Nun dolls, the sequel

dollnunsThe Michigan Historical  Museum in Lansing has a special exhibition called “Michigan Roadside Attractions,” which features a few samples from the Nun Doll Museum at The Cross in the Woods Shrine in Indian River (near Sault St. Marie, unfortunately–not really a day trip from Southern Michigan.)  How totally awesome is that?  Maybe we have a few clues as to why a vision of Mother Kewpie of the Sisters of the M-50 appeared in an antiques mall in Brooklyn to me yesterday…

Now there’s some early American history, and modern American history, that has yet to be told.  To the barricades archives, mes amies!

0 thoughts on “Nun dolls, the sequel

  1. Oh, lordie. Indian River has a nun doll museum? I never knew. I will now pepper my colleagues who do regional history for the scoop on all of this coolness!


  2. Janice, there’s a world of delightful weirdness out on the national, state, and provincial highways of North America…it’s all just waiting for us all to discover!

    At the Musee des Ursulines de Quebec, they too have a nun doll, but it is an 18th C doll produced in France for didactic purposes. Like other doll models for couture clothing, it was a simple and economical way to advertise the correct fashions, worn correctly. (In the case of the Ursulines, who were not able to follow major fashion trends, they were a means by which the mother house in Paris could be sure that the rubes were dressing themselves properly.)

    I wonder when the crossover occured–when “official” nun dolls meant to educate postulantes about how to dress themselves became or were revived as collectors’ items in the 20th century?


  3. That’s fascinating ~ it never would have occurred to me that nuns’ orders would circulate dolls in order to demonstrate proper dress! I’d assumed the habits would be fairly simple and self-evident, and that combined with visitations from superiors, and handed-down traditions, nun-dressing would not need to be re-taught in this way. {OTOH, that starchy headdress on the left in your pic. does seem sort of complicated…)


  4. This is a stupid and only extremely tenuously relevant question, but did you have to be ‘legitimate’ [that is both your parents were married to each other] to be a Roman Catholic nun?

    (believe it or not when I googled that question it sent me to you, but you might actually know.)


  5. Hi, Feminist Avatar. How funny that your google search came here! I guess high quality feminist nun history blogging is hard to come by.

    Well, here goes: in the period I work in (17th & 18th C) in North America and Europe (somewhat), I can say that I’ve never seen evidence that legitimacy was a criteria for admission to a religious order. However, a dot (in French) or a dowry was absolutely required of choir nuns and I think even of converse sisters (the lower class of sisters who did the manual/domestic labor), since convents were basically all self-funded and lived and did their work off of their investments (in land and sometimes businesses). And, as you may already know, if a person wasn’t born to 2 parents married to one another, they didn’t necessarily get inheritances, so that would make it difficult. So my guess is that if a woman were the illegitimate daughter of a rich man who actually made provisions for her, she might get in, but that it would have been difficult if not impossible for a girl or woman without an inheritence to get into a religious order.

    I would love to hear from some of my other readers, who I know are experts in medieval and early modern European women’s religious history, to get their opinions, since I am very new to this field and don’t feel like I can say much beyond what I’ve seen among the Quebec Ursulines.


  6. Thanks for this. I was reading a letter from a parish priest to his Bishop in 19thC Ireland, where he has discovered that two of the people in his parish have been living together for 20 years and never married [it is possible that they have married civilly but the church doesn’t count this], but clearly what was most interesting to him, was that two of the daughters of this relationship had become nuns- one a choir nun; the other a novice. He goes on about this for quite a section of the letter- clearly quite excited- and I wasn’t sure whether it was because they were [in the eye’s of the church] illegitimate, or whether it was just so unlikely that this ‘sinful’ couple produced such devout offspring.

    Thanks again.


  7. FA–that’s fascinating. It seems entirely possible that legitimacy vs. illegitimacy is much more of a modern concern than before. It’s not just the New World, but also the farther reaches of the British Isles in the early modern period that are littered by “country marriages,” because of the lack of availability of priests to marry people. But, so long as people behaved as though they were married, they were generally accepted as the equivalent of a church marriage.


  8. If anyone is interested in a good quality nun’s habit for playscale (Barbie-sized) dolls, you can get one from Nouveau Toys for about $96 USD BEFORE postage.

    Please note: the price includes an action fashion doll with nipples and a second fetish nun outfit. I include that information so that if someone reading this would be offended by either, that person can shudder and move on to another comment 😉

    I have the nun doll, and I keep her in the traditional nun habit. You can see a photo of her here along with another doll dressed in a more modern nun outfit.

    Thanks for stopping by in advance, if you decide to do so.


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