I have loved dolls, history, and the Victorian Era since I was little and can credit my grandmother for that. As a young girl she gave me a Godey’s Fashion print for August 1870 from my great, great Aunt Flossie. I was captivated by the dresses and became hooked. I just love to research everything and anything about the Victorian Era. I also love to design Victorian dolls. I hope you enjoy my Victorian Dolls, Victorian Traditions,The Victorian Era, and Me blog.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Roxanna Elizabeth McGee Cole's Beautiful Family Of 19th Century Dolls

Image Courtesy National Gallery of Art,Washington.

In perusing the collection of doll illustrations Dolls From The Index of American Design at National Gallery Of Art I kept coming back to slide #3, which is shown in the picture above.  I was drawn to it because it was a Grandmother and because was about a southern lady who made cloth dolls to support herself after the Civil War.

The description was: Here is a handmade cloth doll representing a grandmother knitting a red wool sock. The doll was made by a southern gentlewoman who supported herself after the Civil War by making fine cloth dolls. This was the one-thousandth doll made by this woman.

The credits were as follows: Jane Iverson (artist), American, active c. 1935, Anonymous Craftsman (object maker), Wenham Historical Society (object owner), Doll, c. 1936, watercolor and graphite on paper, Index of American Design, 1943.8.15542

I just had to know  more.  There was just so much reflection in the dolls face.  I couldn't help but wonder what she was thinking.

It turns out the illustration above is actually of the "Grandma Cole" doll made by Roxanna Elizabeth McGee Cole who started making dolls in the United States in 1868.

According to The Ultimate Doll Book by Caroline Goodfellow: Roxanna Elizabeth McGee Cole died in 1907, but her daughter-in-law, Molly Hunt Cole, took over the running of the business and there is a picture of "Grandma Cole" on page 99 and page 93.

The Ultimate Doll Book By Caroline Goodfellow has two references to Roxanna Cole's dolls.  In the Rag Dolls section on page 88 there is a wonderful picture of the Grandma Cole doll which was created c. 1901. According to this book: It is thought that the doll may be a portrait of the doll-maker Roxanna Elizabeth McGee Cole, who was a resident of Conway, Arkansas.

Also, under the Painted and Sewn Dolls section on page 93 there is a picture of 5 of Roxanna's dolls. Included in the picture are The Maid, Baby, Josie June, Grandma Cole, and May.  It is a delightful picture of the Cole Family dolls.

So, now I knew that the illustration was based on an actual doll that may have been a portrait of the actual doll-maker. I had to find out more about her. Here's what I found:

I found an article on the Eclectic Homeschool Online website which was an interview with Jeannette Fields, who creates 19th century rag dolls and patterns for her Ragtime Doll Company website. She designs and sells her old-fashioned cloth doll patterns to museums and to the public on her website.

According to a From Rags to Old-Fashioned Riches by Jean Hall - Interview with Jeannette Fields of The Ragtime Doll Company article on the Eclectic Homeschool Online website: As Ms. Fields created more historical quilt patterns, her family history and visits to the doll collection at the The Wenham Museum website in Massachusetts got her thinking about dolls and doll patterns. She eased into doll-making, and grew more interested in how dolls were made in the past.

On a visit to the The Wenham Museum website, she asked the staff to let her examine the construction of a Roxana Cole doll. (Roxana Cole lived in Ripley AR in the 1800s. She lost everything in the Civil War and began making dolls to make ends meet. The dolls were beautiful, made of high-quality materials. Because she made a lot of them, quite a few of the dolls are still around.) Roxana Cole was one of the earliest American dollmaker entrepreneurs and is an inspiration to many doll makers today.

On the Biographical Information page of the Arkansas Studies Institute Catalog for Roxanna Elizabeth McGee Cole I learned the following: Roxanna Elizabeth McGee Cole was born in August 3, 1825, near Nolensville, Tennessee, to William and Elizabeth McGee. Her father died in 1831, and she grew up near Franklin, Tennessee. She married William Russell Cole on November 23, 1842, and the couple had four children (W. D., Charles, Bettie, and June). After moving to Colorado in 1880, the family moved to Conway, Arkansas, in 1883 where she lived until she died on November 27, 1907.

After the Civil War, Roxanna began making and selling dolls to help make ends meet. Cole was one of the earliest American doll-maker entrepreneurs, and her creations are highly sought after by collectors.

Note: Different sources spell Cole's name Roxanna, Roxana, or Roxanne.

So I knew she was a doll maker in the 19th century who moved to Conway, Arkansas after the Civil War and that she was one of the earliest doll-maker entrepreneurs and her creations were highly sought after. I figured there had to be lots of pictures of her beautiful dolls. I was wrong.

I ran across a Preserving the past - Conway doll maker's creations returned to Arkansas article By Carol Rolf on the Arkansas Online website.

According to their article:  Roxanna Cole made cloth dolls, or rag dolls, as they were more commonly called, all her life. But it wasn't until after the Civil War when she had moved to Conway in about 1880 with her family that she began to make dolls to sell to the public......

Roxanna's dolls, which numbered more than 1,000, are well-known in the world of doll collectors, with several on display in the Wenham Museum in Massachusetts. Two of her dolls now have a home in Arkansas at Historic Museum of Arkansas in Little Rock.....

