Login
Skip to content

Faith in Vermont: American Girls

  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 1118.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_field::query() should be compatible with views_handler::query($group_by = false) in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_field.inc on line 1148.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_sort::options_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::options_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_sort.inc on line 165.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_sort::options_submit() should be compatible with views_handler::options_submit($form, &$form_state) in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_sort.inc on line 165.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_sort::query() should be compatible with views_handler::query($group_by = false) in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_sort.inc on line 165.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::options_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 599.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::query() should be compatible with views_handler::query($group_by = false) in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 599.
  • strict warning: Non-static method views_many_to_one_helper::option_definition() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter_many_to_one.inc on line 25.
  • strict warning: Non-static method views_many_to_one_helper::option_definition() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter_many_to_one.inc on line 25.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_query::options_submit() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_submit($form, &$form_state) in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_query.inc on line 181.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_validate() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_validate(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 136.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 1118.
  • strict warning: Declaration of image_attach_views_handler_field_attached_images::pre_render() should be compatible with views_handler_field::pre_render($values) in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/image/contrib/image_attach/image_attach_views_handler_field_attached_images.inc on line 112.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_area::query() should be compatible with views_handler::query($group_by = false) in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_area.inc on line 81.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_area_text::options_submit() should be compatible with views_handler::options_submit($form, &$form_state) in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_area_text.inc on line 121.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 1118.
  • strict warning: Non-static method views_many_to_one_helper::option_definition() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter_many_to_one.inc on line 25.
  • strict warning: Non-static method views_many_to_one_helper::option_definition() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter_many_to_one.inc on line 25.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_style_default::options() should be compatible with views_object::options() in /home/addison/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_style_default.inc on line 24.

Posted on January 8, 2019 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



On the second day of 2019, because everyone else had returned to school but our homeschooling family was taking a full second week of vacation, because our eldest daughter complained that “we never go anywhere,” and because we needed a change of scenery, we packed the minivan for an overnight trip to the Boston suburbs. It was a hastily conceived voyage, designed loosely around the goals of:

1.    Providing some sort of enrichment for our children

2.    Spending time with extended family

3.    Getting our youngest daughter to quit begging us to visit an American Girl doll store

That we were able to accomplish all of those things in less than 36 hours and live to tell about it seems near-miraculous. And it turned out to be a journey through the landscape of the American girl. 

ACT I: Little Women, Little Houses

Our first stop was Concord, Massachusetts. We were there to visit Orchard House, Louisa May Alcott’s home when she wrote her classic novel about the American girl, Little Women. Alcott’s semi-autobiographical book, first published in 1868, seems hotter than ever on its 150thanniversary: In 2018 it was released as both a BBC/PBS miniseries and an updated film version, and both The New Yorker and The Atlantic devoted pages to dissecting Anne Boyd Rioux’s book, Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of ‘Little Women’ and Why It Still Matters. Another film adaptation is slated for release in late 2019. 

My four daughters, who’ve experienced Little Women through a combination of reading, audiobook, and film, have an obvious affinity for this story of the four March sisters. They enjoy looking for parallels between themselves and their corresponding literary sister – and there are many, birth order apparently being timeless. As far as my modern girls are concerned, the March sisters are still relatable 150 years later: They are creative, athletic, socially conscious, and they question many of the constraints that the culture of their time placed on girls and women. They’re also far from perfect: One of my daughters’ favorite chapters is when hot-tempered Jo (whom Louisa May Alcott based on herself) discovers that her youngest sister, Amy, burned up a book she was writing as revenge for being left behind from a social event. Jo shakes Amy until her teeth chatter, while crying, “You wicked, wicked girl!...I’ll never forgive you as long as I live.” This is real-life sister stuff. 

A visit to Orchard House involves a guided tour. My daughters’ main take-aways from our tour were that May Alcott (on whom the character of Amy was based, and whose artwork adorns much of the house) was indeed a talented artist; that Louisa May Alcott loved owls, running, and trained herself to write with both hands (my eldest daughter is currently attempting this); and that Mrs. Alcott had a special pillow on the living room sofa that she’d position to alert visitors if Louisa was in a good mood (upright) or a bad mood (lengthwise) – they’ve suggested we do something similar for our fiery second daughter. 

