Friday, May 17, 2013

A Royal Doll ~ "Lost" and then Found

At the Wenham Museum there is a large doll collection that held a secret, but not really a secret.  For years and years readers of Queen Lili’uokalani’s autobiography Hawaii’s Story have read about how during her trip to Boston in 1898 to visit her husband’s family, she dressed a doll for a children’s charity.  The Boston newspapers carried this story, too.   I've often wondered what happened to the doll, and so did the curator of Washington Place, the Queen’s family home in Honolulu.  Last year I learned that an author had found the doll in plain sight, at the Wenham Doll Museum.

This was extremely interesting to me, since I had been to the Wenham Museum many time, both as a child and then again with my own daughter. My mother (she grew up next door in Hamilton, Massachusetts) had been many times, too, and two of her brothers live within walking distance of the museum in Wenham.  We were all wondering if the doll the Queen had dressed in Hawaiian costume had survived, and yet we all had overlooked seeing it in the museum. How did this happen?

The Wenham Museum
Wenham, Massachusetts

I went to the museum over this past winter to see the doll for myself.  I had corresponded with the author, Mindi Reid, many times since our trip to Hawaii last September.  She had sworn me to secrecy until her story was published in Mana Magazine.  Well, the article with her story was just released in the May/June 2013 issue.  You can read it online through the Mana Magazine app for iPad or other tablet readers, or purchase the issue through the website below (unless you are lucky enough to be in Hawaii to pick up the issue at your local news stand).

You can see why the doll would not be recognizable today as a Hawaiian.  Her once colorful dress and hair have faded, and the silk flower lei has wilted.  Queen Lili’uokalani had been given a German porcelain doll to dress, so she looks very Caucasian. There is no wonder we never stopped to read the label on this little doll, even though she stands on a shelf next to dolls dressed by the crowned heads of Europe and Japan.

The Hawaiian doll is to the far right, other dolls on this shelf were donated by
The Tsar Nicolas II, Queen Victoria, The Emperor of Japan, and Queen Elizabeth of Romania
Come in and see the dolls
of Boston town,
Dollies from all the
world around,
Who go about from
Place to Place,
All with a cheerful
To help little
children dear,
That they may be happy
and glad all the year.
And when you've seen
them o'er and o'er
You'll want to see
them one time more.

Elizabeth Richards Horton was a Boston socialite, and she asked Queen Lili’uokalani to contribute a doll to her exhibition to benefit The New England Home for Crippled Children (now Children’s Hospital in Boston).   She had a doll named “Miss Columbia” who traveled with other dolls for charitable exhibits. Her family owned the Claflin Richards house in Wenham. The house was purchased by the Wenham improvement society in 1921 as a museum.  Elizabeth’s collection grew when people heard of her charity, and even crowned heads from all over the globe contributed dolls. After many years of being in storage, she tried to sell her doll collection, but found it had suffered damage in poor storage conditions. Instead of selling the dolls, she offered it in 1922 for display at the Wenham museum. About 600 of the dolls had survived enough to go on permanent display as the International Doll Collection.

A poster for the International Doll Collection

"Miss Columbia" and some of her international doll companions

You can read all about how the Queen sewed this doll’s costume herself in her autobiography or in Mindi Reid’s article in Mana.  You can also read all about the International Doll Collection at the Wenham Museum website.  I’m still flabbergasted that the doll has survived all these years, and the little dress sewn by the Queen is still in good condition. The flowered fabric has faded, and so has her hair and the bright ribbon around her waist. Most of all, I’m still surprised that I saw the doll so many times, and did not recognize that she was the Queen’s doll.  The title of Mindi Reid’s article is “Lost in Plain Sight”. 

I also found a genealogical connection between my mother, who was a cousin to Queen Lili’uokalani’s husband, John Owen Dominis, and to Elizabeth Horton Richards, the Wenham woman who started the International Doll collection.  Mom's 3rd great grandmother, Catherine (Jones) Younger, was the sister of Mary (Jone) Dominis, who removed to Hawaii with her sea captain husband, and her son, John Owen Dominis married Lili'uokalani.


Generation 1: Michael Dunnell, born about 1640, probably France, died about 1717 in Topsfield, Massachusetts, married to Mary Unknown.  Michael Dunnell/Dwinnell is my 9th great grandfather.

Generation 2: Thomas Dunnell, born 20 November 1672 in Topsfield, died 8 October 1747 in Topsfield, married on 23 May 1701 in Lynn, Massachusetts to Dinah Brimsdell

Generation 3: Thomas Dwinnell, born 1711 in Topsfield, died 25 June 1775, married in 1738 to Hannah Towne, daughter of Joseph Towne and Abigail Curtis. Joseph Towne is the brother of Edmund Towne, my 9th great grandfather.

Generation 4:  Jacob Dwinnell, born 20 November 1744; married on 11 February 1768 in Boxford, Massachusetts to Mehitable Towne, daughter of Elisha Towne and Sarah Rhodes.  

Generation5: Elijah Dwinnell b. 14 July 1773 in Boxford, Massachusetts; married Rebecca Russell, daughter of James Russell and Rebecca Unknown

Generation 6: Mary Ann Dwinnell married on 28 July 1827 to Jabez Richards, born 27 March 1805, died 18 March 1840. 

Generation 7:  Elizabeth Willett Richards, born 6 October 1837 in Wenham, Massachusetts, died 22 August 1928 in Wenham; married in 1858 to Thayer Horton.

