This doll is not a lobbyist, a senator or a suffragist — roles to be expected in the popular toy line that teaches women’s history and accomplishments with elaborate backstories and books to make the (expensive) doll thing more palatable.
First of all, Evette is biracial, one of the first in the American Girl universe (they had a special, one-year-only Irish-Japanese doll in 2006) and one of few biracial dolls on the market.
And her persona and story were created by two real-life Washington women who have deep emotional and personal ties to the Washington that the rest of the world rarely hears about.
And it really began back in 1949, when Washington’s African Americans were booed and harassed out of the city’s newly desegregated swimming pools. And many folks just went back to swimming in the river.
When she didn’t feel welcome at the city’s lunch counters, she remembered her family retreating to the Anacostia’s shores to relax and recreate. Her grandfather fished. They took family photos. She saw the river most days when she was at Anacostia High School.
And after she graduated in 1966 and went on to Harvard University and a career as a prolific author of children’s books, she left the river behind in her childhood memories.
“I have never written about an environmental theme, but as I was narrowing the theme down, I instantly thought of the Anacostia River. It was such a positive part of my childhood,” she said.
But then she caught up with the long struggle over pollution and conservation of her beloved river.
“I never thought of the river as needing anything at all,” Wyeth said. “The river was like a grown-up — always there. It took care of you.”
Wyeth used her own childhood in D.C., the stories of her parents and grandparents to unfold the history of the river and what it meant to Black Washington. But she needed an expert on the river.
She grew up in Barbados — where she had two American Girl dolls, Molly and Samantha — and took for granted her access and relationship to water.
When she came to D.C. as a graduate student, she was surprised at how the relationship between the city and its river had diminished. For her, access to a clean and healthy waterway is a human right.
Every person — no matter their race, class, ability or ethnicity — should be able to easily get to the shore of a river, pond, lake or ocean and exhale, she said. And as she looked at concrete cities, closed parks and increasingly indoor lives, she saw that access was shrinking in America.
So it made perfect sense to work with Wyeth to give American girls the idea that her childhood — where she could go to a clean waterfront every day — is normal. And they deserve that, too.