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Tiny Ambassadors With a Mission
by Bob Brooke

Elizabeth Horton and Her Collection
Up for Sale
The Adventures of Miss Columbia
A Doll Ahead of Her Time
Columbia Departs


Queen Halekulani of Hawaii.Lorna Leiberman compares her doll collection to a box of chocolates, with so many varieties and so many to chose from. Actually, the dolls don’t really belong to her, but as the curator of the 5,000-doll collection at the Wenham Museum, in Wenham, Mass., north of Boston, she’s their caretaker.

This doll collection is unique and so is the museum that it’s housed in, for the Wenham Museum bills itself as a social history museum. What makes it different from other local museums is that its exhibits concentrate on objects possessed by those who lived, worked and played along Boston's North Shore since the 17th Century. Through exhibits focusing on local life, including ice tools used in the mid-19th-century Wenham ice industry, it explores the lives of everyday people. And its vast doll collection shows how children, especially little girls, played.

Elizabeth Horton and Her Collection
Permanently displayed in the Osgood Gallery of the Museum is the International Doll Collection (IDC), the original nucleus of the Museum's doll collection. Donated in 1922 by Elizabeth Richards Horton, a former resident of the Claflin-Richards House, which is now part of the museum, the IDC is the oldest continuously held doll collection in the world, containing a variety of exceptional examples. The collection is one of few in the world to remain intact for over 100 years, containing all original clothing and documentation.

Antique doll with porcelain face.Horton was the daughter of the Richards family who owned and occupied the Claflin-Richards House from the early 1800s until 1921, when it was purchased by the Wenham Village Improvement Society. Her home in Boston was a popular meeting place for neighborhood children, and she kept a group of her childhood toys and dolls available to entertain them. One day the children asked for the loan of these dolls to display at a fair being held for the School for Crippled Children. With an admission fee of five cents, the doll exhibit added $5 to the fair proceeds. There and then an idea was born. From then on, Horton used her collection of over 800 dolls to raise money for children's charities.

The Museum's doll collection reflects the aesthetics of dolls–the costumes and cultures of native and foreign peoples and the history of the international doll industry. The dolls offer insights into the values, manners and mores of past generations and amaze visitors with the exceedingly high quality of their manufacture and attention to detail and craftsmanship. The doll collection has expanded to include over 5,000 dolls, ranging from Egyptian burial figures from 1500 BC to 19th-Century porcelain play dolls, even "Whimsies." It also includes period dolls of from France, Germany, and England, as well as an important group of American cloth dolls and rare 19th century Native American and Inuit dolls.

What’s unique about this collection is the way Horton added to it. Being a school teacher, she had made many contacts around the world through her travels and correspondence. Horton would plan an itinerary a year in advance, pack her dolls and ship them off to be exhibited as a charitable fundraising event. Over the years, in an effort to expand her collection and give it some notoriety, Horton wrote to officials, celebrities and the crown heads of Europe to request donations to her collection. Many personalities of note responded, sending dolls dressed in the appropriate costumes of their respective cultures. The collection contains dolls from Queen Victoria, the Emperor and Empress of Japan, Czar Nicholas and Czarina Alexandra, Admiral Byrd and Cecil Rhodes, among others. It’s estimated that this energetic, imaginative and talented woman raised approximately $100,000, and press clippings from the period indicate the public's clear admiration and appreciation.

"Younger mothers with small children go for the 20th Century dolls–the hard plastics from the 1950s, the Hollywood celebrity dolls," said Leiberman. "Older visitors, who are more interested in antiques, appreciate the dolls from the 19th Century."

Up for Sale
When this worthwhile enterprise became too much for Horton to continue, she put her collection up for sale at the Rosenback Gallery in Philadelphia, but it didn’t sell. When World War I began, she had it hastily packed away and stored in an unused farm building in Massachusetts. In 1922, Horton offered the collection to the Village Improvement Society of Wenham. After discovering extensive damage done to the collection by mice, moths, mold and breakage during storage, Horton deeded the collection as a gift to the Society, if they would undertake to salvage whatever was possible.

