Playing with Paper Dolls

If you’re a female born before 1970, there’s a good chance you played with paper dolls when you were young.

Paper dolls were a popular toy because they were inexpensive to produce and they were often free to consumers. To play paper dolls, a little girl only needed a pair of scissors and a modicum of adult supervision during the cutting phase.

In the early 1900s newspapers printed paper dolls with educational themes. In 1909, for example, major newspapers printed the syndicated Dorothy Dot paper dolls that featured Dorothy traveling the world, meeting new friends and learning about foreign lands.

Dorothy Dot paper doll in a 1909 edition of the Washington DC newspaper Evening Star
Dorothy Dot paper doll in a 1909 edition of the Washington DC newspaper Evening Star


"Antoinette" paper doll, published in the Los Angeles Herald newspaper in 1909.
On her travels, the fictional Dorothy Dot visited “Antoinette,” a French paper doll (published in the Los Angeles Herald newspaper in 1909).

Companies used paper dolls in advertisements for many different products, from ladies’ corsets to sewing threads.

Paper doll printed by Bortree Corsets
Paper doll printed by Bortree Corsets


The Willimantic Thread Company published this paper doll
The Willimantic Thread Company published this paper doll


A paper doll compliments of Brook's Spool Cotton Thread.
A paper doll compliments of Brook’s Spool Cotton Thread.

Sunshine Biscuits (still in business today as the makers of Hydrox cookies and Cheez-It crackers) often included free paper dolls in their product packaging.

Paper doll from Sunshine Biscuits
Paper doll from Sunshine Biscuits

Other times, they used paper dolls to increase sales. For example, they included this paper doll kimono in one of their magazine advertisements, but the doll could only be found in packages of Sunshine cookies.

But it was American magazines that really popularized girls’ paper dolls. The Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping magazines led the way, publishing high-quality paper dolls with wardrobes in color. This two-page spread from a 1919 edition of Good Housekeeping was typical for the magazine:

Paperdoll - Good Housekeeping Sep 1919 02e

By the time paper dolls really hit their zenith of popularity in the 1950s, they were even on cereal boxes, like this Kellogg’s cereal:

Paperdoll - Kellogs Krumbles

Isabella Alden didn’t mention specific paper dolls in her books, but given their popularity, there were probably many girls of Isabella’s acquaintance who played with paper dolls.

And there are many adults who love them, too! Visit Etsy and you’ll find many vendors who create new paper dolls or reproduce vintage paper dolls from different eras.

And we found a great site that explains the history of paper dolls and features an interesting blog with many examples of dolls from different decades. Just click here to visit.

How about you? Did you ever play with paper dolls? Which was your favorite?

Rebecca’s Thread

When Rebecca Harlow married Frank Edwards in the book Links in Rebecca’s Life, she moved from the home of a loving, patient mother, into the home of a critical and resentful mother-in-law. From the moment of their acquaintance, Rebecca and her mother-in-law did not get along.

Woman embroidering 1909

Even before the wedding took place, Rebecca found herself dwelling “on each particular little slight, or what had looked like a slight, that she could call to mind. There were many of them, and she had treasured them well; so, long before she had reached the end, she felt as if she were doomed to be a martyr to the petty persecutions of Mrs. Edwards.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 04

Rebecca had a choice: she could respond to Mrs. Edwards with indignation and show “that she had a will and ways of her own, and that they must not be interfered with.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 06

Or she could take another path and pray for her mother-in-law, who was a “nominal Christian, at best,” and be a loving daughter-in-law and Christian witness.

“She dropped on her knees; and in the prayer that came from her heart’s innermost hiding-place she gave herself again to the Lord Jesus who had called her, and chosen her, and she entreated that she might feel the hand, the powerful hand with her always.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 05

Later in the book, when Mrs. Edwards became ill and had to remain in bed, Rebecca surprised her with a visit to her bedroom. Rebecca brought along her sewing, and managed to bite her tongue when her mother-in-law criticized her stitches.

