Handmade Doll Belonging to Gertrude Van Order Dubois

A Homemade American Girl Doll that belonged to Gertrude Van Order DuBois
A Homemade American Girl Doll that belonged to Gertrude Van Order DuBois

At first glance, one may not be particulary interested in what appears to be a typical antique ragdoll. Closer inspection, however, reveals an interesting glimpse into the history of American doll making and an aspect of New Paltz History too often over looked.


This homemade doll dates back to mid to late 19th century and once belonged to Gertrude Van Order DuBois. The doll is an African American woman dressed in clothing typical to the period. Her pale pink dress is slightly faded, accented by a once-white apron that is now yellow-tinged. The top of her blouse is accented by lace trim and a “bow” of white string. Her wide-brimmed bonnet sports the same pink and lavendar floral pattern as her skirt. Black woolen hair peaks out from underneath the bonnet, knitted tightly to the bottom of her cap. She is made entirely out of cloth, with a knitted head, sewn on facial features and beads for eyes. The left side of her face has some slight discoloration, likely a product of aging.



There is little information available on Gertrude. The wife of Herman Dubois, she was born in 1874 and died in 1950. The Dubois family and other Huguenot families of New Paltz were slave owners. Louis, one of the founding Dubois family members, purchased two slaves at public auction in Kingston 1674. The 1755 census shows Solomon DuBois as owning seven slaves. It is reasonable to surmise that this doll once belonged to a slave child and eventually fell into the hands of young Gertrude.


The earliest dolls were often crafted from pottery (common in ancient Egypt), baked clay or wood (two mediums used frequently in Ancient Greece). Bone, fur, and wax were also common materials. Dolls in ancient Greece and Rome often had articulated limbs that could be moved around and posed; notably, most modern dolls didn’t have moveable limbs until the 19th century.

Early dolls were often used for educational purposes or as elements in religious and magic rituals. When women married in ancient Greece, they would lovingly dedicate their dolls to the local goddess–a symbolic “rite of passage” into womanhood.

The Industrial Revolution saw a shift from home-made, labors of love playthings to the mass production of dolls in factories. Such dolls were often constructed from porcelain and thus quite expensive, so at home doll-making continued into the early 20th century. Homemade dolls were crafted out of fabric scraps, string, and straw, often crudely rendered due to a lack of materials.

African American dolls, like the one owned by Gertrude Van Order Dubois, have a particularly rich history in American folk art. Cloth rag dolls were originally made by slaves for their children to play with and were not mass-produced until after the Civil War, when their popularity in both America and Europe increased. These factory-made dolls were typically offensive caricatures of African Americans. Porcelain doll makers adopted the practice of painting the heads of white dolls black, resulting in a bizarre looking doll with dark skin and Caucasian features. Such dolls promoted racism against African Americans, including the blackface iconography that became popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first mass-produced African American dolls  with realistic facial features did not exist until the 1960’s. Thus, if mid to late 19th century African American children wanted a doll that actually looked like them, they would have to make one at home.

Like much of New York, New Paltz tends to downplay the existence of slavery here. Remnants of our town’s past, like Gertrude’s doll, remind us that this area did in fact play a role in slavery–and its traces are often far different than we may anticipate.


Dolls from the Index of American Design.” National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art: Washington, DC. Web. 23 April 2019.

Interesting History of Dolls.” History of Dolls. Web. 23 April 2019.

Unkenholz, Tim. “If You Think Dolls Are Creepy Now, Just Wait Til You See Their Origins…” ViralNova. Web. 23 April 2019.

“Dolls and Dollhouses.” Oxford Art OnlineOxford University Press.: New York. Web. 23 April 2019.


My Underappreciated Water Bottle

This week I’ve decided to focus on an object that I really don’t give enough credit to for its role in my daily life: my water bottle.

I’ve carried a reusable water bottle with me everyday probably since middle school. Subsequently, I’ve gone through quite a few of them over the years. I learned early on that I need a sturdy, heavy duty water bottle (to compensate for how often I drop literally anything I’m holding, ever) and one that holds at least 20 fluid ounces (as to avoid constant refills). I’ve had a couple bottles, mainly throughout college, that fulfilled this criteria; unfortunately, I also lose everything in addition to dropping everything–so none of these water bottles lasted me more than 6 months or so. This water bottle, however, is the exception.

