For the month of October we’re bringing out our Creepiest Objects from our battle with the Seward House Museum. We’ll take a deeper look at some of these ghoulish finds starting with our Chase doll.

Mainly off putting because of its large size, this scary looking doll turned out to be an incredibly interesting find in our collection. Research revealed that this is a Martha Jenks Chase doll, used by hospitals and medical schools for training future nurses. 

Martha Jenks Chase started making dolls for her seven children, wanting toys that looked and felt natural but would also be more durable than the popular bisque head dolls available. The Chase dolls were made of a stretchy stockinette material stuffed with cotton. A tinted paste was then brushed on to mimic the lifelike appearance of porcelain dolls. Facial features were hand painted from images of real life children. The Chase dolls became quite popular and in 1901 Martha began hiring staff to produce them in larger quantities under the company name of M.J. Chase. The lightweight and sturdy dolls were advertised nationally and were sold at Macy’s and FAO Schwartz. 

As her dolls gained an international following, they also caught the attention of Ms. Lauder Sutherland, principal of the Hartford Training School for nurses in Connecticut. Sutherland believed that mannequins could be used for teaching purposes and had been using homemade straw filled dummies. She was impressed by the Chase doll’s durability and in 1911 she reached out to the M.J. Chase Company to see if they could build her a life-size mannequin. Martha’s father, brother, and husband were all physicians, giving her the background knowledge to devise a 5 foot 4 inch doll with jointed limbs. The doll, affectionately called ‘Mrs. Chase’ was used to train nurses how to dress a patient, turn them over and transfer them from bed to bed. In 1914, an improved version included an arm injection site and an internal reservoir for urethral, vaginal, and rectal treatments. 

The ‘hospital doll’ or ‘sanitary doll’ branch of the M.J. Chase Co. expanded rapidly, with dolls ranging from newborn infant size, used to teach new mothers how to handle, feed, and diaper babies, to the adult sizes used by hospitals to train nurses. The Chase dolls became a staple of nursing education in several countries.

Martha Chase died in 1925, but the M.J. Chase Co. continued in business until 1981. In the 1940s, male models larger than the standard hospital models were requested by the U.S. Army to help train medical corpsmen and in the 1960s and 70s, corporations used Chase mannequins to study the prevention and effects of accidents. The dolls were eventually replaced as new technology allowed for more advanced models but the Mrs. Chase doll was affectionately recalled by nurses who trained in the 1920s and 1930s, as can be seen in this 1948 poem written by Hartford Hospital Training School graduate Marguerite L. Manfreda:


In the classroom you’ve been our faithful guide
So your fame in nursing will ever abide.
Your history is one we can no longer hide
For we’re designed to spread it far and wide. 
Though we’ve bathed and pummeled you 
With treatments galore
And turned you until you must have been sore.
You never once spoke or an angry look wore
As we practiced the nursing you made us adore.
 
You’ve been touched and observed to teach detection
Of the signs and symptoms of mankind’s infections
You’ve had purposeful ails and many injections
That we gave to you with heart torn affection.
 
You are dearly loved by all those in white
And students speak of you day and night
As they tell the Chase stories with girlish delight
You’re a dear who will reach historical height.
 
My dear Mrs. Chase of the cameo face
My dear Mrs. Chase you deserve this grace.

–from Remembering Mrs. Chase; Before there were Smart Hospitals and Sim-Men, there was “Mrs. Chase.”  National Student Nurses’ Association, Feb/March 2008.

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