OSWEGO — The Oswego County Historical Society will host the first lecture of its 2014 series on April 6 at 1:30 p.m. at the Richardson-Bates House Museum at 135 E. Third St., Oswego.
A program entitled “The Story of the Columbian Dolls – How the Adams Sisters Saved the Family Farm” will be presented by Diane Doyle Parrish, author of the recently-published book of the same name.
The event is free and open to the public.
“It is a pleasure to have Mrs. Parrish speak about the history of the Columbian Doll that was made in the town of Oswego. Her personal legacy as the granddaughter of Marietta Adams, one of the creators, makes the story all the more compelling and fascinating,” said Justin White, president of the historical society. “This new book is a wonderful account of two pioneer businesswomen and it documents this important part of our local history like never before.”
The book centers on the lives of two sisters, Emma and Marietta Adams, who were raised on a small farm in Southwest Oswego in the town of Oswego.
Their vision extended a long family tradition of entrepreneurship.
Emma, the elder sister, was an accomplished artist who initially created the cloth doll with a hand painted face.
With the help of her father, a carriage maker, they designed the tools and methods for their manufacture.
Emma had the imagination and foresight to enter one of the dolls into the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
Given an award at the exposition, the dolls came to the attention of Marshall Fields, one of the earliest and largest department stores in the nation, who immediately placed an order.
Suddenly faced with the task of manufacturing the dolls in quantity, Emma turned to sister Marietta, twelve years younger, who at age 23 already had some business experience. Marietta picked up the challenge, first organizing the manufacture of the dolls and setting out alone to travel to designations such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia to promote them to venues ranging from large department stores to simple woman’s exchanges.
The quality and artistic merit of the Columbian Dolls led to one of them, “Miss Columbia,” being selected as a roving goodwill ambassador.
She set out in 1900 to travel around the world raising money for children’s charities. Miss Columbia had many adventures, and her “diary” from this trip makes a fascinating story.
“The late 19th century was a time of rapid change in all aspects of American life, ranging from technology and industry to the liberalization of society. Emma and Marietta Adams exemplified another aspect of this farsighted spirit – the determination to create something of beauty while charting their own path in the man’s world of business and industry,” said Parrish. “More than just a cottage industry, the Columbia Doll business was well-organized and promoted on a national scale, unheard of for a female-led enterprise in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”
Parrish is a graduate of St. Lawrence University and a retired educator. As the granddaughter of Marietta Adams Ruttan, she became fascinated with the Columbian Dolls after hearing the tape recordings of the many stories told by her mother Esther Ruttan Doyle.
After Esther’s death in 2001, Parrish discovered that the trove of family letters and diaries in her mother’s attic was far more extensive that she had realized, with family history going back to the American Revolution. She quickly realized that the Northern New York branch of the Adams family had a strong tradition of entrepreneurship and enterprising women.
Extensive research and interviews with family members and others over a period of ten years provided a large body of material for the book.
The book will be for sale at the event and the author available to sign copies. Original Columbian Dolls from Parrish’s personal collection will also be on display along with additional background history.
The Oswego County Historical Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the rich history of the county.
The society maintains and operates the Richardson-Bates House Museum, a historic landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Beginning in April the museum will be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 1 – 5 p.m. and other days by appointment.
For more information visit the museum website at www.rbhousemuseum.org for regular updates or call during regular hours at 343-1342.