Shirley Briggs had a lot of toys. As a very little girl in the early 1920s, Shirley had dozens of pictures taken of her ensconced in an oversized chair with children’s book, playing in a wheel barrow, sitting in the sun, all with a coterie of stuffed animals and dolls. The most frequent companion, and perhaps the most cherished, was Bunty, a baby doll in a bunny-like suit. Of all her toys, only Bunty made it into Briggs’ papers at the Iowa Women’s Archives. Today, you can clearly see that Bunty was a well-loved doll, with re-stitching around its face and a felt suit obviously different from its original clothes. You can see Bunty and a number of other dolls from IWA collections in our latest exhibit: Playing, Pretending, Becoming: Iowa Girls and Their Dolls, on display in the corridor cases on the third floor of the Main Library.
Playing, Pretending, Becoming invites visitors to connect these Iowa girls to the women they would become. Looking at an image of Briggs sitting outside with her line of stuffed animals, you can see the beginnings of a life-long love of nature. Briggs studied art, art history and botany at the State University of Iowa, earning a B.A. in 1939. While working as an Information Specialist/Illustrator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Briggs met and befriended Rachel Carson, the future author of the conservation classic Silent Spring. Later, Briggs would paint backgrounds for dioramas at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History and the U.S. National Park Service.
Naomi Novick, another woman whose toys are on display, was mayor of Iowa City from 1996 – 1997. She served on the City Council from 1990 – 1997. Her papers reflect her years in politics and her commitment to organizations like the League of Women Voters. But tucked away in the artifacts is a book of paper doll cutouts. “Betty” the doll in the book, looks like a perfect example of 1930s beauty and fashion. She has outfits and accessories for activities in every season and a wedding dress at the end of the book. Before she got into politics, Novick had a brief career in fashion, standardizing bra and girdle sizes for the Formfit company.
Novick and Briggs are just two of the women whose artifacts you can see in Playing, Pretending, Becoming: Iowa Girls and their Dolls. We invite you to see the exhibit in the cases outside of the Iowa Women’s Archives between now and October and to consider the girl at play behind every woman’s mind at work.