Sep 26

Paper Dolls for my Daughters

by Hannah Holt »


A few years ago, I was out collecting data for a mall redevelopment in Salt Lake City and had my headphones tuned into NPR. As I worked I heard part of Larry Summers’ infamous lecture on diversifying science and engineering.

At the time Mr. Summers was president of Harvard, and in his lecture he postulated that there aren’t as many women in science and engineering because of “issues of intrinsic aptitude” (or lack thereof). I found his remarks puzzling but finished my data collection and headed back to the office.

I’m an engineer, writer, and woman. I’m not an academic. However, I can tell you why there aren’t more women in science and engineering, and it has nothing to do with intrinsic aptitude.

It’s because being different is hard. It’s much easier falling in line with expectations.

When I told my darling grandmother I was majoring in engineering, she scolded me, “What?! So you can wear coveralls and crawl around in attics all day?”

At university, there were the occasional anonymous creepy notes. Once while working in the computer lab at 2 am, someone inside the lab hijacked my computer screen and started sending me updates about my personal appearance. I bought a bike, so I wouldn’t have to walk home alone in the dark.

Now I found engineering, the profession, to be mostly welcoming towards women. However, stupid people seem to gravitate towards minorities. On my second day of school, a tall boy walked up to me and said, “I don’t know why they let women into school here. It takes more spots away from men, who will be the bread winners after all.”

I believe in the power of words. Even false ideas said over and over again start sounding like truth. So we must give our daughters different words to live by.

Here are three stories to help them change the tune.


For a pdf copy of the engineering paper dolls click here.

For a pdf copy of the firefighter paper dolls click here.

For a pdf copy of the scientist paper dolls click here.

I made the dolls interchangeable. So if you want Barbara to be a firefighter or Leela to be a scientist, you can mix and match.

When I pitched the idea for this paper doll series on my Facebook Page, I received a tremendous response. I loved the range of suggestions for other non-traditional paper dolls. In the coming months, I plan to make more. In the mean time, if you have a career suggestion for my collection, please tell me in the comment section.

  1. Susanna Leonard Hill

    What a fantastic idea, Hannah! These are amazing!

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks, Susanna. You are so kind. :)

  2. Hannah Holt

    Also if anyone is looking for an academic study of why fewer women go into science and engineering here’s an interesting study: http://www.aauw.org/learn/research/upload/whysofew.pdf

  3. Carrie F

    These are AMAZING, Hannah! What a great idea and I love all the tools and accessories they have.

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks, Carrie!

  4. Tina Cho

    These are excellent, Hannah! I don’t think I knew you were an artist, too! I used to love paper dolls when I was little.

    • Hannah Holt

      I’m only a sometimes artist. Thanks, Tina.

  5. Erik -This Kid Reviews Books

    Great post! This is an important topic and a great idea!

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks, Erik.

  6. Robin Schneider

    Who wouldn’t like a paper doll that comes with its own glove box?

    • Hannah Holt

      Exactly, right? :)

  7. Toni Kener

    Wonderful, My granddaughter will love these. Thanks so much.

    • Hannah Holt

      That makes me happy! I made them with girls in mind, but I’ve found my boys like playing with them, too. Enjoy!

  8. Kat

    You rock, these are fantastic!

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks so much, Kat.

  9. Erika

    These are great! I would suggest some type of community activist (maybe politician). Professor, writer, chef, architect. I wanted to have every job when I was little! My little girl would like to be a truck driver.

    • Hannah Holt

      Great suggestions, Erika! Thanks. My list keeps getting longer. I guess it’s time paint again.

  10. Anonymous

    These are wonderful! I’ll be passing them on to my sister-in-law (who is an engineer). Also, I work at a shelter for abused women and their children, and I will be passing these along to our education coordinator since the kids may enjoy them too! Thank you!

    • Hannah Holt

      Thank you for the work you do at the shelter. I hope the children enjoy the dolls.

  11. Heather Willis

    THANK YOU for these. Please keep them coming! As an academic mother of a 3 1/2 year old daughter who is surrounded by girly girl toys that have absolutely no relationship to what is traditionally valued in our society as “powerful” or “successful” career choices, these are just the antidote. (and just what I needed as a mother too – was starting to feel discouraged after a shopping trip with my daughter last weekend. She ran over to the Barbie dolls and I tried to to describe the one they had dressed up as a nurse as a “doctor,” and the one who was dressed up as an animal carer as a “vet.” It was a stretch though, and I don’t think she bought it. Where are the role model toys for our daughters? After years of feminist discussion about this, why haven’t the toys changed? It takes someone like you I think!

    • Hannah Holt

      I know. It’s like the girl toy aisle is caught up in pink fire. Thanks for the encouragement. I’m working on the next round.

  12. Carolyn

    Hannah – these are fantastic! I started a girl empowerment website called A Mighty Girl and I’m sure that our Facebook community is going to love these!

