Eastman Johnson (1824-1906)
Dinah, Portrait of a Negress, 1867
Oil on board
Gibbes Museum of Art, Gift of Kathleen Hemmer and Arthur Seelbinder  

In contrast to the widespread derogatory caricatures of Dinah figures, this painting depicts a Black woman in a quiet moment of dignity. Eastman Johnson, while born and raised in the North, took a special interest in painting everyday individuals in the South, both before and after slavery.

William Lightfoot Visscher (1842-1924) 
Black Mammy: A Song of the Sunny South and Other Poems. Cheyenne, WY, 1886 
Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, New-York Historical Society  

Stereotypical depictions of African American women as Mammy figures soared in popularity after Reconstruction. At a time of great upheaval, many Americans hungered for an idealized past. Poet and journalist William Visscher used such depictions in Black Mammy, which features a caricatured image on the cover. The title poem is written in Black dialect, a demeaning exaggeration of African American Vernacular English.

The Fabric of a Stereotype

For centuries, Black women chose to wrap their hair to protect it. Some also used bold fabrics and elaborate wrapping techniques for self-expression. The indelible image of the kerchiefed Mammy caricatured this practice, reducing generations of tradition to a marker of subservience.  

The stereotype emerged during slavery and crystalized after emancipation. Perhaps America’s most familiar Dinah figure is Aunt Jemima, a character launched at Chicago’s World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 to sell pancake mix. Nancy Green, a formerly enslaved domestic worker, acted the part. As Aunt Jemima’s popularity soared, some doll makers resisted the stereotype by creating highly individualized Black dolls.

Doll with kerchief and apron, US, ca. 1900 
Mixed fabrics, paper, mohair, paint

Doll in pink dress with apron, US, ca. late 19th/early 20th centuries Mixed fabrics, leather

Doll with red cap, US, late 19th century Mixed fabrics, mother of pearl, beads    

Doll with leather head and bandana, US, ca. 1900 Mixed fabrics, leather  

Doll with red kerchief and apron, 
US, late 19th/early 20th centuries 
Mixed fabrics, leather, mohair, human hair, 
mother of pearl 

Doll with pink blouse, US, ca. 1895 
Mixed fabrics, mohair, glass bottle   

This doll is constructed around a glass bottle from the Crasser Brand Brewing Company, Toledo, Ohio.

Doll with kerchief and apron, possibly Mobile, AL, ca. 1880-97
Mixed fabrics, paint

While the identities of the children who played with the dolls in this exhibition have mostly been lost to history, these images taken by a Mobile, Alabama, photographer offer a rare opportunity to see a doll pictured with the child who owned it. Attired in an apron and kerchief, the Dinah doll has a distinctive painted face.

David A. Warlick (b. 1857), 
Albumen silver print, Marietta, GA, 1891. 

"Mary Jo​nes and Dinah"
Burnham Studio, 
Albumen silver print, Norway, ME, ca. 1880-85. 

Unidentified photographer, 
Gelatin silver print, US, ca. 1907-18

The Art & Craft of Dollmaking