Frances M. Cain, 67, teacher who dressed dolls

September 23, 1997|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Each doll Frances Mahailia Cain dressed was the result of countless months of researching the attire of her ancestors, days of scanning scores of pictures, hours of selecting and cutting the right patterns.

Miss Cain, 67, who died Sept. 13 of cancer at Harford Memorial Hospital, had a collection of knee-high, African-American dolls that she dressed in likenesses of the clothing women wore from the mid-1700s until this decade.

The dolls' clothing was the result of Miss Cain's efforts to trace her family's historical roots back five generations.

"It was an ongoing thing that would never, ever be finished," said her sister, Mildred Walburg of Baltimore. "She was the kind of person that whatever she did, she got all the way into it."

Miss Cain, who lived in Havre de Grace, began tracing her family's history when she retired from teaching in 1989. Although she was born and raised in Cecil County, her family's history is traced to the mid-1700s near Darlington, Harford County.

Miss Cain spent many hours in the Harford County and Annapolis courthouses researching her ancestry. And because she had long been a seamstress, making the clothes of each generation was a way to help document her research, relatives said.

For instance, the doll Hannah, who was the wife of her great-great-great-grandfather Samuel Cain, is dressed in a floral bouffant dress with a powdered wig that "was worn by all" during the time, she wrote next to the doll.

Her doll "Elizabeth," the wife of her great-great-grandfather Cumberland Cain, wears an "Empire" style of dress. "It gathers high above the waistline. Hoops were out now. Powdered wigs (( were also out," she wrote.

Some of her dolls wear the hoop skirts of the late 1700s; others in the puffy overskirts of the mid-1700s; and others in sneakers and sweat suits of today, which she wrote "became part of the scenes at McDonald's."

Researching her history, according to friends and relatives, was one of Miss Cain's favorite pastimes.

"She always talked about her trips to the libraries and to Annapolis for research," said Florence Stansbury of Havre de Grace, a longtime friend and former colleague at Aberdeen Middle School. "She was a wonderful teacher, too."

Born in Port Deposit, Cecil County, she graduated from Washington Carver High School in Elkton in 1945 and the former Bowie State Teachers College in 1949. She later received a master's degree from Temple University.

Her teaching career began in 1950 at a junior high school in Hagerstown and later at the old Havre de Grace Consolidated School and Aberdeen Middle School.

In addition to her ancestral research, Miss Cain enjoyed knitting, crocheting and duckpin bowling.

"She said she was just having the fun in the chase," her sister said.

She was a longtime member of the Bethel AME Church in Port Deposit, where services were held Saturday.

In addition to Ms. Walburg, Miss Cain is survived by four other sisters, Isadora Cain, Roberta Cain and Anna Willis, all of Baltimore, and Mary Scott of Havre de Grace; and two brothers, Ernest Cain of Aberdeen and Robert Cain of Indianapolis.

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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