For the Love of Charlotte 49




Thimbles and Acorns Charlotte Pattern will be available soon!

February 7, 2016 marked Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 149th birthday and as a way to celebrate my childhood hero, I have spent the last few weeks working on a pattern to commemorate her beloved doll Charlotte.  Charlotte was given to Laura as a Christmas gift in Little House in the Big Woods, the first book in the Little House series, and made appearances in every Little House book that Laura published thereafter.  Laura loved Charlotte and even after she grew too old to play with her, Charlotte continued to be one of her most precious possessions. Though she was just a doll, the fact that Charlotte is remembered in the happiest and most poignant moments in Laura’s stories is a tribute to the impact this doll had on her life.


Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Illustration by Garth Williams.

Recreating Charlotte has been a labor of love, but as I worked I was reminded of an article I came across a while back about Dame Athene Donald, professor of experimental physics at Cambridge University.  Click Here to see the article.  In the article, Dame Athene blames toys such as dolls, for creating gender stereotypes that discourage girls from studying science and engineering. The article left me a little perplexed. What could possibly be wrong with girls playing with dolls?  According to Dame Athene, “Girls’ toys are typically liable to lead to passivity – combing the hair of Barbie, for instance – not building, imaging or being creative with Lego or Meccano.” Like most girls, I grew up with dolls; I dressed them, talked to them, combed their hair, shaved their heads, and gave them tattoos with ball point pens and permanent markers… after which I would play doctor and wrap their disfigured parts in bandages.  As I grew older, my interest turned to sewing, and my dolls became my ever patient and uncomplaining models.  I will admit, I never built bridges with my dolls, but it was through sewing for them that I was able to master math, geometry, and mechanics.  I would hardly call my playtime passive.

Science itself has shown us that the presence of testosterone in boys brains makes boys more aggressive and competitive while the lack of testosterone makes girls more social and and nurturing, so why are we surprised that boys tend to prefer toys they can throw, drive, build, and destroy whereas girls prefer toys they can talk to and take care of?  While I have no doubt at dolls can have a significant impact on a girls development, I fail to see how this impact can be negative.  Since girls, by design, are more social, why would we want to discourage them from playing with toys that help them develop their natural gifts?  I understand Dame Athene’s desire to see more girls enter the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, however, I think we need to be careful not to cross the line between encouraging and pushing girls into these fields of study.  Perhaps, it would be better to start evaluating the fields that women are most drawn to and the contribution they bring to society. While girls, in general, may not be drawn to sciences that have limited social interaction,  they are drawn to more interactive sciences such as medicine, psychology, nursing, and teaching.  Because it is the way they are wired, it is understandable that many girls are drawn more towards nurturing careers instead of science and technology, especially when they start having children of their own.  This is something that should be applauded and not discouraged.  

The fact that Laura Ingalls Wilder maintained such a deep affection for her childhood doll Charlotte throughout her life attests to the fact that playing with her no doubt helped to shape and develop her character and personality.  While her stories tell of many wonderful and exciting times she had growing up, life as a pioneer was hard and playing with Charlotte no doubt helped her to not only celebrate the joys but also work through the challenges she faced in her childhood.  Laura grew up to be a strong, independent, and intelligent woman. She worked tirelessly alongside her husband overcoming many difficulties and setbacks to build a successful farm from the ground up. She found her voice as a writer for farming publications and when her daughter became a successful book editor the two worked together to produce one of the most loved and memorable children’s books series of all time. What a tribute to Charlotte that Laura found a place to remember her in each of her stories.

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49 thoughts on “For the Love of Charlotte

  • Karen Henricks

    I’m so happy that Charlotte will be available in pattern form. I love all things Little House on the Prairie, and can’t wait to see what’s next!

  • Rachel Koppleberger

    Another fascinating article. 🙂 I also don’t see how playing with dolls can be a negative thing. It may not appear to be constructive, and maybe not every one who plays with dolls might benefit from it, but it can be a good thing. Sewing for my dolls has helped my math skills a bit too (not much, noticeably, but it is helping. I’ve never been good at math, so any practice helps).

  • Robin Galloway

    Laura was always my inspiration growing up and her stories challenged me even in my early “poor” days of marriage and motherhood to find other ways to create the things I cou;ldn’t afford to buy and to be cheerful even when doing really hard work. Keeping that cheerful attitude helped us all sustain until we got through it and it seemed like a much lighter burden. It still works… and she taught me my first lessons in recycling, repurposing and upcycling before they were popular!

