The Alexander Doll Company issued six series of 14” First Lady dolls beginning in 1976 and ending in 1990, depicting the wives of the US Presidents. The first series, available from 1976 through 1978, included Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Martha Randolph, Dolley Madison, Elizabeth Monroe and Louisa Adams. The dolls are not portraits of the actual women, and Madame Alexander used creative license in selecting the hair and eye colors of the dolls. They are made of rigid vinyl, with rooted hair and sleep eyes with brush lashes. They are jointed at the neck, shoulders and hips, and wear beautifully made outfits. In addition to the outfit pieces described, each doll wears white stockings.
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington was the wife of George Washington, America’s first President. She was a young widow with two toddlers when she married Washington in 1759. Although the doll has light blonde hair, the real Martha was a brunette. She is remembered today as a warm and gracious hostess who treasured her privacy.
Martha Washington wears a silver and taupe brocade gown trimmed with champagne lace and ivory braid, with an attached lace stole and a lace mob cap. Her white cotton and net petticoat and pantalettes are trimmed with pink satin ribbon and white lace. She carries a brown velveteen bag adorned with an ivory lace motif. Pink satin shoes and a graduated “pearl” necklace complete her ensemble.
Martha Washington face
Martha Washington costume
Abigail Smith Adams, wife of John Adams, got her feet wet by being the Vice President’s wife (now sometimes called Second Lady) before becoming First Lady when her husband was elected President. In 1825 she also became the mother of a President when her son John Quincy Adams was elected. Her admonition to her husband to “remember the ladies” as he worked with the Continental Congress to build a new nation is still quoted today.
Abigail Adams wears a long sleeved royal blue satin gown with a delicate leaf print, with white lace at the cuffs. Her white lace shawl is attached at the neckline and held in place with a rhinestone pin at her bodice. Her white cotton and net petticoat and pantalettes are trimmed in white lace and pale blue satin ribbon. She wears a blue velvet ribbon in her hair and black velveteen shoes. A graduated “pearl” necklace provides a finishing touch.
Abigail Adams face
Abigail Adams costume
Martha Jefferson Randolph was the daughter of the third American President, Thomas Jefferson. She acted as his occasional hostess due to the death of her mother several years before. She and her husband had twelve children – her son, James, was the first child born in the White House, in 1806. Known as Patsy to her family, Martha took devoted care of her father in his declining years.
Martha Randolph wears a short sleeved pale pink taffeta gown with an ivory lace panel down the front. Her pink taffeta petticoat and pantalettes are trimmed with pink satin ribbon and white lace. She wears a pink organdy wrap around her head and a long black cape trimmed in fancy brocade ribbon. A graduated “pearl” necklace and pink satin shoes complete her outfit.
Martha Randolph face
Martha Randolph costume
Dolley Payne Todd Madison was the wife of America’s fourth President, James Madison. She was the first First Lady to embrace a public role, and helped to found a home for young orphaned girls. When the British burned Washington during the War of 1812, she refused to evacuate the White House until Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington was removed from the wall and secured.
Dolley Madison wears a sleeveless champagne satin dressed flocked with silver glitter in a floral pattern, and decorated with champagne and silver metallic braid. She wears a matching long coat and an ivory organdy head wrap. Her white cotton petticoat and pantalettes are trimmed with white lace and pink satin ribbon. Champagne satin shoes provide the finishing touch.
Dolley Madison face
Dolley Madison costume
Elizabeth Kortright Monroe was only seventeen years old when she married the future fifth President of the United States, James Monroe. Due to her frail health, her oldest daughter often assumed the duties of hostess at the White House.
Elizabeth Monroe wears a long sleeved gold and pink satin brocade gown, trimmed in satin ribbon and lace. Her white cotton and net petticoat and pantalettes are trimmed with white satin ribbon and lace. A lace shawl attached to a long brocade panel at her back is held in place with a goldtone bow pin at her waist. She wears a rhinestone tiara and a rhinestone pendant necklace on a goldtone chain. Champagne colored satin shoes complete her ensemble.
Elizabeth Monroe face
Elizabeth Monroe costume
Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, was born in England, to a British mother and American father. She wrote music and poetry, and played the harp. She followed her husband in his diplomatic travels around the world, once crossing Europe by coach in the winter to join him. Louisa Adams wears a short sleeved white satin gown decorated with white and silver metallic braid, and ruched bands of tulle. Her white taffeta and net petticoat and pantalettes are decorated with gathered white lace. She wears graduated “pearl” necklace and a cluster of rosebuds in her hair.
