Lessons from the American Girls

When I was around five or six, an American Girl catalog showed up at my house one day. Who was this perfect cast of 18-inch girls from across time and America? It all started with the dolls. I wanted nothing more than to have one of those dolls to call my own. I studied the catalogs for years. They arrived every few months. The Christmas edition was always my favorite, full of hundreds of accessories and expensive toys I could only dream of having. It became such an obsession for me. I would read the catalog constantly, making lists of what I wanted. It got so bad that my mom actually hid the catalog or took it away when it became a distraction from chores and schoolwork.Even before I got my first doll, I discovered the books. My older sister, Samantha, had the series that bore her namesake, and the stories suddenly transported me to Victorian times. With each new character's books, my love of historical fiction grew. I loved the way I could time travel between the covers of a book. For the record, Historical Fiction is still my favorite genre. (I’m looking at you, Downton Abbey.)

I had almost given up on ever owning a doll. Then, one Christmas morning, I saw a suspicious box under the tree. The dimensions of the box were those I had studied for so long on the glossy pages of a catalog. Even though my mom made me wait until there were no more gifts left to be unwrapped, from the moment I saw it, I knew that it was the doll I had wanted for so long: Josefina, whose books I so loved.

The movies came next: Felicity, Molly, Kit, and Samantha. Each of them a thrilling book to movie adaptations of the series I had read and reread so much. After Samantha’s movie, the company released her best friend, Nellie, as a doll, and I was in love all over again. The next Christmas, there were two suspicious boxes under the tree, and my sister and I had Nellie and Molly to play with for hours on end. We’d set up scenes for them, dress and redress them, and imagine their lives as three characters, from 1820s, 1900s, and 1940s, interacted with one another.My sister and I also attended American Girl meetups, hosted in Columbus, where activities focused on historical characters, and there were games and raffles for doll clothing and furniture. I even won a doll-sized bench once! The possibilities for games were endless. The games then also became virtual, as my sister and I discovered the American Girl website, full of activities relating to both the historical characters and the modern american girl characters, such as Coconut, the westie dog. Over the years I had an American Girl Christmas album, as wells as various American Girl books, including a mystery series, and a set of activity and advice books.

When in 2012, the company almost pulled production of historical character dolls, I was upset. A lot of people were, and their outrage was probably what saved the line, as they backtracked and kept many of the dolls. While I outgrew playing with dolls, as most people do, little bits of what the American Girls taught me has stayed with me. Their stories, though set in the past, taught me valuable lessons about family, friendship, and kindness.  I hope to work in museum education, and while I can’t explain this wholly on my love for American Girl growing up, the company and their products were definitely one element in my life-long love of history. I hope that, even in a world that is an increasingly digital, books like the American Girl series will continue to spark the imagination of generations to come. Over winter break, in New York, I passed by American Girl place, still open and thriving. It was a store I’d longed to visit in my youth but never got the chance to. I was so glad that so many kids were still just as excited as I was about these dolls and their stories.

 

Image Credit: Feature, Reagan Neviska, 1