Threads Through Time-Roxana Cole Doll

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Roxana Elizabeth McGee Cole
Baby (Doll), 1885
Cotton, muslin, and paint
On loan from the Historic Arkansas Museum, Little Rock, Gift of Robin H. Bailey

Roxanna Cole (1825-1907) was born on August 3, 1825 in Tennessee. She married William Russell Cole in 1842, and they had four children. Around 1883, Cole joined her youngest son William and his family and moved to Conway, Arkansas. She died on November 27, 1907 and is buried in nearby Oak Grove Cemetery.

Cole began making dolls for her family’s amusement, but began to sell them to others to help her family financially after the Civil War. This is a prime example of women using their skills to help their family. She initially thought of selling her dolls in Memphis or New Orleans, but decided upon New York since it was a wealthier city. After a merchant there received two dolls, he placed an order for a dozen more. Soon her creations were sold across the country and in Germany. Cole created one of the first doll-making businesses in America, and her dolls are highly sought after by collectors today. In her later years, through missionary societies, Cole sent dolls to impoverished girls around the world. According to her obituary, she made 2,300 dolls in her lifetime.

From Historic Arkansas Museum:

This all cloth doll is wearing original clothing that consists of a handmade white cotton dress, bonnet, slip, diaper, and shoes. This attire is appropriate for a baby dressed in the style of the time during which it was made, 1885. The body of the doll is made of fine muslin with artistically painted features and hair. The fingers are stitched and the doll has a cloth biscuit in one hand, and a miniature tennis racket with bells attached in the other hand to create a rattle.

Robin Bailey, the doll maker’s great-great-granddaughter, donated this work to the Historic Arkansas Museum in 2007.