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8 a.m., An Early Friend: The Polly Sumner Doll

Oak, paint, leather, and cloth. Circa 1773.



Mrs. Mary Langely and her sister, Anne Dowse Williams, with Polly circa 1893.


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New bride Mary “Polly” Sumner bought this English doll, dubbed “Polly Sumner Jr.” by Mary's sisters, from a Boston shop in 1773. Soon before the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, Mary gave birth to her first daughter, Abigail. New mother Mary was unable to watch the battle, but the Polly Sumner doll served as her proxy, viewing the battle from a nearby rooftop with Mary’s sisters. Many generations of Mary’s descendants went on to play with Polly before she was donated to The Bostonian Society.

Polly has become quite the celebrity over the years. She has participated in doll shows, been displayed for charity, and even starred in her own book. She has had some wardrobe changes as well, with her current outfit likely dating to after the 1860s. This doll has been especially beloved by children, even after her shift from household toy to museum treasure. During the 1930s, a young girl named Gloria visited Polly at the Old State House Museum. Afterwards, she wrote letters and sent presents to Polly, whom she considered her special Boston friend.

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All images are courtesy of The Bostonian Society.