Re-post: Childhood Heroines Redux

I really didn’t like playing with dolls, much to the despair of my mother.  Back in the 1950’s, little girls were expected to want to play mommy to their inert little babies, who would just lie there in their doll beds with their sleep-a-bye eyes closed tight.  Where was the fun in that?  I craved action and excitement, like the boys had with their toys.  It wasn’t until Barbie was introduced in 1959, when I was approaching age 12, that I finally got enthused about dolls. 

Now we’re talkin’! 

I ask you, would you rather play with a typical 50’s doll that looked like this…..         baby                                                                                                      

 …..or a Barbie that looked like this…..


Who looks like a better time?  I rest my case. 

Awhile back I read an article in the New York Times about the powerful women in our country who read Nancy Drew books when they were young.  The list ranged from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to Nancy Pelosi, to many women in law, education and industry whose eyes were opened to the possibilities that had seemed beyond their reach.  If Nancy could be daring and adventurous and go against what was deemed the norm for young ladies back then, well so could they. 

I remember owning some Nancy Drew mysteries, but they never became my favorite reading, although I did (and still do) love to read.  I think her books probably wound up somewhere at the bottom of my toy drawer underneath my toy Winchester repeating rifle and the wooden tomahawk my Dad made for me.  (I think there was a little derringer in there too, like the one Paladin had on “Have Gun Will Travel.”) 

My heroines were of the action variety; ones who could give the good ol’ boys a run for their money.  So I thought I would put together a list of the ladies whom I held in the highest esteem during my childhood, along with some sketches of them to illustrate my point.

First up…..Joan of Arc.


I loved reading about how Joan heard angelic voices telling her that it was up to her to go to battle to save France.  She cut her hair short (like mine!), put on armor (basically boys’ clothes), and got to ride around on her steed telling the guys what to do.  What’s not to like? 

(Except for that whole burning at the stake thing.)

Most of the paintings of Joan show her wearing a skirt over her armor.  I have a difficult time believing anyone who went as far beyond what was considered proper behavior for a young lady as she did would even think about adding a skirt to keep the neighbors’ tongues from wagging.  Joan was such an all-time favorite of mine that I created an artist trading card in her honor for my “Great Cats in Art” series, starring my cat Neferkitty—“The Pussycat of Orleans.”


Next up is Gail Davis of the “Annie Oakley” television show of the 1950’s.


From the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture:

“Gail Davis was an Arkansas-born actress who starred as the legendary sharpshooter in the groundbreaking TV Western series Annie Oakley, which ran from 1954 through 1956. She appeared in thirty-two feature films, was guest on a number of TV shows, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and was an early role model for young women.  

At just over five feet tall and under 100 pounds, Davis was a charming heroine on Annie Oakley who wore pigtails and stopped criminals by outsmarting them or shooting the guns out of their hands. She rode horses and did many of her own stunts. She was the first woman to star in a TV western. Many young women later said they were influenced by watching Gail Davis as Annie Oakley, a female character in a traditionally male role. In the show, Gail took care of her younger brother, Tagg, in the fictional town of Diablo and solved crimes with handsome deputy sheriff Lofty Craig.”

My kind of gal.  Plus, she had cute outfits.

Finally, we have Irish McCalla as “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.”


From Wikipedia:

“In a newspaper interview, McCalla recalled being discovered by a Nassour Studios representative while throwing a bamboo spear on a Malibu, California, beach, famously adding of her Sheena experience, “I couldn’t act, but I could swing through the trees”.  Her 26-episode series aired in first-run syndication from 1955-56.

The athletic, reportedly 5’10” McCalla said she performed her own stunts on the series, filmed in Mexico, until the day she grabbed an unsecured vine and slammed into a tree, breaking her arm. Her elder son, Kim McIntyre, once told the press he remembered watching his mother swinging from vine to vine and wrestling mechanical alligators.”

I was so enthralled with Sheena’s capabilities.  (She could really kick butt.) 

Near our house in Southern California was an orange orchard that was being turned into a housing tract development.  There had been a lot of excavating done by heavy equipment and one morning my mother got a phone call from a neighbor who said “I don’t want to alarm you, Iris, but Melissa’s walking down the street with a snake around her neck.”  (I was around seven or eight years old—Nancy Drew had unsupervised adventures too.) 

I remember sashaying down our street with the snake draped around me, a la Sheena, with a gaggle of admiring followers trailing behind.  God knows what kind of snake it was or how long it had been dead, but that didn’t matter to my mother who hated snakes of any stripe or color.  My homage to Sheena was cut short.  But I loved it….it was so cool.

I enjoy looking back at the heroines of my youth.  I still hold them dear to my heart.  I’m just so glad that there are so many more now for young girls to emulate than there were in my childhood. 

But I still think these gals hold up pretty well even after all these years.

18 thoughts on “Re-post: Childhood Heroines Redux

  1. Ooooh… Linda is right. I loved Sky King, too.

    I loved dolls of any kind. OMG, I remember having a Toni doll that I could perm her hair! The pre-Barbie, I guess.