Society members worked painstakingly to save about 800 dolls from the collection, and in 1952, the dream of the Society, to build a fireproof structure to house the collection, was realized. Today, that same building has been expanded to include not only the late 17-Century Claflin-Richards House, but also over 10,000 pieces of clothing, ccessories and textiles from the Victorian Era onward, exhibited both in the house and in the museum’s galleries. In addition to objects, the museum also has a substantial photographic collection, including albums of tintypes and such from Wenham families.

The Adventures of Miss Columbia
The Wenham Museum's most famous doll, "Miss Columbia," traveled around the world by herself for two years and nine months beginning in 1900, raising funds for children's charities. She traveled with a diary, collected souvenirs and returned to Horton on Christmas Day in 1902. Today, she’s displayed with her travel diary and souvenirs in a place of honor in the Museum.

"The doll, itself, was a commercially produced cloth painted doll made by the Adams Sisters, of Oswego Center, New York," said Leiberman. "Emma Adams made the dolls and her sister, Marietta, made the clothes and was the business person. They were making a popular doll at the time, which they exhibited at the Columbia Exposition in 1893 in Chicago, at which the doll received a Diploma of Merit, so they named her Columbia and sold them through all the major retail stores and catalogs."

According to Leiberman, Horton decided to pick one doll to represent her collection and she chose this Columbia doll. "She ordered one from the Adams Sisters, who made extra clothes for her," added Leiberman, "and there was a lot of hype sending off this doll on the Adams Express Train."

Miss Columbia received a lot of publicity throughout the world, circumnavigating the globe in the care of mostly teachers, but not always. She went to the Philippines and spent a couple of years there with a teacher who was sent there on a troop ship during the U.S. occupation.

Leiberman noted that Horton’s choice of an oil-painted cloth doll was no accident. "Women made cloth dolls in the 19th Century," she said. "During that time, women, like Martha Chase of Rhode Island, had an agenda. Chase headed a group of progressives that felt that childhood needed to have nurturing dolls and not the over-precious, breakable French dolls, with skirts that were too short and outfits too elaborate. The emphasis was all on show, extravagance, and expense, and the group felt that these dolls didn’t reflect what America people and parents were about and wanted for their children."

According to Leiberman, the group wanted dolls that were slightly yielding, which cloth was, that could be loved and played with and not just kept on the shelf. So a lot of cloth doll-making women developed businesses in their homes and became quite successful. "Mrs. Horton chose to have a cloth doll represent America on this around-the-world journey because it represented a middle to upper-middle class, sensible, Republican and Protestant, and probably Congregational, child," she added. "They wanted American values to be represented abroad."

A Doll Ahead of Her Time
Miss Columbia was a doll ahead of her time. In an era when few Americans could hope to travel abroad, she went around the world. At a time when no proper young lady went anywhere alone, she set out on her travels unchaperoned. To all appearances, she was just a simple, if highly charismatic, doll, but she was in reality an ambassador with a mission.

"Mrs. Horton arranged the itinerary from her end," said Leiberman. "There was always someone throughout the world to take care of the doll through Horton’s numerous contacts, who were mostly teachers."

Miss Columbia left Boston on the Adams Express Train in April, 1900, traveling west and making stops in various places before stopping in California and traveling the West Coast before boarding a troop ship for the Philippines.

In her diary, Miss Columbia wrote on her departure, "One little girl asked me if I were not afraid to go by myself on the long long journey & seemed to feel very sorry for me until I told her I was glad to go knowing I should meet with kind people everywhere who would send me where they thought best all over the United States perhaps & then across the ocean."

Miss Columbia journeyed across the continent and then boarded a ship to circle the world. Her mission was to continue Horton's charitable work for needy children, and in the process to create a history for herself. Columbia's appearances on her trip would be free to anyone who requested her presence. The only stipulation attached was that at each of her stopping places a tag was to be placed on her dress telling the circumstances of her exhibition and how much money she had raised.