I purchased the bottle from the campus Starbucks last May (hence the very noticable, block lettered logo at the bottom of the bottle).

I was looking to spend the last of my dining dollars before leaving for the summer, and as the $30 dollar bottle wasn’t something I would normally spend “real” money on, it was a nice treat. Having used the bottle for quite some time now, I have to admit that $30 was a very reasonable price for this item. The bottle is relatively thin, holds 20 fluid ounces and fits perfectly into the side pocket of my back pack. The exterior, which was coated with a matte black finish when I first purchased it, has since sustained a handful of dents and scratches from–you guessed it–me dropping the bottle.


Yet unlike other water bottles I’ve had in the past, which were generally manufactured from plastic, this one remains fully functional despite its bruises thanks to its (what I assume to be) aluminum interior. This renders the bottle exceptionally “tough” and nearly unbreakable; moreover, the metal effectively keeps cool liquids cool and warm liquids warm. A rubber ring is attached to the neck of the bottle, allowing one to easily pick it up.

Perhaps the only aspect of this object I don’t like is its lid. The circular metal top is not attached to the bottle but rather twists on; often times I don’t screw the lid on tight enough when I’m in a rush and thus fall victim to a leaky water bottle.

In the past I’ve covered my water bottles with stickers, so it was always a disappointment when I lost the bottle or it broke. In hopes of not wasting any other fun stickers (which could better serve other items, like my guitar case), I decided to personalize this bottle with a single sticker. I’ve been interning with the Democracy Matters Institute for over a year now and serve as the president of our campus chapter, so seeing this sticker on my water bottle every day is a nice reminder of the things I am passionate about. It’s also served as a conversation starter quite a few times, which, come to think of it, is an interesting example of how our objects blend into our every day lives.

The sticker’s still in pretty good shape, surpisingly.

Mastering The Tarot

This week I decided to discuss my copy of “Mastering the Tarot: Lessons in An Ancient, Mystic Art” by Eden Gray.

Originally published in 1971, this copy was purchased by my mother in the late 90s at a used bookstore outside of Washington, DC, where I grew up. The neon green price tag reading “McKay Books” remains on the front cover; I spent many afternoons at this bookstore as a kid and have fond memories of purchasing some of my favorite books from there, so I have yet to peel off the price tag after all this time.

There’s no way of knowing who the previous owner of this book was, though I’ve often wondered who may have “mastered the tarot” before donating it to McKay’s. I think that’s the beauty of used bookstores; you always carry a bit of someone else’s history–and the mystery that accompanies this–in the pages of your newly purchased book.

My mom has dabbled in Tarot since she was a teenager. She picked up the hobby from my late grandmother, who always had a great passion for mysticism and spirituality. My mom purchased this book to accompany a new set of cards my dad had given her as a gift. She used the book on and off for years until it ultimately began collecting dust on the bookshelf in our living room. Coincidentally, I took up an interest in tarot in my teenage years (runs in the family I guess) which prompted my mom to give the book to me. Like most things my mom has given me, I feel a special connection to the book–especially because it represents something we have in common and an activity we often do together. We’ve spent countless summer nights sitting at the dining room table reading each other’s cards while my dad teases us for taking it so seriously–these moments have become significant parts of my late teens and early adulthood years.

The book is certainly well-worn (or well-loved, as I like to see it). When my mom first gave it to me about 4 years ago it was in decent condition, save for some creasing on the front cover and some tears on the edges of the pages. I’ve since gotten quite a bit of use out of it, eventually resulting in deeper creasing, some paint stains (not quite sure how those got there) on the upper right corner and broken binding. I tried somewhat successfully to patch it back together with duct tape (you can see that not all the pages are reattached to the binding) but it gets the job done.

Inside the middle of the book you’ll find a folded up sheet of paper; a few years ago I drew up a key for myself to remind me of the basics of the Celtic Divination layout (a standard card reading method). I’ve kept this sheet of paper in the book for so long now that I consider it a part of the book itself. It’s sort of my way of making the book my own.

