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City of Rochester

Central Library's Secret Room and Doll Collection

   Dolores of Spain
The Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County holds many secrets, but none so enchanting as the George W. Cooper Doll Collection. The collection of over 200 dolls is tucked away within another “secret” – the Secret Room in the Children’s Center of the library. Most adults have to lower their heads a little bit while crossing the threshold into the Secret Room and don’t see the dolls until they are fully inside. When the lights come on, the shadowy figures along the walls come to life in a riot of colors and costumes, ready to share their stories like Dolores of Spain, shown at left.

Antonio of ItalyThe collection is named in honor of George W. Cooper, a local elementary school principal under whose leadership the dolls were collected. In 1934, students and teachers at Theodore Roosevelt School #43 contacted the then-existing 69 countries of the world. Through the Minister of Foreign Affairs, a school or organization was found which wanted to exchange dolls with the students of #43 School. The students offered to send each country a Shirley Temple doll from the United States in exchange for a doll dressed in the traditional clothing of that country.

Marie Louise, First Queen of BelgiumIn 1940, the students and teachers of #43 School presented the collection of approximately 180 dolls to the Rochester Public Library. Since then, gifts from individual donors have brought the total number of dolls in the collections to over 200. Today, gifts of new dolls are accepted only if the country the doll represents is not already in the collection. Dolls in the collection represent countries and regions such as the seven provinces of France, Russia, Belgium, Japan, Guatemala, Spain and many more. Dolls are made of wood, papier mache, cloth, wax and other materials, and many of the costumes are hand-sewn.

Matheos of GreeceWhen the collection was begun in the 1930’s, the students and teachers wrote only to existing countries, and did not write to colonies. Since that time, several donors have gifted the collection with dolls representing countries that did not achieve independence until later in the 20th century. The original dolls in the collection reflect the varied cultural and ethnic groups represented by the students at #43 School. Mr. Cooper felt it was essential for children to understand and appreciate cultures other than their own, and the doll collection was one method he used to further that understanding.

Shirley Temple doll sent by School #43In 1990, the staff of the Children’s Center celebrated the 50th anniversary of the donation with a reception for the students and teachers who were involved in the collection, and for anyone else who had a connection to the collection. Students and teachers who attended the reception told of how they sold salt to raise money to buy the Shirley Temple dolls (shown at left) to send to the other countries, and how Mr. Cooper would call the whole school together in an assembly whenever a new crate of dolls arrived from overseas. The dolls were a celebration in cultural diversity at School #43 seventy years ago, and continue today as a testament to a man who recognized the importance of understanding other cultures.

Call the Children's Center at (585) 428-8150 for further information. The Secret Room is open to the public when not in use for programming or class visits.  

 

Coal seller of Liege, milkwoman and farmer from Brabant Life-size doll from Japan Belgian nursemaid Viana of Portugal

Coal seller of Liege, Milkwoman
and Farmer from Brabant

Life-size doll
from Japan

Belgian
Nursemaid

Viana of Portugal

 


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