    It’s great to hear that you plan on expanding the series! Perhaps it would even be possible to get it published in a punch-out paper doll-style book. I’m sure it would be very popular. Thanks again!

    • Hannah Holt

      Awesome! Thanks, Carolyn.

      • Liz Galvin

        Hannah, thank you! I found these through the facebook link from A Mighty Girl, and I can’t wait to print them for my daughters to balance out all the fantasy characters. How about a mathematician and physicist set? Doctors, business execs, product designers, computer programmers, artists, concert musicians?

  13. Andrea

    Thanks for these, HH! I am certainly getting one or two for my little 6 year old pals. I think boys would benefit from these as well! Thanks for sharing your talent and passions!

    • Hannah Holt

      Yes. I have two girls and two boys. My sons like playing with them as well. Thanks, Andrea.

  14. Ines Almeida

    I would love to feature these at Towardthestars.com :) Girl Power!!

    Please feel free to contact me any time.

    Here is some more information about our mission: http://towardthestars.com/blog/?p=118

    Keep up the amazing work!
    Inês Almeida
    Chief Super Hero Wannabe @ TowardTheStars.com

    • Hannah Holt

      I visited your site and love what you are doing over there. You rock! I’ll send you a message.

  15. Karen

    As the scientist mom of two girls, I think these are really awesome! Thanks so much!

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks, Karen. I hope your girls enjoy them!

  16. Rebecca

    These are wonderful! Thank you so much for making them. I would love to share them with my readers at School Counseling by Heart! Not only are they inspirational for girls, they’re also a wonderful career education resource for all kids, boys and girls. I can’t wait to see what other career women you create. My students and I would LOVE to see a neuroscientist!

    • Hannah Holt

      I’ll add neuroscientist to the list. Yes, please share them with your students.

  17. Yuni

    These are great! My daughter suggested a Marine Biologist to add to your list of future dolls… Thank you!:)

    • Hannah Holt

      Marine biologist is a fabulous suggestion. (So many fun accessories!) Thanks, Yuni.

  18. Judy

    These are great! I’d love to see them in black and white so I could copy them and give them to the boys and girls in my preschool class.

    • Hannah Holt

      Judy, I have a black and white copies but need to clean them up. Thanks for the motivation. I’ll try to get them together by next week.

  19. Anonna

    I love these and can’t wait to print them out for my daughter :-)
    However I can’t help pointing out the typo in the title of this webpage… “Paper Dolls for my Daughers”… sorry to be a pedant, but you might want to fix that!

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks so much, Anonna. Fixed it.

  20. Leigh Newton

    What a splendid idea. Any chance of having female clergy paper dolls?

    • Hannah Holt

      Great suggestion. Thanks, Leigh.

  21. Caroline Turnage-Butterbaugh

    This is such a wonderful idea. As an aspiring mathematician, I would love to see Olivia as a professor! I’m guessing she’d need a mug of coffee and chalk stains on her jeans. : )

    • Hannah Holt

      Fantastic prop ideas. I’m adding it to the list.

  22. anne

    Love it! Can you do some men in non-traditional jobs too…like preschool teacher! I think a female veterinarian (large animal?) would be great. Also female farmer.

    • Hannah Holt

      I like the idea of a set with jobs for both boys and girls. I need to finish the set with the girls first, but I’ll definitely consider a set with boys later. I’m adding large animal vet to the list.

  23. Rebecca

    Blogged about you and these wonderful career resources today at School Counseling by Heart today!


    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks, Rebecca. Your site looks great!

  24. Sarah

    These are great, thank you! I shared them on my facebook page for all to see. My husband is a research scientist, he’ll be so happy to see this.

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks, Sarah. My husband is a research scientist, too. :)

  25. Emma

    I love these paper dolls … I am going to print copies for my daughters. I work with programs for children and would love to use these paper dolls in the library, as long as I credit you, would you mind if we used the pdf files? Please advise, thank you

    • Hannah Holt

      I wouldn’t mind at all, Emma. These were created with the intention of sharing. Library use is perfectly acceptable! As long as you aren’t selling copies, I have no objections.

  26. rena

    These are really awesome!

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks, Rena.

  27. Leslie G

    I found these through A Mighty Girl, and I think they’re great! My 10-year-old intends to follow in her father and grandfather’s footsteps and become a chemist. Not only will she struggle with being female, she will also struggle finding a university which teaches chemistry; as an example, since the mid-1980s, the number of universities in the UK with chemistry departments has dropped from 40 to 8.

    Thank you so much for these!

    • Hannah Holt

      Best wishes to your daughter and her studies. My grandfather was also a chemist and he was a huge inspiration for me. Thanks for stopping by!

  28. paws

    I love these! Thank you so much.

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks, paws!

