Paper dolls

October 29, 2014

As early as the mid-eighteenth century hand-painted figures and costumes created on paper by dressmakers illustrated current designs in London, Paris, Vienna and Berlin. A London advertisement proclaimed a new invention called the “English Doll” in 1791, that was a young female figure, eight inches high, with a wardrobe of underclothes, headdresses, corset and six complete outfits. S & J Fuller in London produced the first paper doll for their “Temple of Fancy” at Rathbone Place in 1810. Little Fanny from The History of Little Fanny was a popular paper doll with a single transposable head, seven costumes, and a number of hats, as cut outs that were used in the telling of the story.

Belcher of Boston was the first American company to publish paper dolls with their The History and Adventures of Little Henry published in 1812. Cinderella, or, The Little Glass Slipper: Beautifully Illustrated with Figures (London: S. & J. Fuller, 1814) captivated little girls with paper dolls. During the 1820s, boxed paper doll sets were imported from Europe to America. McLoughlin Brothers, established in 1828, was the largest manufacturer of paper dolls in the United States. McLoughlin’s earliest paper dolls were printed from wood blocks that had been pirated from British publishers. McLoughlin Brothers and British publisher Raphael Tuck continued producing paper dolls until the twentieth century. McLoughlin Brothers continued developing paper dolls, along with children’s story and playbooks after its sale to Milton Bradley in 1920.

Peter G. Thompson was a smaller company that published paper dolls in the 1880s. Raphael Tuck was perhaps the best-known manufacturer of finely lithographed items patented their first paper doll, a baby with a nursing bottle in 1893. Paper dolls appeared in advertising, some die-cut, and as cards to cut out. Paper dolls were featured in advertising for Lyon’s coffee, Pillsbury flour, Baker’s chocolate, Singer sewing machines, Clark’s threads, McLaughlin Coffee and Hood’s Sarsaparilla.

Godey’s was the most widely circulating monthly American magazine edited by a woman (Sarah Josepha Hale between 1837 and 1877) prior to the Civil War that dictated fashion and literature trends for generations of women. Godey’s contained hand-tinted fashion plates, clothing patterns and sheet music, and was carried to the frontier. In November 1859, Godey’s Lady’s Book was the first women’s magazine to publish a paper doll. Illustrated in black and white, their paper doll accompanied with a page of costumes for children to color. Good Housekeeping was a major publisher of paper dolls beginning in 1909. McCall’s Magazine developed the most popular paper doll character Betsy McCall spotlighting many artists from 1904 to 1926 in their cut-and-fold McCall Family series. Artist Kay Morrissey developed sweet-faced Betsy McCall, which debuted in 1951. Betsy McCall, followed the original function of paper dolls by modeled fashions that could be made with McCall’s patterns. Paper dolls appeared in newspapers during the Great Depression and were cut out by children who often made elaborate paper doll scrapbooks.

Prohibition of the manufacture, sale and transporting of alcoholic beverages I the Unites States from 1919 to 1933 was largely due to pressure from women’s social networks. Yet, after World War I flappers, young women living lives of excess, patronizing speakeasies and consuming alcohol, formed a counterculture that subverted tradition women’s networks. Flappers virtually removed corsets from women’s fashions, and visually and behaviorally freed up all women by wearing shorter skirts and short haircuts, and excessive make-up. Flappers redefined the roles of women in society and mocked the traditional female networks that had lobbied for Prohibition.

Television had a tremendous impact on how women gathered socially during the 1950. Nationally and locally produced women’s programs soon followed throughout the United States often premiering within hours of a station signing-on, first to sell televisions as an essential home product, and then to build loyal female audiences. Local broadcasters produced cooking shows to entertain and instruct housewives on the latest trends in cooking, nutrition, and kitchenware that carried the message that women should purchase the latest products that would enable them to get out of the house. Women’s programs usually lasted thirty minutes and featured food topics, along with other educational content related to home economics including, “textiles and clothing, home furnishings, time management and work simplification, gardening, kitchen planning, childcare, grooming and family relations.” Ironically, television also served to alienate women from traditional face-to-face networking.

