Dolls of Old St. STephens
As the territorial capital of Alabama, St. Stephens played a key developmental role in the history of our state. The town of St. Stephens was incorporated in 1811. The Alabama Bicentennial Commission has named 2018 as the year of “Honoring Our People.” The St. Stephens Historical Commission has announced interior renovations to the St. Stephens Museum in order to make the rich history of the area come alive for visitors.
To honor and celebrate the people of Old St. Stephens, the museum commissioned Gail Brown of Salem, Alabama, to historically costume dolls representing figures from the history of St. Stephens. Brown was one of several seamstresses considered for the job of appropriately clothing 18-inch dolls that represent Chief Pushmataha, Temperance Crawford and Mahala Martin, key figures in the historical narrative of Old St. Stephens.
Two outfits were fashioned for each doll. Brown researched each character and the time period, giving close attention to the details of each outfit. Chief Pushmataha is represented both in his Choctaw chief regalia and his United States Army uniform. A large portrait of “the greatest of all Choctaw Chiefs” hangs in the Edith Jordan Wilcox conference room of the museum. Another portrait, that of Temperance Crawford, wife of Judge William Crawford hangs adjacent to Pushmataha. The doll representing
Temperance Crawford Dolls
Crawford is clothed in a replica of the gown she is wearing in the portrait. The second of Crawford’s dolls is wearing a less formal day gown. One of the dolls representing Mahala Martin, a free woman of color who owned property in St. Stephens, is dressed as tradition dictated for her social rank. The second doll for Martin, who was called “Aunt Hagar,” is dressed in a dinner gown and more closely aligns with the time period that Martin lived as a free person.
St. Stephens Historical Park Director Jennifer Faith says that the dolls provide a tactile means for visitors to experience the lives of individuals who shaped Alabama’s beginnings. Not only can visitors see the detail in the costumes, they can compare and contrast the clothing of the dolls to modern clothing.
Mahalia Martin dolls
The dolls were first displayed at a Lunch and Learn session at the St. Stephens Museum earlier in the month. Gail Brown led the session and discussed her research of each of the historical figures and the clothing they would have worn. Micki Savage, an employee of St. Stephens Historical Park also contributed to the Lunch and Learn session by presenting her continuing research on Mahala Martin.
Faith says she loves seeing the history of early Alabama come to life and is excited to have historically accurate costuming for the dolls of Old St. Stephens. Faith hopes to host more Lunch and Learn sessions for the public so that historical knowledge can be continually developed in the local area.
The dolls are on display in the St. Stephens Museum, which is open each Thursday from 10 a.m – 2 p.m.
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