Let’s Talk About American Girl Dolls

To say I was obsessed with American Girl Dolls growing up would be an understatement of epic proportions. Because I was very spoiled and girly, I had three of them. Until a few years ago, I assumed it was totally normal to have multiple American Girl Dolls–an assumption that was proven to be absurd upon sharing this information with my roommate. When I told her I’d had three of these dolls as a kid, she looked at me with a mixture of horror and disgust and told me that her parents only allowed her one doll, and that was after she’d read all the books and made an educated decision regarding which doll she wanted the most. Whoa. I’d read most of the books, but certainly not all of them, and I’d lived my young life arbitrarily identifying with an American Girl, and then getting the corresponding doll the following Christmas or birthday. My roommate went from being a one-doll owner to a straight-A student and Brown University alumn. I did not make straight A’s, nor did I attend an Ivy League school. I think my parents and their over-generous doll buying are partly to blame for this.

From the tender age of six until now, I’ve continued to be fascinated by all things American Girl. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t live in a town with an American Girl Place, so I had to order them from a catalogue like some lowly plebeian. Actually, I didn’t order anything, but my parents did, and they were probably thanking their lucky stars that there wasn’t an American Girl Place within a 500 mile radius of Oklahoma City, because I would have ended up with way more than three dolls.

For those of you who are unclear on what exactly these things are, let me bring you up to speed: American Girl Dolls began as historical dolls based on fictional girls that existed during various times in American history. Each girl/doll had a set of books that served as not only as their personal biography, but also a mini history lesson on America. Nowadays, in addition to all the historical dolls for sale, there are also “My American Girl” dolls that can be customized to look exactly like you, which I think is kind of weird, but I’d be down if someone were to gift me one. The dolls cost like, $80.00 in 1992, which is insane, but the exorbitant pricing doesn’t end there, because there are also various accessories/clothes that are specific to each doll as well as the events in her life, which you absolutely must buy if you want the whole American Girl experience. I think the dolls themselves cost around $105.00 now. Actually I don’t think that, I know that, because I’ve been to an American Girl Place recently. Yes, I bought three mini-versions of the dolls I had as a child. Yes, those three dolls cost a total of $65.00, and yes, they now sit on my nightstand, watching over me every night as I retire to bed alone. The following is a brief history of my childhood American Girls:

Kirsten Larson

 Ahh, Kirsten the “pioneer girl of strength and spirit.” Kirsten was born in Sweden, but she and her family settled in Minnesota in the 1800’s. Kiki’s “traveling to America” story was pretty dark, because her family had to cross the Atlantic on some old-ass boat, and *spoiler alert* her bff, Marta, died on the way over, thanks to immigration during the 19th century being very dangerous/unsanitary. Kirsten wasn’t glamorous, but she was blonde, and she had a cool Native American friend named “Singing Bird” or something like that, and she wore her hair in the same hairstyle that I did from ages 3-7, so I felt like we were kindred spirits. Kirsten also had this amazing crown with candles on it as part of her “St. Lucia outfit” (because she didn’t celebrate Christmas–hello, she was Swedish!) that I thought was the most amazing fashion statement, so I needed her in my life.

Samantha Parkington

 Samantha is The. Most. Fabulous. of all the American Girl Dolls to ever exist. She started out as an orphan who was working in a factory, but then was adopted by her wealthy Grandmother during the victorian era in New York. A true rags-to-riches tale! She also had beautiful, flowy brunette hair, and a ton of gorgeous outfits and over-the-top accessories. I’m talking bows, socks, shoes, dresses, tights, petticoats, a brass bed, a traveling trunk. For some reason I remember her always eating petit fours in the books. GLAMOUR. Basically, Samantha one-upped Kirsten in every way. Kirsten may have had the crown thingy, but her clothing/bedding/trunk scenario were modest, to say the least. I mean, she wore an apron and a bonnet. She lived in Minnesota. It was time to upgrade.

