Updated: Nov 10, 2019
For little girls growing up in the early 2000s, it was easy to be obsessed with American Girl dolls. For many moms they were a teaching tool, and for many adolescents they were a status symbol. The American Girl dolls were more than just dolls to us, they were a way of life. In a childhood before VR games, the American Girl dolls were able to immerse us in history and teach us about ourselves.
It was December 31, 2003, when, after a day full of Christmas festivity, a six-and-a-half year-old me was finally ready to open my final present. At the very back of the Christmas tree is a rectangular box, covered in wrapping paper, that just reaches my chin. As soon as my mom gives me the go-ahead, I frantically rip off the wrapping paper to reveal the packaging I had waited the whole of my six years to see. Printed across the front of the box was the sacred logo that my tiny brain had memorized every curve of, “American Girl.” Inside the box was the second-ever doll introduced into the Girl of the Year collection, surfer girl Kailey Hopkins. I quickly immersed myself into Kailey’s world through the doll, her accessories and her book series. Kailey launched in me a life-long love for American Girl dolls, and as my collection grew, so did my knowledge of history and the world around me.
In the American Girl podcast, historians Allison Horrocks and Mary Mahoney read and review book by book, the multiple series within the American Girl cannon. While also providing historical context to the books, the women discuss the different understandings you have of these characters as adults versus children. Both Horrocks and Mahoney have discussed in the podcast that their early exposure to the historical characters impacted their love of history and influenced their career paths. Horrocks and Mahoney state very early in the first episode that they are both Mollys and provide a decent argument to prove this.
After listening to 13 straight hours of the American Girl podcast, I couldn’t get my mind off of American Girl dolls. This spurred a conversation with my editor, and I discovered that, ironically, Herald Editor Mimi Mays grew up favoring Kit Kittredge, the nine-year-old who dreams of becoming a reporter! This conversation sent me down a thought spiral that ended with a question: did our favorite American Girl dolls influence who we become as adults? I couldn’t get this question out of my head, so I decided to conduct some (informal and extremely biased) research. First, I took to stalking my middle school possé, and many of them seemed to fulfill the prophecy their American Girl dolls set. The Kirsten of our group is now a stay at home mom living on a farm, our Felicity is still obsessed with horses and great at missing the point and I was of course our ring leader, the greatest American Girl of all, Samantha, the eventual suffragette whose white savior complex gives her a penchant for trying to help the less fortunate.
American Girl dolls were such a fixture in my and many others’ childhoods that it’s impossible for them not to have influenced us. Revisiting the books and the characters as an adult can prove interesting and enlightening (especially since the landscape of the brand has changed drastically since the early 2000s). Whether you were a Molly or a Samantha, and whether you read the books at 10 or 19, one thing is constant: American Girl encouraged young women to be brave and follow their dreams, and that is ageless.
By Hannah Davis Johns, Staff Writer