American Girl Club Offers Blend of Fun, History and Education

Article excerpt

The dozen members of the American Girl Club and their siblings were stumped, trying to guess the name and the purpose of a brass spittoon. Was it a flower pot? Could it be a wash basin?

A parent, Susan Hammond, gave them a clue: "It's associated with a disgusting habit."

Giggling, one child immediately guessed it was used as a potty.

Not quite. Hammond explained that in the early 1900s, spittoons were kept handy for tobacco chewers to spit in. The explanation seemed to mystify the kids, who apparently are not fans of major league baseball.

The spittoon was among 24 antiques used for an educational guessing game at Hammond's home in Weldon Spring, where she and her husband, Stan, were hosts of the monthly meeting of the American Girl Club, on May 9. The theme, based on the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, was: "Samantha's Party."

Samantha is a character in the American Girl book series, which is published by The Pleasant Company of New York for children aged 7 and up.

Hammond's daughter, Stephanie, 8, belongs to the club, which is for home-schooled girls aged 7 to 12.

The club, believed to be the only one in the area, was started last winter by Linda Mueller of St. Peters, another parent who teaches her three children at home. Mueller was intrigued by a flier for a curriculum guide based on the American Girl series, which was popular with her daughter, Hillary. The books can be found in libraries and bookstores.

"I picked one book up and read it and said, `This has some pretty good historical information in it,' " said Mueller.

The idea for a club spread by word of mouth, so much so that Mueller had to limit membership to 12 girls, so that meetings in one another's homes would be manageable.

The heroines of the novels - Felicity, Addy, Kirsten, Samantha and Molly - are 9-year-old girls growing up in the United States during different eras. Three authors have written six short novels around each character, beginning with Felicity, who "lived" during the Revolutionary War.

To prepare for the monthly club meetings, the girls and their parents plan projects, do research, take field trips, interview people, write reports, make a craft and cook food related to the period of history covered in the books.

Club members had a play and sewed quilt pieces for the Colonial American period, connected with the character of Felicity. In April, club members dished up a smorgasbord inspired by the character of Kirsten, an immigrant from Sweden.

The May meeting, however, was probably the most elaborate.

Hammond, a professional teacher who now home-schools her children, moved here from Georgia last September. She was thrilled by the amount of 1904 St. Louis World's Fair material she found.

"We visited Forest Park last fall," she said. "They really hadn't destroyed the fairgrounds. You could go there and still imagine what it was like."

Hammond, her family and her partner in the event, Kathy Cloud of St. Peters, turned the May meeting into a miniconvention for Samantha, an orphan living with her grandmother in New York in 1904. …