‘Real’ American Girls of the Ridge 

 By Carol Flynn 

The Ridge Historical Society (RHS) is wasting no time putting to use the five American Girl dolls recently donated by Beverly/Morgan Park resident Joan O’Connor. Beginning Mar. 1, just in time for Women’s History Month, they will form the nucleus of a new exhibit, “Real American Girls of the Ridge.” 

The award-winning line of 18-inch dolls was started in 1986 by Pleasant Thiele Rowland. The original dolls represent girls about 10 years old from various periods in American historyAccompanied by books that tell stories from the girls’ perspective, the goal was to encourage reading and an interest in history through age-appropriate play. The dolls became enormously popular and Rowland sold the company to Mattel in 1998. 

In the RHS exhibit, the dolls will be paired with “real” American girls, actual women connected to the Ridge from the same time period  

Addy, the African-American U.S. Civil War-era doll, will be paired with Cornelia Reeves. “Mother Reeves,” as she was known, was an ex-slave who moved to the Ridge with her children and their families in the late 1880s. As a young girl in Virginia, her family was separated and sold, and she never knew what happened to her parents and siblings. According to the Chicago Defender newspaper in 1936, Mother Reeves and her descendants were the first African Americans to settle in Morgan Park. They were very active with the Beth Eden Baptist Church. RHS Historian Linda Lamberty is researching this family and looking for descendants who are still in the area. 

Samantha, the doll from the late Victorian/Edwardian era, the early 1900s, will be paired with Margaret Gear Lawrence, whose family moved to the Ridge when she was three years old. Lawrence was involved in many activities and organizations, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Morgan Park Baptist Church,  and served as the RHS presidentHer involvement with the new Girl Scouts organization that began in 1912 will be explored in the exhibitRHS has memorabilia, including her uniform, from her many years as a local Scouts leader. RHS Secretary Carol Macola, very active in scouting, is working on this exhibit. 

Molly, the World War II-era doll, is being paired with a living “real” American girl, RHS President Elaine Spencer. Born in 1932, Spencer grew up on the Ridge during the war years, attending Barnard and Clissold Schooland later Morgan Park High School. She has many stories to share, including listening to the radio with her parents and brothers in 1941 when President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the country about the bombing of Pearl Harbor right as the Christmas season was beginning.  

Said Spencer, who now lives in Smith Village retirement community, “I don’t remember feeling afraid, but the adults seemed worried. We were hearing reports about the war in Germany, and it was terrible because most of our grandparents came from Europe. Because of Pearl Harbor, it appeared inevitable that America would have no choice but to get involved in the war. 

The exhibit will also feature information on Pleasant Thiele Rowland who lived in West Beverly as a youngster from 1947 to 1951. For at least four decades, her paternal grandparents, Edward and Maude Thiele, lived in Beverly/Morgan ParkRowland used to go antique hunting with her grandmother and credited this for her interest in history. 

The grand opening reception for “Real American Girls of the Ridge,” free and open to the public, will be Sun., Mar. 1, 2 to 5 p.m., at RHS, 10621 S. Seeley Ave. Info: 773/881-1675 or ridgehistory@hotmail.comFollow RHS on Facebook.