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There are 3 types of American Girl Dolls: historical dolls, Girls of the Year and Truly Me dolls (originally American Girl Today and then, Just Like You and My American Girl). The historical dolls are hands down, my favorite, but there is no such thing as an American Girl Doll that I don’t love. I will be writing a series of posts featuring the different types of dolls and their members.
The historical dolls were the originals, so I’ll start with them. American Girl dolls were the inspiration of Pleasant Rowland (more about her in a future piece) who launched the American Girl brand in 1986 through Pleasant Company which, at the time, was mail order only. She started with 3 dolls: Kirsten Larsen, Samantha Parkington and Molly McIntyre. Compared to what the company offers today, these three lines were small. The dolls were a huge success, however, and Pleasant Company sales totaled $1.7 million their first holiday season. Not bad for a brand new company that many in the industry predicted would fail! From the outset, Pleasant Company was at once a toy company and a publishing house, eventually adding a children’s clothing line, as well.
Each doll is from a particular historical period, with the intention that girls learn about history and be inspired by the stories. As an educator, Pleasant did not want to just make dolls. It was a central part of her vision that girls read the books and learn about history. The stories are written by A-list authors and therefore, are just good literature. I know I have learned a lot about history from the American Girls and the stories are nothing, if not inspiring. Not only are the dolls well-made and durable, but they are beautiful. I often look at the dolls in my collection and revel in their beauty and authenticity. I am often amazed at how well the dolls and clothes stand up to my granddaughters’ play. From the beginning, the clothes and accessories were made to be authentic and the attention to detail is unparalleled. As my oldest granddaughter says, “Grandma, It’s like someone put real stuff in a shrinking machine.” Indeed!
KIRSTEN LARSEN – 1854
Kirsten Larsen is a 10 year-old Swedish immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1854. Her family left everything they had ever known, including Kirsten’s beloved Mormor (grandmother) behind. Having only the necessary money to make the long sea voyage, take a Mississippi riverboat ride, and then travel by foot to Minnesota, the Larsens could not afford land of their own. Fortunately, Kirsten’s uncle, (her father’s brother) was willing to share his farm with them until they could save enough money to buy their own land. Kirsten’s story is one of hardship, loss (her best friend, Marta dies of cholera on the riverboat) and courage. As you read Kirsten’s story, you will perhaps laugh, sometimes cry, but most definitely will admire this pioneer girl and her family.
Kirsten was retired in 2010. Though, she lasted 24 years, her collection is much more modest than Samantha’s or Molly’s. If you want to collect one of the original girls, she’s a good one to start with. I have Kirsten’s entire collection and I got it all on eBay after she retired.
SAMANTHA PARKINGTON – 1904
Ten year-old Samantha Parkington has a heart bigger than all outdoors. If her kindness to and compassion for Nellie O’Malley don’t inspire you and bring tears to your eyes, nothing will. Samantha’s story begins in 1904 when a family of servants arrive at her next-door neighbors’ house. Among them is Nellie, who just happens to be Samantha’s age. Samantha cannot believe that children actually work as maids! She is even more shocked when she learns from Nellie that most of the work done in factories is performed by children. She sees first-hand how dangerous such a life can be when she goes in search of Nellie. Samantha’s story has a happy ending when her Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia decide to adopt Nellie and her two sisters along with Samantha. But, the credit for this happy ending is largely due to Samantha’s tenacity, courage and most of all compassion. Everyone should have a friend like Samantha.
Samantha was retired in 2009. With a 23-year history, she has a substantial collection.
In 2014, American Girl redesigned the historical line under the theme BeForever. Existing dolls got new outfits, including a totally new Meet Outfit and Accessories. Samantha Parkington was reintroduced as part of this line. She is almost identical to the original Samantha, except she has longer hair. Several things from the original line have been brought back with a new look. Totally new or made over, her outfits, accessories and furniture are all stunningly beautiful.
