American Girls Come to the Museum

Many, many children have dolls. A stand-in for a friend, sibling or even a baby, dolls give children a chance to role play, to use their imaginations and to experiment with different kinds of social situations in a safe way. This may date me a bit, but as a young girl, my American Girl dolls captured me in a way that other toys couldn’t. Initially I received Samantha as a Christmas present; her brown wavy hair looked just like mine, and as an only child, I was thrilled at the idea of having a little brown-eyed companion. It also didn’t hurt that I was a major bookworm and gobbled up all of her stories as quickly as I could get my hands on them. The narrative historical fiction readers made me consider what it was like to live in the Victorian era; whether I would be as determined and strong-willed as Samantha was and do things like rip holes in the knees of my stockings. (I’m guessing yes.) But those books also sparked a curiosity about what it would have been like to be a young girl at that time, which got me thinking about social history and bigger issues in general.
This is what I love about the American Girl books – how they inspire girls to learn about history by, essentially, holding up a mirror. What would you would have done as an African-American girl living in Philadelphia during the civil war? How do you think it felt to have your family separated and to work to bring them together? These are difficult questions, but presented in a context that is developmentally appropriate and compelling for contemporary children to think about. This is why I’m leading a series of American Girl Craft Club workshops, where we’ll focus on a different American Girl at each club meeting and practice a skill or art form unique to each girl’s historical era. We’ll also enjoy a snack that was commonly eaten at the time, talking about availability of ingredients and why. Programs are two hours and drop-off; our first meeting is all about Addy and will be on Sunday, April 13, from 3-5pm. To sign your child up, click the link below.

How Does it Teach: American Girls Club

Making Victorian silhouettes during American Girls Club: Meet Samantha

I distinctly remember the Christmas I got a cranberry-colored velvet dress with a lace collar. I must have been seven or eight, and it’s not that I was particularly into dresses – but I also received a matching dress (right down to the buttons) for my Samantha doll. My mom had a friend hand-make them both and we have this picture of me and Samantha, perched on a rocking chair, earnestly grinning as only eight-year-olds can. I loved my American Girl dolls dearly (later Felicity came along to keep Samantha company) and everything that came with them. I’m not talking so much about their accessories (though those tiny hairbrushes, pencils, hair ribbons and the like definitely got my heart racing) as their stories. An avid reader from the age of three, I couldn’t get enough of Molly’s adventures in WWII America, Felicity’s colonial escapades, and Kirsten’s life as a pioneer. My dad even tape recorded him reading the entire Molly series when he spent five weeks away from me and my mom one summer. Needless to say, American Girls hold a special place in my heart.

Final "Me and my doll" silhouette product!

Fast-forward to today, when I get to lead our American Girls Club meetings with my co-worker, Louisa. I can’t even tell you how incredible it is to talk about women’s suffrage, the Underground Railroad, and environmentalism with groups of young girls who are already empowered to a point that is breathtaking. At the last club meeting, during our introductions, I asked the girls to share one thing that they love about being a girl. One, comfortably shifting around in her mother’s lap, shrugged her shoulders and said, “well, I like being a girl because… because I really just feel so free! Like I feel free to do whatever I want, because I’m a girl!” I smiled and told her that was a perfect reason, and in a blink of an eye thought about how far we’ve come. By learning the stories of Addie and Molly, Samantha and Josefina, we teach our daughters about history – not just of women and girls, but of our country — in a way that deeply means something to them.

Visit our calendar of events for the dates and times of the American Girls Club. The next one is this Sunday, July 11 at 3:30pm. We’ll be learning about Julie and her life in 1970s America!