Date of Award

2007

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Alaric Faulkner

Second Committee Member

Richard Judd

Third Committee Member

Marli F. Weiner

Abstract

Childhood is not a static life stage; indeed, the definition, meaning and understanding of childhood are all subject to modification. By the nineteenth century one of the most profound changes was the importance placed on allowing children to experience "the carefree joys" of childhood through playtime activities. Play was now considered to be a crucial component of a good childhood. One toy in particular, the doll, became particularly significant for young girls. In order to fully understand the meaning of play, one must also understand the importance of the doll. However, dolls are much more than playthings designed to entertain young girls. During the nineteenth century proper playtime activities were selected to promote intellectual, physical or emotional development. Dolls were particularly popular because they were thought to foster and nurture feminine qualities such as kindness, caring and compassion. Possessing these qualities was essential to the fulfillment of a young girls' carefully prescribed future as a mother, housewife, caretaker and official mourner. Contemporary literature, journals, diaries and even paintings, confirm the use of dolls in the process of gender socialization. As informative as they may be, these records paint an incomplete and biased picture. Historical archaeology must be used in order to document the cultural significance and meaning of dolls in other situations. Especially to document how other factors such as race, economic status and personal experiences, also affected doll play. It is only through archaeological investigations that researchers can hope to uncover and document the full range of playtime experiences. Chronicling these experiences, and especially the role of dolls, is crucial for presenting a more complete picture of childhood during the nineteenth century.

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