If you are a father or grandfather of a little girl (or even a big girl) who owns an American Girl doll, this column’s for you.
Of course, the moms and grandmas of those same girls should already know about these historic, priceless creations, so I hope they enjoy it as well.
When we gave our oldest granddaughter, Emma, her first one many moons ago, little did I realize how special the doll and the relationship with real life little girls would be. I didn’t pay much attention to the historical aspect of the doll(s), but through the last almost 20 years I have learned a great deal.
Now that our younger grands, Camille, age 8, and Adeline, age 6, have continued the tradition, I can see the utter joy when they begin to play with their “Courtneys” with all of her dress-up clothes and other accessories.
American Girl was started in 1986 by Pleasant T. Rowland, a former school teacher, news reporter, businesswoman, and author who was a student of history. She envisioned historical dolls that could be collected, but played with on a regular basis, and told a story of life in the “real” world.
Rowland developed the concept for 8- to 12-year-old girls of different ethnicities, faiths and social classes. They were all 18 inches high, had special facial features, hair and clothes of a certain era.
Visits to Colonial Williamsburg helped shape her creations of the historical dolls.
Over time, some 88 dolls have been born. They come with books that tell their particular stories and encompass social issues such as child labor, child abuse, poverty, racism, slavery and war. The dolls have first and last names, and the family connections are quite intriguing.
As the company grew from its first store in Chicago to include others nationwide, Rowland decided to sell to Mattel in 1998. She got $700 million for the sale, allowing her to become a major philanthropist in Madison, Wisconsin.
She and her husband gifted $205 million for a new performing arts center and museum, and are also paving the way for children’s learning through the Rowland Reading Foundation.
One of the classics for three-year-olds is “Bitty Baby,” a precious addition to any little girl’s family. I have seen it cuddled and coddled in our own family, and the memory will last a lifetime.
The historical nature of the older dolls transitioned into the “doll of the year” concept. There have been TV specials as well as big screen movies highlighting the lives of such iconic ones as Kit Kitteredge, Samantha Parkington, Molly McIntyre and Kirsten Larson. Many of the stores have luncheons for the owners of the dolls and their families. The experience in our family at the New York store was priceless.
The newly arrived Courtney Moore edition is a 1986 “gamer” who loves the arcade and ‘80s music and fashion. She is a product of a divorced mom, Maureen, and a dad — Mr. Moore — who has moved 300 miles away from her California home. Mom has remarried Mike D’Amico and Courtney has an older step-sister, Tina, and a new baby half-brother, Rafi, that have turned her life upside down. The book tells how Courtney learns to take risks in her life and how she can finally become friends with her new siblings. It also highlights her fascination with space as she watches with her class and Mr. Garcia, her third grade teacher, the tragic Challenger explosion of 1986.
This blond, blue-eyed, curly-haired little girl becomes a gamer by mastering the Pac-Man video game, and even designs her own female hero, Crystal Starshooter, patterned on Christa McAuliffe, who was aboard the ill-fated Challenger.
This charming doll comes with all sorts of outfits, including dance ensembles that we are very happy to provide to our grands. I watched in amazement at how fast our girls could change theirs into different clothes.
The final accessory, provided by their aunt, uncle and cousins is an actual doll for the doll — the first of the AG line — Molly McIntire, complete with school outfit and glasses.
There are “retired” dolls that become true collectors’ items and can sell for anywhere from $1,200 to $3,000. Those most certainly don’t end up on the floor or under a bed, but maintain residence in protected areas.
We were so glad to be a part of Camille and Adeline’s recent birthday celebrations here. To sit and observe the joy on their faces, and listen to them laughing and talking about what their Courtneys will do at the theater, or what they will perform at dance class, or just what they will wear on their next adventure around town is pure delight for an old granddad.
I found out I can order a boy American Girl Doll named Logan, who came on the scene in 2017, complete with camping gear, a big modern watch and boots.
Now all I need to do is convince my granddaughters to let me in their Courtney world, which isn’t going to be easy. In fact, thinking about how Courtney might react to Logan, it may be downright impossible.
Until next time: “A doll’s ability to uplift the human spirit can be immeasurable” and “A doll is a huggable lovingly made reflection of our inner and outer spirit.” — Both of these are from Gayle Wray, maker of all-cloth sculpted dolls that sell for $1,500 to $3,000.
Dr. Shelley Griffith is a retired Athens physician who writes this column for The DPA.