Sunday, January 31, 2016

Nellie's Holiday Coat

It is still SO cold outside! The one good thing about that is, in my time spent hiding from what, to my Florida mind, looks like a frozen wasteland, I have been able to take lots of pictures of my dolls. Hopefully that means I can stay ahead and keep to my goal of posting about once a week.

Again, we have a new doll on the blog: Nellie O'Malley, the Irish best friend of Samantha Parkington who is center stage in a fantastic (and historically improbable-but hey, it warms my heart) rags to riches tale.

It is hard for a lot of people to understand this nowadays, when Irish Americans have become so assimilated into mainstream white American culture, but the Irish went through a lot to make that happen. The Irish in America were discriminated against, hated, and were not considered white.

A political cartoon showing that African Americans and Irish Americans were seen as equally inferior. They are both drawn to look inhuman. 

My family has been in America for a long time. I don't speak with an Irish accent or eat traditional Irish foods. But I want to stress that the reason I do not is because of specific choices made by other cultural groups that systematically stomped out (not for everyone, but for people like my family) the unique things that made up the Irish culture. Lots of people in America, including myself, have ancestors like Nellie who were treated like garbage because they were Irish and Catholic. Many Americans have ancestors who were forced out of their homes because of horrible practices and the threat of starvation and experienced the Irish Diaspora.

I am going to use my Nellie posts to both talk about her clothing and to discuss the Irish experience in America. I will go way before Nellie and way after Nellie.

Ireland Under Occupation:

Perhaps the Great Famine (known as the potato famine and the Great Hunger as well) and the later Irish Diaspora would not have happened if Ireland had maintained its independence. But starting in the 12th century, England consistently sought to conquer and control her neighbor. Ireland resisted of course, but did not prove strong enough to maintain independent rule.

Things became significantly worse during the rule of Henry VIII. For those of you playing along at home, remember that Henry wanted to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon because she had not given him a male heir and because he wanted to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. When the Pope would not grant Henry his desired annulment, he broke with Rome and the Pope, setting up his own Church of England with himself as the head. Since he controlled Ireland, this had a direct impact on the Irish people.

Giant jerk face and the worst husband ever-one potential bride responded to his offer of marriage by saying that if she had two heads, she would marry him but as she only had one, she would have to decline.
 Look at how smug he looks. No one wants to take your religious advice Henry. No one. And no one wants to marry you either.

The Irish were predominantly (and are still predominantly-though of course there is a difference between being an active practitioner of a religion and claiming it on a census) Catholic. They had no interest in disobeying the Pope to follow Henry instead. When England couldn't force the Irish to convert, it instead sent Protestant settlers from England and Scotland to Ireland. New boroughs were created to create a false Protestant majority in Parliament (despite the fact that 85% of the population was still Catholic-compare this to gerrymandering in America). At the end of the 17th century, Irish Catholics were outright banned from Parliament. They had no political power in their own country. This obviously caused rebellions, which were put down by England.

At various times, Catholics could not hold public office, bear arms (meaning only the Anglicans had weapons), serve in the military, go to Trinity College in Dublin, buy land except under very discriminatory conditions, own a decent horse (so that the majority would not have a horse to ride against the minority in case of rebellion), or teach. These laws were put in place to systematically destroy Catholicism in Ireland. In every case, a person would materially benefit from converting to the Anglican Church; however, if you went the other way and converted to Catholicism, you had to give all of your goods to the state and you forfeited legal protection (meaning some one could steal from you or kill you and nothing would happen to them).

It is a testament to the strength of their faith that most of the Irish did not convert. These laws basically made it impossible to be financially successful as a Catholic in Ireland. Many of the Irish did not own the land they were living on; the land was owned by landlords who lived far away (often in England) and were instead controlled by middlemen who directly managed the lands and made their profit that way. The money made off Irish labor was sent out of the country, into England.