My third daughter complained recently, “Third children in books are usually uninteresting.” She’s got a point: Her counterpart in Little Women is Beth, the sweet pianist who dies young. My own third child is certainly not uninteresting – she loves art, music, acting, and unicorns, and has the best giggle I’ve ever heard – but she has a dreamy nature that tends to get lost among her hyper-verbal sisters, so when she starts talking, I listen.

She started talking at 10 o’clock at night, laying in her hotel bed after the visit to Orchard House. Something about the tour had inspired her. In a monologue that lasted 15 minutes, she took me on a verbal tour of the house she wants to live in when she grows up: A small log cabin in the woods that she’ll build with her husband (“If do get married. He has to have brown fluffy hair and a beard. He’ll be a lumberjack and a carpenter. His name will be Jake.”) My daughter (and Jake) will live surrounded by animals – dogs, cats, horses, chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, and a cow. A horse-drawn buggy is all they’ll need for transportation. And their cabin will include the studio where my daughter will write and illustrate books. 

ACT 2: Hockey

Following our visit to Concord, we drove south to The Ice House in Canton, Massachusetts, which serves as the home rink for the Westwood High School Wolverines girls hockey team. My cousin’s daughter plays on this team, waking up at 3:45 in the morning, three days a week, to practice before school. We were there to watch her game. 

My daughters, who haven’t had much exposure to hockey, were a little whiny beforehand – my second daughter in particular. Once the game started, however, my second-born become the loudest person in the stands. She screamed the Wolverines on to a shut-out victory, then declared, “That’s the second-best thing I’ve ever seen! Maybe I should play hockey.” 

Then again, she couldn’t remember the first-best thing she’s ever seen.

ACT 3: The Doll Store

Our final stop in Massachusetts was the American Girl store at the Natick Mall. I’ve written before about American Girl dolls – 18 inches of plastic molded to represent girls from various periods of American history. Thanks to generous grandparents, we now have six of these dolls in our house, but they aren’t neglected: My two youngest daughters can – and do – spend hours dressing them, styling their hair, and arranging them in “set-ups.” Neither of these daughters had yet visited an actual American Girl store (there are none in Vermont), and my youngest in particular had been begging to do so. So, while they had Christmas gift money burning holes in their pockets, we decided to add a visit to the store to our itinerary.

I first set foot in an American Girl store in the suburbs of Washington, DC., three years ago, with my two oldest daughters. On my second visit, the shock of entering this doll temple was less severe. Yes, it’s two floors of overpriced dolls and every accessory you can imagine (and some you probably can’t.) Yes, you can get your doll’s hair styled, her ears pierced, and her nails painted (my daughters used their money to do all three.) Yes, there is a café with small seats and place settings for your doll. 

What really struck my daughters on this visit – both the jaded older girls and the awed younger ones – was the pink-ness of the store. To be fair, the American Girl store décor is a mix of pink and red, but they fixated on the pink.

“Why is it so PINK in here?”

“Why do people think girls like pink?”

“Uck! I can’t stand all this pink! I detest pink!”

When we returned to Vermont, I did some research into the history of pink. I reported back to my daughters that, until the early 1900s, children were mostly dressed in white, regardless of gender, because white clothes could be bleached easily. Pastels like pink and blue began to emerge in children’s clothing around the time of the first World War, and up until the 1940s, designers envisioned pink as a color for boys, because it was considered a stronger, more vibrant color than the subdued, “feminine” blue. Due to a mix of consumer preference and marketing, the gender associations of pink and blue swapped places around World War II. 

 “Okay, so pink is actually the stronger color?” my eldest daughter asked.

“I guess so,” I replied.

She nodded, and seemed satisfied. 

***

I’m left wondering what Louisa May Alcott would make of American girls today. Of my daughter dreaming up her future with Jake the carpenter in a quaint cabin in the woods, like a throwback to Louisa’s buddy, Thoreau. Of girls who play fierce ice hockey. Of a pink store that markets an expensive doll-sized version of female history to little women. One-hundred and fifty years later, the world of the American girl is fraught with confusion and contradiction. 

Still, a record number of women was just sworn in to the 116th Congress.  Louisa May Alcott was the first woman registered to vote in Concord; I bet she’d be thrilled.  

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

Connect with us