  • Marcy Mahle

    I want my two granddaughters ages 7 and 8 to remain little girls and to continue loving dolls for a very long time. Too many little girls grow up way to fast today. When I was 13, I was still playing with my Katy Keene paper dolls designing clothing for them and now at the age of 69, I still love dolls and paper dolls. Most of all I love making cloth dolls and clothing for dolls. This summer I will be teaching my two granddaughters how to sew using their own sewing machine. They are both very excited about sewing lessons at Grandmas.

  • Sewbig

    Thanks for bringing Charlotte into my life! Mini Charlotte makes me smile every time I see her! And ask me about studying mass center of gravity. I use this every time I pose one of my dolls!

  • Carol M.

    Very insightful article with many good points! I have read all the Little House books a great number of times–both to my children as they were growing up– and just for my own reading pleasure. They are a wonder. This doll you’ve created, with a doll of her own, is a wonder, and will a true prize to whoever wins it!

  • Jackie Friest

    I think playing with dolls is a good thing and for boys too at a young age….my brother went crazy when his boys asked for Cabbage Patch dolls and my mom bought ‘boy ones’ for them back in the day. I told him boys can learn a lot from playing with dolls. I loved my dolls and still do to this day, but I also liked playing with Mecanno and Lego growing up. I think I used my brother’s Mecanno more than he did. To me sewing is all about math. Every year when I taught Grade 4, my first math lesson was to attach a quilt with lots of triangles and pieces to the board and I asked my students to write down all the math skills/knowledge/concepts I had to use to make that quilt. At first many classes were perplexed and I had to get them started with a simple idea like measuring and division, but once they started to think about it they realized there was more to it than just that…you actually had to know some math to accomplish your end product.
    I love your Charlotte!

  • Christie Berthold

    I so agree with everything you said about girls and dolls. I lead a team of women who hold an event twice a year for girls ages 6 – 12 at our church. We encourage them to bring a doll, or stuffed animal or toy that means something special to them. Let girls be girls and don’t push them into being something they aren’t designed to be. I believe some girls are designed with the abilities to do what used to be “men’s” jobs, but let them decide that when they are old enough to know where their abilities and interests are.

  • Bee

    I love the Little House books and read them all the way through to the Rose books with my daughter. We even read a Laura biography. My daughter is now a Computer Science major who also loves to read and has a great talent for writing!

  • Annlee

    I enjoyed the story Laura Ingalls Wilder ad her doll. Also the story of the effects that doll have with us.

  • Lesley from NE

    I can not tell you as a child how many times I read “Little House in the Big Woods”. I always loved Garth Williams illustration of Charlotte and was curious as to how Mary made a dress for Charlotte with out Laura even suspecting! =)

  • Diane

    I can’t agree with you more about the role of dolls in a girl’s life! I had many doll babies growing up and became a teacher and counselor. I still have my most precious doll, Janet. She was my constant companion and friend. Thank you for owning the very important and powerful roles women have by virtue of being women!

  • Carolyn Bisbee

    Thank you for your article. As always they are interesting and informative. I also started sewing by making clothes for my dolls. I went on to sew my own clothes and then clothes for my children. Sewing lead me to make home furnishings and crafts. In the 1990’s I created dolls often using the fashions as depicted in the paintings of Winslow Homer. I sold these at craft shows. Now that I am retired sewing fashions for 18 inch dolls has allowed me to continue my love of sewing.

  • Janine R

    I could not have said it better myself. So tired of the political correctness that downplays traditional roles women have held for millenia.

  • Mary H.

    You’ve said what I’ve always thought (as a mother of both boys and girls) and you’ve said it better than I could have.

  • Sue

    I loved the Little House on the Prairie books when I was a growing up. My Raggedy Anne sat on my lap while I read many times while we pretended we were Laura and Charlotte. Your Charlotte is so sweet!
    I use math and spacial geometry and a slew of other science ‘stuff’ in my sewing. How else can I take a 2D object (a piece of fabric) and turn it into a 3D object (a garment)? When my son was trying to learn circle geometry last year in school he said he would never use that information in the rest of his life. I told him I use those principles all the time when I draft patterns for his sister’s dance skirts – how much fabric would be needed for calf length chiffon circle skirts, what the circumference would be at different distances on her RAD skirt so I could purchase and attach those ribbons on the skirt for each grade level she tested for. I did this for 8 girls in her dance class so there was a lot of calculations I had to do.
    Cooking also uses science – what great chemistry experiments cooking creates. Physics is involved too. Plus mechanics to go from dry powders and liquids to a batter which produces a cake? How can anyone say girls don’t use sciences?