Addy Walker

 I could start sobbing just thinking about Addy. Her story is probably the most traumatizing of all the American Girls because she was a slave. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. Addy was a slave that escaped a plantation with her mother (also a slave) to live in Pennsylvania. Addy’s story, coupled with my white guilt at a very young age and the fact that she had earrings, made her a must-have American Girl Doll. Her clothes and accessories were not of Samantha caliber, but they were still very stylish to me. There was a lot of color incorporated into her wardrobe, and she had a little handmade quilt on her bed that was to die for. To this day, Addy remains my most treasured doll of the bunch. A year or so ago, I got two little ring piercings in my left ear as an homage to Addy’s style. What? Her earring game was chic!

Molly McIntyre and Felicity Merriman

 Okay, I know I said I had three American Girl Dolls, but I kind of lied. After a certain age it was clear to me that playing with/collecting dolls was taboo, so I forced my sister to ask for these two dolls so I could play with them. I’m out of control, I take total responsibility for that. Molly was the girl whose story I most enjoyed. Probably because she was the most “modern” girl of them all at the time. Molly lived in Illinois during WWII and she had glasses, and she was very patriotic, and she went to summer camp. Felicity was way less interesting to me. She lived during the colonial times, and she was really into horses, which I couldn’t identify with, but I thought she was really pretty. Even though I was psyched that my lil’ sis had these dolls, I lost interest in both Molly and Felicity fairly quickly. I mean, Molly’s hair was permanently plaited in boring braids, and Felicity was a horse-obsessed ginge, so…end of story.

A series of photos entitled “American Girls” was recently released by Ilona Szwarc. In the photos, young American girls pose with their American Girl Dolls. The whole thing is creepily fascinating in the way it portrays the intense relationships the young subjects in the photos have with their dolls. In her description of the concept behind the series, Szwarc stated that the dolls “play a crucial role for girls in a moment when they are forming their identity.” Obviously I could not agree with this more. I mean, case and point above. Presently, Kirsten, Samantha and Felicity have all been discontinued, which makes me both sad and old. Thankfully, a whole new crop of girls has popped up in their place, which is great news for my future spawn, who will no doubt be receiving as many American Girl dolls as their little hearts desire, regardless of said spawn’s gender. TC mark

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  • Sophia

    I had Samantha and Felicity!! Oh gosh, so much to comment about in this article. Molly’s stories were my favorite, too (the summer camp book was so boss. Favorite.) I remember that crown of Kirsten’s too! I always wanted it, even though I didn’t have Kirsten. And the conch shell necklace of Addy’s, and the loom of Josefina’s. Also, um, can we discuss the sad state of affairs in which American Girl finds itself now? It’s no longer owned by the classy Pleasant Company, which sold out to Mattel. So now everything’s cheaper, and less historical, and just less awesome. So sad.

    • Rhysa

      REEALLY? That’s terrible.  I always loved that American Girl Dolls were owned by a company known as ‘Pleasant.’ 

    • jessica

       So true. The worst part about the Mattel buy-out is that they changed and homogenized the doll faces and bodies. They don’t have sweet round cheeks, slight tummies, or obvious gaps in their front teeth anymore. The dolls are actually THINNER than when the Pleasant Company owned them. So a dress you bought for a Molly doll before 1998 (when Mattel took over) would not fit today’s Molly.

      However, I could hock my pre-Mattel, circa 1995 Samantha doll on eBay along with all of her outfits for upwards of $400. Not that I will, but I could.

      • Kaitlyn

        I like to consider my Kristen a collectors item. Due to how much nicer Pleasant company made their dolls. A couple years ago I took my doll to the store to have her “hair done”. They were so excited to see a “classic doll”.

        PS There is a trivial pursuit question now based around “the doll company who sold to Mattel in 1998”.

  • http://twitter.com/kmsyes Karen Seifert

    I had all five. Felicity was my favorite, probably because I grew up about an hour away from Colonial Williamsburg. She was the first doll I received and I took her to Williamsburg and everyone in the costumes in all the shops and attractions made such a fuss over “Felicity” being there. I loved it.

