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A golliwog in the form of a child's soft toy
A racist drawing depicting a black rag doll with a big, black head, sitting in a rocking chair, with three white children standing by (As seen in the Beaton household).
Florence Kate Upton's Golliwogg in formal minstrel attire in The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg in 1895

The golliwog, also spelled golliwogg or shortened to golly, is a doll-like character, created by cartoonist and author Florence Kate Upton, which appeared 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 soft toy called the "golliwog", a portmanteau of golly and polliwog,[1][2][3] and had great popularity in the Southern United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia into the 1970s.

The golliwog is controversial, being widely considered a racist caricature of black people,[4][5] alongside pickaninnies, minstrels, and mammy figures. The doll is characterised by jet black skin, eyes rimmed in white, exaggerated red lips and frizzy hair, based on the blackface minstrel tradition. Since the 20th century, the word "golliwog" has been considered a racial slur towards black people.[6] The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia described the golliwog as "the least known of the major anti-black caricatures in the United States".[7] 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 Manufacturers who have used golliwogs as a motif (e.g. Robertson's marmalade in the UK) have either withdrawn them as an icon or changed the name. Alternative names such as golly and golly doll have also been adopted due to association with the racial slur wog, which many dictionaries say may be derived from golliwog.[8][9][10][11]

In fiction[edit]

The Golliwogg's Auto-Go-Cart, a 1901 book by Florence Kate Upton

Florence Kate Upton was born in 1873 in Flushing, New York, United States, 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. To afford tuition at 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.[7]

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, spelt "golliwog", became the generic name for dolls and images of a similar type. Upton's Golliwogg was jovial, friendly and gallant, but some later golliwogs were sinister or menacing characters.[7] For instance, a number of Enid Blyton's Noddy and Big Ears books feature Golliwog, sometimes as heroes but often as a villain[7] or as naughty individuals.[12] Other authors took a similar tack.[12] The name "golliwog" came to be used as a degrading term for anyone who was not white-skinned, and new origins were suggested for the word. Upton despaired: "I am frightened when I read the fearsome etymology some deep, dark minds can see in his name."[12][13]

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.[14]

In culture[edit]

In the United States, it became popular in the form of children's literature, dolls, children's china and other toys, ladies' perfume, and jewellery.

A 1920s golliwog perfume bottle
A 1920s golliwog perfume bottle

Golliwogg's Cakewalk is the sixth and final piece in the Children's Corner, a suite for piano published by French composer Claude Debussy in 1908.

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 the United States.[15] Robertson's started producing promotional Golly badges in the 1920s, which could be obtained in exchange for tokens gained from their products. By the 1950s, the firm had incorporated the figure into the advertising campaign for its jams with the slogan "Golly! They're Good".[16]

In 1976, the world's first "special shape" hot air balloon was built by Cameron Balloons. Its shape and design was based on the Roberson's Golly character.[17]

In 1983, Robertson's products were boycotted by Ken Livingstone's Greater London Council due to their offensiveness,[18] and in 1988 the character ceased to be used in television advertising.[19] The company used to give away golliwog badges and small plaster figures playing musical instruments (jazz musicians) or sports and other such themes.[20] The Gollywog badge collection scheme was withdrawn in 2001.[19]

Virginia 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 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".[21]

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.

Starting in 1957, HB Ice Cream produced the Golly Bar, an ice cream originally sold exclusively in the Republic of Ireland, whose packaging depicted images of a golliwog.[22] Due to the increasing controversy surrounding the character, the golliwog was removed from packaging in 1992, and the name was later changed to Giant Bars.[23]

A classic contortionist act is the rag doll act: often performed in a golliwog costume, it is therefore also called the golliwogg act.

A golliwog takes center stage in the B-movie thriller Tomorrow at Ten (1962), in which a golliwog with a bomb planted in it is used in a kidnapping scheme.

