Collections Highlights: Ann Proctor’s Doll

It is nearly impossible to choose favorites from Hammond-Harwood House’s extensive collection of objects because all of them are beautiful, have a story to tell, or, in many cases, are both attractive and expressive. One of the items in that last category is this doll:

She is a Queen Anne style doll and dates to about 1785. She may have been made in England, starting as a block of wood and slowly taking shape as a carver turned the block on a lathe. It is easy to see why six-year-old Ann Proctor would have been attached to her, perhaps so attached that she insisted her doll be included in this portrait of her:

Ann was painted by Charles Willson Peale in 1789 and, as you can see, Peale took a bit of artistic license with the portrait. The doll is much larger in real life, but perhaps Peale thought it wise to focus on the little girl instead of her toy. Peale may have been going through a phase of painting dolls; he painted at least two other portraits that included little girls’ dolls in the years 1788 and 1789, including this one of Peggy Sanderson Hughes and her daughter:

This may be indicative of the shift in thinking about childhood going on in the mid to late 18th century. Rather than just being thought of as little adults, children were seen as being in their own distinctive phase of life, one that required the care and supervision of their parents to ensure that they grew up properly. Toys kept children amused and also trained them for the roles they would fill later in life, which for girls was that of a wife and mother. The doll can also be seen as indicative of a high social status, as only wealthier families would have been able to afford such a toy.

On a side note, we also have a portrait of Ann’s older sister Mary at Hammond-Harwood House. As grown-ups, the Proctor sisters actually married the same man. Mary married John Ensor Stansbury in 1796 and had one daughter. She died in 1800 and John married Ann two years later; they had four children together. Mary, Ann, and John are buried at Taylor’s Chapel in Baltimore, MD.

Mary Proctor, Painted by Charles Peale Polk

For examples of two Queen Anne style dolls in the collection of The Strong Museum, click here and here.

Image of Peggy Hughes from Schwarz Gallery.

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