A Girl’s “Death Mask” From the 1800s Became the Face of CPR Dolls

For over 60 years, medical students have practiced CPR on a dummy doll, breathing air into her plastic mouth and compressing her chest. It turns out that the face of the dummy is not made up. It’s based on the face of a young teenage girl found in the Seine river in Paris in the late 19th century. Her body was never identified; however, her face was captured in a mold or “death mask.”

A Girl’s “Death Mask” From the 1800s Became the Face of CPR Dolls
A Girl’s “Death Mask” From the 1800s Became the Face of CPR Dolls

The CPR Mannequin

A new paper in a Christmas edition of a famous medical journal tells how the nameless corpse became a CPR mannequin and earned the title of “the most kissed girl in the world.” Dr. Stephanie Loke, who is the co-author of the feature and also a dental trainee at Liverpool University Dental Hospital shares that every year, they carry out mandatory CPR training that utilizes these mannequins. She and her co-author Dr. Sarah McKernon, who is also from the university’s School of Dentistry also questioned who the face was.

The story of Resusci Annie begins more than a century ago when the body of a girl who looked about 16 years old was pulled from the Seine. Since her body did not show signs of violence, some people speculated that she had drowned herself intentionally. The body was put on public display in a mortuary in hopes that someone could identify her. This was a common practice back in the days; however, no one identified the girl. She eventually became known as “L’Inconnue de la Seine (the Unknown Woman of the Seine).”

L'Inconnue de la Seine (the Unknown Woman of the Seine).”
A Girl’s “Death Mask” From the 1800s Became the Face of CPR Dolls

The Most Kissed Girl in the World

Even though she was anonymous, she was by no means forgotten. The pathologist that performed the autopsy of the girl was so taken with her serene expression that he had a model maker create a plaster “death mask” of her face. The mask of the girl was replicated and sold. The Lorenzi model makers, who made the original death mask, still sell copies under the title “Noyée [Drowned Woman] de la Seine.”

Ethicist and writer Julian Sheather notes that although passing around death masks and putting bodies on display were common practices in the 19th century, those practices would be “ethically troubling” today.