The golliwog, golliwogg or golly was a black character in children's books in the late 19th century usually depicted as a type of rag doll. It was reproduced, both by commercial and hobby toy-makers as a children's toy called the "golliwog", and had great popularity in Europe and Australia into the 1970s. The doll is characterised by black skin, eyes rimmed in white, clown lips and frizzy hair. While home-made golliwogs were sometimes female, the golliwog was generally male. For this reason, in the period following World War II, the golliwog was seen, along with the teddy bear, as a suitable soft toy for a young boy.
The image of the doll has become the subject of heated debate. While some see the golliwog as a cherished cultural artifact and childhood tradition, others argue that the golliwog is a destructive instance of racism against people of African descent, along with pickaninnies, minstrels, mammy figures, and other caricatures, and has been described as "the least known of the major anti-Black caricatures in the United States". In recent years, changing political attitudes with regard to race have reduced the popularity and sales of golliwogs as toys. Manufacturers who have used golliwogs as a motif have either withdrawn them as an icon, or changed the name. In particular, the association of the golliwog with the pejorative term "wog" has resulted in use of alternative names such as "golly" and "golly doll".
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Florence Kate Upton was born in 1873 in Flushing, New York, the daughter of English parents who had emigrated to the United States three years previously. Following the death of her father, she moved back to England with her mother and sisters when she was fourteen. There she spent several years drawing and developing her artistic skills. In order to afford tuition to art school, she illustrated a children's book entitled The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg. The 1895 book included a character named the Golliwogg, who was first described as "a horrid sight, the blackest gnome", but who quickly turned out to be a friendly character, and is later attributed with a "kind face." A product of the blackface minstrel tradition, the Golliwogg had jet black skin; bright, red lips; and wild, woolly hair. He wore red trousers, a shirt with a stiff collar, red bow-tie, and a blue jacket with tails — all traditional minstrel attire.
Upton's book and its many sequels were extremely successful in England, largely because of the popularity of the Golliwogg. Upton did not trademark her character, and its name, spelled "golliwog", became the generic name for dolls and images of a similar type. The golliwog doll became a popular children's toy throughout most of the 20th century, and was incorporated into many aspects of British commerce and culture; for instance, some of Enid Blyton's books feature them, often as a villain and sometimes as heroes. Upton's Golliwogg was jovial, friendly and gallant, but some later golliwogs were sinister or menacing characters.
The golliwog contributed enormously to the spread of blackface iconography in Europe. It also made its way back across the Atlantic in the form of children's literature, dolls, children's china and other toys, ladies' perfume, and jewellery.
British jam manufacturer James Robertson & Sons used a golliwog called Golly as its mascot from 1910, after John Robertson apparently saw children playing with golliwog dolls in America. Robertson's started producing promotional Golly badges in the 1920s, which could be obtained in exchange for tokens gained from their products. In 1983, the company's products were boycotted by the Greater London Council as offensive, and in 1988 the character ceased to be used in television advertising. The company used to give away Golly badges and small plaster figures playing musical instruments or sports and other such themes. The badge collection scheme was withdrawn in 2001.
According to an editorial in The Times newspaper golliwogs were banned in Germany in 1934, on the grounds they were inappropriate toys for Aryan children.
In a statement reported by the BBC, Virginia (Ginny) C. Knox, previously brand director for Robertson's and later Chief Operating Officer of the Culinary Brands Division of RHM, told The Herald Newspaper in Scotland in 2001 that the decision to remove the Golly symbol from Robertson's jam and marmalade jars was taken after research found that children were not familiar with the character, although it still appealed to the older generations. "We sell 45 million jars of jam and marmalade each year and they have pretty much all got Golly on them," said Ms Knox. "We also sell 250,000 Golly badges to collectors and only get 10 letters a year from people who don't like the Golliwog image." Today, Robertson's Golly badges remain highly collectible, with the very rarest sometimes selling for more than £1,000.
An aniseed flavoured chewy confection called a Blackjack was marketed in the United Kingdom from the 1920s with a golliwog's face on the wrapper. In the late 1980s, Trebor, the manufacturer, replaced the image with the face of a black-bearded pirate.
The noted art historian Sir Kenneth Clark said that the golliwogs of his childhood were, "examples of chivalry, far more persuasive than the unconvincing Knights of the Arthurian legend."
Golliwog as racist insult
After the publication of Upton's first book, the term "golliwog" was used both as a reference to the children's toy and as a generic slang term for black people. In the UK and the Commonwealth, "golliwog" perhaps became "wog," a racial slur applied to dark-skinned people worldwide. In Australia many young people of Greek, Italian, and other Mediterranean descent have reclaimed the name "wog" as a humorous identifier. An example of this from Australian popular culture is the 2000 movie The Wog Boy starring the actor Nick Giannopoulos.