The goal of the middleman was to collect as much money from the Irish as possible. There was no concern for the living conditions of the laborers working it. They could evict the laborer for any reason, such as failure to pay the expensive rent or simply because they wanted to do something else with the land (often this meant raising animals).

The families lived on very small plots of land and the only crop that would feed a family that could be grown on such a small piece of land was the potato, a crop native to the Americas. Additionally, the landlords had turned so much of the best land over to cattle grazing that the Irish could only farm on less than ideal land. The potato is usually a sturdy crop and can survive in less than ideal conditions.

Anyone with any understanding of farming knows that it is smart to grow a variety of crops on a farm, because diseases will come-it's not a matter of if but of when. That way, if your potato crop fails, you at least have something else to eat. But the Irish were living under conditions that made that impossible, so they grew potatoes.

The Irish knew that the potato could suffer from blights, but they didn't have much choice. Basically, conditions were set up for a perfect storm which would lead to the deaths of at least 800,000 people. 

This isn't meant to be a complete history of Ireland-I just wanted to give you an idea of what the Irish faced and what set them up for the Great Hunger, which is what I will discuss on my next Nellie post.

Now that I've likely depressed you (sorry, but history isn't always pretty) let's move on to the actual review!

Nellie's Holiday Coat:


Nellie's coat actually has two components-the actual coat and a capelet that goes over it. The coat will go first. The coat is a durable grey fabric (I'm assuming wool). It is thick and warm, though not very soft to the touch (it might be a little scratchy to the bare skin). The coat is almost cape like in dimension-it is very full at the bottom. My only complaint is that the fabric collects any and all lint in the area.

The coat has two sets of plain white buttons-however these are simply decorative. The coat is instead closed with two clasps on the inside. I prefer these to Velcro because they don't snag the fabric in storage.

Another clasp secures the neckline, which is very high to keep out the cold NYC air. 

The sleeves are long and close fitting but they are trimmed with faux black and white spotted fur. I looked for a long time to see what kind of fur this is supposed to simulate. I believe it is either lynx fur or possibly leopard. The fur is thick and nice but obviously fake to the touch-which is good, because I'm not sure how much a fan I would be of real fur being used for doll clothes. Still, I think AG could have done a better job making the fur look real.

Fur-which is usually very expensive-would have announced Nellie's new social status after her adoption. All clothing during the Edwardian era was meant to announce certain things about the wearer (that is true today as well, though the rise of fast fashion has made it very possible for people on a budget to dress very nicely and much closer to the wealthy of today than in the past).  Fur was often used on trims (like it is for this set) and for stoles and muffs.


I would actually call this a capelet instead of a cape. It is made out of the same grey material as the coat, trimmed again with the white and black spotted fur I mentioned earlier.

The cape ties under her chin with a cranberry ribbon. It looks much nicer on than it does lying on the ground, but I wanted you to see the almost half circle shape made by it. I'm glad she has the cape because the coat was very boring without it.

And here's the back of the cape. I adore this part of the outfit!


Hats must be my thing because a cute doll hat makes me squeal with delight. This one was no exception. It is a plain circular hat made out of the same grey material and trimmed with the same fur.

Look how cute she looks with it on! What an adorable little face...


The last component of the set is a pair of cranberry mittens.

Now I have said before that I hate doll gloves because they always look like cooking mitts to me (no fingers). However these are an exception-and it is all because they are attached together with a string.

The practical benefit of this is obvious. Once your hands get hot or you need to do anything that requires any dexterity, you have to take off your glove. The string allows you to loop them around your neck. 

The benefit for Nellie is this-since I hate the way the mittens look on her, but want the pop of color on what would otherwise be a very grey outfit, I just pretend that her hands are always a bit too warm to use them. Instead they hang on their string, ready for when her hands become chilled.


My only real complaint is that the fur looks and feels very fake and cheap to me (which isn't true for all simulated animal products made by American Girl). Overall though it's a nice set. I appreciate that it isn't a bright color-the grey color scheme is actually nice to me, especially with the two pops of cranberry.

More Pictures!

Further Reading:

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