  • Kate

    I agree, my love of dolls also led to my passion for sewing, which has led to career opportunities in this field!

  • Renée Graef

    I loved your commentary. Dolls are a gateway into a world of imagination. In today’s world, creative problem solving is critical in all walks of life. Also, your doll is lovely!

  • Janet S

    I love the idea of making a doll for my grandchildren. My mother had a favorite stuffed dog doll that she made when she was 8. It stayed with her until she passed away at 83. A small piece of his stuffing is with her now. Skipper now sits on my shelf and watches me as I sew, an ever reminder of how dear our toys can be.

  • QNPoohBear

    Charlotte is so sweet! The real Charlotte didn’t play as a big a role in Laura’s life as she did in the books. Like Jack, the bulldog, she was there to symbolize Laura’s growing up and her ties to her childhood. I highly recommend reading Pioneer Girl edited by Pamela Smith Hill. The real story is even more fascinating than the fiction series and way darker than Micahel Landon’s vision for his TV series.

    I tried to make my own Charlotte (with lots of glue) in second grade from scraps of fabric in the classroom. While I didn’t save and treasure her, I fulfilled my Laura fantasies through my Kirsten doll. American Girl dolls were created to allow girls to have a companion doll, not a baby or a Barbie, but one to engage in play time while learning about how girls were different or the same in the past. In the books the characters long for a special doll to be their friend and share adventures with. Not so young girls still find that fun!

  • Katherine Gabor

    You and I must be kindred spirits because this article sums up my same exact feelings and I love all things Little House. Your Charlotte is adorable and I’m looking forward to her release.

  • Jude

    I thought that theory was a bunch of garbage when I had it in college forty years ago and I still do. When we were in grad school, to say we were always broke would be putting it mildly. We had two sons and finally our wonderful daughter. I made her a rag doll that went with her everywhere. As a toddler, when she played with toys out of the toy box, she had to make do with mostly boy type toys. Much to our sons’ dismay, her favorite thing to do was put her baby in the back of the tonka dump truck with a blankie and roll her all over the house and yard. So much for that theory! By the way, somewhere she still has her baby, but the dump truck is long gone. Thanks for sharing the Laura story. Great history as always.

  • Barbara Jean

    I’m so excited! My daughters have loved Little House for years but my youngest has really become entranced with Laura the last few months, eating up anything that has to do with her. I was excited to learn that there is a new Laura doll coming out and I know just what will be in her birthday gifts. I started looking for information on Charlotte to make her one of her own and behold, you are already on it. I can’t tell you how thrilled I truly am. Thank you. The doll is adorable and I know she will be smitten with her.

    Now…shall I start to say how enjoyable I found your article? ❤️?

  • Carolyn

    I so agree!! Dolls were my best friends while growing up! My Raggedy Ann went everywhere with me when I was little and then my Barbie! I also learned how to sew by making clothes for my dolls. All good things!
    I would love to see some patterns for the outfits described in the Little House series!

  • RuthAnn Schultz

    Loved the Little House books from third grade on–our teacher read them aloud to us every day after lunch recess! So glad you’ve made a pattern for Charlotte.

  • Kelly P.

    Wow! I never knew that story about Charlotte. I remember seeing her in the books and TV series; but I didn’t have a clue about her back story. You have recreated her well. So cute. I really like the doll’s toy ersion. Great idea.

  • linda king

    I love the dolls and totally agree with you on girls playing with dolls. I didn’t play with dolls much when I was younger, I was a tomboy, but when sewing sparked my interest…so did my dolls. My granddaughter however loves her babies and always has to have 1 with her at all times, she dresses them, talks to them, loves them and sleeps with them and she’s only 3. Maybe the article writer is just bitter she never had a special doll to love.

  • janis pepper

    I have read all her books and watched all the shows on TV over and over again. Then marriage, children, and work outside the home,caused me to be busy with other past times. I am so glad that there are souls like you that have brought the past back. I love the history of it all. Now that I am recently retired, I have more time to enjoy dolls and sewing for them again.
    I love the historical AG dolls and their stories. I also, love all the beautiful patterns that you and Keepers have given to us. Thank you

  • Debra Calabrese

    Your Charlotte is adorable. I enjoyed the article on Laura Ingalls Wilder. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  • Susan Fletcher

    Oh, I’ve always loved these books and stories. I have shared my love of Laura and her family to my 3rd graders for 32 years now. She’s my favorite author, and I love telling others about her.

