Constructing the Ideal in Miniature: Symbolic and Political Meaning of Early Twentieth Century American Doll Houses



Vigen, Corinne

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This thesis describes how the doll and the house are not just objects of material culture. This paper is based on research focused on twentieth-century doll houses and the homes they were made to represent. By reproducing doll houses into playthings, collectors and manufactures quickly defined and normalized an archetype, that is, a two-story, single family structure for the “ideal” American home. Studying popular doll houses from 1890 to 1940, advice journals (Ladies Home Journal, et al), mass housing projects of the early twentieth-century, we can see how an “acceptable” image of an ideal house emerges in the United States Simultaneously, American museums were being built as public institutions, attempting to reimagine urban areas into cultural spaces. This paper gives a brief history of both museums and the origins of doll houses to help explain how and why these mundane miniature objects became part of present day museum collections. The cultural context of this analysis focuses on the idea of “home” in the U.S., with reference to cross-cultural and historical comparisons worthy of consideration. However, it is the quintessential, ideal American home, built in miniature, that reproduces symbolic meanings of gender and democracy while never losing touch of its colonial past.



Cultural anthropology, American studies, Doll houses, Miniatures