The Philadelphia Doll Museum
Presenting black dolls as artifacts of history and culture
As it traces the evolution of black dolls, with a two-headed Topsy-Turvy Doll in a red-checked dress and folk art dolls made of rags and cornhusks, the Doll Museum presents visual images of how black people have been perceived throughout history. The more than 300 dolls displayed chronologically, from African wooden “ancestor figures” to black bisque dolls manufactured in Germany and France in the late 19th century, shed light on the history and craft of doll-making.
The collection also showcases celebrity dolls; American-made favorites, such as Amosandra and Sara Lee; and some of Roberta Bell’s African-American Heritage dolls in authentic period clothing, including one of Rev. Richard Allen at the pulpit of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church.
In the mid-1980s, Barbara Whiteman started a doll collection as an adult hobby, but it grew, so to speak, topsy-turvy-like. School groups and adult collectors frequently came to her home to see her collection, so in 1996, she founded the museum in a storefront along the Avenue of the Arts in North Philadelphia to accommodate more visitors. She’s currently the executive director.
Please Touch Museum tends to be busier on rainy days. You may want to schedule your visit on fair weather days. Mornings are also a busy time with most school groups visiting during this time. Afternoons are a great time to visit the museum as well as Mondays when groups are not scheduled.
Germany, not America, was the leader in producing dolls with black faces in the early 20th century. The museum displays a number of them.
Great Kids’ Stuff
The celebrity dolls honor folks from all walks of life, from Muhammad Ali and Louis Armstrong to Bill Cosby’s childhood friends and the Tuskeegee Airmen.