Friday, April 15, 2022

Miss Izannah Walker's Celebrated Cloth Dolls

    ©  Kathy Duncan, 2022

The charming dolls made by Izannah Walker are my heart's desire. Or a reasonable reproduction. In reality, I can't afford to have either one on my bucket list. Researching Izannah and her dolls, however, is well within my budget.

I do not have access to any pictures of Izannah's dolls that I can post here; however, if you have never seen her dolls, please take a moment to view them on Paula Walton's blog or Dixie Redmond's blog

I set out to research Izannah in the same way that I researched the quilter, Jane Stickle. This time, I am working through the lens of a genealogist who loves Izannah Walker dolls. My intention was to compare what is known about her to what the available online records reveal. So far, I'm pleased with the results. If you are an Izannah fan and enjoy reading every tidbit about her that you can find, grab a cuppa and tuck in. This might be longish. Much of it you may already know, but I promise there is "new" information as well. And perhaps a paradigm shift in your thinking about Izannah's doll production.

My first step was to check for Izannah Walker on the Family Search's shared family tree. I found her there, but no one had ever attached any census records to her. That seems odd, but Izannah's name makes it a challenge to find her in records. I attached the following census records to her: 1850, 1860, 1865, 1870, 1880, and 1885. Additionally, I had to add Izannah's aunt Jane Hellon (Swasey) Hintz to the shared family tree, and attached census records for Izannah's sister Jane H. Walker. You can view all of these original census records yourself if you will create a free Family Search account. Then follow these i.d. number links for each woman: Izannah Walker L265-881, Jane H. Walker MV3Z-HM2, and Jane H. (Swasey) Hintz G6P5-4FZ.

Izannah F. Walker was born in Bristol, which is documented on the 1885 Rhode Island census. The confusion begins over trying to determine if she was born in Bristol, Rhode Island or Bristol County, Massachusetts. The 1885 census says Massachusetts, so it would be Bristol County, Mass. However, other census records also record her state of birth as Rhode Island. I do know that her father Gilbert Walker was frequently placing advertisements in the Providence, Rhode Island newspapers, which noted that he was in Somerset, which is a town in Bristol County, Mass. Izannah's age varies widely from census year to census year as does her sister's age. On several censuses, Izannah's age would have placed her birth year closer to 1820 than 1817. In searching for individuals on the census, keep in mind that census information is only as reliable as the person providing it and might be provided by proxy. In other words, one household member might provide information for everyone. Even a neighbor could provide information if no one was at home that day. To find Izannah on the census, I widened the bracket for her birth year and varied her state of birth. I identified her by other occupants of her household - family and friends.

We know from various secondary sources that Izannah's parents died when she was young. Her mother died in 1824:

And her father died less than a year later: 

I believe that at the time of Sally and Gilbert Walker's deaths, the family was living in the vicinity of Bristol, Rhode Island. Tradition tells us that the Walker orphans were sent to live with relatives in Somerset, Mass. Keep in mind that Providence County, Rhode Island, and Bristol County, Massachusetts "border" each other even though they are also separated by a waterway. Traveling back and forth between the two locations would have not been a problem. People in that time period traveled much more than we give them credit for.

The 1850 census locates 28-year-old Izannah F. Walker in Somerset, Bristol County, Massachusetts, living in the same household as her aunt Jane Hintz, age 54; her uncle Robert Swasey, age 60; and her sister Jane H. Walker, age 30. The only household member with an occupation was Robert Swasey who was a painter. It's impossible to know from the census what type of painter he was. House painter? Mural painter? Portrait painter? Did he teach the Walker sisters and their aunt the painting techniques that they used on their dolls or was he the source for their oil paints? 

Edit: Jane H. Hintz can be found on the 1855 census for Bristol County, Massachusetts, living with her brother Robert Swasey. However, I have yet to find Jane H. Walker or Izannah F. Walker. Izannah may have been in Rhode Island by this time, so she would not have been included in the Massachusetts census. There was an 1855 for Providence, Rhode Island, which is missing volumes. I searched it page-by-page, but did not find Izannah F. Walker, Jane H. Walker, Mary C. Bragg, or Emeline Whipple. Either the pages they were on are missing, or they were not living in Providence, RI at that time. 

