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Found in Collection

Found in Collection (144)

Thursday, 18 April 2019 17:39

Restoring Firebacks

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Cast Iron Fireback before Restoration

As we prepare for our next exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, I decided to use the extra space in the gallery to restore four of our firebacks. These firebacks were placed in the back of a fireplace to protect the chimney and reflect the heat back towards the interior room. Firebacks were also used for decoration.

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Cast Iron Fireback after Restoration

This cast iron fireback was found at Wentz's Church, in Worcester Township. The design is based on a Biblical Representation, which was identified in Henry Mercer's book Bible in Iron on page 28. The rough German translation is: "The widow’s oil did richly glow. God's mercy in the tomb did show. A boy to life rose from the dead. A hundred men on few loaves fed."

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Cast Iron (rear side) Before and After Restoration

To restore this cast iron, I used a wire brush to gently remove the rust. Once removed, the rust was vacuumed off the fireback. I then applied a thin coat of Crisco shortening to the entire piece. Shortening was used instead of oil, because it does not go rancid. For those of you with cast iron skillets, this same process can be followed to treat rust on your pieces. I would like to thank Curator Amy Reis from Pottsgrove Manor for her instruction on how to restore cast iron!

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3 Pieced Steel Firebacks before Restoration

I am currently working to restore a three pieced fireback. Originally, we thought it was cast iron. However, upon removal of rust we realized it was most likely made from a steel alloy, which means using a wire brush is not necessarily the best method for removing rust. We are currently exploring better ways to restore the steel without damaging it with a wire brush. Once they are restored, we will post the results on our Facebook page.

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Two sides of the three piece fireback. The left one has rust removed from it.

Margaret Phillips Richardson was born in Radnor Township (Delaware County) on October 27, 1816. She married Abraham Richardson on September 12, 1839 and lived with him in Juniata County for several years. Abraham died on August 6, 1841 and Margaret remained in the county with their son, John P. Richardson, until she decided to obtain a career in medicine.

Dr. Margaret Richardson

Ten years later, in 1851, Margaret started studying medicine at the Pennsylvania Female College in Philadelphia. Part of the second class to graduate from this college, Dr. Richardson received her degree in 1853. She then moved back to Juniata County for four years to practice medicine. In 1857, she moved to Norristown.

Dr. Richardson was the first female physician in both Montgomery and Juniata Counties. She was known for her success in curing fevers and was often asked to consult other medical professionals when they were treating a patient. She also aided county courts by providing her medical expertise as needed.

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Times Herald, May 15, 1909

Dr. Richardson stayed in Norristown until her death on May 15, 1909. She died of bronchitis at 92 years old and is buried at Plymouth Meeting Friends Cemetery. In our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, we will display one of Dr. Richardson’s advertisements for medical treatment. There will be a Gala on June 27, 2019. Starting July 1, 2019 and through March 2020, the exhibit will be free and open to the public.

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Dr. Richardson Advertisement

Source:

History of Montgomery County Pennsylvania, Volume 1. Edited by Theodore W. Bean. Philadelphia: Everts and Peck 1884.

Thursday, 04 April 2019 18:44

The 1950 Boy Scout Jamboree

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Cover of an adveritsement for the Schuylkill Valley Lines

In 1950, boys from around the world came to Valley Forge for the second Boy Scout Jamboree. Today, the Jamboree is held every few years, but they got off to a slow start. The first Jamboree was scheduled to take place in Washington, D. C. in 1935, but had to be cancelled because of a polio outbreak. It was eventually held in 1937. The next one wasn’t held in 1950, due in part to World War II.

With such a long hiatus, the 1950 Jamboree was a big deal. It was covered extensively in the Times-Herald and the Philadelphia papers. The papers estimated that 47,000 scouts from around the world came, creating what the Times-Herald called “the largest tent city in [the] nation’s history.” Philadelphia Suburban Water Supply provided 800,000 gallons of water each day. The Jamboree had its own telephone system with three 80 line switchboards. They handled 8,000 calls per day. The Times-Herald also reported that it was expected that the scouts would consume 40,000 eggs, 409,000 gallons of milk, and 5,000 gallons of ice cream. The Mrs. Smith’s Pie Company of Pottstown made 250,000 pies for the event (they were all apple). A camp hospital was manned by the 49th Evacuation Unit, Army Reserve Unit. While they mostly treated blisters, upset stomachs, and heat exhaustion, they also performed an emergency appendectomy on a 13 year-old from Jacksonville, FL.

