If you’re a mom of little girls, you know all too well what American Girl dolls are. American Girl is the Ferrari of dolls.
And thanks to the popular doll company, little girls are learning about our great American history through play and storytime.
American Girl was founded in 1986 by the Pleasant Company and has been a subsidiary of Mattel since 1998. Each beautiful 18-inch doll was originally meant to be an 8 to 12-year-old girl from a time in American history. Although you can create your very own American Girl doll to look exactly like you with their “Truly Me” line, many people are drawn to the American Girl dolls that tell a historical story. For example, there’s an American Girl doll named Felicity Merriman, who is a 10-year-old colonist during the Revolutionary War. Historical character dolls are a great way for little girls to learn about history through play.
Introducing Addy Walker, a Runaway Slave Girl
In the fall of 1993, American Girl created Addy Walker, the first black historical doll, as well as the accompanying books that told Addy’s story from her perspective. American Girl created the character of Addy to be a 9-year-old slave girl from 1864. In the books, Addy and her family begin as slaves working on a plantation during the Civil War, where Addy spends her days picking worms off tobacco leaves.
Addy is a 9-year-old slave girl who escapes to freedom in the North with her family.
Then, the Walker family gets separated when Addy’s father and brother are sold to another family. Addy’s mother decides to take a chance and escape from slavery by running away with Addy to Philadelphia. They have to leave Addy’s baby sister behind because they fear her cries would get them caught. Eventually, Addy and her mother are reunited with Addy’s father, and they begin their new free life living in a boardinghouse in Philadelphia.
Controversy — and Defenders — Spring Up around Addy
Recently, some people have taken to social media to complain about Addy because they’re disturbed by the fact that American Girl has made a slave girl doll. American Girl fans quickly shot back, defending the doll, her stories, and the company itself. American Girl prides itself on its wonderful American historical character dolls because they’re “stories from the past, inspiration for the present.”
Addy is so much more than just a “slave doll.” Many girls who have been lucky enough to know Addy and her stories have a much better understanding of slavery and what black families like Addy’s went through in that time period in America. One American Girl fan said it perfectly: “That was my first REAL contact with the horrors of slavery, as I read about her father being whipped and sold and her mother escaping with her to freedom, but also how freedom was still a struggle.”
Addy’s Story Is Steeped in Historical Fact
American Girl did their best to make sure Addy’s story was as authentic as possible by consulting with a formal advisory board that featured a renowned team of African American scholars and historians. Additionally, Addy’s life is loosely based on real-life Mary Walker, who escaped from slavery in North Carolina and made a new life for herself in Philadelphia.
Many girls who have read Addy’s stories have a much better understanding of slavery and what black families went through at that time.
The advisory board selected author Connie Porter to write Addy’s stories and bring them to life. Because Addy’s story is a very sensitive one, and the stories are geared for children ages 8 and up, Porter was very careful with selecting the appropriate voice and language. Porter said, “I wanted children to see African American people as part of strong, loving families, caught up in slavery, doing what they had to do to survive.” In true American Girl fashion, Porter was able to give children a glimpse into a very important time in American history. There's no other American Girl story quite like Addy’s, and it has been beautifully put together.
A Lesson in Black History
Most American history textbooks are told from a white male’s perspective. American Girl is all about empowering young girls, so every American historical character doll is an 8 to 12-year-old girl from a specific era in history. Their books are told from the young girl’s perspective, making them much more relatable for girls.
American Girl empowers young girls by showing them how to overcome all kinds of obstacles with bravery and kindess.
As one American Girl fan stated, “We don’t hear about what women felt and endured during these time periods cause schools are too busy teaching us about what happened from the male perspective, which is not unimportant, but we need both. Girls need both.” And she is absolutely right.
Addy’s background and story are incredibly powerful because they show little girls everywhere that there’s no room for hate when you have love in your heart. Although Addy and her family faced horrendous tragedies and many challenges on their way to find freedom, they never lost hope and they continued to fight for what they knew was right and just.
With all that’s going on today with the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s now more important than ever to keep love alive in the face of hate and fear. American Girl aims to educate our children about black American history with Addy, and I for one hope that American Girl will continue to keep Addy’s story, and others like hers, alive.