  • Diana DiMascio

    I loved the Little House Books. I even named my favorite doll Charlotte. I agree that dolls were a big part of my creativity growing up. I used math and engineering skills to make chairs, beds and other things for my dolls. I also learned to sew so I could make clothes and other things for my dolls. They were the early encouragement for me to go into the field of engineering and all of the sewing that I do today. I still collect and “play” with my dolls, especially when I get to play with my 3 nieces.

  • Suzanne Fletcher

    As you pointed out there are hormonal differences between girls and boys that influence their preferences in toys and in activities in general. And while not “equal” across all members of either gender – still part of what we are as humans. I’ve loved dolls all my life. And as an artistic child I built small furniture for them, created houses and made clothing for them. Hardly lacking in creativity. My own 3 now adult girls are professionally involved in computer work and project management – and loved dolls also – one still does. My granddaughter plans to be a physician and absorbs anything even remotely scientific – and still enjoys her dolls. I think some people just don’t understand. And trivialize women even as they attempt to explain some issues.

  • Michele Potter

    I enjoyed reading your article and agree with it wholeheartedly! My son and daughter played with dolls together, and I know that they will both be wonderful, nurturing parents because of it. My daughter actually did pursue a STEM career and is now a chemical engineer, so Dame Athene was mistaken:) I look forward to your Charlotte – I still have my beloved baby doll Eliza Jane, and many who came after her, and I enjoy creating for my dolls today.

  • Monya Duvall

    I agree with you 100%!! Doll are great fun and also a great comfort growing up. I also used a pen to make a beard on my Barbie’s boyfriend! I’ll always remember receiving my beautiful Barbie for Christmas. No one should be pushed to be something they’re not, boys or girls. Love your article and your Charlotte doll!!

  • Elsje

    After reading your item it would appear that next year will be a ‘milestone’ anniversary for Laura Ingalls Wilder fans, being 150 years since her birth.
    I will have to start thinking of ways to acknowledge it and your ideas for future patterns look like the perfect way. Strange that when I was young I do not remember being that interested in dolls but I love dressing and designing clothes for them today.

  • Lisa Walker

    My sister and I both had identical dolls growing up and although they were vinyl they were an intrinsic part of our growing up years. My sister was more math/science minded and ended up in the computer science field all her life sometimes working in it and sometimes teaching it. She didn’t play as long with her dolls as I did but I spent an abnormally long time say through 8th grade or so playing, designing and setting up dolls and doll scenes. I did attend college and graduated with a history degree but married and surprisingly started a family early of 8 children. While my 7 daughters grew up I sewed dolls and doll dresses by the score and now I am busily playing and sewing for my granddaughters. Dolls let us practice being mamas (and papas) and their gentle play should always be encouraged. They help in therapy to open up a child’s blocked vocabulary in describing a troubling situation and they comfort young patients and older patients in nursing homes. Love isn’t love til it is given away is a familiar saying and so we should encourage our children to be able to shower their dolls with love so they can experience the joy of giving.

  • Ginger Desjardins

    I love your patterns so much and I have purchased the majority of them. Would love to get the doll and add her to my collection. She is just gorgeous.

  • Debrooks

    I don’t understand why some insist girls and boys be the same but it’s always the girls who need to change. As you stated above, there are reasons for differences in girls and boys. Each should be able to determine their own path, determining what best suits them. If a person is drawn to science, then pursue that desire. Like art? Study it. Did Dame Athene play with dolls? Maybe construction toys? Did she have a choice? Women are in a place in society where we can be most anything we want to be. It also means we can be in the more traditional roles for women.and shouldn’t be made to feel guilty if we choose this. I like being a woman as I can do the more traditional things but also enjoy doing things considered men’s roles.
    Sometimes a person can take something so simple and make it complicated. Women have gained much through other women’s struggles and I appreciate the sacrifices made. But don’t give me more choices while taking away others.
    You wrote a good article and I enjoyed reading it very much. Sorry about this little rant. Bit of a sore spot.

  • Susan Tyler

    i am infuriated by the sexism that pervades the toy industry. For example, why divide the toys into girl and boy sections? And why are Legos for girls pink and focused on shopping and spa days? When my daughters were little they played with their American Girl dolls; I made matching dresses for my girls and for many of their friends. But they also played with Lego castle sets and chemistry sets. Encouraging is not the same as pushing – keep the doors (and the toy aisles) open for both boys and girls.

  • Julie F.

    I will be watching for your new Little House Charlotte pattern! I too love all things Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House series. I am now a grandmother, and I still love to sew for my dolls and dress them in Laura’s period style. Thank you for helping to keep the memories and history alive.