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Primary Source of the Month
Wooden Doll, c. 17701775
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Of all the toys in colonial times, dolls would be close to the top of the list in popularity, variety, and availability. Dolls, or "babies" as they were referred, could be made by hand out of materials like corn husks, or could be made of finer things and purchased, sometimes at great price. Dolls generally had bodies of wood or leather or cloth stuffed with sawdust or rags. Sometimes dolls even had wooden limbs connected to the body with string so that the joints could be moved. Heads could be made of wood, fragile alabaster, or translucent wax.
Enslaved children, Native American children, and European-American children of all social levels enjoyed playing with dolls. Dolls taught children how to care for their possessions, how to share, and enabled girls to mimic the behaviors of their mothers. Even though they were called babies, dolls in colonial times were always adults. Milliner's shops also kept dolls to show off the latest fashions. Dolls were also handed down as presents to daughters or nieces.
This doll is made of wood which has been covered in a fine layer of plaster and painted. She has jointed limbs, separated fingers, and nails marked on her fingers and toys. Her wig is made of human hair, and her eyes are glass or porcelain. Her gown is silk moire in a fashionable style; the skirt can be worn loose, as shown here, or looped up in the "Polinaise" style (see the Lesson Materials for an example). Under her dress she is wearing the correct undergarments for the time: a shift, stays, petticoat, pocket, stockings, and shoes.