Hearing her mother’s teaching pronounced wrong, and her handiwork awkward in the extreme, she made the healthful discovery that with a sufficient end to be gained, she could bridle her tongue. She even essayed to change her manner of putting the thread over the needle, and brought the result for inspection, which so mollified Mrs. Edwards that she agreed that as the work was so nearly done it would be a pity to change now, especially as she did the other so wretchedly. She even added that it certainly looked better made in that way than she should suppose it could.

So Rebecca stitched on in peace, putting the thread serenely in the way she had always put it, and heroically refrained from saying, “I think it is the only right way, and the other always looks horrid.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 09 strength

After that they had a pleasant talk, but the good mood was “decidedly periled once by a spool of thread.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 01 front v2Mrs. Edwards had brought out her sewing, and was taking very small stitches in a bit of cambric, when she said: “This is miserable thread. I thought I would try Clark’s once, as I heard you say that you always used it, but I shall never be so foolish again. It was very rough, and it costs a cent more a spool than Coates’.”

Now, neither of these ladies cared a pin’s worth whether thread was six or seven cents a spool, and yet Rebecca instantly said:

“Oh, no, you are mistaken in that. Clark’s can be had for half a cent less on a spool than the other kind, and I think it is much less likely to be rough. I never had a bit of rough thread of Clark’s in my life.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 02 v2“Your life is not a very long one and I dare say you have not used a very large quantity of thread. Young ladies situated as you were are not apt to. I suppose your mother did your little sewing while you did housework. But as to the price, of course, I convinced myself that I was correct before I said anything about it. Clark’s costs one cent more a spool than Coates’ does. I always get Coates’ for six cents, and this was seven.”

How exasperated Rebecca felt! She not use much thread! Had she not sewed by the hour, swift, even stitched many a time when Mrs. Edwards was sleeping or riding in her carriage? And didn’t she buy all the thread that was used in the family; and didn’t she know perfectly well that Clark’s thread was but six cents a spool? How was it possible for her to sit quietly by and endure such dreadful provocation as this! Talk about Jonah! His trials were nothing to hers.

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 12 strengthBut this very reference to Jonah calmed her. What sort of weakness was it that could not keep one’s temper with that mother over a spool of thread! Instantly she resolved to ignore the whole subject of thread, and with rare tact asked, suddenly:

“Oh, did you know how to make that lace-work that they used to have on French embroidery? Then will you show me how to do it some time? I always thought it was so pretty, and I never had a chance to be with anyone who knew how to do it before.”

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 13In short, with constant care, and many references to Jonah and his trials, Rebecca got through with that afternoon, and heard the dinner-bell ring, and heard her husband’s step on the stair, and rolled up her embroidery, which she began to hate, with a little sigh of satisfaction.

She was just a little nearer to feeling as if she might, sometime, feel at home in her mother’s presence. She had a little bit of comfort, too, in that lady’s exclamation:

“Is it possible that it is dinner time? I hadn’t an idea that it was so late.”


Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 11

So, as a result of a spool of thread, a tentative truce was struck between Rebecca and Mrs. Edwards.

Links in Rebeccas Life - Thread 15 ClarksAs Rebecca went down to dinner, she realized a deeper insight into the depth of their own heart than she ever had before. She realized she was stronger because she had recognized her own weakness; and because she had not relied on herself to keep her temper with her Mrs. Edwards, but had relied the Rock of Strength.

And Rebecca continued to rely on that Rock of Strength as she built a relationship with her mother-in-law throughout the story.



Click here to read a post by Victoriana Magazine about ladies’ sewing baskets.

Click here to visit the Coats & Clark website to read the history of their companies.

Pansy’s now on Pinterest!

Click this link to see more vintage sewing and thread advertisements on Pansy’s Pinterest board.

Cover_Links in Rebecca's LifeClick here to learn more about Links in Rebecca’s Life by Isabella Alden.