I was browsing Slate the other day when I found this: photographer Illona Szwarc, taking a fascinating look at American girls and their American Girl dolls. (Go look at the girls on horseback–I found that picture especially striking.) But I have to disagree with her analysis, or at least parts of it:
“I’ve noticed that girls do not really care as much about the books and stories that come with the dolls,” wrote Szwarc. “They are much more interested in clothes and accessories, so the educational message functions as a marketing tool for parents rather than as an inspiration for girls to learn.”
I’m guessing this is because she chose to interview and photograph girls owning the contemporary dolls. My parents went the alternative route: I had Molly, growing up, and my sisters had Samantha and Kirstin, respectively.
Much of what I know of Edwardian times comes from reading the books that came with Samantha over and over again, and I can’t think of Victory gardens without thinking of my own Molly. Kirstin gets the credit for St Lucia and the life of Swedish immigrants. We read the Abby books, and the Felicia ones, and any others we could get. I don’t know about my sisters, but I read them cover to cover, including the chapter at the end that dealt specifically with the historical context of the stories and the dolls.
In fact, the only accessories I was really excited about were those that had to do with school–I remember seating Molly at her school desk, her miniature books in her book bag (that book bag!) and her glasses firmly on her nose. Of course, all that proves is that I was a nerd, even back then. (That shouldn’t surprise anyone reading this.)