by Virginia Ann Heyerdahl, Founder, Editor and Publisher of Friends of Hitty Newsletter/Club
Hitty, the 6-1/4-inch heroine in Rachel Field’s Newbery Medal winning book Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, has certainly made her mark in the doll world, especially in the last several decades.
For those who might not be familiar with the book, Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, it is the “autobiography” of an early American wooden doll “hand-carved from Irish mountain-ash wood by a peddler.” The book was written by Rachel Field and illustrated by Dorothy Lathrop.
In October 1929, the Macmillan Company published Hitty: Her First Hundred Years and, in 1930, it was awarded the Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature in 1929!
As Hitty relates in her fictitious “memoirs”, she was carved for a little girl who lived in Maine, Phoebe Preble. Phoebe took Hitty everywhere with her including on a long ocean voyage. In addition to being shipwrecked with Phoebe, Hitty’s adventures included traveling to India where she was “lost” and then rescued, given to another little girl.
Hitty eventually accompanied that child back to the United States to live in Philadelphia. Hitty traveled to New York, back to New England and then made an appearance at the Cotton Exposition dressed exquisitely in a wedding gown. Following numerous other adventures, Hitty ends up residing in an antique shop.
The “real” story of Hitty is perhaps more fascinating than her fictitious adventures. While dining in New York City one evening in the late 1920s, Rachel Field and her good friend, Dorothy Lathrop, discovered they had a mutual interest in a tiny old-fashioned doll in an antique shop.
The little wooden doll was over 100 years old at that time. Eventually the author and the illustrator purchased the doll together and one summer, while vacationing in Maine, they outlined Hitty’s fictitious adventures during her first hundred years. Upon returning home, Rachel wrote Hitty’s life story while Dorothy illustrated it.
After the successful publication of the book, Hitty continued her real life travels in the company of Rachel Field. Upon Rachel’s death, Hitty “dropped out of the public eye” and became somewhat of a recluse, living with Dorothy Lathrop and her sister, Gertrude, who inherited the doll upon Dorothy’s death. When Gertrude died, the doll was inherited by cousins.
In the mid 1980s, interest in Hitty, which had been somewhat dormant, resurfaced. A collector in California, Dottie Baker, had acquired some of Hitty’s original furniture and wrote an article – “Where is Hitty?” – asking the whereabouts of the original Hitty, which appeared in the February/March 1986 issue of Doll Reader.
She discovered, that after the death of the Lathrop sisters, Hitty was inherited by Roger Linscott and his siblings who decided to donate the doll and her belongings to the Stockbridge Massachusetts Library. The reason for this decision was that the library owned a great deal of Field family memorabilia and it was felt this would be a good place for Hitty to reside so that she could be shared with her many friends.
At that time, many people were unaware that there was a real doll named Hitty! Several years later, another collector, Nancy Reinhart Charlton “found” the real Hitty and wrote an article, “Hitty is Found!”, which appeared in the August/September 1988 issue of Doll Reader.
For most of this time to the present, Hitty has been in the public eye. The library even commissioned an exact replica of the original. A wide variety of social events have taken place in her honor. Doll clubs have held luncheons featuring a Hitty doll or an accessory for a souvenir. Programs have been given at doll clubs, libraries and schools. An award-winning video has been filmed as well as a video on how to carve a Hitty.
In 1994, because of the interest generated by the articles published in Doll Reader, there was such a clamor for more information about Hitty, that a newsletter and a club were organized. It began with about ten members and has since grown to well over a thousand members today. The first-ever Hitty Convention was held in Williamsburg, Virginia in October 2000.
In the fall of 2005, the Friends of Hitty gathered for a “Tenth Anniversary Reunion” in Williamsburg, Virginia to celebrate the previous ten years of the Friends of Hitty. In addition, a Friends of Hitty Newsletter is published (four issues per subscription) as a forum for the dissemination of information and material about Hitty herself, Rachel Field, Dorothy Lathrop and the artists who create Hittys.
Simon and Schuster, the publishing company which now owns the rights to the original book by Rachel Field, commissioned a revised version which was published in 1999. Titled Rachel Field’s Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, this book was written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers.
The book was rewritten for younger children and additional adventures have been included. It is an enchanting introduction to Hitty for younger children and the illustrations are delightful. It is hoped that the young readers will be inspired to read the original version of the book.
Shortly after the book was published, several artists carved their own versions of Hitty. Today there are numerous artists who are creating their own versions of Hitty in all types of media including cloth, paper, paperclay, porcelain, resin and wood.
To ensure that Hitty will be around for future generations to enjoy, the Friends of Hitty Newsletter/Club established a Conservation and Preservation fund to provide for conserving and preserving the doll itself and her belongings. To this end, the fund provided for the conservation and restoration of Hitty’s clothing which was accomplished by the Textile Conservation Center of the American Textile History Museum. In addition, the club provided funding for a fitted travel case for Hitty.
As Hitty relates in the caption for the last illustration by Dorothy Lathrop in the original book by Field, “I feel that many more adventures are awaiting me.” Surely there will be many more adventures for our little wooden friend in the coming years. She certainly seems to have a propensity for survival as well as travel.
Virginia Ann Heyerdahl is the Founder, Editor and Publisher of Friends of Hitty Newsletter/Club and is the former Senior Editor of Doll Reader magazine (she was with the magazine from 1978 until 1999) and presently Contributing Editor to Doll Castle News.
To visit the original Hitty, contact the Stockbridge Library Association, P O Box 119, Stockbridge, Massachusetts 01262; telephone: 413-298-5501. It is a good idea to call the library ahead of the time of your visit to make sure Hitty can be shown.
© 2010 Virginia Ann Heyerdahl Hitty Travel Doll