In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier and Volume IV: The Tempest, Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill included Upton's original Golliwog with a slightly reimagined, alien past. When this was attacked as a racist character, Moore responded that the Upton's original Golliwog "was a dignified and respectable figure. His courage and strength of character were ably demonstrated in his picaresque adventures, as was his intellectual acumen."[24]

Association with racism[edit]

According to a 2013 editorial in The Times, golliwogs were designed to reflect a racist stereotype that treated black men as an object of ridicule, and perpetuated racial prejudice by introducing this stereotype to children. They were the second most popular children's toy in Europe in the first half of the 20th century, after the teddy bear. Golliwogs were banned by Nazi Germany in 1934 on the grounds they were inappropriate toys for Aryan children.[4]

United Kingdom[edit]

In March 2007, Greater Manchester Police seized two golliwogs from a shop after a complaint that the dolls were offensive.[25] In September 2008, a woman 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.[26]

In February 2009, in an off-air conversation at the BBC, Carol Thatcher, the daughter of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, referred to the black French tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who was competing in the Australian Open, as looking like a golliwog.[27][28] The comment was considered by the BBC as "wholly unacceptable" and Thatcher was informed that unless she apologised 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 said that her comment was a reference to the golliwog motifs that she saw in her childhood on jars of jam (made by Robertson's).[29] In April that year, she was interviewed on The Andrew Marr Show, a BBC television programme, defending her use of the word.[30] 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.[31]

In March 2011, Conservative English politician Bill Etheridge and his wife, Star, resigned from the Conservatives after their membership was suspended following complaints from party members that they were photographed posing with knitted golliwogs on their Facebook profile pages as part of a protest against political correctness.[32]

In December 2013, a councillor in Brighton was forced to apologise for stating to a newspaper reporter that golliwogs were not racist. Councillor Dawn Barnett was defending a local shop which was selling golliwog drinks mats. She stated, "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.[33]

In January 2015, Chaka Artwell, a campaigner, had his BBC interview cancelled after he refused to remove a golliwog doll he was wearing around his neck. He later said, "When I was growing up in this country, this guy was a popular figure. Then, without anyone asking me if I was offended by it, people decided I was offended by it. White, middle-class liberal types decided I was offended by this guy and in the year 2015 I don’t want people telling me what I should be offended by. People pick and chose what they want to highlight. This is ridiculous." Oxford City Councillor Ben Lloyd-Shogbesan said, "I think it demeans the image of black people. I think (Artwell) was trying to make a point but on the wrong basis and I think it shows a lack of sensitivity to people who don’t like that image. I would have said to him ‘you might not find it offensive, but a lot of people do – so maybe find another medium to have that conversation?".[34]

In August 2016, Charlotte Nightingale, a retired midwife from Ghana, started a campaign where she defended the golliwog, selling various golliwog dolls for charity events and launching a website called ‘Gollynomics’. She expressed her belief for the toy to be reclaimed in a positive light and believed it to be a type of traditional rag doll made for African children which made its way to America via the slave trade, arguing that the toys should be considered as part of African culture.[35][36][further explanation needed][37]

In April 2018, a man in Prestatyn was fined £250 plus £85 costs for displaying a golliwog in a window opposite two Indian restaurants. He pleaded guilty to a racially aggravated public order offence."[38]

In July 2018, a YouGov poll asked 1,660 Britons whether it was "racist to sell or display a golliwog doll", to which 63% responded "No", 20% "Yes", and 17% "I'm Not Sure".[39]

In April 2023, the Essex Police removed several golliwog dolls displayed in the pub of the White Hart Inn in response to an alleged hate crime. The pub's owner, Benice Ryley, said, "They're my childhood history, it’s a part of our inheritance. I can't see any harm. I don’t know how they can find it offensive." The decision achieved international media attention amidst reports that the Home Secretary Suella Braverman objected to the action.[40] The pub was later graffitied and vandalised[41] and eventually closed for business after a number of their suppliers withdrew their services.[42] Later that month, a Norfolk café owner removed a display of golliwog dolls after police declared the exhibit a "hate incident".[43]


