Lessons learned through American Girl doll ownership

Lessons learned through American Girl doll ownership

When News-Gazette families columnist and blogger Julie Wurth wrote about her daughter's experiences with American Girl dolls last fall, I fondly recounted my experience as an American Girl doll owner.

(In fact, my sister and I commented quite a bit on Julie's blog post.)

The other day, a Facebook friend posted this piece from hairpin.com, called “What Your American Girl Doll Says About the Rest of Your Life.” It's a stitch, and probably hits home for a lot of women in my age group, those of us who remember the original dolls from the original Pleasant Company.

I just can't help but laugh when I see my Molly-owning self in this this phrase: “As an adult, you’ve developed a carefully honed aptitude for sarcasm. You've gotten contacts, and a slightly edgy haircut. You still sort of want attention, but you deny it. You’ve thought back on your American Girl Doll, and tried not to be too resentful towards the person who gave her to you, who so obviously associated you with the descriptor 'mousy.'”

In fact, people who gave me Molly – and my sister, fashionable Samantha – were our grandparents. And I swear I'm not resentful, but don't think I didn't notice when my childhood best friend would come over to play and only had eyes for Samantha.

But what I like more than the article's descriptions of how American-Girl owning children turned out is its devotion to the original dolls. So much more was added later – the Bitty Babies, the dolls that look exactly like you, the best friend dolls. Before all that, there were plenty of beautiful doll-sized items in those early catalogs. I'd spend hours poring over them, knowing I'd probably never get their beautiful wardrobe collections or brass beds, but wanting them just the same.

I know the American Girls were probably influential on many young women our age, but I think they were especially so for my sister and I. You see, I'm pretty confident in saying that my parents would never have spent $82 on dolls for both my sister and I. They were too busy saving for our college.

So when we ripped into those boxes that came in the mail – OK, Allison opened hers neatly; mine was in shards – they opened a battle (with me, at least) of the “I-want, I-want, I-wants!”

Their approach: my mom made beautiful original dresses for the dolls. I managed to find some sort of catalog that sold doll accessories (including the inevitable replacement glasses for Molly) for much less than they sold for in the Pleasant Company catalog.

I saved my allowance like crazy to buy items from that catalog, and when I felt tempted to order more from the Pleasant Company, my mom arranged for us to visit some sort of Pleasant Company seconds sale one summer (or maybe two summers in a row? It's starting to get hazy) while we visited one of her friends in Wisconsin.

Remembering this, I realize how much my parents must've loved me, because we got up super-early to wait in line for hours and only be admitted on some sort of ticket system. I believe even my gruff, heavy-equipment-operating father came along.

There, we bought all sorts of American Girl goodies – Samantha's oil paint set, outfits, shoes – and bigger items like an Addy doll and a Bitty Baby. I paid for them using allowance money I'd saved.

I don't think I'll ever forget the exciting scramble of that sale – people must've been coocoo over the American Girls even then, because there sure were a lot of elbows in that place. I believe the sale was in some sort of shed, and I remember it being hot, sticky and maybe a little bit gritty.

That sale is a wonderfully fond memory now, and more than that, I realized my parents were teaching me to save for what I wanted and to get it in a not completely traditional way.

Considering the economy and current economic (and personal) challenges, I sure appreciate those lessons even more. I guess the American Girls really did have a strong influence on the rest of my life.

Photo is of Molly and me, probably when I was about 6 or 7 - maybe around 1993? Sorry about the blurriness - it's a cell phone photo of one my mom had on the wall. I don't remember that outfit at all, but I kind of wish I had a larger version of it now.


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algon wrote on May 13, 2011 at 10:05 am

Awwww, look at my baby sister. Remember when she made you and Molly matching dresses? That was sweet. I have never admitted this, but sometimes I even got Samantha out when I was by myself just to smooth her hair. Seeing as they didn't have hair salons for the dolls waaaaaaay back in the day, I needed to take care of it for her. This brings back such good memories! I used to have to hide when I read the books over and over.

Meg Dickinson wrote on May 13, 2011 at 10:05 am
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Hah, yes, remember mom's rule about not rereading books? And did you smooth out her hair alone just so I wouldn't mess it up again?

Julie Wurth wrote on May 13, 2011 at 10:05 am
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Love that photo -- what a cutie! My nieces are about your age, and they have loved dragging out their dolls to share with my 7-year-old daughter this year. They pretend it's just for her but ... :)

It's funny, the one who got Samantha is the most fashion-conscious! But three of them picked Molly because they thought she was perky (not mousy) -- and they loved her glasses! I'll have to see what they say about all this!

Meg Dickinson wrote on May 13, 2011 at 10:05 am
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We always enjoyed getting the dolls out for our babysitting charges. We ended up with quite the collection of clothes and accessories.