Two delightful, circa 1855 photographs feature little girls with their Izannah Walker dolls. Both girls were residents of Providence County, Rhode Island which argues for Izannah having made her move to that area by 1855ish. The girls were Clara Eady and Mary Ella Jenks. Of the eleven or so period photographs that I have found of little girls with their Izannah Walker dolls, only these two girls have been identified. Additionally, future doll maker Martha Jenks (Wheaton) Chase, who was born about 1851 and was a resident of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, received an Izannah Walker doll as a young child.  

Izannah was definitely in Rhode Island by 1860, when she appeared on the census in the township of Smithfield in Providence, rooming with 53-year-old Mary C. Bragg. She was likely to have been living in the village of Central Falls, which is located within the township of Smithfield. On this census, Izannah is listed as being 40 years old, which would shift her birth year to 1820. One extremely interesting detail is that Izannah owned $500 worth of real estate. That land deed might shed some insight into the year that she arrived in the area. Many are under the impression that women did not own property in their own names and that their property was owned by men instead. That is true of married women and daughters. Their property was legally held and controlled by the men in their lives - husbands and fathers and sometimes brothers. Never-married women and widows, however, did own property in their own right. It's one of the primary reasons why widows with property inherited from their husbands often did not remarry. Izannah Walker, as an unmarried woman with no father to dictate her business, was a free agent. 

The 1865 Rhode Island state census for Central Falls, Smithfield township, Providence County, Rhode Island, is the only one that lists Izannah F. Walker as a doll maker:

In 1867, Izannah was living at 11 Jenks in Central Falls, RI. 

On the 1870 census, 50-year-old Izannah Walker was rooming with her 44-year-old friend Emeline Whipple in Providence, RI. They seem to be boarding in the Martin household. This time Izannah is "keeping house" while Emeline is listed as a "doll maker." Izannah does not have any real estate at this time, but does have $200 in personal property. Personal property on the census means portables. Everything we know about Izannah indicates that she was in the doll business at this time. Emeline could have been participating in any phase of the process: body making, sewing clothes, or, painting - or possibly all of these. It is extremely interesting that a significant number of men in the neighborhood are listed as machinists. Any one of them could have helped Izannah in developing her doll manufacturing device. She was surely working on it during this timeframe. I had thought that I might find other women listed as doll makers and that would indicate that Izannah might be employing them. I did not find any nearby, but I did find dressmakers and seamstresses living in the vicinity. They may have been participating in Izannah's doll making, it's impossible to say.

While it is possible that Izannah received help from Reuben Bates, who was likely the pattern maker who crafted her doll head molds, she would have also been surrounded by neighbors who could have also contributed their knowledge. 

We know that Izannah applied for her doll manufacturing patent in 1873. The PDF for Izannah's patent was created by Dixie Redmond. When the patent was issued, there was a notice in the local newspaper. Note that in this notice Izannah is referred to I. F. Walker. Initials were popular for men's names and concealed the identity of women. When researching with old newspapers, remember to search by just the individual's initials.

One year later, during the Christmas season, E. W. Billings of Providence, RI published an advertisement solely devoted to promoting Izannah Walker's dolls. Note that E.W. Billings is offering the dolls wholesale, which suggests that he is selling them to other merchants although he would probably also be selling them to individuals. Significantly, he states that he has been Miss Walker's "agent for so many years." That suggests that he was carrying her pre-patent dolls for at least a few years. That would seem to include the year when Izannah and Emeline Whipple were on the 1870 census, and Emeline was the "doll maker" of record. Could two women alone supply a wholesale doll trade of enough significance to warrant an exclusive advertisement four short years later? I would contend that this must have been a larger operation than two individuals could keep up with. Izannah must have been employing others in some capacity. It's possible that her aunt Jane Hintz and sister Jane H. Walker were participating from a distance in some capacity. It's even more likely that Izannah was employing women in her area. 

Unlike the toy trade now, dolls and toys were mostly advertised and stocked in shops during the Christmas season. No doubt, Izannah and Emeline spent the whole year preparing for Christmas sales. 

I am taken with E. W. Billing's terminology: "Miss Walker's Celebrated Cloth Dolls" which were also "The Everlasting Cloth Doll." Everlasting is a term that I tend to associate with Greiner dolls. 

