In continuation of celebrating Women’s History Month, I am celebrating Samantha Parkington, the American Girl doll that shaped my politics. When I was 8 years old and in 3rd grade, I learned about Samantha Parkington, the American Girl doll whose story is set in 1904 Victorian era New York. Her story is rooted in progressivism and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. I read about her in school and dreamed of receiving the American Girl doll for Christmas, which is somewhat ironic because one of the storylines in one of the books about Samantha I was reading was about how she dreamed about receiving a very special doll for Christmas. It was like a little girl’s doll dream inception.
I did receive Samantha for Christmas at my complete and utter elation (see photo below). That year I was in 3rd grade was also the year of 9/11, it was a tumultuous time for the world filled with much uncertainty, which made receiving Samantha for Christmas even more comforting. Samantha inspired me in so many ways – her story was compelling in a number of unique ways. Despite being raised comfortably upper class in Bedford, New York, Samantha’s character dealt with real life suffering: her parents passed away in a tragic boating accident and therefore left Samantha orphaned. Her story helped shape my conceptions of empathy.
Her Uncle Gard, who serves as a father figure of sorts to Samantha marries a suffragist, who becomes Samantha’s aunt, Cornelia. Cornelia is one of the first women to join in the protests in New York City for women’s rights to vote. I learned about the Women’s Suffrage Movement this way.
Samantha’s stories has layers of justice orientation to it, which is wonderful for young girls and boys to learn about. While she was raised comfortably in high society, Samantha experienced an emotional suffering that made her a multi-dimensional character. Furthermore, a significant part of the plot of her story is how she befriends the maid servants of a neighboring house, Nelly and her sisters (girls who are her age) and teaches them how to read. This opened my eyes to the horrors of child labor at an early age.
Since Samantha and her story captured my heart, I wanted to share this with the author of her story, Valerie Tripp as a 3rd grader. I wrote a letter to Valerie about how much I learned from Samantha’s stories and how much this doll meant to be as I was learning more about progressive causes. I also included a drawing of Samantha. I received a letter back that expressed her happiness. I learned at a young age that speaking up for what is right can have a positive impact on the world and Samantha’s story helped shape this understanding at a very young age.
When I was a student in community college, I took a public speaking course. One of the prompts was to share a story from your youth that meant a lot to you and how that experience shaped you. Naturally, I chose Samantha for how she was the catalyst for my political views to come; at the least, she helped me understand the need for civic engagement in society in all facets of life. I brought the doll along to my college class and I nervously remember how that would be received. The class ended up loving the speech that I made about Samantha (to my relief) and I received an A in the class.
To my chagrin a couple years ago, Mattel, now American Girl’s parent company pulled Samantha from their doll line (for reasons beyond my understanding) and at the outrage of many fans of Samantha, she was finally brought back a couple years later. It still astonishes me that a toy executive could be that callous in removing a character which represents so much goodness. Thankfully, Samantha’s tale did not end there. She is still available to my heart’s content.
My speech was centered in the idea that stories can help shape our outlooks in life and learning this at an early age helped to shape much of my values today. In Samantha’s case and what I learned from her story, these values are rooted in compassion, generosity, women’s rights, and an awareness in the pursuit of a more fair and just world. I think we can all agree that she serves as a wonderful role model for young girls. Thank you, Samantha.