that can stand in front of a crowd and stand for what's right and true in the world today?


Aaron: Yeah. Yeah. And that both of those are so important I've been listening to the same book, The Agitators, and I found it so interesting how almost disappointed she became with Henry and how he became kind of a classic politician, you know, where he began to sacrifice some of his moral values for the popular vote and trying to keep the peace and be in the middle. And it was so interesting to me how she stuck with what she knew was right, and she would, in her quiet, courageous voice, express her feelings and her opinions. Never in a public way that would undermine him, but she would still speak to him and share her mind.


Ana Sumner: And that's the other thing she'd do that I admire about her is that she understood that a relationship, whether it's a marriage relationship or a relationship to someone else, had to be respected. And so even though there were many times that she wanted to say, okay, I'll put my name to this. Or I'll sign that petition for that, you know, especially in the woman's movement which she wanted to participate in, but because of her husband's position in government she respected and honored. And that's so hard to do, is find a middle ground of honoring who your husband is and honoring yourself. And what you believe. But she found this wonderful balance of being able to say Yeah, I believe this. And yeah, I, I, I would love to participate in this, but because of my situation, I have to honor my husband, but I can help in another way.


Aaron: Right.


Ana Sumner: She always found another way to help! Yeah. You know ?


Aaron: I found it so interesting too how her role as a mother and her approach to her children's education was a place where she could plug in those values. You know?


Ana Sumner: Yes, yes. And she believed in the small things, right. That in the end grew to be very big things.


Aaron: Yeah. So, so radical. in her ability to teach her children her values, as kids, they didn't see it as radical or anything extreme, you know?

 Yeah, she did her due diligence and being able to provide as much to her children even in the respect of who they were. She grew up with a father that expected a lot from her.

But she was much more gracious to her children in allowing them to be more open. And yet at the same time, her desire for honesty and integrity and to stand firm in what you know is truth. And especially in the abolition aspect of it. Yeah. She imparted in her children. Yeah. Uh, with, with a heavy heart.


Aaron: Yeah. Yeah. And in that way, you know, they saw how much it genuinely was a part of who she was. You know, and I think that it's like what you were talking about earlier, her ability to find this middle ground of respect for her relationships and the people in her life, but also respect for her own values. To find a way to honor both of those at the same time. I mean, that's such a great quality to have in a parent, right?


Ana Sumner: I think the hardest thing that she dealt with was that she gave that respect to her husband, but I think her husband really never truly saw her for who she was. Yeah, you know, and did not get that same level of respect. He honored her and he respected her voice, but he did not understand her heart.


Aaron: Yeah.


Ana Sumner: I think that was her hardest burden is she did not feel seen. But she took all those feelings and really put it into her community. So she was what you call the community scribe. In a way. She was able to always get all the information from her community of what was going on and what needed help and what- especially with the abolitionists! Especially with housing runaway slaves and protecting them and sending them to Canada. Because she was always aware of what was going on in her community. So even though her own husband did not see her as a person, he did allow her. To be her own person


Aaron & Ana: through her community. And through the household and through the household.


Aaron: Wasn't it Francis who convinced her husband to allow their household to be part of the Underground Railroad?


Ana Sumner: Yeah. Yeah Yes, yes, exactly.


Aaron: Which is quite a bold thing to do. But you're right it still is falling in line with how she operated in the world in a quiet, courageous way. You have to keep quiet about that.


Ana Sumner: Exactly. Exactly. She was such a major part of the Underground Railroad.

And she was such a friend to Harriet , but also once again, respected her to the point where I believe one of Harriet's nieces went to live with Frances. Yeah. And she was able to educate her.


Aaron: I read that the Sewards sold Harriet Tubman land. Correct, she did. So, she was able to have a house and land. Yeah. And then, while Harriet was engaged in the Civil War and on the front lines, her niece was back in, um, was it Auburn? Yeah, it was Auburn. Yeah. And Frances took on educating Harriet Tubman's niece while Harriet was away.


Ana Sumner: Correct.


Aaron: So, it was also another way of Frances tapping into her skills and the privileges that she was afforded, you know, her family cared so much about her education and then to be able to turn around and educate someone who by society's standards, didn't deserve that kind of an education.


Ana Sumner: Correct.


Aaron: So another quiet, courageous


Aaron & Ana: moment.


Aaron: Definitely.


Ana Sumner: To me, she's the most fascinating human being. Maybe because I've always felt I didn't have to be this loud voice, that I could be this quiet. I could be myself.


Aaron: Yeah.


Ana Sumner: In my, quiet moments, but to be open to opportunities as they present themselves and listen to my heart and act upon them. For whatever purpose that that may be and I've had that opportunity throughout my life. Yeah and to make hard choices yet not to be overly bold about them. Just to keep making them as they present themselves and see how that choice brings fruition. Um, but in meeting you this year, I think that was such an open door to make that choice of learning about history. And I was so grateful for you to open that door for me.


Aaron: Yeah, well, that's the whole idea of this project to find that one little spark that can open up into learning about someone's life and seeing parallels in your own life.

 It makes me so happy to hear how all of this was for you because that's the vision that I've had, you know, is I hope that as people learn about who these women were and the ways that they lived their life and their legacies, that there's pieces of that that we can hold on to and see ourselves in and be bolstered by their commitment to that quiet courage or whatever their activism looked like, you know. And that Frances is such a great example of how you can be a really important part of a movement and we may not have known anything about her had her husband not been the Secretary of State, you know?! You know, I mean, she was very good friends with Martha Coffin Wright and other women who were engaged in the abolitionist movement and the suffragette movement.

So we probably would have, you know, letters, but it wouldn't, she wouldn't hold the same place in history probably without his, prestigious position. And when I think about that, it makes me wonder how many other quiet, courageous women there were in her community and all over the country leveraging their own personal skills and positions to, to do what they could.


Ana Sumner: To do what they could. Yeah. And that's why I find it that it's so important. We cannot judge something by what we see because there's so many quiet moments in everyone's life. That maybe they had moments of quiet courage that shifted something in society because of their actions that we may never know about. You know, and so I think her example for today and message for today is really be true to yourself. Don't waver about peer pressure or what other people think, but be honest with yourself and really ask that question. You know, what, what am I doing? And, and don't be hard on yourself either.

There was times where Frances felt like she wasn't even doing enough, you know? Which is part of her depressions. I think sometimes she felt like she was just nobody in the sense of her life because she was so educated and she had so much to give and sometimes she didn't have the opportunity to give it, you know, and felt very, very, lost in that.

But she always went back to, look what I'm doing for my family. Look how I'm being able to do in the smaller things. And that really helped her along. Yeah. Yeah. She really had to come back to the small things to find herself and her strength.


Aaron: Yeah.


Ana Sumner: And I think we have to encourage each other to find. Find our courage in the small things. Yeah. And not get depressed about, you know, we're not seeing things change so fast or on a large scale or we're not participating on there. Yeah. Find our courage in the small things.


Aaron: Yeah. Oh, I love that. Thank you, Anna.


Ana Sumner: Thank you.

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