Jersey Journal - August 3, 1872
When I first saw the name in the New York Clipper, my first reaction was that like the Elizabeth Resolutes and their pink stockings, these were young men comfortable with their masculinity. But even so why pick a woman's name for a base ball club?. The only similar situation I could remember was the Flora Temple club of Paterson, but that female was a famous race horse so the athletic connection was clear. Yet the name also rang a vague bell and a quick Internet search revealed why. Dolly Varden was a character in a Charles Dickens novel, Barnaby Rudge, which I read easily 10 years ago.
Scene from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens
Barnaby Rudge was an early work by the great British novelists, one of his two historical novels, set during the 1780 anti-Catholic riots in England. One of the book's main characters is a locksmith named Gabriel Varden, one of the few voices of reason and restraint in the story (the novel originally bore his name) and Dolly is his "mad cap" daughter. Restraint is not a word associated with Dolly who flirts with many, but cares for few, if any. Interesting, but no clear connection to the United States, much less base ball. Furthermore, Barnaby Rudge was published in 1841, what possibly could be the base ball connection? But surprisingly there is one. According to something else I found on the Internet, the first professional women's base ball team was an 1867 African-American team in Philadelphia called the Dolly Vardens. But even so, why would a Jersey City club model itself on a women's team and African-American one at that?
Dolly Varden dances and dresses
Most likely they didn't, rather it appears the Philadelphia women's choice of the name anticipated a fashion craze that reached its height in 1872. The starting point appears to have been the Dolly Varden dress which featured bright, colorful patterns, usually with some kind of floral design. But it didn't stop at dresses as the style also extended to hats, parasols, paper dolls and even Dolly Varden dances. The craze even brought on a revival of Dickens work, adapted as a stage play focused on the heroine and named, of course, "Dolly Varden." A sense of the scope and rapid growth of the fad can be seen in the number of hits produced by searching for Dolly Varden on all of the newspapers on the Genealogy Bank web site - just 15 in 1871 compared to almost 3000 only a year later.
British stage listing indicating popularity of the novel adaptation into a play called "Dolly Varden"
Jersey City was certainly not immune as evidenced by 93 hits in the 1872 Jersey Journal up from zero the year before. Many of the listings were ads for different Dolly Varden products, enough saturation to provoke one Jersey City man to claim (tongue in cheek, one hopes) that he was the proud owner of a Dolly Varden whip! Within this context, it's probably not as surprising someone got the bright idea to name a base ball club in Dolly's "honor."
Jersey Journal Ad, April 1, 1872 promoting Dolly Varden fashions
The Dolly Vardens pack it in - Jersey Journal, May 5, 1872