The impact of the birth-control pill, simply known as “the Pill” approved for use in the United States in 1960, gave women unprecedented control over their bodies, and therefore provided them with the option to differ marriage. The availability of the Pill opened avenues for social networking that had previously been considered taboo as different social movements and counterculture groups emerged. Betty Friedan (1921-2006), a journalist writing for popular women’s magazines, in The Feminine Mystique (1963) called on women to seek satisfying and intellectually stimulating careers in public life without renouncing their roles within the home. Friedan and other feminists established the National Organization for Women (NOW) focused on the fight for full equality for women in 1966.

Female social networking within counterculture movements still mirrored traditional models of women assisting male leadership. For instance, the Diggers, a psychedelic political movement of the late-1960s was credited with coining the phrase, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” This subgroup of San Francisco hippies, utilized traditional female social networks as they worked towards a society where all food and possessions were shared freely. The Diggers provided free clothing in the Free Store and distributed free food in the San Francisco Panhandle during the Summer of Love. The group introduced principals of serving organic foods distributed broadsides and leaflets along Haight Street advertising free food, supplies, and performances to thousands of transient youth. Dedicated volunteers, consisting of mostly young women, ferreted cheap food from produce markets, slaughterhouses, fish markets and bakeries.

The proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution stating, Congress passed “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” in 1972. This amendment would have responded to many issues raised by generations of women’s social networks, but its controversy undermined the demographic female majority, because it was ratified by only 35 of the necessary 38 states by its 1982 deadline.

Professional female networks

October 24, 2014

While women’s movement first organized on issues of women’s rights and suffrage, the movement has since worked for equality in employment opportunity and pay. In 1868, New York City journalist Jane Cunningham Croly was denied admittance to a dinner at an all-male press club, honoring author Charles Dickens based solely upon her sex. Croly soon organized a club for professional women called Sorosis, derived from the Greek meaning “a sweet fruit of many flavors”. Opportunities for professional or intellectual women to network were scarce, and by the end of the year, eighty-three women paid the $5.00 annual membership (equivalent to an average working woman’s weekly wage). The group met and Delmonico’s Restaurant, and regularly caused a stir because it was so unusual for an unescorted woman to dine in public. After the Civil War boom, the Beecher sisters with their American Woman’s Home (1869), attempted to direct women to prudently acquire and use the plethora of new consumer products available. The Beecher sisters felt that the chief cause of women’s social disadvantages was that they were not trained, as men are, for their peculiar duties, and the aim of their book was to “the honor and remuneration of domestic employment.”

In 1890, Croly and her Sorosis group invited women’s clubs throughout the United States to participate in a convention in New York. Sixty-three women’s clubs responded, resulting in the formation of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, which has since become a major volunteer service organization mobilized to promote issues related to civil rights and human rights. Moving into the twentieth century, women’s voices in regards to domestic work shifted radically as they fought for and obtained the vote. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) was seventy-seven years old when she wrote The Solitude of Self (1892) after stepping down from the presidency of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Stanton recognized the political ramifications and psychological resources of “self” or of a woman having an individual life, ”Whatever theories may be on woman’s dependence on man, in the supreme moments of her life, he cannot bear her burdens.”

Women mobilized and moved to Kansas in an abolitionist effort to prevent the territory from entering the union as a slave state, and set an important precedent in 1861 when they gained the right to vote in school elections. During the Civil War, women took advantage of the Homestead Act (1862) and the Morrill Act (1862) to move into new territories and establish careers.

