Black Doll Fragment

Author: A. L. Derington

Black Doll

Two pieces from a black Frozen Charlotte doll from the archeological dig at the Industrial School for Girls, 2015.
Courtesy of Boston City Archaeology Program.

They reached the door and Charles sprang out,
he reached his hand for her,
She sat there like a monument
that has no power to stir;
He called her once, he called her twice,
she answered not a word,
He asked her for her hand again,
and still she never stirred.
He took her hand in his – O, God!
‘Twas cold and hard as stone,
He tore the mantle from her face,
cold stars upon it shone;
Then quickly to the glowing hall,
her lifeless form he bore,
Fair Charlotte’s eyes were closed in death,
her voice was heard no more.
-Excerpt from a variant of the Frozen Charlotte poem originally by Seba Smith


Two Frozen Charlotte Dolls from the archeological dig at the Industrial School for Girls, 2015.
Courtesy of Boston City Archaeology Program.

Dolls have been companions to children across cultures for millennia. The identification of doll pieces at the Industrial School for Girls archeological site should come as no surprise given their historical importance to children’s play and experiences. Porcelain dolls, such as this one, demonstrate the maternal culture and values of Victorian New England, and could have been found in the hands of many girls, regardless of social class. The ubiquity of porcelain dolls is partly a consequence of their great variation and accessibility across social classes; availability in many sizes, quality and decoration meant that well-to-do families could afford more ornate expensive dolls, while those of lower economic status could purchase cheaper and more simpler versions. Dolls such as this one, called Frozen Charlottes, were of the less expensive variety, and thus it is no surprise that many pieces appear at the Industrial School for Girls.

Frozen Charlottes were inspired by a popular poem first published by Seba Smith in 1843 in The Rover, a newspaper in Maine, as “A Corpse Going to a Ball.” The poem recounts the tragic tale of a young girl named Charlotte who ignores the advice of her mother and goes out riding in the cold of winter.

Young Charlotte lived by the mountainside,
In a lonely, dreary spot;
No other dwelling for three miles round,Except her father’s cot.
And yet on many a winter’s eve,
Young swains would gather there,
For her father kept a social abode,And she was very fair

She was a only child with a doting father and also quite beautiful.
Her father liked to see her dressed,Just like some city belle;
She was the only child he had,
He loved his daughter well.
Her hair was black as raven’s wings,
And her teeth were like the pearls of white,
None with her could compare

On a cold winter night her young date comes to pick her up to take her to a ball.

At a village just sixteen miles off,
There’s a merry ball tonight,
Although the air is freezing cold,
Her heart is warm and light.
And there she watched with an anxious look,
‘Til a well-known voice she heard
And driving up to the cottage door,
Young Charles in his sleigh appeared.

Worried for her daughter’s safety, her mother warns her to bundle up, but Charlotte ignores the wise advice and her vanity wins out.

The mother to her daughter said,
“These blankets round you fold;
For it is a dreadful night, you know,
You’ll catch your death of cold.”
“Oh, no! Oh, no!” the darling cried,
She laughed like a gypsy queen,
“For to ride in blankets muffled up,
I never could be seen.”

Charles and Charlotte ride off to the ball, but the cold catches up to the ill-dressed girl.

“How very fast the freezing air
Is gathering on my brow.”
With a trembling voice young Charlotte cried,
“I’m growing warmer now.”
And away they did ride o’er the mountainside,
And through the pale star light,
Until the village inn they reached,
And the ballroom hove in sight.

When they reached the inn, young Charles jumped out,
And gave his hand to her,
“Why sit you there like a monument,
And have no power to stir?”
He called her once, he called her twice,
She answered not a word;
He called all for her hand again,
But still she never stirred.

He stripped the mantle off her brow,
And the pale stars on her shone,
And quickly into the lighted hall,
Her helpless form was born.
They tried all within their power,
Her life for to restore,
But Charlotte was a frozen corpse,
And is never to speak more.

The story is a cautionary one. Charlotte, a girl of great beauty, embraces her vanity over the wise advice of her mother, and places looks above the dangers to her health. Her decision not only costs her own life, but also the life of her beau and inspires grief in her loving parents. This folktale turned ballad was popular enough to inspire the creation of a new kind of porcelain doll.


A Frozen Charlotte in Casket.
Courtesy of Paul Gallagher at

Frozen Charlottes were popular from the mid-19th into the early 20th centuries. Typically small in size, naked, and with no moveable pieces, hence “frozen”, these dolls would have been the personal possession of a child; they could also be placed in dollhouses or used as charms in Christmas puddings. Mass-produced in the 1850s, most Frozen Charlotte dolls were unglazed “bisque” porcelain and typically left white. Sometimes Frozen Charlottes were displayed in macabre ways, housed, for example,  in small caskets on mantles or on tables. Such customs may suggest that the tale of the poem followed the dolls into the hands of young girls where the lesson may have lingered.

In addition to functioning as playthings, dolls like Frozen Charlottes may have served the practical purpose of teaching girls certain skills. Although manufactured and sold as naked dolls, Frozen Charlottes were clothed by their users, which suggests that they provided opportunities to practice making and mending  clothing, useful skills that to the girls learned at the School that would have followed them into their work as domestic servants and seamstresses. These dolls may also have been used in the training of tea service, perhaps with the small tea sets that have also been found at the Industrial School for Girls.


Collection of small teacups from the archeological dig at the Industrial School for Girls, 2015.
Courtesy of Boston City Archaeology Program.

This Frozen Charlotte, in particular, also suggests another story. Although most dolls of this kind were left unpainted, this one has been painted black. Out of all of the pieces of Frozen Charlotte sized dolls, this is the only black colored doll found at the site of the Industrial School for Girls. This fact suggests a possible connection to the small number of African American girls who attended the school over its many years of operation. Perhaps this doll belonged to Emma or Josephine Patterson, two of the African American girls who attended the School in the 1860s. If this is indeed the case then it demonstrates the preciousness of such objects. In many ways the girls who attended the Industrial School for Girls did not have much in regards to personal effects and what they did have was often shared. We don’t know which girls, if any, played with this doll, or were especially attached to it. However the possibility exists that amongst all the other dolls, the only black colored doll made it into the hands of one or both of the Patterson sisters.


Antique black German Frozen Charlotte.
Courtesy of Hydrangea House on

Sources Consulted (Click Here)