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Photo from the National Park Service

President Truman opened the event on the night of June 30, with a speech about international cooperation in the midst of an international crisis. Five days earlier, North Korean troops had crossed the 38th parallel. Truman told the boys, “When you work and live together, and exchange ideas around the campfire, you get to know what the other fellow is like. That is the first step toward settling world problems in a spirit of give and take, instead of fighting about them.” He encouraged the scouts to travel abroad to learn about other counties.

On July 4th, General Eisenhower addressed the Jamboree and set off the fireworks. In his speech, Eisenhower addressed the need to support South Korea “by whatever means are necessary.”

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Thirty-seven Alaskan scouts were quoted as being in favor of statehood for their home. It also says they were not prepared for the summer heat in the lower 48. The boys from Maine feasted on lobsters sent from home one night while everyone else had “mulligan stew.” A boy from New Mexico tried to swap his pet snake, but got no takers. Horned toads (which are really lizards that look like toads) were popular though. The Philadelphia Zoo took in several because their new owners didn’t know what to feed them. It also received calls from three mothers who were frightened when their children found stray lizards in the backyard (Times-Herald, August 3, 1950)

Nineteen nations sent troops as well. The papers reported that the British scouts played cricket and brought 12 pounds of tea. Badrudan Morani of Bombay (now Mumbai), India traveled the farthest to be there. There was even a contingent of sons of delegates to the United Nations who had their own troop based in Jamaica, Queens, with members from nine different countries. They flew the UN flag over their tent.

Thursday, 28 March 2019 19:52

Tornado hits Jarrettown

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May of 1896 witnessed one of the worst tornado outbreaks in American history. It lasted about two weeks and spawned tornados all over the south and Midwest, including three F5 tornados (the more severe category). On the final day of the outbreak, an F3 tornado touched down in Jarrettown then cut a path 35 miles east into New Jersey.

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A photo of Judge Knight with his parents from about 1919

I hadn’t heard about this tornado until one of our volunteers, Rita Thomas, told me about some newspaper clippings she had found in Judge Harold Knight’s diary of 1956. I was excited to learn more, but disappointed to see that our collection of the Ambler Gazette on microfilm starts in 1898. Luckily, you can find the paper from 1896 on PA Power Library through the Wissahickon Valley Public Library. The Weekly Herald of Norristown covered it, too, but the Gazette had this sketch of Alexander Knight’s house, one of the oldest in the borough of Ambler.

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Here’s a photo from our own collection of the house taken in 1971. Alexander Knight was Judge Harold Knight’s father, and this was his home as well.

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The Gazette article focused on the damage from the storm. Two men were killed inside the carriage barn of the Jarrettown Hotel when a wall collapsed. They were Winfield Ensley and Alfred Moffit. Several others were injured. The Jarrettown Public School was badly damaged as was the Jarrrettown United Methodist Church. Both of those buildings had to be rebuilt.

The Weekly Herald of June 1st, focused on the sightseeing, claiming “Effects of the Cyclone Must be Seen to Be Appreciated.” The article estimated that 4,000 people had already come to see the damage which included several collapsed barns and many uprooted trees.

Thursday, 21 March 2019 20:00

Desperate hours in Whitemarsh

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At 8am on the morning of September 11, 1952, a man knocked on the back door of the Hill family’s home on Joshua Road. Mrs. Elizabeth Hill answered the door. The man there asked if her husband was home. When she said he was not, the man waved to his two companions who appeared from around the corner of the house brandishing shotguns. The men entered the house and told Mrs. Hill and her three sons that they would be safe as long as they were quiet. It was the beginning of a 19 hour ordeal for the Hill family.

Brothers Joseph and Ballard Nolen of Kentucky and Elmer Schuer of Illinois had escaped from Lewisberg Federal Penitentiary two days earlier by sawing through their cell bars and descending a 30 foot wall with towels knotted together. They were all in prison for bank robbery. They stole a car and kidnapped a local man, who later jumped out of the car. The men made their way to West Reading where they smashed the window of a sporting goods shop and stole four shotguns and two rifles.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania State Police, with the help of the FBI, set up roadblocks all over southeastern PA. To evade detection, the men decided to lay low in the comfortable home of the Hill family in Whitemarsh..