MOLLY MCINTYRE – 1944
Molly McIntyre is a spirited 10 year-old dealing with the challenges of life during WWII. Her story begins in 1944. She is annoyed that she can’t have the birthday party she wants because of the rationing of sugar and other things. And she is really bummed when her mother goes to work and neighbor, Mrs. Guilford comes to take care of her and her brother and sister. But, her world is really turned upside down when her father, who is a doctor, enlists and is sent to London to care for the many people who have been wounded from all the bombing. In addition, Emily Bennett, who just happens to be Molly’s age, comes to live with them, in order to escape the London bombing. Molly learns that though her own life seems hard, it is nothing compared to what Emily has suffered. In the process, she gains a new friend and her horizons are expanded.
Molly was recently retired in 2013. She is the longest running American Girl Doll, an impressive 27 years. Her collection is enormous.
FELICITY MERRIMAN – 1774
Kirsten, Samantha and Molly comprised the American Girl collection for the first 5 years. Then, Felicity Merriman was added in 1991. Living in Williamsburg in 1774, 10 year-old Felicity must decide for herself whether or not she is a Loyalist or a Patriot. Her father and his young apprentice, Ben, are Patriots. Then, she meets the lovely Elizabeth Cole, who is just her age. Felicity is torn when she realizes Elizabeth and her family are Loyalists. But, if there is one thing on earth Felicity loves, it’s horses. And if there is one horse that Felicity loves, it’s Penny, a beautiful copper mare whom she discovers at the home of Jiggy Nye. Mr. Nye used to be an expert horseman, but in recent years has allowed the tragedies of his life make him bitter and cruel. Felicity is determined to rescue Penny from the cruel man, but Jiggy Nye is just as determined not to let her have the horse. Felicity discovers the meaning of friendship, loyalty and what it means to do the right thing, even when it is hard. She discovers how kindness and compassion can work miracles and transform lives.
Felicity was retired in 2011, giving her a 20-year run and a substantial and remarkable collection.
ADDY WALKER – 1864
In 1993, 10 year-old Addy Walker joined the American Girl family. Her story begins in 1864, as she and her mother attempt to escape slavery from a North Carolina plantation. Her father and brother have been sold to another plantation. Thus, Addy and her mother must make the dangerous trip to Philadelphia by themselves and hope that both men will somehow find a way to join them. Addy and her mother make it to Philadelphia, after a long and difficult journey and thanks to a safe house along the way. But, Philadelphia does not mean a life of ease. Addy and her mother must live in a one-room upstairs apartment with no heat. They cannot even afford a kerosene lamp so they can see at night. Though, she is grateful to be free and loves her new life in Philadelphia, Addy discovers that the meaning of freedom is different if you are black than if you are white. She also experiences the joy of learning to read and dreams of becoming a teacher. She never loses hope that someday her family will be reunited. Addy’s story touches my heart and inspires me more than any of the others (and they all touch my heart and inspire me).
Twenty-three years later, Addy is still a part of the American Girl collection. In 2014, American Girl redid the Meet Outfits of all the historical girls under their new BeForever theme. Addy has a beautiful array of clothes, accessories and furniture to choose from. Her retired items can still be purchased on eBay.
JOSEFINA MONTOYA – 1824
Josefina Montoya did not join the historical girls until 1997, eleven years after the original three dolls were created. Ten year-old Josefina is the youngest of four lovely girls who live near Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1824. Their mother passed away just the year before, and Josefina feels her absence very much. Her father owns a large rancho and raises sheep for a living. The wool from the sheep is dyed bright colors and woven into beautiful blankets. Josefina is delighted when Tia Dolores, her mother’s unmarried sister comes for a visit after living in Mexico City for 10 years and decides to stay. She knows a lot about fashion, can play beautiful music on the English square piano she brought with her and best of all, she tells Josefina wonderful stories about their mother. But, Josefina’s joy turns to sadness when it looks like Tia Dolores is going to go live with her own parents, Josefina’s grandparents. Josefina learns a lot about herself and finds courage she didn’t think she had when a flood drowns many of her father’s sheep and she finds a way to get Tia Dolores to stay forever.
Josefina is still a part of the historical collection; nineteen years and going strong, she has a wonderful selection to choose from. Josefina’s Meet Outfit also received a makeover in the 2014 BeForever release.