Hitty Her First Hundred Years

Hitty - Her First Hundred Years

Rachel Field (1930)

Read to: K+ - 4th grade

Read independently: 4th - 5th grade

This is a really fun concept for a story, told through a doll's eyes, about all the adventures her multiple owners take her on. Hitty, the doll, has finally come to "live" in an antique shop. She is put on the owner's desk every night for safe keeping and so decides to write her memoirs. It is a fast moving story that covers more than just tea parties and embraces on a stormy nights. She provides commentary on social, fashion and technological advances. Hitty's observations about advances made in transportation may be lost on children who aren't yet aware that there was a time before cares.

A logical child will not find the book very suspenseful because even when Hitty is in a difficult situation one can surmise that she'll be rescued or she wouldn't be writing the story. Hitty herself tells us on page 63, "Well, as you have guessed, they found me, else how should I be writing my memoirs today?" So really the question becomes how, when and by whom. However I'm certain lots of children aren't quite so foresighted and therefore this could be a very engaging read for a lot of children and even a real nail-biter for some.

This (and many books of the time) mention girls working on "samplers" - needlework. On page 97 is a nice illustration of a sampler with Hitty standing in front looking at it. As a doll Hitty has a great attitude. Like when she moves from the Van Rensselaer house that employed their own seamstress to Katie she writes: My clothes were in a deplorable state, but no one seemed to think of doing anything about them, and when i saw the careless way the children went about in rents and rags, i could not feel very hopeful for the future. However, I was warm and safe and Katie lavished much affection upon me, so I could not feel it right to complain, though I could not but have pangs of regret at the loss of my finery. / But I told myself that it is no disgrace to come down a peg or two in the world." (p. 147)

Hitty ws initially carved by a peddlar, during a Maine winter, from a piece of mountain-ash wood. Six and a half inches high Hitty claims, "A piece of mountain-ash wood is a good thing to keep close at hand, for it brings luck besides having power against witchcraft and evil." (p. 4) If she's a superstitious doll it's because she heard it from the humans - but the doll also has plenty of religious experiences - much more than the passing superstitious reference. She spends 84 pages with her first owner, seven year old Phoebe Preble. Her officaia name was Mehitabel but it was too long for Phoebe so she became Hitty and that name was embroidered on her chemise which was sewn by Phoebe - to her dismay. her clothes are finally finished on Saturday and Phoebe plays with her a little but then mother puts Hitty in the drawer because Phoebe can't play on Sunday. but Sunday morning Phoebe sneaks into the drawer and hides Hitty in her muff as they go to church. But when Phoebe falls asleep, Hitty falls out of the muff and stays on the floor of the church for many days. Eventually Phoebe confesses and the doll is retrieved but they are not reunited until Phoebe serves her punishment. Other adventures with Phoebe include:

    • Getting picked up by a crow and dropped off in a tree

    • Going on a whaling ship through storm and fire

    • Getting lost at sea

    • Becoming an idol for island natives

    • Getting dropped by a sleeping Phoebe into a Bombay gutter

Hitty spends four pages with a "Hindoo" snake charmer before some American missionaries purchase her for their daughter, "Thankful". As Hitty explains on page 93, "If I devote less space to my days with Little Thankful, it is not that I was unhappy during the two years I was her doll but simply that other periods of my life have been more eventful." She was a fourth birthday gift to Thankful and was with her for many religious lessons. Thankful gets ill after her fifth birthday and her parents decide to send her back to America - to live with her grandparents in Philadelphia. Within the first couple of days Thankful goes to a party and the little girls criticize her appearance. Hitty is with her and so supportive:

I could not but feel sorry for her during this trying ordeal, for she was quite unequal to answering their jibes. She continued to stare back at the children as if they were strange animals into whose claws she had fallen. I couldn't blame her, and I felt almost relived when after a time they caught sight of me and began to poke fun at my appearance instead, "At least I am going to be some help to her," I thought. "She will be grateful to me when we are home again."

The things those children said about me! It would depress me too much to repeat them all, but the left me scarcely a shred of comfort. If I had not been a doll of experience and some poise, I doubt if I should ever have recovered from that half-hour of criticism. according to those little girls, i was "an ugly old thing."

Thankful is so ashamed of the doll she shoves her down into the sofa cushions and never retrieves her. After the party the sofa was moved up to the attic. She stays in the sofa for about twenty years. Eventually Clarissa Pryce becomes her new owner. She is a ten year old Quaker girl. With Clarissa she:

    • Sneaks out to go to a concert with a boy

    • Sits in a daguerreotype photo

    • Hears parts of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" that upset [her] a good deal

    • Is the subject of a poem by a famous poet

    • Sees the Civil War from a distance

When Clarissa goes off to boarding school, Hitty gets boxed up and a couple years later is sent to a cousin but the box gets lost along the way and she ends up with a seamstress, Miss Milly Pinch, who reluctantly turns her new model over to her employer's daughter - Isabella Van Rensselaer. With Isabella she:

    • Is exposed to more music and dancing than ever before

    • Meets Charles Dickens

    • Sneaks out on New Year's Eve and gets captured by some bullies

One of the bullies gives Hitty to his cousin Katie. With Katie, Hitty experiences:

    • Lots of time in a kitchen

    • Getting lost in a hay loft

She is never recovered from the hayloft while Katy lives on the farm. When she is recovered a bunch of different peoople live at the farm, including an Artist - Mr. Farley. She calls herself a model but is actually more of an assistant. When the artist paints little girls they often hold Hitty, as an incentive to be still, and thus Hitty winds up in a lot of portraits and achieves a bit of notoriety as she is commonly recognized. They travel around for many years and eventually go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras where they rent a room from "two old ladies" (p. 156). Mr. Farley leaves the doll with the sisters who place her in a Cotton Exhibition from which a young girl named Sally Loomis steals her. Sally travels on a Mississippi river boat with her father. In a moment of fear and repentance she sets the doll in a basket afloat in the river. Two boys fishing in the river find the basket and take Hitty to their sister, Car'line. Upon seeing the doll Car'line exclaims, "Dat ma chile" (p. 174). She appears to be the daughter of a servant who lives with many others in a small cabin behind "de big house" (p. 174). A big Christmas party is held in the large plantation house by "the Colonel and his daughters" (p. 176). The daughters recognize Hitty as the one missing from the exhibition. They give Car'line a china doll instead and return Hitty to New Orleans. The exhibition is long over and she winds u pin the dead letter office. She bounces around a bit more including:

    • Serving as a pin cushion

    • Getting sold at a church fair

    • Being a birthday gift to an ungrateful elderly aunt

    • Becoming part of a doll collection

    • Flying out of a car and laying on teh side of the road, "until some picnickers stopped to eat lunch,,, . They were a noisy, unattractive lot of young men and women whose clothes shocked me by their tightness and lack of modesty. ... One of the young men even set me on his knee and pretended to make love to me." (p. 189)

    • Getting abandoned in a stable

    • Getting sold at a yard sale

    • Returning to the former Preble house

    • Selling at an estate auction for $51

    • Landing in an antique shop from where she writer her memoir and looks forward to her next 100 years