Sunday, August 1, 2010

1 August 1956 “Oh, You Beautiful Doll: Betsy McCall”

mccallscover In the May 1951 issue of McCall’s magazine, the company introduced Betsy McCall. She was a little girl “five going on six” that included a story of her life and dolls of she and various family members and friends that you could cut out.
betsyintroThis was the first image of her ‘family’ and was introduced as:
“Betsy is five going on six and she lives in a little white house with a porch and a yard to play in. Her mother and daddy and Nosy, her puppy, live in the white house too. Nosy is six months old. Betsy and Nosy and Betsy’s friends play together all the time. And every month now on they’ll come to play with you too.”
As time went on, Betsy’s images changed with various artists. She was an immediate hit and soon after, in 1952, Ideal acquired the rights to make a 14” Betsy McCall doll.betsydoll1 Then American Character followed with their 8" doll in 1957.
Betsy McCall have been made as large as 36" and also in 20" and other sizes. During the 50’s you could also get many patterns for her clothing for the doll. betsypattern1At first, you could see she had very much a little girl wardrobe, but as time went on in the 50’s she was often given more adult clothes.betsypattern2  Like this where she is given a wedding dress. So, in a sense, one would imagine themselves as Betsy and getting to dress up as they would want to themselves. This was all pre Barbie (she was not introduced until 1959).
So, here she is in her first appearance in that May 51 McCalls. You can click on the image to get a full size version you can print out for yourself.betsymcall1
Now, for my purpose, here is how she would look this month in August 1956.(You can click and enlarge here as well)betsymcall2
The site where I found these pages is HERE. The owner of that site was kind enough to scan all the pages in a large format so you can download and print them to play with your little girl or even yourself. It is worth a visit to see the transformations of Betsy’s image and her clothing and follow the history of the doll. There is an obvious difference from the first Betsy to my 1956 version as you can see. I actually prefer her look in 51, but in the 1956 version you can already begin to see the movement towards the more modern line and coloring we will see into the early 1960’s.
So, what does all of this “Betsy Business” have to do with my project? Well, both inspired by my research of her and also inspired by our July Apronite of the Month, Jenny, I thought I would try my hand at doll making. I have never done any such sewing, only just learning to make dresses (slowly but surely) since my 55 project. I figure it will be a good exercise in fine tuning my sewing skills.
And, the best part and what really got me thinking about it was when I found out that in 1956 McCall’s patterns introduced this version of Betsy you could make yourself.betsymcallpatternvintage I was lucky enough to find the actual Vintage pattern on ebay (copyrighted 1956) and the happy news was that the pattern had been cut out in the 50’s and the fabric for the doll body was still pinned to the doll.vintagebetsypatternI am very excited to have vintage fabric to make her. And you make all her clothes you see pictured as well.
Another thing that is so lovely about this particular pattern is you can see that one of the dresses you make for the doll is the same as this month’s, August 1956, paper doll: the striped dress wtih the red jumper.
Then, further research revealed to me that they have a reproduction of this original pattern.betsymcallpatternreprowhich I also purchased. I wanted to see the difference in the instructions and suggested materials. I noticed the modern version has less outfits to make and they suggest unbleached muslin for the body while the original suggests cotton (which I have found a similar shade to the vintage in Egyptian cotton). The old pattern has a face transferbetsyheadthat you iron on and then stitch in her features with embroidery thread. So, for the vintage version, I will do that. The modern version just has the same face, but you are instructed to copy it with pen and acrylic paint. However, I have decided to scan the face and manipulate it and change it a bit and then print it on iron on transfer printer paper for the modern version. I figure that way I have made the vintage in its intended way and the modern one I can interoperate how I like.
What shall I do with these two dolls when and if I complete them? I haven’t a clue. I have no children and none of my friends have little girls. My nieces are close to me in age and have no children themselves. If she is not too dear to me, perhaps I would try to sell her, I am not sure. Either way, I think the process shall be fun, frustrating, rewarding, and a great learning experience. I can already guess how hard it shall be to sew her tiny clothes.


  1. I love Betsy McCall. I think when you finish her you should just keep her. She would look darling in the bedroom. Can't wait to see the finished Betsy!

  2. My mom used to pull out the Betsy pages for me when I was little in the 60's. I adored her!

  3. Hi Donna, thanks for the link to the Betsy McCall pages. I have that reprinted pattern and an old pattern too but I haven't made them up yet. I will be interested to see how you go with them and I agree, I think you should keep the finished product.

  4. Jenny-how do you decide what dolls to keep and to sell? I am sure when I am done making her and all her clothes I will be loathe to part with her.

  5. I think sewing dolls' clothes is quite easy, since you can easily try it on. As a kid, with absolutely no sewing skills, I sewed all Barbie’s clothes since it was too expensive for me and my mum’s purse to buy. Why not just leave the dolls in your bedroom for decoration? They do look nice. :)

    And thank you for the link, I’ll print all of the paperdolls.

  6. one of the fondest memories and dearest gifts my Grand mother ever gave me was an entire year of Betsey Mc Call paper dolls, with clothes, cut out pasted on cardboard for strenghth, and wrapped in a recycled candy box. Wow! was I excited.
    Memories such as those are priceless...

  7. I remember my Bestsey Mc Call doll fondly...she accompanied me to the hospital for an overnight stay when I had my tonsils and adenoids removed. (boy, am I dating myself here!) She was allowed to sleep in my high-sided bed (I was 4yrs old at the time) and made me feel less lonely. She was a lovely little doll.

  8. A girl is never too old to play with dolls! I have more than a dozen American Girl dolls, though only three of them are in the house with me right now. (I'm blanking on the exact number of my girls)

    Betsy still exists as a doll. She's aimed at the collector market though so a lot of people have no idea she's still around. Tonner Dolls makes her now.

  9. Rachel-I just looked up the new Betsy. She is cute, though for me I would want an original but they are 100's of dollars. Certainly a gal can play with dolls whenever she likes, I mean I am still playing make believe its the 50s so why not dolls too! I remember my niece back in the day had an American Girl, they had just come put and I think there were about four, I recall Samantha whom I liked and I think Molly was the 40s girl. Did they ever make a 50s girl?

  10. This is exactly why I wish I had a girkl. Maybe I will print out some of this and maybe get the pattern, who knows, maybe one of my boys will have a girl for me to make these for later on.


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