The Era of Isobel’s Dolls

DSC04155 (3)

Some of the Antique Doll Study Club members and dolls presenting for Smithsonian Museum Day at the Zimmerman House

The doll club to which I belong, The Antique Doll Study Club of Oregon, presents some extraordinary programs and displays for the public, thanks to our innovative and creative members.  This Saturday past, for Smithsonian Museum Day, we presented a display of antique dolls representing a particular era in the Zimmerman House in Gresham, Oregon.

The Historic Zimmerman House was built in 1874 and was home to three generations of the Zimmerman Family.  Their furnishings and personal articles remain in this two-story Victorian home, with nine rooms open to the public.”


Four daughters, in elegant Edwardian attire;  the last generation to live in the Zimmerman house.  Isobel is pictured bottom right.

The third and last generation to occupy the house consisted of four daughters: Jessie, Olive, Mabel, and the youngest, Isobel. Isobel was born in 1899 and lived in the house until the end of her life in 1992.

Isobel Zimmerman as a child

Isobel as a child

Amazingly, the Zimmerman House still holds the contents of three generations who lived there, and the rooms display life in the early twentieth century.


The front door, open to invite guests this day.  The front parlor, where we displayed our period dolls, is to the right in this photo.


At the top of the stairs is a landing where the children played.  Isobel’s and her sisters’ toys are still there.  Since cousins, nieces, and nephews came to visit, this was a play place for boys, as well as girls.


A child sized dresser displays more toys of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century belonging to Zimmerman children.


A Zimmerman cradle with more family dolls and toys

DSC04149 (2)

Here are the bisque dolls that Isobel played with as a child.


An upstairs bedroom displays two doll trunks in superb condition.  A third trunk is near the dolls in another bedroom, still filled with Isobel’s doll clothing.

DSC04151 (3)

A dreamy view of the bright front bedroom.  In good weather, the Zimmerman children would go out onto the veranda from this bedroom, above the porch, to play.


The front parlor where we displayed our period dolls


One corner of the parlor is presided over by this elegant piano.

The era of Isobel’s childhood was 1899 to about 1913.  This is the period we chose for our presentation of dolls.  The dolls we displayed represented those that would have been available in stores and catalogs during the time of Isobel’s childhood.

DSC04128 (3)

The main table with our presentation dolls

The Antique Doll Study Club of Oregon, presenting this display, has been a member of the United Federation of Doll Clubs for 45 years.  Many collectors of antique dolls consider their dolls to be representatives of the history, art, and science of the past.  Innovations were in progress during this time period which influenced materials and construction methods for toys and dolls.  The dolls of Isobel’s childhood era were made of cloth, wood, papier mache, bisque, china, wax, early composition, celluloid, and metal.


Our second, smaller table of dolls


These two dolls are made of an experimental material–Celluloid, an early type of plastic.

DSC04131 (2)

Wax dolls continued to be available in this era.  Wax, reinforced with resin, was poured directly into a mold, or a head made of another material, such as papier mache, was dipped in wax to give it a more lifelike complexion.


Composition was a popular material for doll heads of this time.

DSC04139 (2)

China dolls, though waning in popularity, continued to be manufactured to good advantage.  Fiona and Dorothy, holding the doll house twins, Pink and Blue, were proud to represent this category in the first decade of the twentieth century.

DSC04140 (2)

The bisque dolls of this era were well represented, as it was the height of their popularity.  (Isobel’s own two bisque dolls, shown in a photo above, seem well-loved, as evidenced by their trunk full of clothing.)  Represented here are many German bisque dolls, with a few originating from France.  The Dolly Face is evident, as well as Character dolls and babies.  Some of the smaller dolls in front are all-bisque, while larger dolls have bodies made of other materials such as composition, stuffed leather, and stuffed cloth.

DSC04141 (2)

Cloth dolls were also seeing innovations during this time, most notably with lithograth printing.  The tall girl in back is an Art Fabric Mills doll, purchased as a sheet of printed fabric, then cut out, sewn, stuffed, and dressed at home.  The Topsy Turvy doll, front right, was made by Bruckner for Horsman circa 1909, with lithographed and pressed heads.  Center, in the blue dress, is a Martha Chase doll with an oil paint covered cloth head.


Dolls made of wood continued to be available.  An American toy company, Schoenhut, had just begun to add dolls to their line in 1911. The bonnet girl in the red dress is a fine example of their early dolls.


Papier mache is another material used in doll making for decades that continued to be available during this time.


Dolls with metal heads were made during the Edwardian period.  These examples show painted, as well as inserted, eyes. One doll has a wig, while the rest have molded hair.

We Ladies of the Antique Doll Study Club of Oregon were delighted to visit with Isobel Zimmerman in her Edwardian era for Smithsonian Museum Day on September 21st, 2019.


Karen Humbert,  Maria Vaughan,  Polly Bingham,  Jennifer Stewart,  Pat Sharp


Kathy Moore,  Karen Humbert,  Jennifer Stewart,  Maria Vaughan

Even though, like Isobel, we grow up, we continue to value our dolls for the history, art, and science that they represent, and the joy they bring to us.

Isobel Zimmerman young Edwardian dress

Isobel Zimmerman as she may have appeared to receive us in her home.






2 thoughts on “The Era of Isobel’s Dolls

  1. What a fantastic post. Always., always, always enjoy them. Wish I was a membr of your study group. Thanks for the story and visual treat . Diane

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s