    I live in New York now and can’t wait for one of my best friends to visit and bring her daughter so I have a valid excuse to go to the American Girl Place.

  • alyssafirth

    I was utterly shocked when they discontinued Samantha. She fits into an entirely different category. That girl was the bomb. 

  • jrs25

    Ohhhhhhhh!!! Samantha’s brass bed! And she had a little white….i don’t know….cabinet? I think it was a cabinet. Samantha, her brass bed (I LoVeD the brass bed), and the little cabinet thingy came on every family vacation, trip to grandma’s house, cousin sleepover from the ages of 7-10. 

    When I talk about how much I loved my American Girl doll, I still (to this day – I am 22) refer to her as “she”. I never realized it was weird until my best friend pointed it out to me. But in my mind, she was a person.

    uuuughhhhhh. thanks for this

  • Rhysa

    Guuurl, Felicity is totally my favorite.  I had four – Addy, Felicity, Kirsten, and Molly.  I love dolls.  I also secretly wish it was okay for me to still play with Barbies. Sigh.

  • Rhysa

    Also I used to absolutely swoon over those catalogs. 

  • Anonymous

    20-something chicks who condescend their peers who had multiple American Girl dolls are THE WORST. like, girrrlll. I was an excellent sharer. I would have even let you play with my blonde haired, green eyed lookalike doll if we were friends in our youth. But I know with certainty that we wouldn’t have been friends: I may be spoiled, but you were the brat OBVIOUSLY. 

    I was obsessed with Samantha & Kirsten which makes so much sense.  

  • Kaylee

    Samantha and her friend Nelly are still in my closet, in addition to Coconut and Licorice (the American Girls’ dog and cat.)   I also live in Oklahoma City and had to have all of my Pleasant Co. dolls and paraphernalia shipped to me; there was a time in my life where I received exclusively doll clothing and accessories on holidays.  If I did not curl Samantha’s hair in the morning and braid it at night, I felt as though I had neglected her.  I just recently gave all of my books away which was more difficult for me than it should have been… so thank you for validating my childhood:)

  • http://omgstephlol.tumblr.com Stephanie Georgopulos

    Addy’s stories were my fave, such a brave gal. Did the custom dolls come with blank books you could write your own stories in, or did those come separately? I definitely had blank books. And a doll who looked like me. She came with that lame maroon AG factory t-shirt. I also LOVED the AG magazine, with the cut out dolls in the back? OOH CHILD.

  • earthtonichole

    I was OBSESSED with Felicity and neglected Kirsten. I even made my parents take me to Williamsburg. I she has something to do with my weird obsession with gingers.

    Also, did anyone else go to that American Girl tea party thing? It was in some mansion and everyone came dressed as their favorite doll and we all had tea and fancy snacks and it was pretty much the best thing ever. Man, I miss my childhood.

  • http://www.ohMenver.tumblr.com/ ohMenver

    Samantha was the Blair Waldorf of American Girl dolls. My grandma gave my rich cousin Samantha and I got Molly.

  • http://www.nicholeexplainsitall.com EarthToNichole

    I was OBSESSED with Felicity and neglected Kirsten. I even made my parents take me to Williamsburg. I she has something to do with my weird obsession with gingers.
    Also, did anyone else go to that American Girl tea party thing? It was in some mansion and everyone came dressed as their favorite doll and we all had tea and fancy snacks and it was pretty much the best thing ever. Man, I miss my childhood.

    • kaylee

      I went to a tea thing like that. So awesome.

  • rgar

    . . . and the cycle continues.

  • mawhi

    Samantha totally wasn’t working in a factory. Her parents were just as rich. It was her Irish friend Nellie and her sisters that ended up in the factory and got adopted by Samantha’s uncle.

    Geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez (sarcasm)

  • Sam M.