On 1 December 2016, Australian Aboriginal activist, author and filmmaker Stephen Hagan caused a national controversy[44] when he labelled Toowoomba the "most racist city in Australia"[45] after a display of nine golliwog dolls were placed by Terry White Chemists underneath a sign[46] inviting shoppers to "Experience a White Christmas". The controversy began when Toowoomba man George Helon[47] spotted the dolls placed beneath the sign,[48] and circulated a picture of it on Facebook[49] and Twitter.[50] The display was only in one store, as a franchisee can "stock and sell products at their discretion"; however, Terry White Chemists banned the sale of the doll in any franchise afterwards.[51]

In September 2018, three golliwog dolls were removed from public display at the Royal Adelaide Show arts and crafts display after Indigenous community group Deadly Yarning posted pictures of them on Facebook and denounced them as racist.[52]

In March 2019, a hot air balloon with a Golliwog face named "Black Magic" and also known by the nickname "Golly" was banned from participating at the Canberra Balloon Spectacular over its "racist and offensive" name and façade.[53]

Griffith University lecturer Eddie Synot has said that the dolls perpetuate a "narrative of the inferiority of black people" in Australia, and that the country should try to engage in "difficult conversations" about the toy.[54]

New Zealand[edit]

On 22 March 2021, the Gollyville quilt of a Whakatāne artist, Barbara Key, was removed from the Art House's Carving Symposium and Art Exhibition, due to a visitor finding the quilt to be offensive.[55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harper, Douglas. "golliwog". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  2. ^ "golliwog". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  3. ^ "golliwog". Lexico Dictionaries (Powered by Oxford). Archived from the original on 16 January 2020. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  4. ^ a b Macintyre, Ben (22 November 2013). "There's nothing innocent about the golliwog". The Times. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  5. ^ Varga, Donna; Zuk, Rhoda (June 2013). "Golliwogs and Teddy Bears: Embodied Racism in Children's Popular Culture". The Journal of Popular Culture. 46 (3): 647–671. doi:10.1111/jpcu.12042.
  6. ^ Pilgrim, David. "The Golliwog Caricature - Anti-black Imagery". www.ferris.edu. Retrieved 25 April 2023.
  7. ^ a b c d Pilgrim, David (2000). "The Golliwog Caricature". Ferris State University. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  8. ^ "Definition of 'wog'". Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  9. ^ "Definition of wog". Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  10. ^ "wog". Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  11. ^ "Wog". Your Dictionary. 24 October 2017. Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  12. ^ a b c "Golliwogg and Co, UK". Golliwogg.co.uk. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  13. ^ "TimesOnline". TimesOnline. 13 March 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ Dotz, Warren; Morton, Jim (1996). What a Character! 20th Century American Advertising Icons. Chronicle Books. p. 85. ISBN 0-8118-0936-6.
  16. ^ "History World - Advert Museum - Robertsons Jams". www.historyworld.co.uk.
  17. ^ "G-OLLI". British Balloon Museum & Library. Retrieved 13 January 2024.
  18. ^ Billings, Claire (23 August 2001). "Robertson's axes Golly after 91 years". Campaign. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  19. ^ a b "Time runs out for Robertson's golly". the Guardian. 23 August 2001.
  20. ^ "Robertson's golliwogs | Revealing Histories". revealinghistories.org.uk.
  21. ^ "'Controversial' golly to be shelved". BBC News. 23 August 2001. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  22. ^ "Ice Pop Culture – Part 2 – HB, The Soft Ones".
  23. ^ "From Golly Bars to Eskimo Mints: The Irish brands with a race problem". The Irish Times. Retrieved 4 March 2024.
  24. ^ Ó Méalóid, Pádraig (9 January 2014), "Last Alan Moore Interview?", Pádraig Ó Méalóid AKA Slovobooks, retrieved 12 September 2016