So far, I have not found any references to Walker's cloth dolls in E. W. Billings advertisements prior to 1874. He did mention that he stocked cloth dolls, but only in a generic sense that he advertised china, wax, and rubber dolls. Walker's local notoriety, following her patent, may have resulted in this shift in his advertising for her dolls. 

There is no doubt in my mind that the advertisement above refers to Izannah Walker and her dolls. Seven years later, in 1881, the firm of E. W. Billings, headquartered at the Butler Exchange, was still the agent for Miss Walker's cloth dolls. This advert makes it clear that the dolls were offered for both the wholesale and retail trade. Note that the dolls were offered for the "reduced" price of $3.95. In 2022's U.S. currency, that would be close to $110. Or approximately, the same as purchasing an American Girl doll for the daughter of a comfortable middle-class family. Dolls at this time were sold both dressed and undressed, which dictated their price. The size of the doll also dictated the price with larger dolls selling for more than smaller dolls. Izannah's dolls ranged from 13" to 29". 

Also, in 1881, E.W. Billing's stated that he had "a stock of Miss Walker's cloth dolls this season, their chief merit consisting in their ability to stand rough usage and abandonment serenely." This is not unlike Izannah's description of her dolls as "easily kept clean and not apt to injure a young child which may fall upon it. It will preserve its appearance for a long time..." 

The Butler Exchange, where E.W. Billing's firm operated in Providence, Rhode Island, was an imposing structure that would have housed several businesses. It comprised a commercial block in a port city known for extensive trade. From this point, Izannah's dolls could have been purchased by merchants at a considerable distance from Central Falls. They could have been easily shipped by rail or by ship. 

E.W. Billings was Edward Woodman Billings of Providence, Rhode Island. Billings was a wealthy merchant who died in 1877. Evidently, the firm continued for several years after his death and continued its relationship with Izannah Walker. 

The importance of this business arrangement with E. W. Billings cannot be overstated. His business ledgers, if they still exist, would provide a unique insight into Izannah's dollmaking business. They would tell us when that business arrangement started, which we know was before 1874. They would reveal when it ended, which we know was after 1881. They would reveal how many dolls were produced for this trade annually and their destination. Were they sold to merchants? Who? And in what numbers? Were they sold to individuals? Who? How much was Izannah receiving for them? How much did they sell for other than the $3.95 figure mentioned in the advertisement? So much fascinating information would be contained in those ledgers. 

The reality of those old ledgers is like that of old dolls, many of them have not survived. They have fallen victim to fires, floods, and the trash heap. Consider the vast number of ledgers than have been pieced out page-by-page and sold for craft projects by individuals who failed to see their value as local history items.

If E.W. Billings' ledgers cannot be found, then the ledgers of merchants in Providence County, Rhode Island, and Bristol County, Massachusetts should be searched since they would have been most likely to stock her dolls. Where might those ledgers be? They could be in local archives at the county level or in the libraries of colleges or universities. They might be in museums or historical societies. They might be privately owned by families. They might also be in archives at the state levels. Probably, most of them have not been digitized and will have to be searched by hand. This will have to be done by a determined person on the ground in that area. Regrettably, I cannot be that person!

My contention is that Izannah Walker was running a small business of some consequence rather than a quaint little cottage industry that relied on individuals trekking to her door to purchase dolls for their daughters. Since she made dolls in several sizes, she would have had at least one mold for each size and possibly a press for each mold. That might have enabled her to have dolls of each size in production at the same time. The question is, how many dolls could a determined woman produce annually and for how many years?

Doll historians have probably underestimated the number of dolls that she produced in her lifetime. What could have happened to all those dolls? Floods. Housefires. Rodents. Trash heaps. We know of one that was rescued from a trash pile recently. Some of them may be hidden under repaint jobs. Many are probably privately owned by individuals who have no idea what they are. Some of them may still be languishing in attics or in storage. 

We know from family tradition, that Izannah dabbled in many things. In 1877, Izannah entered her Concord grapes in the Horticultural Society's Exhibition at Howard Hall.

