American Girl doll is re-enacting my past

The Middle Ages

Staying young, growing old, and what happens in between

September 02, 2007|By SUSAN REIMER

American Girl, which creates historical dolls whose lives are described in a series of companion books, is introducing a new doll this month -- flower child Julie.

She joins Native-American Kaya, Colonial Felicity, pioneer Kirsten, frontier Josefina, Civil War Addy, Victorian Samantha, Depression Kit and World War II Molly, all of whom face change and challenges at critical times in American history.

However, 9-year-old Julie is living in San Francisco in the 1970s.

Yes, that's right. Your 1970s and my 1970s. We are officially historical relics. Museum quality.

Ouch.

Julie wears a peasant blouse, flared jeans, and a macrame belt. She has a mood ring and a pet rock and her bedroom is decorated in dayglow orange and lime green and she loves to play music from her sister's record collection.

It feels like American Girl went through all the boxes in my basement that I can't quite bring myself to throw out.

Julie's parents are splitting up, she is friends with a Vietnam vet and she collects signatures on a petition to start a girls basketball team at her school.

It feels like American Girl went through all my memories, too.

"We all felt it around here as well," said Julie Parks, spokesperson for American Girl. (No relation. The name "Julie" was chosen because of its popularity in the 1970s.)

"We've been saying that we remember this time period like it was yesterday," Parks said.

American Girl has been jumping all over the timeline of U.S. history since founder Pleasant Rowland decided 20 years ago that there had to be something for little girls beyond Cabbage Patch dolls and Barbies.

Molly's life is set in World War II, but she was one of the first characters. Kaya's life is set in 1764, and she was the most recent doll, created in 2002.

The characters bring to life important times of change in American life, and the 1970s certainly qualify.

No fault divorce laws were passed and the divorce rate doubled. Title IX was passed as well, but girls like Julie still had to battle for a chance to play sports.

The first Earth Day was in April 1970, and Julie is deeply affected by seeing an American Indian weep on television over the pollution of his land.

Julie's mom opens her own shop at a time when women were just beginning to move into the work force. And Julie befriends a deaf girl just as schools and public facilities were recognizing their social responsibility to those with disabilities.

"We see Julie as a way to bridge the past and the present," said Parks.

Certainly there are grandmothers who can talk to their granddaughters about Molly's experiences during World War II.

But today's 9- and 10-year-old girls can crawl into Mommy's lap and ask her what it was like to watch as President Richard Nixon resigned in front of a national television audience.

"We felt strongly about showing America turning a corner," said Parks. "It is set during a time of our nation's healing. Like Julie, our nation was finding its footing and moving forward."

This is tricky for those of us who actually lived through the 1970s. We remember not only the jeans and the tie-dyed T-shirts, but the horror of Kent State. Sure, we watched The Brady Bunch and we fell in love with David Cassidy, too. But we also watched on the evening news as the last helicopters left Saigon with desperate people clinging to the runners.

Though the rest of the American Girl dolls lived during tumultuous periods in our country's history, too, Julie's story hits very close to home.

But like Molly, Samantha, Felicity and the others, Julie is smart, strong, compassionate, a loyal friend and a determined competitor.

She'll get through the 1970s. Just like the rest of us did.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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