Polly Crockett: Queen of the Wild Frontier

One of our objects featured in 1950s: Living the American Dream is to be featured in an upcoming session at the annual Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association conference! Chosen as one of the 25 Artifacts of the American Childhood, the Polly Crockett hat has a complicated history.

hat-017In 1955, Disney released Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, perpetuating the myth of this historical figure and setting off a national trend in “Wild West” themed toys. Children’s rifles, western landscape toy sets, and faux raccoon skin hats appeared in stores across the nation. However, these toys were initially marketed for boys. An alternative for females appeared in the form of the Polly Crockett hat.

The original Davy Crockett hat featured a faux fur lined skull cap and a faux raccoon tail attached, very similar to what Davy Crockett would have worn when he was alive. It was reported that at one point in 1955, over 5,000 of these caps were being sold a day. The Polly Crockett hat, produced by Sanitized in the late 1950s, was made of faux fur and came in pink, white, and green and featured a drawing of Davy Crockett’s first wife, Polly, on the top.

During the 1950s, manufacturers aimed to define childhood through gender by creating two separate versions of toys for each sex; this can be seen in advertisements from companies like the Ohio Art Company and Mattel. This is a trend that continues today with the recent controversy of gendered Lego sets. The Polly Crockett hat is one of the starkest examples; the unnatural colors of the fake fur reinforced gender differences. While the boy’s version imitated an actual raccoon cap to blend into a natural environment, the girl’s version is obviously made of unnatural materials implying it was not to be worn outside.

The maker of the toy tried to contextualize the history by naming the hat after Crockett’s wife; Polly Crockett actually died at the mere age of 27 due to lingering complications from the birth of her third child. She never saw combat, staying at home to raise their family while Davy travelled around the United States. Even in play, girls were thrown into the role of a mother and homemaker.

This was not lost on children. Girls reported the discrepancies in the color and material of the hats, but no Davy Crockett hats were ever specifically produced for females during the 1950s. There was never a toy gun marketed for young girls to compliment the hat. By the 1960s, the “Wild West” had started to lose popularity and Sanitized stopped the production of the Polly Crockett hat.

Did you ever own a Polly or Davy Crockett hat? What other examples of toys marketed for a specific gender did you have growing up?

Emily Lang, History Curator

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9 Responses to Polly Crockett: Queen of the Wild Frontier

  1. Peggy Mershon says:

    Since I was born in 1947, I remember the Davy Crockett fad but not this Polly Crockett hat. I knew lots of kids who had the faux raccoon cap, girls and boys alike — I wish I still had mine.. I suspect we thought this feminized version was pretty dumb. I do remember, However, about the same time in school I remember coloring and cutting out an preprinted Indian brave with “wings” that were to be curled forward and pasted to form a blanket. I curled them backward, pasted them and filled them with a papoose — thus performing what might have been the first sex-change operation that third-grade teacher ever saw. I think she was amused and put it on display with the others.

  2. Cathy Cee says:

    I’d never seen the Polly version, but I guess I was too much of a tomboy, I thought nothing wrong with having the raccoon version.

  3. Brenda says:

    I had a Davy Crockett hat, fringed leather jacket, cap gun & holster and leather boots. Everyone on the block knew all the words to the Davy Crocket song too. Before this article I never saw a Poly Crocket hat.

  4. M.J. Cobb says:

    Not sure where this “historian” found the “Polly Crockett” hat, but I was never aware of it. As the previous respondents indicated, all of the children (girls and boys) I grew up with shot cap pistols, wore raccoon hats, “galloped” around my neighborhood in New Orleans and admired Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and Superman, in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. These were the post-war years, when sociologists and historians seem to think there were so many differences in toys for male and female children. Hopefully, these people who will be w
    riting about the era will interview a wide range of sources, before they reach these erroneous conclusions!

    • ohiohistory says:

      Hi,

      The white Polly Crockett hat is part of the permanent collections of the Ohio History Connection. We have been offered other Polly Crockett hats for the collections as well. We were offered a mint green colored hat from a “Baby Boom” generation donor who said that she and her sisters all had them in different pastel colors.

      Thank you,
      L. Wood, Curator for Visual Resources

  5. M.J. Cobb says:

    Why does the comment, “awaiting moderation”
    appear above my previous comment?

    • ohiohistory says:

      Hi,

      “Awaiting Moderation” simply means that someone who contributes to the blog needs to click “Approve” in order for the comment to appear online.

      Thank you,
      L. Wood, Curator for Visual Resources

  6. Jan Province says:

    I had a blouse. On one side, there was a cartoonish picture of a little boy in a Davy Crockett outfit, holding a gun. On the other side, a little girl in an Indian Princess outfit held a bouquet of tulips.

  7. Bobby cornett says:

    There isn’t anything wrong with gender based toys although I believe girls can love cars and trucks and other things as much as boys and should be allowed to . However in a age where people seem to be confused on the difference between genders I stress that gender orientation of the differences between male and female be strictly defined and maintained along with allowing both genders to like what they wish and I also believe transgender people shouldn’t be going into female bathrooms

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