The Sampler of Maria Louisa Bethausen

The tale of a remarkable girlhood embroidery and its maker.

Gary Parks Jun 28, 2021 - 5 min read

The Sampler of Maria Louisa Bethausen Primary Image

The Philadelphia presentation sampler stitched by Louisa Bethausen in 1814.

Philadelphia presentation samplers are a small, yet important, grouping of samplers produced by young ladies whose parents had the means to provide the polite accomplishment of needlework instruction. They have been identified in several publications, including Betty Ring’s Girlhood Embroidery.

Maria Louisa Bethausen

We can add to the body of work the sampler of Maria Louisa Bethausen, the daughter of Dr. Ernest Christian and Maria Bethausen. Louisa, as she was known, was born October 12, 1805, and baptized June 6, 1806, at the Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church in Philadelphia, by the Reverend Nicholas Collins.

Louisa’s father, John Ernest Christian Bethausen, was a “practitioner of Physic” when he married in March 1803, the widow Mary (Stillman) Miller, of Gloucester County, New Jersey.

Louisa stitched her sampler using the familiar inscription “Respectfully Presented to Christian and Maria Bethausen by their affectionate daughter Louisa Bethausen done in the 10th year of her age 1814.” A robust, full-blown white rose, flanked by grape clusters, appears as the cartouche above lines from “The Choice” written by John Pomfret. A fruit basket sits on a platform enclosing the inscription.


Louisa married Dr. John Sommer. Their marriage is recorded in The Reformed Church of Willow Grove on November 12, 1828. He was a resident of Moreland Township, while she is listed from Northern Liberties. They were the parents of two children, Jacob and Mary Adelaide. Jacob (1829–1857) married Elizabeth Haas. Mary Adelaide (1832–1897) married lawyer Howard N. Potts. It appears neither couple had issue, and Jacob and Mary Adelaide predeceased their mother.

Louisa lived a long life. She died in January 1899 at 466 North 7th Street (12th Ward) in Philadelphia, aged 93 years, 3 months. Her funeral took place on January 10, at which time she was interred in North Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Lost and Found

Howard inherited his mother-in-law’s estate, although a prolonged legal battle ensued in Pennsylvania courts before settlement. Howard donated money in memory of Mary Adelaide and Louisa for a free bed in the Woman’s Ward of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. (It is assumed that her son-in-law inherited the needlework sampler, although its location during the ensuing years is a mystery.)

I encountered Louisa’s sampler at a New Oxford, Pennsylvania, antique mall in 2019. Because of the inscription, the large basket of fruit above it, and the elaborate octagon of embellished parallel lines that surrounds the verse, I knew immediately it was a Philadelphia presentation sampler. But Louisa’s sampler was in wretched condition: white mold coating the top of the sampler, water damage to the bottom of the sampler, and cardboard backing that had disintegrated. I left it that day, but Louisa haunted me. I traveled back two weeks later to purchase the sampler.

Louisa Bethausen, for Piecework, inscription

The inscription, basket of fruit, and parallel lines around the verse are classic signs of a Philadelphia presentation sampler.

Louisa Bethausen led a life of affluence. Her real estate in the 1850 Federal Census was valued at $30,000, a mighty sum! Where had her sampler been stored to disintegrate into such a state?

Her sampler has since been conserved and improved to a degree. Research is ongoing in an attempt to determine who taught Louisa her needlework skills.

I present to you the sampler of Louisa Bethausen.

Gary W. Parks is the executive director of the Lycoming County Historical Society, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and an avid sampler collector.

The lines from “The Choice” by John Pomfret that Louisa included in her sampler:

I'd have a little Vault, but always stor'd
With the best Wines, each Vintage could afford.
Wine whets the Wit, improves its Native Force,
And gives a pleasant Flavour to Discourse:
By making all our Spirits Debonair,
Throws off the Lees, the Sediment of Care.
But as the greatest Blessing Heaven lends,
May be Debauch'd, and serve Ignoble Ends:
So, but too oft, the Grapes refreshing Juice
Does many Mischievous Effects produce, [ . . . ]