Saturday, July 20, 2024

Colonial Williamsburg employee behind beloved American Girl doll

The American Girl Doll Felicity was designed by Sandy Bradshaw, Colonial Williamsburg’s senior manager of guest communications. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)

A beloved children’s toy with ties to Colonial Williamsburg is back in circulation.

Felicity, an American Girl doll with an an 18th-century back story inspired by Colonial Williamsburg, was reissued Feb. 16 after a six-year absence.

The 18-inch doll was designed by Sandy Bradshaw, Colonial Williamsburg’s senior manager of guest communications.

“Felicity’s back,” Bradshaw said. “She looks good.”

Felicity, whose last name is Merriman, was retired to the archives in 2011, according to American Girl’s website. On Friday, she was prominently displayed on the site, outfitted in a straw bonnet and yellow and blue dress. She and her companion paperback book retail for $115

Felicity is back
Felicity, the American Girl doll designed by a longtime Colonial Williamsburg employee, is back with a new look after a six-year absence. (Courtesy American Girl)

“Welcome back one of American Girl’s most beloved historical characters, Felicity,” the website says. “Felicity’s stories offer guidance that girls can apply to their own lives — such as what it means to be a loyal friend and how to deal with the responsibilities of growing more independent.”

According to an email from Susan Jevens, associate manager of public relations for American Girl, Felicity is available online and at American Girl stores in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

For Bradshaw, who has worked at Colonial Williamsburg for 27 years, the doll’s reissue caps a career-highlighting project.

“It’s absolutely thrilling,” she said.

Bradshaw’s link to Felicity began in Colonial Williamsburg’s costume design center, she said. A woman walked in one day and said she was Pleasant Rowland, the creator of American Girl dolls. Rowland was looking for someone who knew about 18th century clothing. Everyone in the center looked at Bradshaw, she said.

(Courtesy Sandy Bradshaw)
For about a year, longtime Colonial Williamsburg employee Sandy Bradshaw worked on the doll’s design and prototype, including her clothing, a tea table and a tea chest. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)

For about a year, Bradshaw worked on the doll’s design and prototype, including her clothing, a tea table and a tea chest.

Bradshaw had worked as an interpreter in Colonial Williamsburg and worn the clothing, so she put her knowledge and sketching talents to use, including a blue dress and red cloak that became Felicity’s signature look.

Bradshaw kept some of her early pre-sketches, which came before more formal drawings that were the basis for the prototype.

“I was standing in the right place at the right time and I had the right skill sets and knowledge,” she said.

Over the years, Bradshaw enjoyed seeing girls in Colonial Williamsburg wearing Felicity’s clothing, whether or not they knew of her connection to the project. Even better, she added, was hearing from Felicity fans that the doll helped inspire them to like history and keep learning.

“That to me is the best,” she said. “That gets me every time.”

Felicity’s reissue comes a few years after Bradshaw noticed more interest in the doll. She thinks it’s a new generation discovering the connection between Felicity and Colonial Williamsburg.

“I think it’s a magical thing that’s happening,” she said. “It warms my heart to see it.”

Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley is a former Miami Herald business reporter, a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and an attorney. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post,, and Talking Points Memo. Her recent book, Just Another Southern Town: Mary Church Terrell and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Nation’s Capital, was shortlisted for the 2017 Mark Lynton History Prize. Her first book, The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy, won the 2005 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.

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