Of dolls and girls

Workshops will teach kids about dolls and days of yore

Workshops will teach kids about dolls and days of yore

January 18, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

A seminar Sunday at Washington County Rural Heritage Museum will teach children how to make a topsy-turvy doll, a two-in-one rag doll that is a Caucasian girl on one end and a black girl when flipped upside down.

Organizers hope the doll-making session will teach children what it was like for little girls more than a century ago, said museum administrator Leslie Hendrickson.

"That society was very different," she said. "Today is certainly so much better."

Popular in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, topsy-turvy dolls were unusual because they did not offer a "demeaning" portrayal of black people in an era when hurtful, stereotypical caricatures of blacks were pervasive in pop culture, said Anne Garside, spokeswoman for the Maryland Historical Society, which has included Maryland-made topsy-turvy dolls in a permanent exhibit on antique toys.

The Rural Heritage Museum's seminar - unrelated to the Historical Society exhibit - is intended for children ages 4 to 12 and is the first in a series of four doll-making workshops scheduled this year. The museum will continue its doll-making series Feb. 24, with a penny wooden doll workshop.


"I think in this world of technology, little girls are losing sight of what it's like to have a doll-baby, especially one she's made herself," Hendrickson said.

The doll's name, Garside said, was inspired by the character Topsy in Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

It's not clear whether they were made for slave children or for the white children living in the plantation house, according to the product description provided by Historical Doll Kits, the company that made the kits the Rural Heritage Museum will use.

Garside said that from 1901 to 1924, Baltimore toy-maker Albert Brkner produced topsy-turvy dolls for New York-based Horsman Toy Company, which advertised the doll in its catalog with a poem:

"First she's white and then she's Black,

Turn her over and turn her back.

Topsy that side - Betty this -

Yet complete, each little Miss."

Brkner's dolls are included in the Historical Society's exhibit, "Nipper's Toyland: 200 Years of Children's Playthings," which opened in December and will continue indefinitely at its headquarters in Baltimore.

If you go ...

WHAT: Topsy-turvy doll-making seminar

WHEN: 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20.

WHERE: Washington County Rural Heritage Museum, 7313 Sharpsburg Pike, south of Hagerstown. Take exit 29 off Interstate 70 and travel 7 miles south on Sharpsburg Pike.

COST: $20 per kit. All materials will be provided.

MORE: Advance reservations are required. Each child is asked to bring an adult to help complete the project. Refreshments will be served. Call the Rural Heritage Museum at 240-313-2839.

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