Door of Hope Dolls

A Door of Hope Doll

Learning a trade by sewing clothes for dolls

Male Door of Hope doll

A Male Door of Hope doll dressed in clothing of the times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With all the beautiful dolls that come out of China today, I find it a bit ironical that some of the most beautiful dolls ever made came out of pre-industrial China, made one at a time by Chinese wood carvers, and dressed in the most beautiful doll costumes, hand-sewn and embroidered by rescued Chinese slave girls at the Door of Hope Mission school.

It was in the early 1900’s and the girls were being taught a trade. By learning to sew the clothing for the dolls, they were learning to sew the clothes for the people. So the dolls ended up being dressed in every conceivable outfit, from clothes for babies to clothes for mourners… everything. The girls were learning the skills that would enable them to support themselves after they left the rescue mission.

Imagine… rescued from slavery by Door of Hope’s Christian missionaries, being taught skills to support yourself in freedom… and dressing the dolls that would be sold by the missionaries to help fund the freeing of more slaves.

I think it’s one of the best stories ever in the history of dolls.

Bild Lilli and Barbie Dolls

Bild Lilli

Bild Lilli

a Bild Lilli Cartoon - can you see how she might have become Barbie?

a Bild Lilli Cartoon – can you see how she might have become Barbie?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It makes me sad when I read about folks using political correctness and/or feminism to bash children’s dolls; most often it seems, Barbie dolls.

Her measurements and makeup are usually the prime focus of the bashing, although she has also been used to bash consumerism, the environment, career vs stay-at-home mom choices, sexualization, racism and a host of other issues.

I know  that no simple post of mine is going to change anybody’s mind, but I hope that a little historical perspective may offer some comfort to mothers who are feeling guilty or influenced by this Politically Correct stuff.

In the years just after World War II, Germany was in pretty bad shape. Pardon my language, but they had just had the crap beat out of them. Into this darkness came a little ray of sunshine called Bild Lilli. Lilli started her life as a cartoon character, a brassy, sexy beautiful blond who wanted to put the misery of the war behind her and meet a man… preferably a rich man. Germany loved her.

And as often happens, this popular Lilli ‘character’ soon became a doll. The doll had the same ‘personality’ as the cartoon character, brassy, sexy and fun-loving. “Live for today for who knows what tomorrow may bring.” The perfect character for the the place and the times.

At that time in America most dolls for children were either baby dolls or toddler dolls… there were no adult dolls. When an American tourist named Ruth Handler saw Lilli dolls in a shop window, she immediately bought one for her doll-loving daughter, and a few extras to show to her husband, one of the founders of the Mattel Toy company. Ruth thought that there might be a market for a doll like Bild Lilli. Something different than a baby doll. It took her three years to do it, but she finally convinced her husband – and Barbie Dolls were born.

But of all the ways Barbie was like Lillie, in the most important way she was not: Lilli was a character – a woman who was frank, and adult, and had a well recognized personality. Barbie was not. Barbie was just a doll, woman shaped, with different outfits. A new toy for children to play with.

I think it’s pretty funny actually… how the circle turns, and how adults today have projected all these negative sexual characteristics onto Barbie. Bild Lillie was proud of her sexuality, but Barbie, as envisioned by Ruth 50 years ago, was as far from that as she could get! Somewhere in toy heaven, Bild Lilli must be laughing her ass off.