    Nancy Drew was one of my very favorites. Maybe you should give her another try. 🙂


  2. We had Barbie’s, but they were pretty adventurous – lots of ‘sheena’ barbies, after we were done dressing them in fancy handkerchiefs! My favorite, although she came along too late for my childhood?

    XENA! Warrior Princess. Never needed to be rescued. A giant poster of her hangs in my office…


  3. I was too old for Barbie’s when they came out, had started growing some knobs of my own by then and couldn’t handle the inevitable comparisons. The HOT doll for my generation was a real Barbie predecessor: The Revlon Doll! She was much larger, had “real” hair, and was a real glamor puss.

    Mine had a full wardrobe that included silver high-heeled, opened toed sandals; a white fur stole; and form-fitting cocktail dresses with full, short skirts. And half-slips–wow, that dates a girl!

    She lives upstairs in my attic right now and I’m glad I thought of her, because I bet she’s hot as hell right this minute. I need to go change her to her swimsuit and put that fur stole away for later!


  4. Even though I’m a year older than you, I was an underachiever in the “knobs” department, unfortunately, so I got my vicarious thrills through Barbie’s adventures.

    Now, the knobs are a little lower on the chest of drawers, if you get my drift.


  5. You had your very own toy Winchester?? I’m jealous, I had to go steal my brother’s… then Mom would get mad and make me give it back, (even tho he was too busy playing with my Barbie and his GI Joe). Which explains why my brother is such a perv.

    I had the eyeliner Barbie, she sat and collected dust until GI Joe came around… I’m just saying………..


  6. My brother wouldn’t give me the time of day–and if he did, it would be wrong on purpose. I remember one time he and his friend sold lemonade in front of our house and at the end of the day they offered me a “free” dixie cupful. Turned out to be gutter water. Luckily, I didn’t fall for it…


  7. One of my favorites was “Strawberry Girl” and I adored Pippi Longstocking, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

    I did love my dolls although I was known to have occasionally painted them with fingernail polish to make wounds I could bandage while I was playing nurse. But by and large, I nurtured them and changed them and rocked them and sang to them.

    I was a Gene Autry fan and once got into a fight because my friend said Trigger could run faster than Champion.


    • My mother would come into my room and find the baby dolls I wouldn’t play with all in a jumble in the doll bed, like they’d been in a bar fight. She would patiently rearrange them and cover them up with the blanket.

      What I really liked was stuffed animals from the Steiff toy makers of Germany. I bought a lot of them with my allowance money. Also handpuppets from Steiff. My daughter has them displayed in my grandson’s bedroom now.


  8. Oh Annie Oakley, I’d completely forgotten that! I used to love it. I was a bit a both types of kid – liked gooey baby dolls and liked barbie type ones (though I had a Sindy which I preferred – less skinny). I had a toy gun which a boy at primary school told me I must’ve stolen from a boy as ‘girls don’t play with guns’. Well, I did. Toy ones, anyway. (With my spatial perception problems a real gun would be very dangerous for me to use, I’d probably end up shooting myself by mistake). My sister’s way older than me and liked the action-girl type stuff, so I’d borrow her books and read them.

    Great post!


    • For a long time I had only boys to play with on my street, so I had to have my own weaponry. Besides cowboys and Indians, we re-fought WWII quite often. I liked being outdoors, running around with the guys. We even had a vacant lot where we built forts and had dirt clod fights. Good times…


  9. Pingback: Sheesh… « Absurd Old Bird

  10. Pingback: Sheesh… « Absurd Old Bird

  11. Here by way of Val! Thank you, Val!

    First, note to self: don’t read funny posts late at night when the rest of the family is trying to sleep because loud laughter might wake them up.

    With regard to the note to self, I am referring specifically to the illustration of the 50’s doll. I had a flashback to my favorite baby doll and wondered for a moment why she … what appeared to be a 9-month old … had such long, thick lashes. They were kind of like Betty Davis eyes (har, har) from “Hush, Hush, Sweet” Charlotte … CREEPY! And the illustration of Barbie … I had a flashback … did the Barbie dolls have pierced ears, or am I imagining that? Never-the-less, I laughed thinking about the Talking Barbie that I idolized. I’m just so thankful that on my first date I didn’t take my cue from her and say “What shall I wear to the prom?” A little presumptuous for a first date, don’t cha think?).


  12. Thank you! Yes, baby dolls of that era were kind of creepy. Barbie was such a relief. I had the first version of Barbie around 1958-59 and she did in fact have pierced ears—or at least the earrings were attached to her lobes in some way. I also had an early Barbie board game were you went through this whole process of picking out your dress, etc. for a “big date.” There were several guys you could wind up with, and the loser date was named Poindexter—with red hair and freckles. Now that I think back on it, the whole thing was kind of appalling, but I really liked it at the time. Thanks for stopping by!


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