After the Civil War, Marietta Holley, using the pseudonym “Josiah Allen’s Wife,” emerged internationally as the bestselling American female satirist. Comparable in content and sales to Mark Twain, Holley’s work utilized exaggeration, the vernacular voice, intentional misspelling, and homely truths in her satire. Holley’s aggressive, loquacious, well-traveled, and plain protagonist Samantha Allen appeared two- dozen books published between 1872 and 1914. As a time when women fought for the vote, Holley spotlighted women’s networks in the private sphere. Holley’s character Samantha Allen was a Methodist, and favored prohibition and women’s suffrage. Methodism in the second half of the nineteenth century was in the midst of the Third Great Awakening when an enormous surge in membership occurred. Sect, in Holley’s secular usage, related to how men and women appeared to form distinct spheres within humanity by virtue of their common beliefs and practices. Samantha Allen. Samantha lived in Jonesville, a fictional town representing Middle America during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Holley’s humor comes out in the way the rustic characters interact and are perceived in the world beyond Jonesville. Samantha is generally confronted with challenges that motivate her to journey beyond Jonesville in search of solutions, when Samantha brought her small-town common sense to big city issues, including the controversial ideas and networks of radical suffragists Victoria Woodhull who was a proponent for free love and spiritualism.

Austen, Beecher & Stowe

October 16, 2014

In the years leading up to the Civil War, Catharine Beecher’s influence was eclipsed when her sister Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin ignited a movement to abolish slavery. In 1869, Beecher and Stowe collaborated on combining Treatise on Domestic Economy and Domestic Receipt-Book into the American Woman’s Home. However, Beecher’s legacy was established in her arguments that women’s roles in the domestic and educational sphere were the foundations for social advancement and the cornerstone of American democracy. Whereas the Grimké sisters used Christian rhetoric to fight for the abolition of slavery, Beecher used the same rhetoric to wrap women in a new schema for creating professionalism domestic work. She sought to illustrate how rationalism and utilitarianism could give women the opportunity to turn ordinary female activities into a means to achieve success that echoed masculine models for success

The literary landscape dramatically expanded when American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) – who was born the year Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was first published – reached into the American consciousness to engage its sentimentality for the abolitionist cause. Stowe picked up the threads from female authors of the early Republic when she wrote “A New England Sketch” for Western Monthly Magazine in April 1834. Stowe’s collection of stories and sketches called The Mayflower (1843), modeled after Addison and Steele’s The Spectator, utilized Enlightenment rhetoric to inculcate moral lessons, and launched her career as a leading abolitionist writer. However, Stowe is best remembered for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or, Life among the lowly (1852), which introduced American readers to a new genre of “family novels” featuring short chapters that were read aloud with the entire family present, similar as to when families gathered around their radios for entertainment during the early-twentieth century.

Utilizing contacts with the abolitionist newspaper the National Era, Stowe had her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or, Life Among the Lowly (1852), published in installments over a forty-week period. Family stories were often published in serial form so they could be read aloud by at least a dozen people, thus serials crossed economic regions that expensive books might not reach. This aspect of popular culture often occurred in connection to women’s communal activities including sewing or quilting bees and similar to today’s book club where people shared an experience and discussed its implications.

Austen’s work never carried the label “bestseller” during her lifetime; she was not widely read even in England. Relevant to American history, this nineteenth century American bestseller (still second only to the Bible) evangelized against slavery as the cornerstone of the Southern plantation system. After borrowing a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin from her neighborhood “Reading Circle” a young Vermont mother named Chastina Rix wrote in her diary: I hate slavery and always did. This Work although a fiction, is calculated well to touch the feelings & enlist ones sympathies for this unfortunate race, a curse upon our country will surely come if men will persist in keeping these poor creatures in such a degraded condition aye & hold there [sic] children in bondage too! It makes my blood burn when I think on it. (Bonfield and Morrison 1995, 70).” Lincoln met Stowe at the start of the Civil War, and credited her with laying the moral groundwork for the conflict over the abolition of slavery, “So this is the little lady who wrote the book that made this great war (Stowe & Smiley 2001: xxii).” Today most Americans are more familiar with the plotlines of Austen’s British classics. The semantics of conversation presented in Austen’s novels must have seemed to innocent, quaint, and guileless to later generations as middle-class affluence increased with the industrial revolution. The two cousins once-separated by a family dispute no longer felt any animosity as Victoria of England grew as a national and international icon for feminine morality.


Beecher, Catharine. Miss Beecher’s Domestic Reciept-Book: Designed as a Supplement to Her Treatise on Domestic Economy. New York: Harper, 1850.

