Primary Sources & Lesson Plans
Although women had always contributed to the family economy, the independent entrepreneurial success of Beatrice or Madame Alexander was unusual for women in the first half of the twentieth century. The daughter of immigrants, she grew up on New Yorks Lower East Side and embodied the mythic American success story of going from rags to riches. In the early 1900s, her stepfather operated a doll hospital and also sold dolls. Most of his clients were wealthy people, and most of the eras dolls were hand-made creations that originated in Germany. During World War I, the Allied embargo of German goods hurt his business. At Beatrices suggestion, she and her sisters began making dolls and saved the family business. After the war, Beatrice continued manufacturing dolls, and she soon opened her own business.
A large component of Alexanders success was her shrewd sense of which products would be most appealing to children and their parents. Her first doll, a Red Cross nurse, capitalized on the intense patriotism of the World War I era. She later pioneered movie tie-ins, and in the 1930s she made likenesses of Alice in Wonderland, Scarlett OHara, and the characters from Louisa May Alcotts Little Women. She also tracked popular culture for potential models. When the Dionne quintuplets were born in Canada in 1934, she quickly secured a licensing agreement. Public fascination with the five identical girls continued for years, and updated models of their likenesses helped Alexander established her companys pre-eminence in the toy world.
For more information on Beatrice Alexander and the Madame Alexander Doll Company, go to JWAs Women of Valor exhibit.
1. Why was it a good idea for Alexander to get the license to produce dolls of the Dionne quintuplets?
2. Why do you think the advertisements had Madame Alexander encouraging children to Choose Your Favorite Doll?
3. Do you think you would like to have doll made in your likeness?
4. What obstacles do you think Alexander faced as a businesswoman in the mid-twentieth century?
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