Dolls Through the Decades

Since 1936, every graduating class at Meredith has created a doll to present to the Alumnae Association on Class Day. The dolls mark key moments in history, offering a glimpse into the experience of each class. They highlight world wars, natural disasters, social movements, fashion trends, and historic moments for the College.

Today, the dolls stand tall in display cases on the third floor of Johnson Hall. However, this wasn’t always the case. Before the dolls found their home in the Rotunda, they were kept stored away, only making an appearance once a year during commencement. Margaret Bright, the original caretaker of the dolls, would show up a day early to press the tiny dresses and fluff the matted hair, prepping the dolls for display. Bright was present at every commencement for 66 years through 1969, only a few weeks before her passing.

Now, Jacque Huber, ’78, holds the title of caretaker. Luckily for her, and for the dolls, a permanent display was established in Bright’s honor in 1972. “I can tell you now that if ironing and hairstyling were involved, I never would have accepted this job,” joked Huber.

Much like Meredith students themselves, the dolls have changed quite a bit over the years. The earlier ones are dressed in white like students traditionally wear on Class Day, while the more contemporary dolls are dressed in outfits that represent the latest fashion trends. “While the tradition has been maintained throughout the years, these dolls are as unique as their classmates,” Huber said.

Meredith Alumnae Donate New Display Case for the Growing Collection
Edith Timberlake Knott and Joyce Thomas Porter from the class of 1947 were roommates and class doll co-chairs during their time at Meredith. Years later, their daughters, Betsy Porter Fritschel, ’77, and Andra Knott Burt, ’77, chose to attend Meredith and room together as well. Betsy’s daughter, Julia Fritschel, ’19, also attended Meredith and worked as a phonathon student caller for The Meredith Fund. One evening when she was working, she happened to connect with Knott on one of her phone calls. She realized that Knott graduated with her grandmother. Julia reconnected the two during a recent visit back to campus and they observed how crowded the doll cases had become due to the collection’s growth over the years. Knott and Porter decided to dedicate a new doll case to their mothers to thank Meredith College for providing them with generations of friendship and strong Meredith women. The new doll case was presented at a dedication event on October 2, 2019, with several Meredith alumnae in attendance.

Dressed in a Red Cross uniform, this doll represents the volunteer work of Meredith students during World War I.

Finding a doll was challenging for this class on the heels of World War II as there was a shortage of dolls on the market, but one was eventually found in the pattern department at a store in Winston-Salem.

Alumnae reported that Ellen Brewer, professor of home economics from 1922-66, was a little upset because this doll’s dress was short, which was a break in tradition.

This doll wears a halo to represent the seniors’ notoriety as the “perfect class” because they won Stunt and Cornhuskin’ multiple years in a row.

This doll wears a shirt with the letters ‘Ms.,’ representative of the women’s movement in the ’70s.

Kim Causey, senior class president, noted that the question when attending Meredith formal dances during this time wasn’t, “What kind of dress shall I wear?” But rather, “What color taffeta shall I wear?” And so, it is only appropriate that this doll wears a taffeta dress.

This doll is named after Beverly Clark, the first American female killed in action during Operation Desert Storm. The yellow ribbon honors those overseas.

This was the first non-caucasian doll to be added to the collection. Her name, Cynthia, is inspired by the word centennial, as this was the 100th class to graduate from Meredith.

An ode to Jo Allen’s vision for the College upon her inauguration, “Remembering Our Roots and Extending Our Reach,” this doll is dressed in all white to honor the older dolls in the collection.

This year’s class doll co-chairs, Anna Griffin and Morgan Johnson, are planning for their doll to include something in reference to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s visit to the College as well as voting, since their graduation year falls on the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

Melyssa Allen

News Director
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