I am too old to have grown up with American Girl dolls, and my daughter, at 17 months, is too young. But I mentioned the dolls to our 22-year-old nanny, Ellie, a nursing student at the University of Wisconsin who grew up near Milwaukee, and a few weeks later she brought me two heavy shopping bags of her old American Girl paraphernalia: a hairbrush, a wee wooden-framed chalkboard tucked into a cloth bag with a peg of chalk, plus books, clothes and shoes that are stitched, laced and nearly as sturdy as baby shoes.
As for the dolls, Ellie has brought an infant Bitty Baby, in lace-trimmed pajamas, and three 18-inch dolls: Swedish immigrant Kirsten Larson, in braids and a red-checked bonnet; Depression-era Kit Kittredge, sporting neatly bobbed blond hair, and a “My American Girl” doll who has light-brown hair and eyes, and who is currently standing, unassisted, on my desk and gazing at me as I write.
Beside her is a handsomely bound hardcover collection of novels about Rebecca Rubin, the first-generation daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants, who lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1914. Rebecca, who debuted in 2009, is the second Jewish doll in the company’s line (the first, in 2001, was Lindsey Bergman, part of the contemporary Girl of the Year series; her religion was less of a focal point for the character) and the fourth historical doll to be of an ethnicity other than traditional white European descent.
The historical collection also includes Josefina Montoya, a Hispanic girl in 1824 Santa Fe; Kaya, a 1764 Nez-Perce girl living in what is now America’s Northwest, and two African-American girls: Addy Walker, who escapes from slavery with her mother and settles in Philadelphia, and wealthy Cécile Rey in 1853 New Orleans. Though the contemporary line also includes characters of Latina, Indian, Hawaiian and Chinese descent, the rest of the historical line and the contemporary line of dolls tend toward the Caucasian.