Anoka County Historical Society: Doll

Audra Hilse's picture

It goes without saying that people bring us interesting things as artifact donations. As often as possible, we try and get the story that goes with the interesting artifacts, in order to make them even more interesting. Sometimes, though, the full story of an object is not known to anyone still living, and the most that we can get is tantalizing hints. 

The doll pictured here falls into the latter category.

It was brought to us as part of a collection of things found inside the walls of an Anoka house. The family who owns the house had remodeled in 1980, and found a number of interesting items which they fortunately kept, and lately brought to the Historical Society. Among other interesting items (including a shoe, a corn-cob pipe, and envelopes postmarked from the 1890s and early 1900s), was this little doll. 

She is just 6 and ¾ inches high from the top of her head to the hem of her dress, and is obviously homemade. Her round head is stuffed, probably with rag pieces, and secured with string to form to the neck. Her arms are made of fabric rolls that were stitched together. The dress is made of fabric that probably dates from the 1870 to 1880 – the combination of plain, plaid and stripes as the fabric pattern is unusual. Her apron has a little pocket on it. We estimate that the doll itself is probably c. 1900, but would have been made with fabric scraps leftover from other household projects, so it is not surprising to find that an older fabric was used to make it.

This is where the mystery begins, however, because we do not know anything else about her. Prior to the current family, the house was owned by someone in the Barstow family, but we do not know if that ownership goes back to the time period when these items would likely have been put into the walls. There is also the question of why the doll was put inside the wall in the first place – did the girl who owned (and likely made) it not want her anymore? We will keep digging, to see if we can find out who lived in the house at the time and what stories we can learn about them.

Even if we can’t ever learn her full story, the doll is still an intriguing addition to the collections, giving us a glimpse into the life of a young girl in the city of Anoka more than a hundred years ago.