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Betsy Ross and friends: A Child Guidance Educational Activity

Betsy Ross and friends: A Child Guidance Educational Activity

This is the third set of these paper dolls (Educational Activity) I have owned. The very first set was given to me by my mother, Lo, at the Dawn of Time, in the Dark Ages known as the 1970s.

I wore them out.

A new set was purchased, probably once again at Marshall Field’s, possibly in the book department. They now reside in an attic outside Philadelphia (how appropriate).

From this Educational Activity flowed many more home-designed outfits and home-made paper dolls of historical and literary origins, which have led to this moment, when I make myself and my family into historical characters, make us outfits, and set us in motion with friends and colleagues in scenes of historical play-acting, by which I mean Educational Activity.

Cooking at Saratoga: very Educational. Photo courtesy D Molly Ross.

I like to think that the clothing we wear is more correct than the “Authentic Costumes” advertised on Betsy Ross’s box, but there is always more to learn. I am in no way denigrating Betsy Ross, or paper dolls, or suggesting that I see my family, friends and colleagues as paper dolls. But I do know that as long as I have been playing, I’ve been playing history and reading history, and drawing history, and using books and paintings and yes, even paper dolls, to figure out the world present and past.

If January Jones played Betsy Ross...

If January Jones played Betsy Ross…

Even though I always thought I wanted Betsy’s birthday cake gown, the one I really liked was the work gown. The “construction” of her garments confused me even as child: how the heck does that kerchief work? And the bodice front? Never mind, have a slice of dress, I mean cake. (Field’s had a cafeteria that served slices of pink-iced layer cake that I somehow conflated with the paper dolls, thanks to the shopping trips my mother and I made.)

Memory and fact, impression and citation: when we reenact the past as an Educational Activity, we should remember that some will walk away enlightened, and others will walk away thinking about birthday cake. Our job, beyond getting the facts right, is to engage our visitors, to interest them, and to excite their imaginations. What they do from there is up to them, but we will know that we have done our best to present them with a scene that can take them one step closer to being there.