The Keltic (spelled with a K in Tarot lure) Divination method with my personal notes about certain card meanings.

Writing this blog post made me realize how much of a constant this book has been in my life. It reminds me of the invisibility of objects; I’ve always known the book to simply be, whether it sat on my mom’s night stand at our old house in Virginia, on the bookshelf in our living room in upstate New York, or now on my own night stand at my house here in New Paltz. I’ve turned to it many times when I needed a sense of guidance about my future; I can’t count how many times my roommates and I have sat on the floor and read our cards in hopes of receiving some “divine” advice from the universe about how the heck to get through college. I’m grateful to have had this tradition passed down along family lines, especially since I never got to meet my grandmother on my mom’s side. Assuming I can keep the book in one piece over the years (we’ll see), I’d like to pass it down to my kids one day and keep my family’s fascination with the weird and mystical going for a few more generations.

My Crystal Pendant (So New Paltz!)

I chose to discuss a new object for this week’s discussion. My Amethyst crystal necklace has become a staple of my wardrobe over the past year and a half.

I purchased it two summers ago at “Hippies, Witches, and Gypsies”, a self-described “eclectic” shop in Troy, New York.

Image result for hippies witches and gypsies
A very New Paltz-esque store

I am the first owner of this Ameythst pendant, but the chain it hangs on belonged to my mom; it was once used to hang her favorite cross. When I wear the pendant I am thus able to carry a bit of my mom with me wherever I go.

my pendant&my mom’s chain

Since the gemstone on my necklace was not always a piece of jewelry,  I did a bit of research on how Amethyst crystals are formed. Most of the Amethyst found today was formed between 130-150 million years ago from ancient lava fields. As the lava cools, several pockets are formed which trap gasses and water inside. Crystals are formed over time within these pockets. If Iron or Manganese is present during the crystal formation, the clear quartz crystals will turn purple–thus creating Amethyst crystals. To transform the stone into a piece of jewelry, the stone is generally cleaned with soap and water, ground and shaped with a Dremel tool, sanded, polished, and then wrapped with wire.

The stone has been expertly shaped

I’m not religious, but I am a very spiritual person–so certain “metaphysical” objects, like crystals, are deeply important to me. I have a small collection of crystals that I keep by my bedside–all with different meanings and purposes–but the Amethyst is the only one I wear on my body. The crystal is generally associated with physical and mental healing, protection, and stimulation and soothing of the emotions.  Amethyst has served several purposes throughout history. It was worn by travelers as protection from treachery and surprise attacks, kept soldiers from harm and granted them victory over their enemies, lent assistance to hunters, and was considered a powerful psychic stone of protection against evil forces. It was also believed to protect its wearer from disease and contagion. In the spiritual world, Amethyst provided a connection to a greater being. To the Hebrews, it served as the ninth stone in the breastplate of the High Priest, as well as the twelfth foundation stone for the New Jerusalem. To the Egyptians, it was listed in the Book of the Dead to be carved into heart-shaped amulets for burial. In Eastern cultures, it was used in temple offerings for worship, and to align planetary and astrological influences. It was popular in rosaries and prayer beads, credited with creating a calm, meditative atmosphere.

It may be a classic case of confirmation bias, but when I wear my amethyst pendant I really do feel calmer, more focused, and generally more in tune with myself and the world around me. It’s become a prized object of mine, and one that I feel deeply connected with. I once left my coin purse, which was carrying the pendant, on a Trailways bus and assumed I would never see it again. Three months later, I received a call out of the blue from the bus station in town saying they had found the purse. I like to think the pendant found its way back to me. Since that day, I’ve taken special care of the necklace and hope–regardless of the validity of crystal lure–that it’s doing the same for me.


Stop The War !

I’ve chosen to describe my mom’s 1960s anti-war pin. It typically resides in a jewelry box in my mom’s closet, making a few appearances over the years (notably for “hippie day” during my 7th grade spirit week and this honors seminar).

The rectangular pin is roughly the length of my palm  and about half the width. Turned to its side, the pin is slim–less than half an inch wide–yet it feels dense and rather substantial when held in one’s hand.  

