Posted May 14, 2009

When people see me at antique and folk art shows – and see the display of old rag dolls — they often ask about my personal collection. I’m not sure they believe me when I say I made it all the way to 50 owning just four dolls: a “Tiny Tears,” an Aranbee “Littlest Angel,” and a Madame Alexander “Cissette” – store-bought dolls that Santa Claus brought for Christmas.

providence-jeans-raggedy-ann-1The fourth doll I bought for myself. And the way it happened was truly the work of Providence.

My dad was stationed at the Boston Naval Shipyard for several years and during that tour of duty, one of our favorite outings was to the New England States Exposition (now called The Big E) near Springfield, Massachusetts. Imagine five state fairs rolled into one, with parades, exhibits, carnival rides, celebrity appearances, horse shows, car shows, and reenactments of historic New England life. There were incredible things to eat, things to do, things to buy.

One year, as we made our way through a building filled with all manner of New England crafts, I stopped short. On a shelf directly in front of me was a homemade Raggedy Ann doll with her trademark yarn hair and eternally cheerful expression. I wanted THAT DOLL.

But I had a problem. She cost three dollars. And I only had one. Yup. Mom had given me one dollar to spend on a “souvenir.” Eyeing the doll, I asked her if I could have two more dollars, but she shook her head no. I tried to wheedle it out of her as 12-year-olds do. No luck. But I knew she wasn’t being mean or stingy. My folks had already shelled out a fair amount of money for parking, admission, food and rides. And mom knew exactly what we had till payday. And frugal as she was, there was no way we were going to blow the budget.


Still, when we left the building and started towards the Midway, I couldn’t help but feel dejected. I don’t know what it was about the doll – the crisp white apron, polka dotted dress, or brown button eyes – but I wanted her to be mine.

I walked along kicking the dirt of the Midway with my shoes when suddenly, on the ground in front of me, I saw a tightly folded dollar bill. I grabbed it up, and when I unfolded it, I let out an audible gasp: TWO crisp one-dollar bills folded together. Talk about a “sign.” Within minutes Raggedy Ann was in a bag in my arms. She’ll be 50 years old this year, and I still have her as the photos show.

There’s something that happens in the making of a cloth doll — how their nose is shaped, the kind of hair they have, the way their hands are sewn, the clothes they wear – that makes them so alive

At the Dolly Johnson Antique Show this past March, a woman stopped by my booth to admire the dolls. She described a particular doll of mine she’d seen a year or two before and really wanted, but couldn’t afford.

“Do you still have her?”

“I have her right here,” I said, pulling the doll out of a trunk. “And it just so happens she’s on sale.”

Her face lit up. “I’ll take her,” she said excitedly.


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4 Responses to “Providence”

  1. Becca | May 26th, 2009 @ 7:40 am

    Hello, Just seen your piece about Raggedy Ann! I carried mine round London, although she was much too big for me to manage age 4. It was snowing, she stayed dry, but much to my Mother’s horror, I was soaking. Real love!
    Found your site via your friends,, via Twitter.

  2. cody | April 1st, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

    When I was 3 or 4, My NawNaw bought me a Raggedy Ann. I cherished her and kept way up until 10, then my mother threw her away. at that time, I had 2 Anns. But the one I’m talking about was my best friend! I did every thing with her, and your right, there’s something about that one doll that captivates you. Thankyou for sharing your story and God Bless!

  3. Rochelle Fugate | December 22nd, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

    Hi there!
    I just happened upon your post while googling a doll that I had been commissioned to make a few years back. I’s so glad I stopped to read your story – it made me a little weepy, as I used to regularly make dolls, but have a growing family and have let dollmaking fall away. There really is just something about a rag doll that is so special. Thanks for speaking to my heart.

  4. Jean Compton | December 23rd, 2010 @ 10:19 am

    Hi, Rochelle,
    I’m glad the essay spoke to you. Thank you for visiting the Gallery and for taking time to share your thoughts. My old hand-made Raggedy Ann is smiling at me right now. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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