American Girl(s)

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.


at the American Girl Place (Chicago) in 2008, with Molly.

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.)


4 thoughts on “American Girl(s)

  1. heidikins says:

    I have one of historic AG dolls, Kirsten. I got her when I was 9 and her tag (and the tag on several of her dresses) says “Made in West Germany.” I love her. I actually bought one of the contemporary dolls for my step-daughter for Christmas, so I pulled my doll and her things out to have a doll-playing bonding activity with L. We are so different. I loved the historic things, I loved making accessories and clothes for my doll (easier to do for a Swedish pioneer than an Edwardian princess, for sure). L (age 8) was only interested in trying on clothes and shoes and braiding her doll’s hair.

    I remember when the Girl of Today was introduced, at first I loved it…but quickly it became obvious that this new line was going to change everything about the company. It’s sad to me that AG is now owned by Mattel and that the stories and education and historical parts of the line are being retired more and more quickly.

    I’ve been hunting eBay for weeks to find things for my doll (nerd alert!): not actual American Girl clothes or accessories, but things like tiny appetizer plates that can work for her dishes, or depression era shot glasses that are the right size for a cup, or a tiny Moleskin notebook that she can write her secrets in, or a 2.5″ tall working oil lamp, or candelabra…it’s been a ton of fun. 🙂


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