Doll Club

March 27, 2024


While writing a true story about my husband’s grandmother, I needed to mention a doll she received as a child. I knew from experience that if I got even one tiny detail wrong, the antique doll-loving crowd would run me out of town with pitchforks because you know how strict those doll lovers are.

To fact-check and avoid ridicule, I contacted the Eastern Shore Doll Study Club. They graciously invited me to bring the old dolly, Kathleen, to their next meeting so they could determine her origins and age.

Knowing my mother would love this sort of thing, I included her in the meeting, where we were mesmerized by a presentation on First Lady dolls. Who knew Martha Washington was such a fashionista? Club members were mainly retired ladies and one gentleman who said his late wife had been a collector. He had even attended national conventions. A bubbly teenage member displayed her collection of modern dolls dressed in ripped jeans and miniskirts and sported pink glittery hair. Her mother also came along for the fun. 

My mother's collection of bride dolls she sometimes allows me to use to decorate for bridal showers. My husband built the mahogony case just for her.

Some were interested in the history of dolls, others in the business of buying and selling, while others loved the nostalgia. They discussed eBay, the Royal Family and the ever-controversial Barbie. Do we love her or hate her? All present at the meeting had the commonality of being passionate about a hobby, which I loved.

One talented member hand-sculpts her dolls’ porcelain faces, fires them in a kiln and paints them. Then, as a former costume designer in Italy, she easily creates stunning original outfits. Her dolls are museum-quality works of art.

The group was friendly and talkative and offered an outing my mother and I could enjoy together, so by the time they had identified Kathleen as being a Schoenau & Hoffmeister from the 1920s, we had taken the Doll Club loyalty oath, which consisted of paying minimal dues and signing up to bring snacks, which is the sign of a good club — snacks a plenty.

I awoke the next morning and thought, “Did I dream I joined the Doll Club?”

The Eastern Shore Doll Study Club is the local affiliate of the larger United Federation of Doll Clubs Inc., headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. The Eastern Shore group meets in Fairhope but draws members from surrounding areas. There is also a chapter in Pensacola and one on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.

We made Build A Bear toys to donate to children in crisis situations.

The next meeting was abuzz with plans to reinvigorate the annual Doll Show, which had been delayed for a few years by COVID. Attended by hundreds of vendors and doll lovers from around the Southeast, the show was held each spring in the Fairhope Civic Center. With great enthusiasm, the club voted unanimously to launch a new show on April 6.

My mother and I look forward to the Doll Club each month. We’ve donated dolls and constructed teddy bears for emergency workers to give to children in crisis and learned about old movie stars, politicians and international traditions.

In a world of angry people staring at phones and unable to connect with others, these creative types are just my kind of people. Perhaps if more children played with dolls, we’d see better behavior in the world. The possibilities for imaginative growth with dolls, action figures or floppy dogs are endless and will beat mind-numbing electronic gadgets any day.

The little one in the hat is a doll that was handmade by one of our members.

The Eastern Shore Doll Study Club will again hold its annual Doll Show and Sale on Saturday, April 6, at the Fairhope Civic Center from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Kathleen, the old dolly, and I will be there to say hello, and vendors will have displays and items available for purchase. For a small fee, there will also be an appraiser on hand to evaluate your own dolls. Proceeds benefit children in crises and community gifts. Visit the Eastern Shore Doll Study Club’s Facebook page for more information.

New members are always welcome. We’ll have the snacks ready.

This story first appeared in Lagniappe News. You can see their version by clicking HERE.

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