On the 1880, Izannah Walker and Emmeline Whipple were living in the town of Lincoln in Providence, Rhode Island. In reality, they were still in Central Falls, which is a village in Lincoln. Lincoln was in the township of Smithfield.  The existing Central Falls City Directories firmly place Izannah and Emmeline at 14 Illinois street in Central Falls from 1873 to 1887.

Currently, there is not a 14 Illinois street although there is a 15 and 16 Illinois street. None of the houses on that portion of the street today seem to date from Izannah's time.

A 1900 map of Illinois street in Central Falls does not differ much from a current map. The estimated location of Izannah's house is roughly in the red circle. Note that Jenks street was very close to Illinois street. Of course, there was also a Jenks Ave. If Jenk street was the site of her 1867 residence, then Izannah had lived in the same neighborhood for about twenty years. 

In 1885, Izannah sold a town lot situated on Illinois street. This would not have been her house.

I have seen some researchers question whether Izannah died in 1886 or 1888. I'm not sure where this confusion comes from. Her tombstone has the 1888 date although it may not have been erected until after Emeline Whipple's death in 1914. There was, however, a published death announcement for Izannah at the time of her death:

This death notice was difficult to find because of two factors. One Izannah's given name is split between two lines with a hyphen. Search engines that rely on computers using pattern recognition often cannot find a name that is divided in the middle, splitting it with a hyphen makes it even more difficult. Then look at the ink blob quality of the typeface. This also interferes with pattern recognition. What is that shape in Izannah's name that we recognize as a "z"? A computer might read that as an "r" or an "x." I did not find this when running a search for "Izannah F. Walker." Logically, it seemed like Izannah would have at least had a death notice. I finally found it by searching for just "Walker" and then reading each result for the day, including her supposed death and the days afterward. As you can see, she did, in fact, die on 15 February 1888 as is recorded on her tombstone. Her death notice was published two days later on 17 February.

Izannah was a woman of comfortable wealth at the time of her death. In her will, written in 1876, she left property that she had inherited from her uncle Anthony and aunt Jane Hintz to her sister Ann R. Smith. She left the remainder to her property in Somerset, Mass, and a few personal items to her sister Jane H. Walker. She made a small bequest to her old roommate Mary C. Bragg. Surprisingly, she left her doll patent to her brother David C. Walker. I had expected her to leave that to either her sister Jane H. Walker or her friend Emeline B. Whipple although it makes sense that she left it to her brother since he had children to pass it on to. He actually predeceased Izannah in 1885. She seems to have left the lion's share of her estate to Emeline B. Whipple, including the property on Illinois St. It was to go to charity after Emeline's death, but Izannah changed her mind and wrote a codicil to her will in 1887, leaving it to her nephew, the son of her deceased brother David C. Walker. She made no change to the bequest of her patent to her brother, so it would have passed to his heirs after her death. 

The final probate of her will was in 1914, following the death of Emeline B. Whipple. 

Following Emmeline's death in 1914, Izannah's Illinois street property would have reverted to her nephew David Henry Walker, who was a resident of California in the 1870s. At that time, we might expect that Emeline Whipple still had Izannah's doll press and molds. It's hard to know if those items would have passed to Izannah's family members or been sold at an estate sale. Did Emeline continue to produce dolls after Izannah's death? She likely had both the tools and ability to do that. Of course, she may have sent Izannah's tools to sister Jane H. Walker. 

Izannah Walker and Emeline B. Whipple are buried beside each other in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island, where they share a tombstone. Her name and dates are also included as a cenotaph on a family stone in the Palmer Street Cemetery in Somerset, Mass. 

This post is dedicated to my lifelong friend, Kathy Quitberg, with whom I shared a love of all things dolls, quilts, and books. 


  1. Very interesting. Thank you. I will be researching Ms. Walker and her dolls.

    1. Careful, Miss Merry! It is easy to fall in love with Izannah Walker's dolls. They are extremely rare and expensive. There are, however, some current dollmakers who make dolls in Izannah's style.

  2. Excellent research! Thank you for posting your findings. I truly enjoyed reading this!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this research and allowing me to link to it from the Izannah Walker Chronicles. It belongs in the list of excellent articles all Izannah-philes should read.

    1. Thank you, Dixie. It is an honor to be included in your list of articles. Thank you, also, for your insights. I am sure I will have more questions for you!