Little Known Black History Fact: The Oldest Black Dolls

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  • On display at the convention for the United Federation of Doll Clubs this year are African-American dolls that were made between 1850-1870. Twelve hundred collectors gathered in New Orleans to view the most unique doll collections in the world, including those belonging to former slaves. Among the collection are dolls that have no legs but two heads, one of them white and the other black. The doll has a two-sided skirt that reveals the black or white side. The dolls were sewn together by black women who worked for white families. Depending on the race of the adults in the room, the black or the white side of the doll was shown.

    Though the materials used to make the dolls would have more than likely perished over the time period, hundreds of the dolls were sold and preserved to raise money for William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper called The Liberator.

    During the 1840’s black and white women in Salem, Massachusetts worked together as abolitionists to sew the dolls and sell them for the newspaper. Now some of those same dolls are worth thousands of dollars.

    In addition to the dolls of the poor and enslaved, there are dolls on display from various parts of the world. One doll with a brown complexion from France sold for $42,000.

    Some of the dolls displayed represented the political statement that the cultural climate was changing among black society. For example, one of the mid to late 19th century female dolls was dressed “like a boy,” illustrating the new resistance of women who wore pants, despite the negative stigma it carried in society back then.

    Some of the dolls featured at the New Orleans convention came from the Black Doll Museum in Mansfield, Massachusetts. There, one can see over 2,000 black dolls that were a significant part of historical black culture in the United States.
     

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