  29. Kat

    I love these! I’m an architect and my oldest girl is currently pondering the field as a medium between art and science. My 5 year old is all girl and I struggle to find “girly” dolls that she’ll play with but break her stereotype of girls can only be princesses.

  30. Angel

    I love these – they are fantastic! Could you maybe, in a future run, consider posting a girl who doesn’t look girly? Maybe with short hair and no earrings or something? I know lots of girls who look like this, and it would be nice to see them represented too. And maybe, since the outfits are so wonderfully gender neutral, include a boy? I have sons, and they love to play with paper dolls too. Plus, I think it is wonderful for their development to see both boys and girls represented in science fields.

    • Hannah Holt

      Hi Angel, Thanks for stopping by. I have boy paper dolls right here: http://www.lightbulbbooks.com/blog/2013/02/boy-paper-dolls/ All the dolls are interchangeable, so you can cut out a boy from there and add them to any set.
      I can definitely do a girl with shorter hair for a future set. Thanks for the great suggestions.

  31. Debbie

    My daughter would love the traditional teacher and librarian. Books are her favorite, and she loves to read with her dolls.

  32. Joanna

    LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. Genius. As a Ph.D. chemist-turned-physician mom of a 3-yr-old girl, you can imagine how excited I am to share these with her. Heck, I want to play with them!

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks, Joanna. I like to play with them, too. :)

  33. Candice aguilar

    Graphic designer

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks for the suggestion, Candice.

  34. Heather Angelika Pecor

    These are just wonderful, Hannah! I love them! I am going to share them with my readers and followers on Gallant Girls. I think they will be a hit with the mothers there who are trying to raise strong, liberated, and empowered young women and men. I know I will be printing them our for my daughter and her best friend. :)

    Thank you greatly, Ms. Holt!

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks, Heather.

  35. Shelley

    Engineers don’t use blueprints! Argh. Good concept but it would be nice if it was more accurate…

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks. Updated. :)

  36. Olga

    These are so great, thank you so much for creating! I’m sure my daughter will love playing with them!

    I’m wondering if it’s ok to translate the text on the PDFs into Russian? I’m thinking to share it on the Russian-speaking feminist-kids website. I’ll keep the credentials of course.

  37. Hannah Holt

    Olga, it’s wonderful you are advocating for kids in Russia. :) Would you send me a message through my website so we can talk about what you have in mind specifically? Thanks and best wishes.

  38. Amanda

    What a wonderful site! Thank you so much for such wonderful resources that respect the inteligence, diversity and abilities of all of our children! would you mind if I gave a copy of your Sean the Nurse paper doll to members of my daughter’s kindergarten class? I am a nurse presenting on community helpers and this would be so wonderful to share!

    Thank you so much for your inspiring works.

    • Hannah Holt

      Hi Amanda, sorry for the delayed response. I think that sounds like a wonderful opportunity to share Sean the Nurse. Best wishes with your presentation! -Hannah

  39. Sara

    What a wonderful idea. Thank you! I am a veterinarian, and I can’t tell you how many aspiring veterinarians I speak with who are under the age of 10! I would make lots and lots of copies to give out :) Thanks again.

  40. Carla Kennedy

    It would be AWESOME if you could get Melissa & Doug to turn these into one of their doll sets (like this: http://www.melissaanddoug.com/maggie-leigh-magnetic-play-magnets ). My daughter is too rough on actual paper dolls, but she loves these wooden sets. I just LOVE what you’ve done here and would LOVE to give these sets to every girl I know (ages 2 or 3 and up :o) )!

    • Hannah Holt

      Thanks, Carla. I would love for these to be turned into a wooden or magnetic set. In the meantime, thank you for your interest. It means a lot to me.

  41. Stephanie

    Hannah, thank you so much for these. I’m an engineer with three kids, one girl. It’s a fight to keep positive messages in front of them, they are bombarded with limiting messages constantly. This is a daily undertaking, in a thousand different ways. Thank you for another tool in my arsenal!

    • Hannah Holt

      Wonderful! Thanks for stopping by.

  42. AE Cook

    Please turn these into a sturdy toy people can buy…they are SO NEEDED, and you have done a wondderful job!!!!! If you put them on kickstarter with a proposal for funding to produce them as magnets, or wood, or whatever, YOU WILL GET THE FUNDING. Please??

    • Hannah Holt

      Thank you! I would love for this to happen. Check out my Facebook Page soon for an update. :)

  43. Christina

    What a brilliant idea!

  44. Jessica

    I was just lamenting the short comings of contemporary paperdoll in my search for some for my son. These are Great, I live the stories! I know this post is a few years old but I hope you made more! I would love some not traditionally depicted jobs for boys too
    – nurse, teacher, stay at home parent, musician – I’m so tired of “boys” dressup being limited to firefighter, cowboy and suit.

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