Doll-size Tea Cup

Author: Gary Ellis

The size and scale of this porcelain tea cup suggests its use as a toy, perhaps for a young girl to play play “tea time” with her dolls, but it held a second use as a teaching tool. At a place like the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls, it also served as part of their education. The doll-size tea cup is part of a miniature model of a tea set that adults used when entertaining guests in rituals that upheld social relationships. The girls at the industrial school were likely trained in this tea ritual as part of their everyday lessons. They were taught how to serve tea, and how to properly use the elements of the service. Practices such as the tea ritual were taught to the girls at the School to uphold expectations of femininity of 19th century New England. As such, the girls also learned cooking/baking, sewing, and other common household duties.

This tea cup and its accompanying set is made from porcelain, albeit a cheaper form than the sets used by adults. It is unlikely that the girls were in a situation to bring toys along with them, so it is more likely that this was provided by the School; perhaps they received it as a donation.These toys were just as fragile as their larger counterparts, and tracing their origin proves very difficult. There is little documentation on the production of these sets, and little room to place diagnostic or maker’s marks.

This artifact was recovered with other porcelain tea-set and doll fragments, as well as a wide range of other artifacts. Found within a brick and stone-lined privy, the artifacts from this context include things like flower pots and cosmetics. The breadth of artifact types is indicative of the many activities that occurred at the School.

This doll-sized porcelain tea cup was excavated at the ISFG, possibly serving dual purpose in education and recreation, ca. 19th century. (Courtesy of Boston City Archaeology Program.


Doll-sized tea service elements recovered with the tea cup at the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls. (Courtesy of Boston City Archaeology Program)

Sources Consulted (Click Here)