Dolls are some of the oldest toys, and have been made in almost every culture. The oldest known dolls are wooden paddle dolls found in Egyptian tombs dating to the 21st century BC. Dolls have been made of a wide variety of materials, depending on what was available in the culture. Wooden dolls could be simply a stick that happens to fork in a way that looks like arms, or they could be elaborately carved and painted with jointed arms and legs. Grass could be tied or braided into a human form. Clay could be formed into a doll or into a head with sticks forming the body. Even rocks with a simple face drawn on have been used as dolls.

A china doll from our collection

A china doll from our collection

American dolls showed the cultures of those who made them, both newcomers and the original inhabitants. From Native Americans the settlers learned how to make corn husk and corn cob dolls. Both of these materials were plentiful at harvest time, and the addition of a little fabric for a dress or apron made a friend for a girl. Another harvest doll tradition was the apple doll. Apples were carved, dried, and used as a head to make wrinkled, old lady dolls. Families with more money could order porcelain dolls from Europe. These dolls were fragile, though, and might be just for quiet Sunday play. For the rest of the week a more durable, possibly homemade doll would be better.

Rag dolls are made of scraps of fabric. Some were temporary while others became a lifelong possession. A spoon doll could be made quickly to keep a child occupied by wrapping a scrap of fabric around a wooden spoon. When the need for the doll had passed both the spoon and the fabric could be returned to their original uses. A fancier doll, or poppet, gave girls a chance to practice their needlework. The doll body was cut out of white muslin and the beginning seamstress would sew her together. It was stuffed with cotton, wool, or scraps of fabric. More scraps of fabric were turned into dresses, hats, and other articles of clothing to practice on before a girl started making these things for herself.


The rag dolls we make for Iron Mission Days are based on a handkerchief, or church, doll. These dolls could be easily made from the handkerchief every woman kept handy. This could keep a child entertained during church and if it was dropped on the wooden church floor it would be silent.