Bonfield, Lynn A., and Mary C. Morrison. Roxana’s Children: The Niography of a nineteenth-century Vermont Family. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher, and Jane Smiley. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or, Life among the Lowly. New York: Modern Library, 2001.

The Hartford Female Seminary differed from dame schools that prepared girls for refined lifestyles because girls performed calisthenics. Catharine Beecher, like Lydia Maria Child who authored The Girl’s Own Book (1828), focused on reforming standards of diet, exorcise, and less restrictive clothing for women. Beecher in Suggestions Respecting Improvements in Education (1829) proposed that mothers and female teachers could fulfill the role traditionally held by ministers in educating the mind as well as nurturing a healthy soul.

When the Beecher family relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1831, Beecher and her sister Harriet Beecher Stowe established the Western Female Institute. In 1832 Catharine and Harriet Beecher Stowe joined the Semi-Colon Club, an early literary discussion group for men and women. During the 1830s, Winthrop B. Smith of Truman & Smith, a Cincinnati publishing company approached, Beecher to compile a series of readers, and she declined the offer. Smith conceived the idea of developing a series of “eclectic” readers that contained didactic literature from the best authors of the day. Eventually a young Calvinist schoolmaster named William Holmes McGuffey (1800-1873) accepted the challenge and developed the fabulously successful McGuffey Eclectic Readers. Beecher assisted him with the Fourth Eclectic Reader published in 1837. The series remained neutral on the topic of slavery during the Civil War, and copies were smuggled and sold in the South. The Western Female Institute struggled to remain open but filed for bankruptcy as a result of a financial panic in 1837. Early in her career, Beecher ignited a strenuous public debate through corresponding with Angelica and Sarah Grimké when she wrote her Essay on Slavery and Abolition (1837).

Beecher’s A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School was published in 1843, and she opened the book with a chapter describing the distinct characteristics of American women in contrast to English women. Beecher proposed that American women should be trained in domestic economy to gain logical and practical skills needed to manage a household. Beecher felt this pedagogy could be imparted when girls were between the ages of ten and fourteen years, and could be best taught institutionally in a year when girls were fifteen years of age. Instruction offered in Beecher’s book allowed girls at the age of sixteen to fulfill their prescribed roles in the household, whether for family, for hire, or in establishing their own households. Beecher argued that this curriculum for women was central to the moral and political foundations of the nation.

Beecher was concerned that American women were being trained haphazardly to expound on frivolous and esoteric subjects, while practical skills needed to build successful and healthy lives were neglected. She observed with irony that girls could easily construct and explain a geometric diagram “with far more skill,” than construct a garment using the same geometric principles. Beecher argued that women in antebellum America needed to master skills that would make their families self-sufficient in rural settings, or opportunities to create “value-added” benefits to families in urban environments. Beecher wanted to standardize American domestic practices, providing women with values of self-reliance, hard work, egalitarianism, and independence within home and family. Beecher included sections in her book on preparing of healthy food, maintaining cleanliness and systematical management of home and children, propagating plants, and elements of basic animal husbandry. She developed a curriculum in home economy framed within a specific sensibility that the work of women should be valued within antebellum society.

In 1846, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book was published as a supplementary manual on cooking. This work departed from other cookbook printed in America that were simply reprints of British cookbooks because Beecher felt American women needed more practical advice. She included an entire chapter on preparing hashes, gravies and sauces; suggesting that she valued hashes (dishes combining chopped up meat leftovers and potatoes) as a means for avoiding waste. Her Treatise on Domestic Economy and Domestic Receipt-Book were sold door to door throughout the country. Beecher led the formation of the American Women’s Educational Association in 1852 that strove to expand educational opportunities for women by sending teachers to western frontier towns. Beecher authored dozens of articles and books on female education that challenged patriarchy. Concerned with the health of American women, Beecher asked women to provide impressions on the health of ten women in their acquaintance during her travels that she compiled in Letters to People on Health and Happiness (1855). Later, in her An Appeal to the People on Behalf of their Rights as Authorized Interpreters of the Bible (1860), Beecher challenged Calvinist doctrines and the authority of the ministry.

