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Tag Archives: children

Other than your hero/heroine, that is…

Fuller interior temple of fancy-thumb-450x321-20803Today I’m talking about paper dolls of the Regency period, but not the fashion figures that originated in France and were adopted by dressmakers and their clients, and their clients’ children in the 1790s. Paper dolls specifically for children were created and published by Samuel and Joseph Fuller in a series of  paper doll booklets–figures that dress and undress–and sold at their shop The Temple of Fancy on Rathbone Place in London. Attracting an upperclass clientele, the shop also sold prints and painting materials and supplies.

In mediocre rhyme, the books told an improving story with a hand-colored paper doll, outfits only, with a moveable head at the end of the book.  Hours of fun and instruction! Here’s an overview of The History of Little Fanny: Exemplified in a Series of Figures (1810) and you can play online paper dolls with Fanny here.

little_fanny_setI have seen a reproduction copy of Little Fanny and the storyline is depressingly moral. Little Fanny is far too interested in clothes and learns the virtues of plain living and hard work. Another title, Ellen, or, The Naughty Girl Reclaimed, pretty much speaks for itself.

But the boys. Oh, did the boys have fun. How about Frank Feignwell’s Attempts to Amuse His Friends on Twelfth-Night. You can dress and undress flamboyant young Frank here.

And then there’s The History and Adventures of Little Henry.

little_henry_setJust by looking at this you can see that Henry has a whale of a time, and you can view the book online here. First, he’s stolen by gypsies (moral lesson on inattentive nursemaid included) and becomes a beggar, then a chimney sweep, a drummer boy, and a sailor, rising through the ranks to return to England with fame and fortune. Huzzah!

So, yes. Boys can dress up and seek material success in life, but not girls. “The textual morals against love of clothing are gendered in problematic ways, with female characters mortified for this flaw more readily than male characters.” (A Story, Exemplified in a Series of Figures: Paper Doll versus Moral Tale in the Nineteenth Century by Hannah Field. More) And there’s also a great deal of self-satisfaction, one suspects, on the part of the well-heeled patrons of the Fullers’ shop, buying these idealized, smug stories for their own children.

For more online fun, Williamsburg has an online paper doll game and you can find downloadable Regency paper dolls, designed by a historian, at

Did you enjoy paper dolls as a child and/or with your own children?

Last weekend, I dropped my oldest daughter off at a summer youth program. It’s not the first time she’s been away from home. She’s been to a week-long residential science camp through the local university and the Kopernik Observatory. But this time it’s three weeks in a big city with people she’s never met before. Her first phone call back was pretty heart-wrenching (not a dry eye around) but she is settling in and everyone’s stress level is leveling off. I keep reminding myself that this is a good preparation for all of us for next year, when she heads off to college.

It’s a balancing act—being supportive while also letting go—and I suspect it’s never really over.

At least we don’t have to do it in historical fashion.

GeorgianaIn the 18th century, it was a custom for well-to-do families to foster their babies out to wetnurses when they were several months old, having them return at age two or three. Jane Austen’s parents fostered her and her siblings out this way, but the practice was already dying out. Even before the Regency, even fashionable aristocratic mothers were expected to take a greater role in caring for their babies. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire insisted on breastfeeding her first baby, a girl, despite pressure not to do so because everyone wanted her to get back to the business of producing an heir.

Even if babies were cared for at home, they often had to leave at an early age. Boys were sent to Eton or Harrow at about eight. I’ve never researched boys’ schools in detail, but what I have read makes it seem like there was lots of bullying and little supervision. Scary.
Boys could also be sent into the army or navy at relatively tender ages. By the Regency, one was not supposed to be able to buy ensign’s commissions in the army for boys younger than 16, although I’ve read this rule wasn’t always followed strictly. Boys entered the navy as young as 11. Here’s the trailer for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (based on the novels of Patrick O’Brian) showing some of those young officers.

It breaks my heart to think of their mothers. I’m sure it was hard for them to let their sons go at such young ages, even if it was considered normal in their society.

If the goal in raising boys was to toughen them up as early as possible, the opposite seems true for upper class girls. They could be sent away to school, but they were often educated at home, either by a governess or by their mother, depending on family circumstances. Here again I have a problem. Since there were so few acceptable occupations for ladies, girls were prepared to be good wives and mothers or, if they didn’t marry, a comfort to their aging parents.

Much as I will miss my daughters when they leave—they really are so much fun to have around!—I’m glad I have the opportunity to raise strong, independent women.

I don’t know how I would handle being a mother during the Regency. How about you?


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