Wednesday, April 29, 2015

After 250 Years It's Still The Bangwell Putt Rag Doll

Image Courtesy of The Doll Book written in 1908 by Laura B. Starr

When I was doing my "The History of Faceless Dolls" research I ran across a faceless doll that was created in 1765 and, 250 years later, is still in existence.  It was included in the Memorial Hall Museum Online -  American Centuries....View From New England  website that allows you to "Explore American history with hands-on activities, exhibits, lessons, historic documents and artifacts."

The Children's Toys section of their online collection includes the Bangwell Putt Rag Doll which is a faceless rag doll that was made for Clarissa Field of Northfield, MA in 1765.

Here's what the website had to say about this doll, "Dolls could be purchased, but many people made them at home. A relative made this rag doll for Clarissa Field of Northfield, Massachusetts, around 1770. She named her Bangwell Putt. (Clarissa had several other dolls, all with equally fanciful names, including Pingo, Palica, Kimonarro, and Ebby Puttence.) Clarissa Field was born blind. Although Bangwell Putt lacks a face, her ten fingers were carefully made, suggesting the importance of touch in Clarissa's world. Like other little girls, Clarissa could use her doll to practice the skills she would need as an adult. She could dress and undress Bangwell, and sew fashionable clothes for her. Bangwell has a homespun body and is dressed in eighteenth-century fashion, including a corset. Clarissa also could tend Bangwell as a mother would a child. Clarissa never married. She kept Bangwell until she died in her eighties. Bangwell Putt is thought to be the oldest surviving rag doll in North America."

I became intrigued by this doll, especially her name, and wanted to see if there was more information on her. Here's what I found:

There is a beautiful interactive archives copy of a hand illustrated children's book that is part of the Internet Archives online collection entitled "The Journey of Bangwell Putt" by Marianna and published in 1945 by the F.A.R. Gallery that was re-published in 1965.  If you click the "play" triangle in the upper right hand corner you can interactively read through this adorable book.

Wendy Lawton, who is a world class porcelain doll maker, made the Clarissa Fields and Bangwell Putt doll shown in the picture above. Her porcelain doll was named for the owner of the Bangwell Putt doll and she is holding the rag doll in her hand.  Please click here for a larger image.

On their website they said, "Clarissa Fields and Bangwell Putt - 2000 - Edition of 175 - More than 225 years ago, a blind girl named Clarissa Fields was given a rag doll she named Bangwell Putt. Little did she know that her doll would be carefully tended by her descendants and finally gifted to Memorial Hall Museum. The poems young Clarissa dictated to her sister are still pinned to the doll's slip. Bangwell Putt is now the oldest extant rag doll in America. It is to Clarissa's memory that we dedicate our version of Clarissa Fields and Bangwell Putt.  - Bangwell Putt is used with permission from Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Memorial Hall Museum, Deerfield, Massachusetts."

If you would like to see a picture of the actual Bangwell Putt Rag Doll, please click here.

Page 29 of The Doll Book written in 1908 by Laura B. Starr under the chapter Historic Dolls & Other there is a paragraph about the Bangwell Putt Rag Doll. This chapter contained the picture shown at the beginning of this post and shown above.

According to Page 29, "In the collection at Deerfield Memorial Hall is a doll so beaten and battered that it has little resemblance to either ancient or modern dolls.  It is named Bangwell Putt and for nearly a century was the beloved companion of a blind girl, Clarissa Field, who lived in Northfield, Mass. At her death, some curious, crude attempts at versification were found pinned to the doll's clothing, which lent an unusual interest to the shapeless little creature. From the legend attached to the doll, it seems to have been a cherished companion of the blind woman in her old age as in her youth."

Page 147 of the Information Please Girls' Almanac by Alice Siegel said this about the Bangwell Putt Doll, "Clarissa Field's wooden doll named Bangwell Putt was given to the Memorial Museum of Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1882. Clarissa, who was born blind in 1765, had a great collection of dolls and an even greater list of names for them. They were: Pingo, Palica, Himonarro, Ebby Puttence, and Bangwell Putt. Bangwell Putt is one of the earliest dolls with a documented history."

The Child Life in Colonial Days, Volume 1 By Alice Morse Earle - Published 1909 not only mentioned the Bangwell Putt Doll but also had the picture shown above.  On page 366 they said, "A pathetic interest is attached to the shapeless similitude of a doll named Bangwell Putt, shown facing Page 370. It is in the collection of Deerfield memorial Hall.  It was cherished for eighty years by Clarissa Field of Northfield, Massachusetts, who was born blind, and whose halting but trusting rhymes of longing for the clear vision of another world are fastened to the plaything she loved in her youth and in old age."

I think it's wonderful that we still have this doll after 250 years.  What better statement than this of the loving affection a young girl had for her doll. Not only is Clarissa's love for her doll a beautiful story, but the fact that it has been kept all these years is amazing. I would love to see it some day. Wouldn't you?

I just wish I had found out the reason she named it 'Bangwell Putt."


  1. I loved this informative post. Thank you!

    1. Hi, Sherrie: I'm so happy you liked it. Thanks for lettng me know. Have a great day. :) Linda