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Turns of the Centuries Exhibit > Family Life 1780-1820 > Child Life
This theme in other eras: 1680-1720 | 1780-1820 | 1880-1920

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.

Child Life : Discovery of Childhood


To adults in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, children were dangerously 'unfinished' people who needed to be hurried into adult manners and dress as quickly as possible. By the 1780s, new childrearing philosophies encouraged Americans to think of childhood as a separate and natural stage of development. As advice books held that recreation to play an essential role in raising healthy, intelligent children, games and toys assumed new importance and acceptability.

Play in this period was very gender-specific. Toys for boys tended to promote physical activity. Boys rolled hoops, walked on stilts, and played ball. Even jumping rope remained very much a boy's game until around 1830. Girls' toys and games were less diverse and more sedentary. No toy was so popular or considered so useful in preparing a girl for her future role as a wife and mother as the doll.

Dolls could be purchased, but many people made them at home. A relative made this rag doll for Clarissa Field of Northfield, Massachusetts, around 1770. She named her Bangwell Putt. (Clarissa had several other dolls, all with equally fanciful names, including Pingo, Palica, Kimonarro, and Ebby Puttence.) Clarissa Field was born blind. Although Bangwell Putt lacks a face, her ten fingers were carefully made, suggesting the importance of touch in Clarissa's world. Like other little girls, Clarissa could use her doll to practice the skills she would need as an adult. She could dress and undress Bangwell, and sew fashionable clothes for her. Bangwell has a homespun body and is dressed in eighteenth-century fashion, including a corset. Clarissa also could tend Bangwell as a mother would a child. Clarissa never married. She kept Bangwell until she died in her eighties. Bangwell Putt is thought to be the oldest surviving rag doll in North America.


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Bangwell Putt rag doll

creator   Moses Field and Unidentified
date   1765-1775
location   Northfield, Massachusetts
height   15.25"
width   5.5"
depth   2.5"
process/materials   cloth
item type   Personal Items/Toy
accession #   #1885.40.07

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See Also...

Cloth Doll

Corn Husk Doll

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