Ma signs Laura's book a few chapters later.In Laura's package was a beautiful small book, too. It was thin, and wider than it was tall. On its red cover, embossed in gold, were the words, 'Autograph Album'. The pages, of different soft colours, were blank. Carrie had another exactly like it, except that the cover of hers was blue and gold.'I found that autograph albums are all the fashion nowadays,' said Ma. 'All the most fashionable girls in Vinton have them.''What are they, exactly?' Laura asked.'You ask a friend to write a verse on one of the blank pages and sign her name to it,' Ma explained. 'If she has an autograph album, you do the same for her, and you keep the albums to remember each other by.'
Autograph albums were indeed all the range in the 19th century. Their heyday was from 1830 to 1850. Signature quilts are a phenomena of this period too. One important development was the invention of permanent ink in 1845; signatures written 150 years ago are still legible today.
The role of women changed through the nineteenth century as a rural farming lifestyle was overtaken by an urban industrial society. Men went to work in the 'public' world; women stayed at home in the 'private' world of family. Women turned to each other for friendship and support, and their signature quilts recorded family relationships and rites of passage.
Sources: Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder; The Signature Quilt by Pepper Cory and Susan McKelvey