Rehousing the Dora Erway Doll Collection | A custom-fitting

J.M. Iacchei

Thank you to Eileen Keating, University Records Manager, RMC, for proving the information on the history of the Dora Erway dolls included in this blog post.

A selection of dolls from the Dora Erway Doll Collection

A selection of dolls from the Dora Erway Doll Collection representing dress from the 13-20th centuries. From left to right: 19th century Italian Renaissance, 20th century American Formal, 15th century English, and 13th century English

The Dora Erway doll collection is frequently used for instruction and outreach.  The dolls were made by Cornell University students between 1924 and 1928, under the direction of Professor Dora Wetherbee Erway who taught in the former Department of Household Arts.  The collection was donated by Erway in 1957 and is housed in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Kroch Library.

The dolls are representative of various historical periods and nationalities and were made in order to assist students in their study of the history of costume.  Many of the dresses are exact replicas of authentic gowns.  Some of the material in the costumes was over one hundred years old at the time the dolls were made.  With the exception of the heads, the students made the dolls as well as the clothing.  Some of the students donated their own hair in order to have authentic hair styles representative of the periods.

Some details showing the dolls head, handmade feet and shoes, and elaborate undergarments characteristic of the time represented.

Details showing the head, handmade feet shoes, and elaborate undergarments characteristic of the time represented.

For many years, the dolls were individu,ally wrapped in tissue paper for protection within archival boxes. The tissue paper wrapping covered the dolls, meaning researchers and staff couldn’t see or use the dolls without unwrapping and re-wrapping the tissue each time.  The tissue could catch on some of the hair, delicate cloth, or embellishments, making handling difficult.  A new housing solution needed to be developed that would allow visual access, and provide protection and stability.  In addition to the challenge of creating stability and preventing movement within the boxes, each doll presented its own challenges – loose limbs, delicate embellishments added to the handmade costumes, and accompanying accessories, like elaborate hats. Using archival materials, the housing solution supports each doll within its own compartment, secures the heavy bases, heads, and any unstable parts, and allows full visibility and accessibility for use and instruction.

A custom fit housing solution in six steps:

1) Side walls, lower wall, and lower edge of the archival box base were lined with Ethafoam for cushioning and support.

2) Supports for each doll were constructed from blue corrugated board, padded with Ethafoam, and notched to hold the wood bases and prevent movement.

3) Dividers constructed from blue corrugated board padded on each side with Ethafoam were placed between each doll’s support to secure them in place.

4) Blue corrugated bumpers padded with Ethafoam were placed at the upper end of each support just beyond the heads of the dolls to custom-fit each compartment to the size of the doll.

5) Foam bumpers were fit around the neck of each doll to further prevent movement when the boxes are moved and handled.

6) After rehousing the dolls are held securely in their custom-made compartments.


One thought on “Rehousing the Dora Erway Doll Collection | A custom-fitting

  1. Eileen Keating

    The dolls are displayed often and I am very grateful that they are finally being housed in appropriate archival boxes. Thank you for your great attention to detail.

    Eileen Keating

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