Given the popularity of her dolls I was sure I'd find many pictures of them on the web. Since I know knew several had been donated to the Wenham Museum and the Historic Museum of Arkansas I figured they'd have some pictures on their websites.  I was wrong.

Image Courtesy of The Wenham Museum

The picture above is one of the doll collection displays at The Wenham Museum website in Wenham, Massachusetts.

According to their website: Wenham Museum’s world-renowned doll collection offers insights into the values, manners, and mores of past generations; interpret the costumes and cultures of native and foreign peoples; and reflect the aesthetics and history of the international doll industry.

Also, in regards to the International Doll Collection: Some of the many highlights of the exhibit are a late 18th-century wooden “Suzanna Holyoke” doll with original costume, late 19th-century bisque costumed mechanical dolls, dolls by Joel Ellis, Grenier and Izannah Walker, and examples of 20th- century collectible dolls by Vogue, Madame Alexander and the Ideal Toy Company.

I was disappointed to find they didn't have an online collection and no pictures of the Roxanna Cole dolls.

However, I was able to confirm that several of her dolls were in fact at the Wenham Museum.

According to Cloth Dolls From Ancient To Modern by Linda Edward Chapter 3 Page 26 contains a section on Roxanna F, Cole and two pictures of her dolls.  The first is the delicately drawn features of one of her dolls (The Maid) that appears on the front cover above.  The 2nd is a picture of 3 of her dolls including the 22" Grandmother, who has brown eyes and is wearing a human hair wig. Included in that picture are the 14 1/2" baby with blue eyes and the 17 1/2" girl with brown eyes. The two other dolls have drawn on brown hair.   All of the dolls are at the Wenham Museum, Wenham, MA.

Since I didn't find any information on Roxanna Cole on the Wenham Museum website I figured that maybe the Historic Museum of Arkansas would have some. They had the ability to search their online collections but I was unable to find anything on Roxanna Cole and her dolls.

However I did end up finding two pictures and some information on her on their Arkansas Made Facebook page:

Image Courtesy of Historic Museum of Arkansas

The Arkansas Made Facebook page is maintained by the Historic Museum of Arkansas. 

The picture above was posted on the timeline of their Facebook page on March 24, 2016.

According to their post: Cloth Doll - Made by Roxanna Cole (1825-1927) - Cotton, muslin, and paint - 21.5 inches tall - c. 1890 - Collection of the Historic Arkansas Museum - Gift of Robin H. Bailey - 2007.31.44

This cloth doll is wearing original clothing that consists of a handmade black cotton dress, bonnet, slip, and shoes. This attire is appropriate for a woman dressed in the style of the time during which it was made. The body of the doll is made of fine muslin with artistically painted features and hair. The fingers are stitched and the doll has the painted appearance of eyeglasses....

 Robin Bailey, the doll maker's great-great-granddaughter, donated this work to the Historic Arkansas Museum in 2007.

Image Courtesy of  Historic Museum of Arkansas

The doll shown in the picture above is also from the Arkansas Made Facebook page was posted on their Facebook page on March 3, 2016.

According to their post: "Baby" (Doll) - Made by Roxanna Cole (1825-1927) - Cotton, muslin, and paint - 20 inches tall - 1885 - Collection of the Historic Arkansas Museum - Gift of Robin H. Bailey - 2007.31.43

This all cloth doll is wearing original clothing that consists of a handmade white cotton dress, bonnet, slip, diaper, and shoes. This attire is appropriate for a baby dressed in the style of the time during which it was made, 1885. The body of the doll is made of fine muslin with artistically painted features and hair. The fingers are stitched and the doll has a cloth biscuit in one hand, and a miniature tennis racket with bells attached in the other hand to create a rattle.

Robin Bailey, the doll maker's great-great-granddaughter, donated this work to the Historic Arkansas Museum in 2007.

I was able to find a Time Passages Cole/Allen house has a 'princely' history article by Vivian Lawson Hogueon TheCabin.net website about the Cole/Allen house in Conway where Roxanna lived.

According to their article: Roxanna McGee Cole was a colorful personality whose handmade dolls were once submitted to the Smithsonian Institution. Her life in Ripley during the Civil War is reflected in a letter now cherished as a family treasure and what a historian would call a "primary source." In a Nov. 2, 1862, letter she expresses her agony for her town. "First," she begins, "you must know that on the 28th of September, Van Dorn's and Price's armies met here, forming a junction to march on Corinth with the intention of driving the enemy from their stronghold....... 

After several pages of poignant descriptions of the devastating wounds of soldiers and the destruction of private property suffered by many, she finalized her plight by saying, "Perhaps they mean to make an example of us by attempting to stamp out with booted heel and bayonet the fires of patriotism that burn so sturdily in this rebellious little town. But they will have to take Herod's plan and strangle the very children in the cradle first. That they are fast coming to." Roxanna died in 1907.

If you would like to read more of her letter and information on some of her family please CLICK HERE for TheCabin.net article.

I tried searching through some of the Smithsonian Institutes websites to see if there was any information on Roxanna Cole's dolls and was unable to find anything.

I was hoping that if she had made a thousand dolls or more I would be able to see more pictures of them, but was disappointed. I resigned myself to viewing the pictures in the two books I had and contemplating a trip to the Wenham Museum in Massachusetts.

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