It started with a friend of mine. She was clearly from Swedish/Norwegian descent and got a Kirsten doll that looked a lot like her which she would sometimes bring to school. Soon all us girls wanted an American Girl doll.
For those not familiar with the American Girl dolls, in 1983 a writer and educator by the name of Pleasant T. Rowland (hence the name of the company being Pleasant Company) was looking for dolls to give her 8-12 year old nieces for Christmas but was having trouble finding ones that fit that age range. After a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, she decided to create a line of historical dolls and books that would be fun for the girls to dress up and play with, while learning about different historical time periods.
At the time, there were just the original three: Kirsten - the blonde haired pioneer girl from the 1800s; Samantha - the Victorian orphan from the early 1900s who lived with her strict grandmother; and Molly - a girl with glasses from the World War 2 era with a father off at war.
Most girls I knew had Kirsten, while a few had Samantha and a few had Molly.
I remember getting my Samantha doll for Christmas that year - I was soooo excited! I got a few of her basic accessories too to start myself off with, as well as the first few books in her series.
Soon after I got Samantha they introduced another doll - Felicity. Felicity was a spunky redhead from the 1700's Colonial era. I remember a few girls got this doll - some, despite already having one of the original 3 dolls also got this one! We were all jealous of the girls that had 2 because 2 is obviously better than 1.
Even though I had Samantha, I read through all the other doll's books as well.
Each doll had 6 books:
Book 1 was an introduction book where we learned about the girl, her main struggle, and life in her time period.
Book 2 was about the girl going to school and what school was like during their time period.
Book 3 was the Christmas book, taking place around Christmas and sharing what traditions and such were practiced during that time period.
Book 4 is the birthday book, sharing girls from the different periods celebrated their birthdays
Book 5 always takes place in the summer and each girl has an adventure (I remember Samantha went to camp)
Book 6 puts the girl in a situation where she must overcome some obstacle and come out on top.
I loved my doll and we began collecting the items and outfits from her specific collection. While I never got a bunch of the furniture (the biggest piece I got was her bed), by the time they discontinued Samantha in spring of 2009 I did have all her outfits and most of her small accessories. My mom, being the sewing extraordinaire that she is, even found similar parents and made me a few of the dresses too, like her nightgown.
I also had her porcelain doll, Lydia, from book 3. Originally, this little 3-4 inch doll came with porcelain hands and face (toy company fail!). My mom told me to be careful with her, which I always tried to be, but one time I took her over to my friend's house. I was being goofy - trying to turn on a light switch with my tongue (don't ask.) while holding my doll with her doll when my friend came up, brushed past me to flip the light on and the doll fell and her face broke. I was devastated and upset... I got a new one for Christmas but wasn't allowed to take it out of the house. Last I heard, they had started making them out of plastic.
Another thing they changed from time I had my doll to when my sister got into them, was that the original doll's hair was made of genuine horse hair. Years later though they switched to synthetic. You can tell a difference though between mine and my sister's doll.
Over the years they started adding more dolls to the collection too - first there was Felicity, as I mentioned before, then they introduced Addy, the black girl who experienced the underground railroad. My friends were confused though as her time period was only 10 years after Kirsten's. There there was Josefina, a Mexican girl from the 1800s living in New Mexico. There was Kit, a girl from the Great Depression era between the Samantha and Molly eras. I know they've released a hippie girl named Julie from the 1960s, as well as a few more since I've really kept track of them.
Also, they introduced the Just Like Me girls later on too. By the time these came out, they weren't so popular among my friends, but they were when my sister got to the age where the dolls were a craze. These were the American Girl of Today dolls, as you could choose their hair color, hair style, skin tone and eye color to match yours and they came with a modern day outfit. This is a collection they're always adding to as well, introducing new items to go along with kids of today are doing - various sporting outfits and accessories, among other activities that kids are interested in. I remember going to the American Girl doll store in downtown Chicago - the showroom for this doll line is HUGE! So many items to choose from...
Speaking of the store... that place is crazy! I don't recommend going on a weekend, as it's jam packed with little girls and moms with some bored dads trying to keep sane while having their wallets and credit cards ready. The one in Chicago had 3 floors to it (they recently moved locations and I haven't been to the new one). The first floor I believe was mostly clothes for you so you could match your doll - the other 2 floors also had a limited selection of clothes to choose from too; the second floor was where all the dolls and accessories were, with glass cases showing everything and paper tickets you could take for the items you wanted to take up to the check out register; the third floor of the restaurant which always had at least an hour wait for lunch and dinner unless you made a reservation - I recall they had a small cafe too... It was like a tea party for the girl and her doll, I don't know, I never got to go, although my parents took my sister once.
When I was in 3rd grade (1993), I had to wear glasses. Luckily though, by this time they sold Molly's glasses separately so you could put them on any doll! We had to order those so my Samantha doll could look like me! In 4th grade, me and a few of my friends decided for school picture day we'd all include our dolls in our photos. The school photographer was annoyed we all insisted on having our dolls in the picture (I think by the time he got to me, as I was always at the end of the alphabet, he rolled his eyes, sighed and commented about "another one?" lol...). A few of the girls had outfits to match their dolls, I just wore something nice though.
I recently looked through a catalog, as my boss's daughters are into them and his mom gets the catalog from time to time at the office. They've changed and added a lot!
I hope someday we'll have a little girl and we can get her a doll of her choice and I can share my Samantha with her too, as they no longer make Samantha.
For the girls, did you have an American Girl doll? Did you read the books? Which girl was your favorite?