The Nolens and Schuer listened to the radio, played cards, and ate the family’s food. In the afternoon, the Hills' two teenage daughters returned from their day at Norristown High School, and Mr. James Hill returned from his management job at Dexdale Hosiery in Lansdale. The Times-Herald reported that Mrs. Hill answered the phone several times over the course of the day with one of the convicts listening on an extension.

In press coverage, the Hills insisted that the three men were always polite and didn’t harm anyone in the family. As evening fell, the men told the family to sleep together in one room and helped move mattresses for the kids. They told the Hills that they expected to leave late that night and warned them not to call the police until 8 am. The fugitives threated to return and kill Mr. Hill if they didn’t wait.

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At 3:30 am the Nolens and Schuer left the house, stealing some of Mr. Hill’s suits and the family car, a Pontiac. The Hills waited until 8 am, then contacted the police.  Investigators descended on their house. The convicts meanwhile, drove back west and held up a diner in Hamburg. After that the trail went cold.

The police got calls from local places like Norristown and Conshohocken and as far away as Iowa. A milkman in Wilmington, DE claimed the three convicts had robbed him, but later retracted the story. A week later, they learned that men had meant to head for Scranton but took a wrong turn and found themselves heading to New York City.

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Once in New York, the men robbed a gun store and a bank in the Bronx then rented an apartment on Kelly St. They stayed there until they met a woman named Mayola Jones and moved into her place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. That’s where the NYPD found them on September 21st. There was a shoot-out in which both Nolen brothers were killed, and Detective Phillip LaMonica was shot three times in the chest. He later died at the hospital. Elmer Schuer survived and was eventually sentenced to 80 years to life in prison, according to the “FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin” from 1957.

But that’s not the whole story.

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Promotional photo from the play

Parts of this story might seem familiar, especially if you like classic movies. In 1954, Joseph Hayes wrote a novelized version of the events in Whitemarsh called The Desperate Hours. The following year it was turned into a Broadway play (also written by Hayes) starring a young Paul Newman as one of the convicts and Karl Malden as “Mr. Hillard”. The novel and play both took place in suburban Indianapolis, and the convicts are much more violent than the Hills reported. In the play they even murder an unlucky garbage collector who came to the door. The play won the Tonys for Best Play and Best Director (Robert Montgomery). Also in 1955, William Wyler directed a film version of play, which starred Humphrey Bogart in Newman’s role and Fredic March as the father.

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But that’s not whole story either.

In 1955, Life Magazine ran a featured article on the play. The reporters took the cast to the home in Whitemarsh where it had all happened. Hills no longer lived in the house. Soon after the events in 1952, they moved to Connecticut and tried hard to avoid any publicity. The Life article (we have a copy here at the Historical Society) never made the distinction between the fictionalized events of the play and real events that happened to the Hills. Mrs. Hill, according to an article in the New Yorker, was particularly upset by the article and the renewed media attention from the play. The Hills sued Time, Inc., the publisher of Life Magazine, under New York State’s privacy law.

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Image from the Richard Nixon Foundation

The case dragged on for many years, with the Hills winning in the New York Court of Appeals in 1962. Time, Inc. appealed to the Supreme Court. In 1966, former vice-president  Richard Nixon (who had his own problems with the press) argued on behalf of the Hill family. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of Time, Inc. because the reporting had not been proved reckless or willfully inaccurate. It was the only case Nixon ever argued before the Supreme Court.

Special thanks to Kristina Piscitelli whose research through the Times Hearld was instrumental in writing this piece.

Thursday, 14 March 2019 15:25

Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing

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Opening on January 1, 1891, Montgomery Hospital (formerly known as Norristown Hospital and Dispensary and later Charity Hospital) was one of the first hospitals in Montgomery County. Montgomery Hospital was also one of the first hospitals to establish a training school for nurses in the county. On April 1, 1893, the nursing school opened, welcoming local women to apply for the new program.

