Central Library's Doll Collection

The Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County holds many secrets, but none so enchanting as the George W. Cooper Doll Collection. Previously located in the Secret Room in the Children’s Center, the collection of over 200 dolls is now housed in the Rundel Building’s Arts and Literature Division.

The 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.

In 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-mâché, cloth, wax, and other materials, and many of the costumes are hand-sewn.

When the collection was begun in the 1930s, 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.

In 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 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 of cultural diversity at School #43 all those years ago and continue today as a testament to a man who recognized the importance of understanding and celebrating the diverse cultures that make up our world.

Call the Arts and Literature Division at (585) 428-8380 for further information.

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
Viana of Portugal