Flat Lettie

Custodian With a dry mop in a hallway
By Amy L. Metzger Hunt, Curator, Heritage Frederick

After 113 years, the faint pencil writing of a precocious 11-year-old girl can still be read on the outside of a tattered paper envelope: “If this doll should get lost please bring it to 210 East Church Street, Frederick, Md.” Virginia James was the daughter of tailor Edward James. The family was immersed in fashion and clothing, and fashionable women at the turn of the 20th century were reading the Ladies’ Home Journal, the first American magazine to reach more than a million subscribers. In the October 1908 edition, the magazine printed the first monthly installment of a paper doll named Lettie Lane. Each month, new members of Lettie’s family would be printed alongside various outfits and hats that could be worn for any occasion.

Readers met Lettie’s parents, her grandmother, her sibling twins and, as a wonderful excuse to focus on wedding apparel, Lettie’s older sister got married. In addition to the bride and groom, a preacher, best man, bridesmaids, flower girls and guests all were featured in paper doll form. Whether Virginia waited each month for a postman to deliver the magazine or her father bought it at the newsstand, the paper dolls undoubtedly were a special part of her life. Each piece is carefully cut out and the dolls’ thin and fragile necks have been reinforced with small wooden or cardboard splints. In a world where last month’s holiday toys may already be forgotten, it’s amazing that a paper doll collection was so loved that more than 100 years later they still survive.

Frederick Magazine