Saturday, April 2, 2011

Doll Test: Museum Needs Your Help

Please view the image at this link; study the dolls in the image, and return here to read my plea for help.

Except for color, the dolls in the image are identical baby dolls used by Dr. Kenneth Clark in his doll test to study the psychological effects of segregation on Black children.  His test began in 1939 and was used to support the argument for school desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education.   The now widely-recognized photograph at the above link was taken by Gordon Parks (renowned photographer, filmmaker, poet, novelist, and composer) and was published in the July 1947 issue of Ebony magazine.   

My help in identifying the dolls in the Parks' photograph was solicited by Martha Davidson, a contracted researcher for the National Civil Rights Museum, located in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  The museum is renovating its exhibitions.  One of the featured renovated exhibitions is Dr. Clark's doll test.  The museum would like to include the same dolls used in the test or dolls that were on the market in 1939 or during the 1940s that closely resemble them.

Dr. Clark described the dolls as,  "brown with black hair" and "white with yellow hair."  In the Brown v. Board of Education link above, the dolls are described as "plastic."  Other than this vague description and the Parks' image, little else is known about the dolls. 

After viewing an enlarged image  of the 1947-published photograph (that I cannot publish in this blog because I do not own the rights to it) I have determined some key points about the dolls:

  1. As mentioned initially, except for skin and molded-hair color, the dolls in the photograph are identical and possibly made of plastic.
  2. They appear to be approximately 10 to 14 inches tall.
  3. The dolls in the photograph are jointed at the head, arms, and legs and have bent-baby legs.
  4. The profile image of the black doll is almost identical (if not identical) to American Character's Tiny Tears; however, according to my documentation, AC's Black Tiny Tears was not made until 1950, which rules this doll out.  Because doll companies often purchased molds from the same source, another doll company may have used the same mold that was used for AC's Tiny Tears.
  5. If the dolls are made of plastic or celluloid (a form of plastic), they may have been made by one of the manufacturers listed here.  Two of the listed manufacturers are said to have made Black and White baby dolls, Parsons-Jackson Co. of Ohio, USA and  Paturel, J. Et Cie of France.  Some of the other listed manufacturers may have also made celluloid baby dolls in Black and White as well.  
  6. Based on the year the test commenced, 1939, (if plastic was not the medium used) the dolls could have been made of composition.  Composition was still a popular doll medium during this time. In the enlarged image, I determined the doll's hands are in palm-down position with its fingers separated only at the fingertips.  Additionally, its feet are flat with fused toes.  These are all characteristics of composition dolls. 
  7. Reliable Toys of Canada, whose dolls were widely distributed in the US, made Wetums in 1939, an all composition baby that looks similar to the 1950 American Character Tiny Tears doll.  However, I am unable to document whether or not Reliable made a Black version of Wetums.  Another image of Wetums can be seen  here
  8. The makers of the Jackie Robinson doll, Allied Grand, also made inexpensive Black and White composition dolls during the composition doll era.  But did Allied Grand make Black and White versions of baby dolls similar to those in the Parks' photograph?  
  9. If the dolls are not plastic/celluloid or made of composition, the dolls in the image may be made of rubber as rubber was also used to manufacture dolls in the 1930s. (Sun Rubber Company made dolls from 1923-1950s).  But did they make a Black and White version of a baby doll with the mentioned characteristics in 1939 or during the 1940s?
Based on my assumptions and/or some you may have developed by reading this, please look at the doll test image again, if necessary, and share via email to Ms. Davidson which dolls could have been used in Parks' 1947 photographic documentation of Dr. Clark's experiment. 

If you do not know but know someone who might be able to offer suggestions to help the National Civil Rights Museum and Ms. Davidson (and my inquiring mind) identify baby dolls with these characteristics (made circa 1940s in both Black and White versions, molded hair, palms-down hands with fingers only separate at the fingertips, flat feet with fused toes, and bent-baby legs, possibly of plastic/celluloid, composition, or rubber), feel free to share the link to this blog.

Your help and/or the help from someone you know will be greatly appreciated!


Please adhere to copyright notice (see bottom of blog).



  1. Debbie,

    Found this info, don't know if it helps in the search. Supposedly the dolls were bought for $.50 each at Woolworth's on 125th St. in Harlem.

    This information was found at the following website:

    The next step in the research is to find out what companies supplied Woolworth's with their dolls in the 1940's.
    Also Woolworths name was changed in 1997 to the Venator Group then in 2001 changed to Foot Locker. I am wondering if Foot Locker maintains any of the old Woolworths records? It couldn't hurt to contact them.

    Wish my uncle was still with us as he was a buyer for Woolworths in New York.

  2. The same information about the dolls being bought at Woolworths can be found at:

    Dr. Ronald F. Levant- President of the American Psychological Association spoke on behalf of the APA at Dr. Clark's funeral.

    In the eulogy he speaks about how Woolworths was one of the few stores that you could purchase black dolls in New York City.

  3. Frannie, thank you so much for this invaluable information.


  4. The Clark Doll Experiment remains an interesting topic. Thanks for this post. Congratulations on getting this doll information, BDE!

    Kudos to Frannie for getting the answer.

    (Oh and thanks, Frannie, for that new blog for me to follow, Abagond.)

  5. We do not have a definitive answer just yet, D7ana, but Frannie's input regarding the source of the dolls (Woolworth's) will help Martha identify the dolls used.

    I also found the other articles at Abagond (the source of the Brown v. Board of Education article that I referenced) very informative!


  6. Debbie,

    Was searching on E-bay and came across a picture of a black composition baby doll. In poor condition but it looks something like the doll in the picture.

    Title of Listing

  7. Thanks, Frannie. This doll certainly does resemble the doll in the photograph, and it does need lots of work. Thanks for the link. What makes this task so difficult is that the museum needs to replicate both dolls. Finding black and white twins from this era is not going to be an easy task, but with your help and hopefully help from others, it will be done.


  8. Correction to my comment to
    D7ana: I also found the other articles at Abagond (the source of the [Clark Experiment] article that I referenced) very informative!



Thank you! Your comments are appreciated!