In March 2007, Greater Manchester Police seized two golliwogs from a shop after a complaint that the dolls were offensive. In September 2007, retail chain Zara put a T-shirt on sale in its UK stores with a little girl resembling a golliwog printed in the front. The design spurred controversy, coming only weeks after the company had been forced to pull a swastika-emblazoned handbag from its shelves, although the swastika is also a religious symbol for Hindus and Buddhists.
In September 2008, Amanda Schofield from Stockport claimed she was arrested for keeping a "golly doll" in her window. Greater Manchester Police denied this and said she was arrested after a series of complaints of alleged racially-aggravated behaviour were made against her.
In February 2009, Carol Thatcher, daughter of Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, in an off-air conversation at the BBC, referred to the black French tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, competing in the Australian Open, as looking like a golliwog. The comment was considered by the BBC as "wholly unacceptable" and Thatcher was informed that unless she apologized she would no longer be a reporter on BBC's The One Show. Thatcher stated that it was a silly joke and declined to make an "unconditional apology". Thatcher claimed that her comment was a reference to the golliwog motifs that she saw in her childhood on "jars of jam" (i.e. Robertson's Marmalade). In April 2009 she appeared on the BBC in an interview on The Andrew Marr Show for the first time since the scandal, defending her use of the word. The French publication Sportsweek' claimed that Thatcher, in talking about a previous competition, referred to another player as "the one who was defeated by the golliwog in the previous tour." The French publication, which showed a picture of Tsonga above a picture of a toy golliwog, claimed that Thatcher was "mortified" and that her comment was about the similarity of Tsonga's appearance to the doll that she had as a child.
In March 2011, two prospective Conservative local councillors resigned from the party after their membership was suspended following complaints from fellow party members that they had used images of golliwogs as part of a protest against political correctness. Bill and Star Etheridge, a married couple from the West Midlands who were due to stand in council elections for the Dudley borough, criticised the Conservative Party for going back on a pre-election pledge to curb political correctness, and felt that the action taken against them was "stifling" the right to free speech. They then defected to the UK Independence Party.
In December 2013, a councillor in Brighton, UK, was forced to apologise for stating to a newspaper reporter that golliwogs were not racist. Cllr Dawn Barnett was defending a local shop which was selling golliwog drinks mats. In her opinion, "I said I can see no harm in them. They are nostalgic, I'm 72 years old. My generation grew up with them." Bert Williams, speaking on behalf of Brighton and Hove Black History Group, said the word "golliwog" was historically used to tease black people, of which he had personal experience. In the same month in Toowoomba, Australia, Darrell Lea Chocolate Shop made no comment when customers complained about their sale of golliwogs. The Australian toy manufacturer Elka continues to 'proudly' produce golliwogs and supplies them to Darrell Lea.
- The Golliwog Caricature (2000) by David Pilgrim, Ferris State University. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
- The Golliwog Caricature
- In Ashton-under-Lyne during World War I a hospital matron improvised what she called "Charlie Goggle-eyes" dolls as presents for sick children. With bodies made from black stockings cut up, stuffed and re-sewn, they had unravelled black wool for hair, buttons for eyes and "bright-coloured suits".Weekly Dispatch, 23 December 1917, p.3
- The Times, 16 March 1934, p. 15
- "'Controversial' golly to be shelved" BBC News 23 August 2001
- A Quarter of: Blackjacks
- Wog, Merriam-Webster Online etymology, "perhaps short for golliwog".
- Golly dolls seized by cops Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
- "Zara withdraws swastika handbags" BBC News 19 September 2007
- Manchester Evening News
- Carol Thatcher 'golliwog' jibe referred to black tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Daily Telegraph. The comment was made as 55-year-old Thatcher chatted with presenter Adrian Chiles and guest comedian Jo Brand after a recording of the show last Thursday. A BBC source, who was in the room at the same time, told the Evening Standard: “The tennis was on one of the monitors. When Tsonga came on, Carol said he looked like a golliwog.” Thisislondon.co.uk
- Thatcher axed by BBC's One Show 4 February 2009
- Thatcher interview on The Andrew Marr Show
- Sportsweek- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga insulte
- Tory husband wife posed with golliwogs on Facebook forced leave conservatives | Mail Online
- Brighton councillor rapped over golliwog comment | BBC News online
- Toowoomba business under fire over racist dolls | Toowoomba Chronicle
- Elka: 'Gollies and dolls' | Elka website
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Golliwoggs.|
- "The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg" by Bertha Upton 1895 at Project Gutenberg
- "Golliwogg.co.uk" An independent guide to golliwogs
- "The Golliwog Caricature," Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia Article by David Pilgrim, Ferris State University, Michigan
- "Gollydownunder.com" A brief history of golliwogs
- Clean plates GOLIWOG license plate
- BBC News – Row erupts over golly exhibition 13/01/07
- "Gollies". Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood. Retrieved 2009-01-11.
- The Daily Mirror – Carol Thatcher's (Golliwog) slurs on (tennis player) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2009-07-02
- Contortionists performing Golliwogg acts: L.I.M.E Trio, 1937, The Florida Trio, 1950, The Morlidor Trio, 1966