It was made from what I assume to be a single sheet of thin metal (perhaps aluminum), with a sharp needle and coil (the actual “pin” ) attached to the back. The front of the pin reads “war is not healthy for children and other living things”–a popular anti-war slogan at the time–in a bubble letter font. A flower doodle snakes between the letters, breaking up the phrase “for children” and “and other”. The colors–yellow for the background, black for the lettering and green, orange, blue, and white for the flower–are surprisingly vibrant despite the pin’s age.

I estimate the pin to be about 50 years old, yet it remains in exceptionally good condition (likely from spending the majority of its lifetime in my mother’s jewelry box). There are no scuff marks on the front, albeit a slight paint smudge towards the upper right side of the flower. The bottom of the front side of the pin has a hint of rust; this is more visible around the upper edges of its opposite side. Turned to the right side, I’m able to detect the slightest hint of chipped paint in the upper and lower corners. The backside of the pin is a bit tarnished (to be expected after nearly half a century)–but still manages to maintain a bit of shine.

My mom grew up with two half-brothers who were much older than her. Both voluntarily enlisted in the military despite being vehemently against the war, as they considered the draft relatively unavoidable and would rather have some semblance of control over their decisions to serve. My mom’s eldest brother, Neil, gifted her this pin before his deployment as a reminder to hold strong in their family beliefs. This object has taken on a few different meanings over the years. My mom was about 9 when she first received the pin and cites this as the beginning of her interest in activism–which later blossomed into serious involvement with social justice throughout her early adulthood. Sadly, my uncle Neil was killed in a car accident roughly three years later; thus the pin now has a much greater significance for my mom. For me, the pin is a piece of my family history. It allows me to feel connected to my late uncle who I never had the chance to meet, and offers a glimpse into my mom’s childhood. It also helps me feel closer to my mom, who sparked my passion for activism and social justice–in this way I suppose I’m able to better understand myself.

The KonMari Method: Books

I’ve always been a big reader. I’ve developed a pretty large book collection over the years, a decent portion of which has accompanied me to college. I had roughly 30 books in my tiny room here in New Paltz when I started this assignment and finished with about 15. It was an interesting process going through all of my books. Kondo’s method intrigued me because I’ve always gone about  “tidying up” with a focus on what I want to get rid of rather than what I consider important enough to keep. I was honestly shocked by the sheer volume of books when I laid them all out on my bed; It never looked like that many when they were cluttered on my bookshelf or nightstand.

Following Kondo’s advice, I began by picking up each book and noted my initial feelings toward it without opening it up. This was harder than I expected. Although I was able to sort the books into “keep” and “discard” piles based on this method, I found myself considering all the possible scenarios the books in the discard pile may be useful for. Some of those books were gifts; others I’ve been meaning to read for years now but can never find the time to. It was difficult to convince myself that I don’t need these in the same way I “need” the books I decided to keep–I guess not having my space filled with books just felt sort of wrong. This got me thinking that much of my relationship with objects–be it books, clothing, or momentos–is based in a sense of  comfort. The objects in my space are reflections of my personality, and in this way become an extension of who I am. Although the clutter they form is sometimes overwhelming, getting rid of that clutter can be equally overwhelming.

Most of the books I purchase or am given have similar themes: satire or social commentary, french literature, or sociological/ social justice related topics (this group being the majority). These are all topics I care about, and reading books on these subjects help me sustain my passions. I felt most drawn to the books that deal with politically-relevant subjects; for example, I recently purchased a book debunking problematic myths about immigration in the US, which is a subject I’ve been excited to become more informed about. Knowledge is very important to me, so a lot of the books I chose to keep were educational in some way or another. The biggest trend I noticed, however, was sentimental value. I haven’t’ read some of the books in my room since high school; I chose to bring them with me to college because they remind me of a particular time in my life. Many of these are annotated from cover to cover, complete with circles, underlines, and notes to myself. It’s very nostalgic for me to flip through the pages and see what stood out to me at that certain point in my life. I think this all ties back to the idea of objects bringing me comfort. Having these books in my space that remind me of who I used to be, or can help me in becoming the person I want to be, is a calming feeling.