Louisa Adams face
Louisa Adams costume
Each doll’s gown was tagged First Ladies, with her name. They also came with a little booklet wrist tag, with color photos and descriptions of all six dolls.
This series has been described as having two different face molds, the Mary Ann face, shown here on the Abigail Adams and Elizabeth Monroe dolls, and what’s sometimes called the Martha face mold, shown here on Louisa Adams and Martha Randolph. The Martha mold appears to be the 1960s Elise mold, but in a smaller size. Elise is a 17” doll. What looks to me like a third mold, is this one, shown on Martha Washington and Dolley Madison. This appears to be a slightly larger version of the Nancy Drew face that Alexander used a lot of in the 1970s. Nancy Drew is a 12” doll. Here I’ll show you the three different faces. What do you think? Are there three, or just two?
Diana, a lady of 1830, by Mirren Barrie is 12” tall and all cloth with a hardened face and hand painted features. Her wire armature enables her to stand unaided. She has embroidery floss hair and a detailed, early Victorian costume accessorized with hat, purse, umbrella and jewelry. Diana and her outfit are entirely sewn by hand.
She was made as the souvenir for the 25th anniversary of NIADA – the National Institute of American Doll Artists – in 1987.
Mirren Barrie was a native of Scotland who lived in Vermont in her later years. She was committed to historical authenticity in her costuming, and under Diana’s skirt is a hidden pocket which holds a piece of paper describing every article of her ensemble. The text reads:
DIANA: NIADA SOUVENIR DOLL FOR 1987, NIADA’S 25TH ANNIVERSARY
If you juggle the letters ‘NIADA’ you will find the name ‘DIANA’ so we have called this souvenir doll, Diana, and dressed her in NIADA’s colors for good measure. She wears a modified 1830’s dress in pure silk ribbon organza. Underwear was often embroidered, quilted and heavily starched. A number of petticoats were worn but Diana’s have been modified to a fancy chemise and one petticoat with a padded hem. This was dictated by the necessity to keep the waist as narrow as possible so the fewer layers in that area the better. Underpants will still not worn by adults but during the following decade they would become a part of the general underwear although there was much opposition and ridicule. They were considered unhealthy.
The emphasis in this costume is placed at the extremes – the hem and the neck and sleeves, all of which were extremely exaggerated, the sleeves being held out by either wire cages or feather pillows. Necks were very low, even to the extent of slipping off the points of the shoulders. Fashions began their careers at this time in the Courts of Britain and France. What the Court ladies wore filtered down through society’s stratas in varying degrees. In Britain, Queen Adelaide who was considered prudish would not allow ladies to attend her parties with very low necklines. Her husband, George IV, however liked ample displays of uncovered female so would not allow ladies to wear high necklines! A garment called a guimpe, rather like a high-necked camisole, was worn under the dress. Diana’s is of silk illusion veiling.
Fragile silk or satin shoes, flat-heeled and held on with ribbon ties round the ankle were often home-made. Ten years earlier in 1820 T. Hancock of Middlesex, England, invented the first elastic fabric with rubber in it. Elastic cloth or webbing as it was called, ultimately replaced the ribbon garters and the ribbon shoe ties. Shawls were very popular. Some were narrow and six yards long needing instruction as to how to drape these gracefully. Among others were the famous Paisley shawls made in the town of Paisley, Scotland. Shawls were to remain fashionable for most of the century.
Jewelry was profuse and heavy but worn only by married women – an indication of their husband’s affluence. The unmarried wore a single string of pearls. However, our Diana is an emancipated woman and wears what she likes! The settings are gold – silver was generally used for mourning jewelry. Accessories were many. Fans, muffs, reticules, parasols and handkerchiefs engaged the often gloved or mittened hands and together with extra long or full scarves and huge hats the 1830 lady must have found a windy day an interesting experience. Diana’s reticule is borrowed from a later period as it was felt to be a better compliment to her costume, – easier to make at a time when seconds were more precious than gold.
Hair styles were probably among the craziest. Hair was arranged in big sausages on either side 0of the face; the back hair was swept up smoothly and it, plus false braids, all oiled or lacquered into loops called Apollo’s Knots, were piled in fantasy on top of the head. Flowers, wheat, ribbons etc., were added. Hats had to be large to cover all this and trims were garish and copious. A silly, amusing and inventive period. 1823 saw E. Mackintosh of Britain patent the first practical process for waterproofing; 1807 B. Sanders of Birmingham, England invented the metal button formed of two disks locked by turning the edges and the shell button with a metal shank. In America Samuel Williston of E. Hampton, Mass, patented a machine to produce cloth covered buttons.
This doll is #194/201 (signed) Mirren Barrie NIADA 1987.