The history of cloth fabric dolls stretches back to ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire. During the late 1800s, when painted or printed lithograph fabric rag dolls were all the rage, two women from Ithaca, New York would leave their own unique marks on this ancient toy tradition.
In 1892, Celia Hazlitt Smith patented the “Tabby Cat.” Known also as the Ithaca Kitty, Smith’s doll was sold as a printed pattern on muslin for 10 cents and was extremely popular, selling nearly 200,000 units its first year. Smith’s design stood out from others because it included a piece of cloth depicting the cat’s feet, allowing the toy to stand upright. It was considered so realistic people used the doll to scare away birds and mice.
A year after Smith’s “Ithaca Kitty” debuted, Ida Gutsell, also from Ithaca, patented her cloth doll. In addition to including a printed pattern for a sewn-on costume, Gutsell’s design was revolutionary because it was the first cloth doll to be devised with forward facing feet.
While cloth dolls are not as popular as they once were, they still have a hold a special place in many peoples’ hearts.