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Throwback Thursday – Paper Dolls

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

My grandmother subscribed to McCall’s magazine. I never knew the breadth of information contained within those pages. Well known writers were published there – the likes of Ray Bradbury and John Steinbeck. Nor was I aware Eleanor Roosevelt had a long running column “If You AskMe” in the magazine. Jan and Stan Berenstain’s  cartoon series “It’s All in the Family” was published there as well.

I was equally surprised to find that the magazine was started as a way to sell clothing patterns. Founded by tailor James McCall, a Scottish immigrant who started designing his own line of sewing patterns in 1870. That’s when the light bulb came on.

Betsy McCall was a generally monthly feature in the magazine that consisted of a page printed of Betsy McCall, a paper doll, and a new outfit. Once my grandmother had finished and clipped out all she wanted, I was allowed to cut out the paper doll and her clothes. But it was not just the doll and the clothes — there was usually a story that accompanied the outfit which always inspired and intrigued me.

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Johnny Gruelle, Raggedy Ann & Andy – Project Gutenberg eText 17371, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

I was also surprised to discover that preceding Betsy McCall, the magazine featured cutouts as early as 1911 which featured illustrations by John B. Gruelle of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy fame.

Paper dolls for me, were a way to creatively explore other worlds. I even recall fashioning my own dress designs carefully cutting out the tabs that secured the fashions on the dolls. I vaguely remember having a cardboard version of Betsy McCall, but that may be a faulty memory because I cannot imagine money would have been spent on something so frivolous.

Later on, I did have other paper dolls. “Gone With the Wind” is the one I remember the most because the dresses were so beautiful. It is still possible to buy paper dolls, but honestly, I do not know anyone who has ever bought them for their children. I have taught my granddaughter to cut a string of paper dolls from newsprint, the interest was short lived, I’m afraid.  I think the magic may be gone now that things are so much more high tech these days.

A time gone by, I suppose.

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27 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday – Paper Dolls”

  1. Girl’s comics used to have those cutout dolls on the back pages when I was young. I used to help my cousin Susan cut them out and stick them to card so she could stand them up.
    It’s her birthday tomorrow, she will be 70. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. We lived in the same house at the time, and she was just two years older. Until her younger brother came along a while later, we were like brother and sister. Still are, in many ways

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  2. I need to learn how to write about recalled memories like you, that was a great story! We are focused too much on the present when we could be sharing great stories like these from the past. I enjoyed it, Maggie!

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    1. Well, John, that’s not Betsy. I could not find a fair use 8mage to share here. But, yes, this doll does look like the Campbell Soup kids.

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  3. Maggie, what fun to find another paper doll enthusiast! I too loved them as a child–including Betsy McCall. Now one granddaughter (age 7) enjoys finding dolls and dresses on Pinterest or Google Images, printing them, then coloring and cutting them out when she comes to our house. It’s such fun to share this pastime with her!

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    1. Interesting. We always got cereal that was bland (Cheerios, cornflakes, shredded wheat) so I doubt the boxes included anything like paper dolls.

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