  25. ^ "Golly dolls seized by cops". Manchester Evening News. 15 March 2007. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  26. ^ "Woman arrested over 'golly' doll". Manchester Evening News. 19 April 2010. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  27. ^ Singh, Anita (4 February 2009). "Carol Thatcher 'golliwog' jibe referred to black tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  28. ^ Moore-Bridger, Benedict (6 February 2009). "Boris backs Thatcher over golliwog sacking". London Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  29. ^ "Thatcher axed by BBC's One Show". BBC News. 4 February 2009. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  30. ^ "Unrepentant Thatcher back on BBC". BBC News. 19 April 2009. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  31. ^ Beaudouin, Aurélie (4 February 2009). "Jo-Wilfried Tsonga insulté par la fille de Margaret Thatcher" (in French). Sportweek.fr. Archived from the original on 22 February 2012. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  32. ^ Withers, Matt (2 October 2018). "MEP who posed with golliwog quits UKIP over 'rightward turn'". The New European. Retrieved 25 January 2022.
  33. ^ "Brighton councillor rapped over golliwog comment". BBC News. 20 December 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  34. ^ BBC Ban Black History Campaigner From TV Because Of His Love For Golliwog Dolls Inquisitr, January 9, 2015
  35. ^ Bannerman, Lucy (27 August 2016). "Golly! Grandmother says controversial doll part of black heritage". The Times. Retrieved 25 April 2023.
  36. ^ "Ghanaian grandmother's 'golly' mission | farnhamherald.com". Farnham Herald. 14 August 2016. Retrieved 15 April 2023.
  37. ^ Finnigan, Lexi (27 August 2016). "Grandmother defies convention to sell Golly dolls in effort to reclaim black heritage". The Telegraph.
  38. ^ "Prestatyn man fined for race-hate doll in window". BBC News. 30 April 2018. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  39. ^ "Most British people don't think a 'golliwog', a doll that looks like a minstrel, is racist". The Independent. 24 July 2018. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  40. ^ Weaver, Matthew (10 April 2023). "Essex police deny Braverman rebuked them over pub seizure of golliwog dolls". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 10 April 2023.
  41. ^ Hajjaji, Danya (16 April 2023). "Essex pub that displayed golly dolls seized by police is vandalised". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 5 May 2023.
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  43. ^ Cleary, Emily (23 April 2023). "Norfolk café removes golliwog display after police declare it a 'hate incident'". Yahoo News. Retrieved 25 April 2023.
  44. ^ "Offensive 'white Christmas' display sparks calls for Golliwog boycott in Australia". SBS Australia. 1 December 2016. Archived from the original on 9 February 2018. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  45. ^ "Toowoomba accused by activists of being Australia's most racist city after chemist shop display". News.com.au. 2 December 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  46. ^ "Toowoomba accused by activists of being Australia's most racist city after chemist shop display". The New Zealand Herald. 2 December 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  47. ^ "White Christmas 'golliwog' display labelled racist". Toowoomba Chronicle. 1 December 2016. Archived from the original on 23 January 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  48. ^ "Queensland chemist under fire for 'racist' golliwog display". Nine News. 1 December 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  49. ^ "Offensive 'white Christmas' display sparks calls for Golliwog boycott in Australia". SBS Australia. 1 December 2016. Archived from the original on 3 December 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  50. ^ "Toowoomba accused by activists of being Australia's most racist city after chemist shop display Offensive 'white Christmas' display sparks calls for Golliwog boycott in Australia". Courier Mail. 2 December 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  51. ^ "TERRY WHITE CHEMIST UNDER FIRE FOR GOLLIWOG DISPLAY". AJP. 1 December 2016. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  52. ^ "Racism row breaks out over golliwogs at Royal Adelaide Show". ABC News. 2 September 2018. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  53. ^ "'Racist' balloon banned from festival never offended anybody, owner says". ABC News. 27 February 2019. Retrieved 5 October 2023.
  54. ^ Cansdale, Dominic (15 June 2021). "Many who defend sale of golliwogs feel 'their child selves have been accused of racism'". ABC News. Retrieved 24 April 2023.
  55. ^ "Whakatane artist astonished after 'Gollyville' quilt pulled from exhibition". NZ Herald. Retrieved 25 March 2021.

External links[edit]