Cloth & Rag Dolls – History and Facts


I have always had a fascination with dolls of all kinds. When I was a child, I had a few rag dolls, one of which I know was Raggedy Ann. I had her until I was in my 30s and sold it to a vintage collector. There were a few other rag dolls in my childhood collection that I’d sold off, including a handmade one. My dolls were my friends and my students for when I played “teacher” after school. Eventually, I grew out of playing with my rag dolls and baby dolls, and grew into Barbies. Even so, the memory of playing dolls in early childhood is something that makes me smile.

Anne Norman – Flickr/Wikipedia

Later in life, upon doing some research on doll-making, I decided to write a paper for a college class about rag dolls. Here are some facts about rag and cloth dolls I compiled for a college class.

1. Rag dolls made of rough cloth and calico clothing were found in hideouts on the Underground Railroad during the late 1800s.
(Woodruff, V. (1996). Childhood companions. Country Living, 19(8), 42. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.)

2. The name Raggedy Ann, probably the most recognized rag doll, comes from a combination of two poems, “The Raggedy Man” and “Little Orphan Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley. The doll was named by a cartoonist named Johnny Gruelle, who entertained his dying daughter with stories, using a handmade doll found in the attic around 1915.
(RAGGEDY ANN. (2005). From Abba to Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the Late 20th Century, 390. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.)

3. During the 1930s, several high-priced wooden factory dolls were being produced by men, so women bonded together to make their own affordable rag dolls.
(New England Cloth Doll Co. gives rag doll its comeback. (1995). New Hampshire Business Review, 17(12), 6. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.)

4. The “Popsi doll” was created in 1994 by a California woman named Geraldine McCains. Popsi is made from recycled materials, including soda bottles, and other environmentally friendly goods. The doll’s packaging? A recycled two-liter bottle.
(Block, D. (1997). Doll spreads recycling message. In Business, 19(6), 25. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.)

5. In 1997, the White Plains Public Library in New York held an exhibition of 17 rag dolls made by homeless men and women.
(LYNNE, A. (1997, June 22). Dolls Made by Homeless on Display. New York Times. p. 7. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.)

6. Miss Columbia, a 19-inch rag doll, has been traveling all over the U.S. and around the world since 1902. The doll carries a journal for guests to sign, and she helps raise money for children’s charities.
(A Doll’s Big Adventure. (1999). Time for Kids, 5(11), 7. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.)

7. Cloth dolls may have painted or sewn faces, wool or human hair, and may consist of a variety of found materials, such as wood, fur, leather, beeswax, and soap.
(Canadian Museum of Civilization. (n.d.) Retrieved from

8. Ancient dolls made of wool have been found dating as far back as 3000 BC, some found in children’s graves.
(doll. (2011). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from

9. For some doll makers, felt is the preferred material for rag dolls, due to its ability to stiffen and press over a mold if needed.
(The V&A Childhood Museum. (n.d.) Retrieved from

10. A poppet is another type of doll – “small human figure used in witchcraft and sorcery,” c.1300, early form of puppet (q.v.). Meaning “small or dainty person” is recorded from late 14c.; later a term of endearment.
(poppet. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved June 13, 2011, from website: