Stuffed Animal Attachments Carry Over into College Years

Published on November 14, 2002
Students bring teddy bears, stuffed dinosaurs, and koalas into their rooms as reminders of home; roommates are said to be tolerant.
By Jessica Gresko
Spectator Associate News Editor
One hundred years ago today the teddy bear was created. These kissing bears, evidently, have the power to melt the hearts of even the most cynical among us.

In Bernard Waber's children's story Ira Sleeps Over, a young boy going on his first sleep-over debates whether or not to bring his teddy bear. He eventually decides to go alone, only to discover that his best friend Reggie also sleeps with a bear.

Today, on the 100th anniversary of the teddy bear, many Columbia students may be surprised to find out their friends have stuffed animals, too. Though no official statistics exist, a random telephone poll of ten Columbia students, five girls and five boys, found four students admitted to bringing a stuffed animal to college.

Andrea Herbst, CC '03, falls into the stuffed-animal-holding category. She got her teddy bear, "Dydee," when she was one year old.

"He came with the diapers from the diaper company," she said. "He has been with me everywhere. I took him to Germany when I was seven. He came to England when I spent the year there between high school and college."

But Herbst's bear would not be a "Teddy" bear if not for president Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt. On November 14, 1902 he refused to shoot a baby bear while on a hunting trip. A cartoon of the event appeared in The Washington Post and, in response, a Brooklyn shopkeeper made two stuffed bears to put in his window. The bears touched off a nation-wide craze.

This year, U.S. postage stamps featuring bears were released to commemorate the anniversary, and midtown mega-toystore FAO Schwartz has a 100th anniversary section on its web site. Even with this much publicity, many Columbia students are wary of admitting they have stuffed animals.

"I would imagine everyone brings something special--maybe a poster or a pillow or a teddy bear," said Dr. Judith Hanlon, a psychologist at Counseling and Psychological Services.

California psychologist Dr. Virginia Humphrey went further. She wrote her 1987 dissertation, "The Teddy Bear Girls," on "stuffed animal attachment in late adolescence," specifically 18- and 19-year old females.

"It was the rare young woman who did not both collect stuffed animals and have at least a part of her collection at the dorms with her," she said via e-mail.

And though Humphrey's study was not on men, she said she found anecdotally that some men do collect and form an attachment to stuffed animals, though they tend not to be as visible in their attachment.

Caleb Vognsen, CC '04, is not ashamed of his stuffed stegosaurus, "Stega," which his parents gave him when he was born.

"In the absence of anything or anyone else, I tend to sleep with it," he said. "I don't coddle it or anything. It just sort of hangs around."

Michelle Ko, CC '05, told a similar story. She received her stuffed koala from her grandmother when she was about three and has slept with it ever since. She said she brought it to school because it reminds her of home.

"Her name is Mose," Ko said. "It's Chinese for little bear." While Vognsen and Ko both got their stuffed animals as young children, other students have acquired animals more recently.

Ko's roommate, Sety Siadat, SEAS '05, received a bear from a friend while recovering from knee surgery.

"I just brought it to make the room more homey, I guess," she said. "I think most of my friends have at least one teddy bear or something from when they were younger."

Students without stuffed animals do not belittle those with bears.

Sasha Ban, BC '03, does not sleep with any stuffed animals. She does, however, understand other people's attachment. Her younger sister, a student at Temple University, took her favorite pillow and blanket to school.

"They've been with her forever," she said. "I guess when you've slept with something in your bed for 18 years, it's hard to suddenly stop."

Solomon Kahn, SEAS '06, is a little more critical. He said he had a couple of stuffed animals as a two- and three-year old but he thinks most people "grew out of that phase."

"I once knew a girl who really needed to have her teddy bear and blanket, and she was 17 years old," he said. "As a general rule, if someone brought something from home to remind them, that doesn't really faze me, just as long as they don't really care that much about it," he said.

As for whether or not stuffed animal holders are ashamed of their animals, Vognsen said definitely not.

"Nobody's going to call me a pussy because I have a stegosaur," he said. "I get the occasional tease, but screw them."