                                           Michael Dunnell and Mary Unknown
                                           I                                                  I
Thomas Dunnell and Dinah Brimdell                         John Dwinnell and Mary Read
                                           I                                                  I
Thomas Dwinnell and Hannah Towne                       Keziah Dwinnell and Nicholas Cree
                                           I                                                  I
Jacob Dwinnell and Mehitable Towne                       Richard Cree and Ruth Johnson
                                           I                                                  I
Elijah Dwinnell and Rebecca Russell                         Stephen Cree and Hannah Smith
                                           I                                                  I
Mary Ann Dwinnell and Jabez Richards                    Sarah Cree and James Phillips
                                           I                                                  I
Elizabeth Willett Richards m. Thayer Horton            Hannah Phillips and Thomas Russell Lewis
                                                                         Hannah Eliza Lewis and Abijah Franklin Hitchings
                                                               Arthur Treadwell Hitchings and Florence Etta Hoogerzeil
                                                                 Gertrude Matilda Hitchings and Stanley Elmer Allen
                                                                                     (my grandparents)

Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen, by Liliuokalani, Mutual Publishing, 1991 (originally published in Boston by Lee & Shepard Publishing, 1897), page 216 – 7.

"Mrs. William Lee of Brookline gave an interesting talk last evening to a goodly gathering of women, and a slight sprinkling of men, at the doll show opened in Hotel Thorndike, for two days, yesterday, for the benefit of the New England Home for Crippled Children.

This doll show, which for variety and size exceeds any previous one in Boston, is notable for one thing, - in having among the exhibits three genuine royal dolls, that is to say, three dolls contributed by royalty.  Two of them, miniature representations of Eskimo babies, made by the Eskimos themselves, and dressed in full Arctic costume of sealskin, were sent here by Queen Victoria from her own private collection, which is said to be the largest in the world.

The third one was given by ex-Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii who dressed it and decorated it herself in the mother hubbard-like gown characteristic of Hawaiian women, and the head wreath and neck garland of flowers to which they are so partial on gala occasions.  The ex-queen named the doll Kaiulani, for her niece and heir.”  [Mrs. William Lee [ born Sara White (1849 - 1925)] is the 2nd wife of my 1st cousin 4 generations removed.  William Lee was first cousin to John O. Dominis, husband of Queen Liliuokalani.  John O. Dominis's mother, Mary Lambert Jones (1803 -1889) was the sister of my 3rd great grandmother Catherine Plummer (Jones) Younger (about 1799 - 1828).]  

For more information:

Download the Mana Magazine app here

The Wenham Museum website  

“Lost in Plain Sight”, by Mindi Reid, Mana Magazine, Honolulu, Hawaii: Pacific Basin Publishing, page 22.

“Tiny Ambassadors with a Mission” from the Antiques Almanac website (the top photo is of the doll donated by Queen Lili’uokalani):


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "A Royal Doll ~ "Lost" and then Found", Nutfield Genealogy, posted May 17, 2018, ( accessed [access date]). 


  1. An interesting story Heather. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. What a wonderful story, Heather. And yes, she doesn't look very Hawai'ian does she? I love that Queen Liliuokalani actually made the dress etc. Very personal touches.

  3. She certainly does look Caucasian, and even though she has a lei, it isn't as colorful and prominent as usual -- I suppose that's because it's faded.

    1. Well, the doll is a German doll. Perhaps that's all she could find in Boston when she was asked to participate in the doll show. The dress would look like a holuku if it didn't have the brown ribbon, although perhaps originally the dress and ribbon were more colorful.

  4. Aloha from the author of the article which appeared in MANA magazine: no the doll doesn't look particularly Hawaiian...; it reminded the Queen somewhat of the young hapa-haole women of that generation, which included Princess Ka'iulani...perhaps it was something about the eyes. Her choices were probably rather limited at the time. There is some thought the hair may have faded/changed shade somewhat since its original purchase. For some reason, the magazine didn't choose to print a photo in which the holoku train actually appears.

    1. Mindi, the way the doll is displayed you can't tell it is a holoku style dress.

  5. Ah, well perhaps that can be improved in future. With more attention focused on the
    doll owing to its important Lili'uokalani connection, hopefully a more detailed context can be provided for it. The train and lei make it "Hawaiian", so both need to be visible. Pity the lei po'o didn't survive. It would be wonderful if one could be replicated to match the neck lei. Heather...perhaps you could leave a note next time you are there...if Wenham has a "comments" box?

  6. P.S. Heather - there will be another article on the doll, much longer, published in October. Will keep you posted.

  7. Hi Mindi and Heather, I just read Mindi's article in Antique doll and was fascinated!!! What a beautiful story! I then googled everything I could find on this doll and am hoping one of you may know the answer to my burning questions:
    How tall is this doll? and Is there a mold number on her? She looks very similar to the 1079 or the 1078? She is so lovely and the article was wonderful!!!!! Thanks, Robin

    1. I don't know the answer to those questions, but I'm sure that if you contact the Wenham Museum the curator could find the answer for you. I only saw the doll through the glass of the museum case. Just so you know, Mindi will have a new four page article about this doll in an upcoming issue of a doll collecting magazine.

  8. thanks Heather, I think that is the doll article I read- in Antique Doll Magazine. It was wonderful- lots of pictures of the queen and of her niece. A really beautiful story and doll!
    I will check with the museum. Robin