In the years after World War II Britain struggled to recover economically. In stark contrast, the USA was becoming a much richer nation than before. Sterling was no longer a leading currency and national banks wanted US Dollars, not Sterling. Feeling that every citizen should try and “do their bit” for the economy, in November 1949 Queen Mary decided to donate her needlework to the nation, so that it could be sold for dollars. A committee responsible for the “disposal” of the Carpet was formed and chaired by Lady Reading as Head of the WVS.
Before its journey to America the Carpet went on public display at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) on February 8th 1950. From the start queues were averaging 3000 per day who were stewarded by members of the WVS. By the end of the exhibition which finished on March 12th 1950, it had been seen by over 100,000 visitors including Queen Elizabeth (Queen Mother) and Princess Margaret.
Lady Reading’s PA Miss Patricia Hardie was then appointed to care for the carpet on its journey. The only qualification for the job was that Patricia had worked with the American Red Cross during World War II.
As the V&A exhibition closed, the Carpet was carefully folded and placed in its specially made oak & steel casket. Accompanied by Patricia Hardie on the RMS Queen Mary it was shipped to New York. The plan was to take the Carpet on an 80 day, 14,000 mile tour of cities across the USA and Canada, arranged by the son of Lady-in-Waiting, Lady Antrim, Colonel Angus McDonnell, who would also escort the Carpet assisted by Miss Hardie.
The Carpet, Colonel McDonnell and Miss Hardie arrived in New York on March 23rd 1950. The first exhibition was in New York for 5 days before embarking on a tour of 23 cities in the USA and Canada. Every venue had made special arrangements to display the Carpet. Some even removed priceless artefacts to make room.
Miss Hardie noted “In every case the Carpet was in place within half an hour of our arrival. Sometimes it was hung with a curtain background, sometimes against a wooden frame or plinth and sometimes laid flat on a specially built dais.
Young GI brides helped us in many cities, always willing and enthusiastic, arranging their household duties so that they might be free to work a shift at the sales desks selling the literature from which the expenses of the tour would be paid.”
The Carpet was seen by over 400,000 across North America, including Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt former 1st Lady and wife of the former US President Franklin D Roosevelt. Mrs Roosevelt praised Queen Mary for her sacrifice and devotion in sending her needlework to the USA to generate dollar funds for her country. Miss Hardie commented that it was the most exciting three months of her life.
Patricia also commented that “so many I met were needlewomen themselves and everyone, without exception, wanted to feel the texture of the carpet.”
Sadly, present day visitors to the National Gallery of Canada are rarely able to view the Carpet. Due to the light sensitive nature of the wool dyes and degradation of the fabric, the Carpet is not on permanent display.
If you’re interested in more information on Queen Mary’s Carpet you can contact our enquiry service or search the WVS Bulletin/WRVS Magazine.