Dolls have been a part of everyday life since before recorded history, and
have played a significant role in almost every culture. While the primary
function of dolls is as playthings for children, they also are a learning
tool -- teaching children a society's ideals of beauty and fashion, and
allowing children to practice, imitate and explore adult roles and values.
The oldest doll in the White River Valley Museum's collection dates to the
1860s and has a glazed china/porcelain head. The manufacture of porcelain
doll heads began in the late 1700's in Germany, but they did not become
popular or common until the 1840's. This popularity lasted until the first
quarter of the twentieth century, when porcelain was supplanted by more
versatile composition materials and plastics.
The manufacture of porcelain doll heads was described in a 1884 article in
"China dolls are more exclusively the product of a factory. After
being modeled by hand, they are baked in a great oven for a week. During
this time the utmost care and watchfulness is required. The tenders are
never permitted to sleep. A draught of air will produce disastrous results.
A single oven contains 5,000 dolls and thirty ovens are often full at once
in one factory. At the end of the week the dolls come out in all conditions.
About one if five is perfect. After baking the dolls are painted and
This large-scale production resulted in a relatively inexpensive, quality
doll aimed primarily at the middle-class market. Reflections of Victorian
middle-class ideals and attitudes can be seen in the demeanor of these
dolls, which one author described as follows:
"These ladies [dolls] are very quiet and serene, with their still,
classical features, their hair disposed modestly but with decision. There is
no uncertainty here; to be beautiful, noses must be straight, and eyes are
best blue. ... They gaze pensively back, facing us squarely, secure in their
own quiet world."
As is typical for dolls of this style and period, the doll in the
museum's collection has a glazed china head (with shoulders), and lower
arms. The rest of the body is made of cloth stuffed with cotton. She is
relatively small, only 12 inches tall. The painted hair is black, parted in
the middle, and done in soft scallops around the face. The stark white face
has blue eyes, plump pink cheeks and red lips. She is wearing a white cotton
dress with drawn work, fancy machine-stitching and lace-trimmed neck and
sleeves. Her undergarments consist of two white cotton petticoats and
lace-trimmed drawers. The most colorful part of her outfit is a pair of
hand-knit wool stockings with brown, yellow, black, red and blue stripes.
This doll was donated to the museum in 1971 by Mrs. Herbert Baldwin. The
doll had belonged to Mrs. Viola Sturdevant (1878 - 1970), whose mother had
been given the doll when she was a child.
Dr. Tina Brewster Wray