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Times Herald, April 10, 1894

Since the training school was new, application requirements were, in some ways, less daunting than some of the nursing programs in the area today. Originally, any woman between the ages of 21 and 35, in good mental and physical health, and was educated could apply to the school. While this may not seem like many requirements, it is important to note that these requirements would make it difficult for women from low income families to compete with wealthier women who would be more likely to have several years of education. Furthermore, unlike today, men were expected to become doctors not nurses, and therefore were not welcome to apply to the program when it began. As the program grew and changed, so too did these application requirements.

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Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing, 1966

Part of what made Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing such a popular program in the region was its partnerships with local hospitals. The nurses’ training program required all students to work with doctors and patients in Montgomery Hospital. In 1944, the school expanded this hospital partnership to Norristown State Hospital, which offered nursing students with a wider variety of training, particularly with psychiatric related work.

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Pulse Yearbook, 1971

Although the Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing produced hundreds of certified nurses from the program, it was no match for the hospital's looming financial troubles. As a non-profit hospital, it could not compete with the numerous local for-profit hospitals in the region. The Nursing school closed in 1975 and the hospital itself closed in September 2012.

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Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing, Class of 1965

To learn more about how Montgomery Hospital impacted our county’s history, be sure to see our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals. There will be a Gala on Thursday June 27, 2019 and the exhibit will be open to the public starting July 1, 2019 through March 2020.

Thursday, 07 March 2019 21:40

River Crest Preventorium

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Recently, George Detwiler, member and volunteer here at the Historical Society of Montgomery County, donated a collection of photographs of the River Crest Preventorium. This facility was an offshoot of the Kensington Dispensary for the treatment of tuberculosis located in Mont Clare, Upper Dublin. The Kensington Dispensary was founded by St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Germantown to treat the high rate of tuberculosis in Kensington’s immigrant community. The Mont Clare location was meant to provide a country retreat for children who had been exposed to tuberculosis, but did not have an active form of the disease.

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According to the minutes of the Fourth Biennal Convention of the United Lutheran Church in America, in 1923 The Preventorium had space for 39 children. The demand was such that the children had be limited to only a two stay, and the report calls for an expansion of the facility. The minutes describe the method used at the preventorium as “Fresh air, sunshine, nourishing food, supervised play, exercise and rest….Another definite aim is to assist the child’s mental, moral and spiritual development.”

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Along with the photographs, George donated a program for the 1929 dedication of a new administration building at River Crest and new dormitories for 100 children.

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By the middle of the 20th century, tuberculosis was no longer the crisis it had decades earlier, and the Kensington Dispensary shifted focus to serving intellectually disabled adults and children, and River Crest became a residence and summer camp for those children.

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In 1969, the organization changed its name to KenCrest. Today, the River Crest Preventorium is the RiverCrest Golf Club.

Thursday, 28 February 2019 21:18

The Human Relations Commission

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Interior of the New York Store

One of most interesting collections we have here at the Historical Society of Montgomery County is the Leonard Friedman Papers, much of which concerns his work on Norristown’s Human Relations Commission.

Leonard Friedman was born in Philadelphia in 1918 and attended the University of Pennsylvania. He served in the army during World War II, then spent fifty years running his family’s business, the New York Store. In the 1970’s he served on Norristown’s Human Relations Commission which was created in 1966 to help the borough cope with racial issues.

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His papers have many items relating to race relations in Norristown in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, providing a snapshot of life in Norristown during a turbulent time. One newsletter of the Interfaith Committee for Social Action describes a protest of 150 young black people at Norristown Borough Hall. At that protest Arthur Hall, a young man from Norristown, gave a speech demanding more respectful treatment from local police, questioning the curfew, and for an increase in the number of black police officers.

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Arthur Hall from the 1968 Norristown High School Spice yearbook

Another issue Friedman’s papers focus on is fair housing in Norristown. In 1969, borough council passed Ordinance 2065 prohibiting racial discrimination in housing. There’s many newspaper clippings about white sellers refusing offers from black buyers and information for realtors to prevent discrimination in housing.

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Pamphlet from the Fair Housing Committee

The Human Relations Commission was also concerned with the Norristown Area School District. Throughout the country at this time, cities tried to desegregate schools through bussing. A newsletter called "News ‘N’ Views" distributed by the school district explains six proposed ideas for achieving racial balance in NASD schools. In addition to that, Mr. Friedman himself wrote a letter to a Harold T. Huber, looking for help in redesigning NASD’s curriculum to include African-American history.