    I agree with all of this. I received the Samantha doll and story when I
    was young thanks to my Mimi. She got her because my name is Samantha and
    I looked like her. I’ve been obsessed with her ever since. :)

    However, Samantha wasn’t an orphan who worked in a factory. Her parents
    died when she was young and her grandmother took her in and raised her. She was born into wealth.
    Her best friend, Nellie O’Malley, worked in a factory but was taken to be a maid
    at her neighbor’s house, but later moved on to bigger and better things.

    PLEASE FIX THIS, IT’S BOTHERING ME. XD If you don’t believe me, re-read the books or look up her story online.

  • Micol

    I had (have…stored in my parents’ house) Samantha, Felicity and Addy. I LOVED Samantha. She was the first doll I received and I made my mom buy everything. I really wanted the painting kit that went with the book where she finds the island where her parents died when they tried to row home and got caught in a storm and then Samantha gets caught in the SAME STORM and SURVIVES.

    Also, the Christmas story left me with a lifetime of wanting to build a Gingerbread house and go sledding with a cool uncle and his glamours girlfriend.Ok…er…I’m done.

  • Jay

    HECK YES. Samantha ALL THE WAY. 

  • lady

    I was so beyond obsessed with American girl dolls. I inherited three from my sisters, and then got three of my own (Addy, Josephina, and and customizable one). I had one friend who would play with them with me and then in 5th grade she told me we were too old. It was one of the saddest moments of my child life.

    I liked Samantha’s stories the best but Addy was pretty wonderful.

    And also, as said above, I had 6 american girl dolls and I still graduated with (nearly) straight A’s from Brown. So I’m not too sure how important being spoiled is when factoring in school…

  • Efinch

    I totally had 3 dolls as well…Molly, Addy and Josefina …I was entirely too old to be getting Josefina…but I still wanted her.  And I went to NYC this past summer for my brothers wedding and totally bought a mini Addy at American Girl Place. I’m kinda sad now that I can’t go home and look at my dolls, they’re at my parents’ house which is hours and hours away. But I completely loved them!

  • Lmbrady89

    I had three as well. Felicity, Addy, and a My American Girl.  They’re still in a trunk back home with all the dresses my mom made for them. The books were totally the best part though! In first grade I used to stay inside and read them instead of going out to play at recess.   Molly and Addy had the best stories for sure! I think I was still re-reading that summer camp book into high school.

    I might be in the minority here, but I hated Samantha. I thought she was super boring.

  • Cat

    I am dying. When I was a kid and got my first American Girl Doll back in 1992, there were only three to choose from. I picked Samantha and laughed when my parents got Felicity for my little sister. Ugly ducklings, those two. I now live abroad and am planning on giving my Samantha accesories every single thing she was sold with!!) and my girl of today to my first daugther. And, since I’m from a town 30 mins away from the headquarters, we got all of the facroty sale stuff. And this summer I bought my dolls, the day after turning 26, a pair of wayfarers each. Yes, I did.

  • http://twitter.com/BritSeeingStars Britany Robinson

    There was a girl that moved to my school from India in the 3rd grade so my friends and I produced a play of Kirsten’s first book (when she comes to America) to welcome her. I distinctly remember that the word “cholera” was used about fifty times in the dialogue and we all mispronounced it every time.

    those books were the best. and Felicity all the way.

     

  • http://twitter.com/MissKimball misskimball

    Are these the type of dolls that come alive in the middle of the night and whisper?

  • http://twitter.com/tara_lane Tara Lane

    i have not one, but TWO portrait studio photos of myself posing with my samantha doll in coordinating outfits. i was 8 or something and totally into it. i also got molly’s glasses and would braid samantha’s hair, and pretend i had both dolls. i am forever jealous of my cousins who had all six between the two of them, and all the bedroom stuff and little wardrobes for the clothes. WHATEVER i just had to be creative and make my own.

    • Guestropod

      I DID TOO, oh my god.  Well, I only had one.  But it’s really intense.  

  • EP

    By the way, those photos that Ilona Szwarc did are AMAZING. Absolutely fascinating.

    (Samantha for life.)

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