University of Montevallo dolls depict tales from cultures around world

A treasury of antique dolls was discovered in the University of Montevallo&8217;s Carmichael Library.

&8220;I found these wonderful dolls in the archives here in our library. They were in a cardboard box back in a corner and evidently had been forgotten,&8221; explained Rosemary Arneson, director of libraries at UM. Arneson went on to explain that the dolls are about 70 years old and were created in Birmingham by workers of the Works Progress Administration participating in a Federal Arts Project. They are a part of a series called &8220;Dolls of All Nations.&8221;

The vintage dolls are now displayed in glass cases in the front of the library. Sixteen of the 18 represent European countries, two represent the English Victorian era and two others are American Revolutionary models.

The dolls are displayed in the showcases at any one time, but are rotated. The papier-m&8230;ch/ heads and hands are hand-painted, and the bodies and costumes are made by hand. The beautiful dolls were evidently well-crafted with careful attention to details.

Arneson&8217;s extensive research has revealed that the dolls were sold to Alabama College, probably in the late 1930s. The original cost was $1 for the set. They were to be used to teach students about the customs and clothing of people in other countries.

The creators of the dolls worked for the WPA which, according to the Academic American Encyclopedia, was a government agency created in 1935 to provide paying jobs for unemployed workers during the Great Depression.

The WPA was part of the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt&8217;s program of economic recovery. Roosevelt believed offering unemployed workers jobs and wages was better for the workers&8217; morale than giving them welfare checks.

Many WPA projects involved construction work such as building roads, bridges, parks, streets, etc., but the agency also created jobs in the arts. Actors, artists, musicians and writers were assigned to cultural projects such as the creation of these unique dolls.

Arneson&8217;s enthusiasm for the dolls is contagious. She loves to tell their story and welcomes visitors to the library to see them. The dolls provide an enjoyable history lesson of an important and little-known part of our nation&8217;s past.

Catherine Legg can be reached by email at