From the records, it looks like Friedman was on the Commission until 1973. There is a Human Relations Commission in Norristown today, but it was started in 2018, according to its website, so I don’t know the fate of the original commission.

 

Ned Hector

Historical marker at the site of Ned Hector's log cabin

Montgomery County has a rich history of the American Revolution. George Washington, Lafayette, and “Mad” Anthony Wayne all came through our county at some point. But today, we’re going to look a less well known soldier of the revolution: Edward “Ned” Hector.

Ned Hector first comes into the historical record at the Battle of Brandywine in September, 1777. He served in Colonel John Proctor’s 3rd PA Artillery as a teamster (wagon driver) and bombardier (part of a cannon crew). He was one of about 9000 black soldiers to fight on the American side (many more fought for the British who promised freedom) His commanding officer ordered a retreat calling for everything to be abandoned, including weapons and horses. Hector was heard to say, “I will save my horses, or perish myself.”

In civilian life, Hector had also worked as a teamster, so we can assume that he was skilled in managing horses. He not only saved himself and the horses, but many discarded weapons, keeping them out the hands of the British.

Hector also fought at the Battle of Germantown and probably served in the militia until 1780.

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An example of a cannon crew of the Revolutionary era

We don’t know exactly where or when he was born, but probably around 1744. After the war, he settled in a sparsely populated part of Plymouth township, which would later became part of Conshohocken (founded in 1850). His log cabin was at Hector and Fayette Streets. Hector St. was named after him in 1850.

In the early Republic, many veterans had trouble getting pensions from the federal government, and Ned Hector was no different. He petitioned Congress in 1827, 1829, and 1833, and was rejected all three times. In 1833, Congress did award him a one-time reward of $40. He died one year later at the age of 90.  He might have originally been buried at Mt. Zion AME Church in Norristown, but the bodies from that graveyard were relocated to Robert's Cemetery in King of Prussia.  It is most likely that his remains are there.

Sadly, his wife, Jude, died very soon thereafter (some records say one hour after Ned’s funeral and some say two days later). They probably had several children.  One son Charles married a widowed woman who had been born into slavery named Leah. Leah Hector outlived her second husband dying at the age of 108 in Bridgeport. She’s listed in the 1860 Census as a “washerwoman,” but a 1929 Times Herald article by “Norris” says that she was known for making and selling herbal medicines.

Leah Hector

There are no images of Ned Hector, so I’ll leave you with a picture of Noah Lewis, who has extensively researched Ned Hector and often plays Hector in re-enactments.  Much of the information in this article was based on Noah's work, especially his 2013 article in the Historical Society's Bulletin, "Being Edward Hector."  Check out his website: nedhector.com.

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Wednesday, 13 February 2019 18:00

Black Dolls

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Dolls have been around for centuries. Whether they are made from straw, fabric, wood, ceramic, or plastic, children throughout the world play with these timeless toys.

At HSMC, we have a number of dolls in our collection. However, one doll is quite different from the others. This wooden doll is painted black and has metal joints. Based on the design of the joints, it is supposed to imitate the movements of a dancer.

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HSMC Doll - 1931.8412.014

This doll used to belong to Emeline H. Hooven, but the precise origins were not described when it was donated in 1931. Since dolls did not have ball joints until the turn of the 20th century, and given the inaccurate caricature of the doll’s face, we believe this doll was made around the early to mid-19th century.

Dolls like this one were the reason why black families called for better representation in the toy industry. They wanted their children to have toys that showed the beauty of their heritage and did not promote racial stereotypes. These calls for change encouraged Richard Henry Boyd to create the first black doll company, the National Negro Doll Company (NNDC), in 1907.[1] Based in Tennessee, the NNDC made and shipped dolls to children as far north at Pennsylvania.

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Mabel Parchman poses with her doll from the National Negro Doll Company (Nashville Globe, 11 April 1913).[2] 

Since Boyd’s company launched their first line of dolls, many similar toy companies have emerged. Today, children have access to a wide variety of dolls that are more likely to accurately represent them.

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Photo Credit: Herstory Dolls[3]

 


[1]"The National Negro Doll Company.” The Tennessee Historical Society. https://www.tennesseehistory.org/national-negro-doll-company/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Shoppe Black. https://shoppeblack.us/2018/06/black-dolls/

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