American Girl Dolls: Positive Role Models For Girls
If you've never heard of American Girl dolls, then probably (a) you may not be from the United States, (b) you've been a parent of only boys or (c) you've never been a parent. Trust me, I am none of those things and so I know way too much about those little dolls who took America by storm in 1986. American Girl dolls were invented by Pleasant T. Rowland, a former schoolteacher married to a book publisher. Besides being a teacher, Rowland was a history buff and on a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, the idea of creating a doll that could teach little girls about American history came to her. The rest is doll history with Rowland building a doll empire called Pleasant Company, later selling it to Mattel for a whopping $700 million, and continuing to produce a line of dolls that is second only to Barbie in sales.
Kirsten Larson, Now Retired
American Girl Dolls
The first three American girl dolls to be released were Molly McIntire, Kirsten Larson, and Samantha Parkington. Each historical doll in the American girl line has a biography from a different time period in America's history:
Kirsten Larson- 1854, living in the pioneer days of Minnesota, now retired
Samantha Parkington & her friend Nellie O'Malley- 1904, also retired
Felicity Merriman & her first friend Elizabeth Cole - 1774, from Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia., retired
Molly McIntire & her friend, Emily - 1944
Addy Walker- 1864, a slave girl from North Carolina
Kaya- 1764, a Native American girl from the Nez Perce tribe
Josefina Montoya- 1824, from a ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Kit Kittredge and her friend, Ruthie Smithens- 1934
Julie Albright & her friend, Ivy Ling - 1974
Rebecca Ruben- 1914, who was the first American Girl doll who was Jewish
Cecile Rey & Marie Grace- 1850s, New Orleans
Girls As Heroines
One of the great things about the American Girl doll line is that each one of the dolls comes with a set of books written about her and her exploits, her friends, her family, and what was going on in the country in that time period. Many of the characters is lacking a strong male in their lives which creates a situation where the females have to step up to the plate in their absence. Samantha Parkington is an orphan raised by her grandmother. Kit Kittredge's father leaves the family to find work and her mother has to open a boarding house to make ends meet. Gwen Thompson, a doll released in 2009, is a homeless girl being raised by her mother after her father left the family. This common and recurring thread only adds to the strength of the female characters portrayed in the American Girl stories.
The Now Retired Samantha Parkington
American Girl Dolls "Save The Day"
In each of the historical American Girl doll's accompanying book series, there is a "Save The Day" book...ex., Kirsten Saves The Day, Josefina Saves The Day, etc. This gives young girls the message that they are strong and powerful beings and that their actions can have great impact on their lives, the lives of those around them, and even the world, that they, too, can "save the day.".
It also helps that American Girl dolls are made in so many different ethnicities that little girls are sure to find one to whom they can relate. In 2001, American Girl launched the Girl of the Year line, each as a response to what little girls were asking for as far as looks, interests, and hobbies. They even have a My American Girl product line where girls can go in online and create a doll that looks like them down to eye color, skin tone, hair color, and style. The dolls are also available with glasses, in wheelchairs, etc.
American Girl DollsToo Expensive?
Many people see the American Girl doll line as an elitist kind of symbol, an expensive doll only upper class families can afford to give their children, because of the price. At around $100 a doll, they are not exactly dolls that any parent can afford. Although this is an issue, it could also be used to teach young girls who want one a few lessons: (a) the value of money, (b) delayed gratification, and (c) working for something you want. My own child used money she earned to buy an American Girl doll. Knowing that she was working toward something she wanted made her study a lot harder and made her value the doll so much more.