Columbia Departs
On April 12, 1900, Horton packed Miss Columbia in a telescoping trunk and sent her on her way courtesy of the Adams Express Company which, in conjunction with Wells Fargo Express, provided her with free transportation across the country. Colombia may have traveled unchaperoned, but she did not travel alone. Into her trunk went six extra dresses, warm coat and bonnet, copies of the Boston daily and Sunday newspaper, a red, white and blue sash and a small American flag of silk. One of her most important accessories was a journal in which she and her hosts were to share her adventures at each stop along the way. Miss Columbia proved to be a faithful "journal-keeper" though her entries were transcribed by many different hands.

Columbia made her first appearance in Chicago, followed by appearances in St. Louis, Kansas City, Missouri, and Omaha, Nebraska, on her way to Denver. Her visit in Colorado was so successful that she stayed almost a month. She’s the only doll who has ever attended a reception on top of Pike's Peak and a dance in her honor performed at the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

On July 13, 1900, Columbia arrived in Los Angeles. She’d remain in California for almost a year, appearing at numerous fund-raising receptions and visiting hospitals and orphanages. Everywhere she went children presented her with souvenirs of her visit–a rosary from a Catholic childrens' home, a Chinese hymn book, a neck chain made of seaweed from children too poor to give anything that cost money. Miss Colombia returned from a brief trip to Alaska with a treasure basket from an Indian boy and from Baja, California with a clay bank and straw sombreros presented by Mexican children. Humble but endearing gifts, these small tokens reflected the affection that greeted the little doll wherever she went.

Finally, in July 1901, Miss Columbia secured passage for the Philippine Islands on the U.S. Army Transport Thomas, popularly known as the "Teachers' Transport." After the Spanish-American War, the Philippines had been ceded to the United States, and the U.S. government was transporting schoolteachers, as well as soldiers, to the islands. One of these adventurous teachers, Miss Cora E. Fay of Colorado, became Columbia's constant companion for the next year.

Before going aboard, Columbia's face and hands had to be thoroughly cleaned because, as recorded in her journal, "I had been kissed by so many big folk as well as little ones. At Denver over 600 children kissed and shook hands with me at one reception... However my face and hands have been well washed for my start over the sea."

Columbia accompanied Miss Fay on excursions on Mindanao and even survived an earthquake. But by August 1902, a letter from Mrs. Horton reminded Miss Columbia and Miss Fay of the long trip home to Boston. Passage was found for the doll on the transport McClellan, whose commanding officer, Captain Nye, would look out for her more than halfway around the world. Before leaving Zamboanga, the Collector of Customs cleared her and certified that she had complied with the customs regulations and had not defrauded the government. However, after inspecting her New England wardrobe, he suggested she bring more suitable clothes on the next trip. "It doesn't snow here very often," he wrote.

People don’t often think of Victorians as having a sense of humor, but Miss Columbia’s journal shows that her caretakers really got into this fantasy. Her journal gives a peek into life at the turn of the century. No detail was too small to mention in her journal, as can be seen in this entry: "P.S. As I am a girl they say I ought to have a 'postscript' in my book of letters, so I add this one. I find 'Uncle Sam', my 'escort', [note: a male doll who had accompanied Miss Columbia on her West Coast travels] is to be left behind, lest the natives of the new countries to which I am going will think that he is come to take possession, which would never do at this time so I bid him God Speed to Boston to the Care of the International Doll Collection where I shall one day see him again."

The McClellan docked in New York, and the Adams Express Company forwarded Miss Columbia, her souvenirs, her tags and all of the other mementos of her trip to Boston. On Christmas Day, 1902, the express company manager personally delivered her to Horton's townhouse. After two years and eight months of travel her mission had been accomplished. "She was the most famous doll in the world, and she truly had been an ambassador of good will everywhere she went," said Leiberman. In Columbia’s own words: "I met with kindness everywhere, not for my beauty but to show what good even a little plain rag doll can do, if she tries, to make sunshine in the world."

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