B’nai B’rith, now known as Jewish Women International (JWI), began the “Dolls for Democracy” program in 1956 in conjunction with the interfaith, interracial organization Fellowship House. The realistic dolls, hand-made first by portrait doll artist Cecil Weeks and then by famed sculptor Almazetta Casey, were used by women who came to be known affectionately as “Doll Ladies.” They would travel to local schools and use the dolls to teach children tolerance, and to inspire them to overcome obstacles and disadvantages through stories about the lives of these historical figures who changed the world for good. Once wildly popular around the country and particularly here in Orange County, the program slowly faded away… except for our very own doll lady, Selma Buckstein, 95 years young and still going strong. Now living in Laguna Woods, Selma has volunteered for this program for over 64 years, believing that history taught in this old-fashioned way can still be effective. As she said in a 2013 OC Register article, “I want these kids to … think for [themselves] about that person who has different skin, goes to a different church, wears different clothes, comes from a different country.” The OC Jewish Historical Society has 21 dolls in its archives, including Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Jonas Salk, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Anne Frank, George Washington Carver, and Golda Meir, and hopes to present an exhibit about them in the near future.
DALIA TAFT, archivist of the Orange County Jewish Historical Society, highlights images from the archives every month. For more information, please visit www.jewishoc.org/history. You can also contact Dalia at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (949) 435-3484, ext. 167. The Orange County Jewish Historical Society is a program of Jewish Federation & Family Services and is fully funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Orange County.