Impacting young lives becomes doll shop owner’s latest body of work

emily fanning w_doll

Emily Fanning holds a doll that she made in her Riverdale Park doll shop

Community leaders do not need to lead social demonstrations and build their movement on speech elocution for efficacy; some  can utilize their unique craft to drum about change.

75-year old Bladensburg native has united youth in the Riverdale community for the last four years through her doll making classes.

Emily Fanning, owner of doll hospital and accessory shop Aunt Emily’s Dolls, has cherished dolls ever since making her own at age nine out of a hickory nut.

Fanning further groomed her skills in workshops taught to the Washington Dollology Club of United Federation of Doll Clubs, organization she has been a member of since 1972. She settled into her Riverdale Park location in 1994 where she has continued to polish her craft and sustain with the help of grants acquired by the city of Riverdale.

She empathizes with residents living in the surrounding area because she grew up in a family that did not have much financial surplus.

Fanning guides a group of Riverdale Elementary School students through a free, six to twelve month process of making early 19th century style dolls.

Many of her students face socioeconomic challenges that make focusing solely on crafting dolls difficult so she uses her platform to teach valuable life lessons.

One day she allowed two of her advanced students to conduct the class in order to teach everyone the importance of behaving cooperatively. They were charged with establishing and enforcing rules and following a curriculum created by Fanning. The girls who assumed the teaching role quickly recognized how demanding the responsibilities of teacher can be and have since grown more understanding.

The students attend tea events to meet other doll fanatics who live various other lifestyles due to economic or geographic differences.

Fanning organized an event at Prince George’s County Parks and Recreation’s Riverdale House Museum where the food, décor and costume replicated what an aristocrat would have enjoyed in 1810. She invited attendees from the Washington Dollology Club. Although her students initially expressed some reservation about meeting new people, they grew more comfortable once everyone began admiring the dolls they created.

Recently the students have been working on doll houses to complement the dolls they have created. Fanning used this exercise as an opportunity to teach another life lesson about the value of higher education and wise family planning as she noticed the social pressures in the neighborhood confronting the children at a young age. It began a discussion in the class at many of the students’ homes.

For Fanning, the dolls are a tool to teach American history, raise the self-esteem of a generation of young children who need guidance and reassurance and to assemble people who would never relate otherwise.

In the future she would like more adults to participate in the lessons and possibly charge a small fee for her services.

To learn more about Emily Fanning and Aunt Emily’s Doll Hospital, visit


About UniqueUpstarts

I am a blogger embarking on a journey to inform the people in the Washington D.C. area of new exciting small businesses available.

Posted on March 12, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. This talented lady is finally being recognized for the incredible amount of time that she has spent with the children of the community. Her work and her attitude toward children are both significant. As a member of the doll world, I am amazed that this quiet unassuming lady has not been recognized for her work long before this. Thank you. Billie

  2. …………………………………..I have known “Aunt Emily” for many years. Her dedication to helping youngsters (through her vast experience with doll making and related work), is hard to match — she is a warm, caring, talented lady.

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