Catharine Beecher (1800-1878) was considered by many to be the mother of home economics in America. Beecher became an influential shaper of American middle-class female culture during the antebellum years, by lobbying for higher education for women and the advancement of female teachers in public education. More importantly, Beecher intellectually reconciled the status quo for female subordination to values of American democracy by developing new ways of promoting the role of women within nationalistic rhetoric. Beecher wrote prolifically on education and woman’s place in society, leading an American domestic science movement that was in tune with the demands of industrial capitalism of the late nineteenth century. Many women’s historians feel that Beecher’s influence devalued women’s labor regulating married women to the private sphere of the family household with out benefit of suffrage or property rights.

Catharine Beecher attended Sarah Pierce’s Lichtfield Female Academy from 1810 to 1816 first as a student and then as an assistant teacher. The Lichtfield Academy inculcated the philosophy of Republican Motherhood. This concept of gendered roles emerged during the Early Republican era when rhetoric espoused that the future of the nation was contingent upon women shaping and protecting the spiritual and moral life of society. When Miss Pierce’s nephew Charles Brace came to teach at the academy, he introduced a curriculum for boys along with Addisonian values of domestic gentility to female students. In this model, women and men shared intellectual equality in separate spheres: men conducted business and social activities in the public sphere and females managed the home and social obligations in the private sphere. The curriculum of the Litchfield Academy included reading, writing, composition, and English grammar; geography, ancient and modern history; philosophy and logic; spelling and simple needlework.

Raised in a Calvinist household, she studied music and drawing in preparation for a teaching career. She planned to marry a mariner, which meant that she would need an occupation while he was at see, her first opportunity to teach came in 1821 when she was hired to teach music and drawing in New London. Breaking with the Calvinist teachings of her father Lyman Beecher, Catharine settled into an acceptable occupation for a single woman which was teaching. Catharine wrote to her father on February 15, 1823, “there seems to be no very extensive sphere of usefulness for single woman but that which can be found in the limits of a schoolroom.” After the death of her fiancé Alexander Metcalf Fisher at sea in 1823, Catharine inherited a small fortune from his estate, which she and her sister Mary Foote Beecher used to establish a school for girls in Hartford, Connecticut. This school evolved into the Hartford Female Seminary. Mary did a bulk of the basic teaching, leaving Catharine time to develop her own teaching philosophy where academic excellence is fostered.


Holding a tiny doll that has a dress made by my mother. Photograph by R. I. Otterbach, 2014.



P.S. I have donned my folklorist attire to do some research on a French artist that settled in San Francisco in the 1910s after finding his name spelled in every which way on the Internet. I am having a blast with the old-fashioned gumshoe-ing and will report on findings in the coming weeks.

Lyman Beecher, an ardent New England abolitionist, established the American Temperance Society in 1825 because women and families had been put at risk for being destitute when husbands spent family wages on alcohol. Lydia Maria Child, an indefatigable social networker, abolitionist, and proponent for the rights of Native Americans, offered practical knowledge for women with husbands who could not provide for families in her The American Frugal Housewife (1829).

Catharine Beecher (1800-1878), the daughter of Lyman Beecher, who organized women’s schools and colleges, and intellectually reconciled through her writing how existing patterns of female-subordination attributed to the “cult of true womanhood” were necessary to sustain American democratic sensibilities in antebellum America. Her Treatise on Domestic Economy (1841) illustrated the consistency of Christian ideals of democracy to American social hierarchies. She proposed a new schema for professionalizing domestic work and schooling, and utilized Lockean theory to substantiate the argument that women’s activities required the same autonomous and practical critical thinking skills in the private sector as were required of men in experiencing career success in the public sector.

Detail of twentieth century stitching on back cover from Happy Hands Studio (Pendelton, Oregon) from unique artist book by Roberta Lavadour called "Happy Hands"

Detail of twentieth century stitching on back cover from Happy Hands Studio (Pendelton, Oregon) from unique artist book by Roberta Lavadour called “Happy Hands”

The Midwest became a cultural hearth where women organized pressure groups. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was established in Cleveland to oppose the manufacture and use of alcoholic beverages, and to educate the public on the social impact of abusing liquor. When the U.S. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, slave traders began to kidnap free blacks in the North and sell them into slavery in the South. During the 1850s, Ohio, where The Anti-Slavery Bugle was published, became a hub for abolitionist activism. Bugle writer Josephine Gaffing sheltered fugitive slaves in her home, and Quaker women provided safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Catharine Beecher’s younger sister Harriet Beecher Stowe was living in Cincinnati, Ohio, and knew women assisting escaped slaves fleeing from Kentucky to Canada via the Underground Railroad.


Learning by the Rules

October 8, 2014

Before the establishment of free public schools in 1770, girls learned to read at home or at weekly secular Sunday schools (or first day schools), which met to provide instruction in reading for children as well as illiterate adults beginning in the 1790s. First day schools operated on Sundays because children were expected to work during the rest of the week, and girls were more likely to attend Sunday-schools than boys because it was their only option for public education at the time. Virtue, humility, and purity remained characteristics that were prized in women. While upper-class women gathered discretely in parlors to read aloud dialogues to educate themselves on science or to enjoy Dr. Watts’ Divine Songs, they networked. “Republican womanhood,” a concept of American womanhood coined by historian Linda Kerber, to define how the Republican mother integrated political values into her domestic life.

As families from different classes migrated to urban centers, individuals belonging to the growing middle class sought opportunities for “self elevation” or self-improvement in order to move up socially, but a woman’s destiny was tied to her choice of husband. During the nineteenth century, women’s social networking centered on the issues of women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, temperance, women’s suffrage, and missionary work. These social networks often held up throughout “bust” economic cycles. The impulse for reform in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century was generally manifested in five distinct phases: moral reform (1810s-1820), the creation of utopian societies (1820s), institutional reform (1830s), the abolition movement (1830s), and the movement for women’s rights (1840s). Once these reforms were addressed institutionally, male organizational structures took over, and professionals once again pushed women back into dependent roles.


Stitching Swatch Detail

Stitching Swatch Detail

Women operated boardinghouses from the seventeenth to early-twentieth centuries. Typical boardinghouses, establishments privately operated by families to bring in extra income became popular during the mid-nineteenth century. Some families chose to co-inhabit with other families as boarders, creating two-family households. Thomas Butler Gunn’s satire The Physiology of New York Boarding-Houses (1857), chronicled the variety of female dominated networks found in boardinghouses. Filled with anecdotes about scheming landladies, carousing bachelors, slovenly housemaids, and an odd cast of fellow boarders, boardinghouse life emerged as an aspect of cosmopolitan American culture. Indeed, individuals who chose to live solitary lives during the nineteenth century were considered to be odd loners or hermits.

Taking in boarders, was a crucial economic factor in the financial success of both urban and rural families during the early nineteenth century. Operating a boardinghouse was a rigorous weekly cycle of washing laundry, baking, and mending, and daily cycles of cooking, cleaning and serving. While husbands could leave the boardinghouse to work and run errands, wives and children kept the operation going even when they got sick, injured, or pregnant. Women recognized the economic value of their labor produced by taking in boarders was a means for women to bring cash into the household. Compared to taking in sewing, running a grocery, catering from their kitchens, or working as unpaid labor in their husband’s trades, operating a boardinghouse brought good income that could be reinvested into businesses or supply family needs.

Boardinghouse living could supply a surrogate family along with room and board. Immigrants clustered in boardinghouse communities or “quarters.” These groups generally included young men or women of similar professions, who assimilated to the new climate together. Mealtime became an opportunity to socialize and network for boarders who enjoyed similar foods and spoke the same language. Accustomed to living in urban areas, immigrants set up their own grocery and dry goods stores, liquor stores, boardinghouses, and restaurants. Boardinghouse culture was ephemeral and transient in nature. Boardinghouse living waned during the early twentieth century as urban planners focused on creating apartment communities to accommodate the American sensibility that the single lifestyle was acceptable.