The Alexander Doll Company
Beatrice Alexander, 1895 - 1990
In the years immediately following World War I, the Alexander sisters continued to produce dolls for their parents' shop. They supplied what the European doll industry—battered by years of war—could not. Beatrice discovered that she enjoyed the work. It fulfilled her artistic inclinations, and she was an efficient manager. She also needed a distraction after the loss of a second baby in a Spanish Flu epidemic. In 1923, she decided to formalize her doll-making operations, and with a $1600 loan, she created the Alexander Doll Company.
Hiring neighbors to help her sisters sew cloth dolls, Alexander sold her first "Alice in Wonderland" dolls for $14.40 a dozen wholesale. When stores protested that the $1.95 retail price did not allow enough of a profit, she lowered the price to $13.50 a dozen. Barely breaking even, she worried her company would not succeed. "I was desperate, discouraged," she later admitted. "I wanted to run away, but by then I had employees, sixteen people who depended on me." In the late 1920s, a burst water tower almost destroyed the company. Alexander's mother saved the day: after carefully drying the dolls and their clothes, she held a "water sale" and sold the entire inventory at a huge discount, bringing in just enough to keep the business alive.
Alexander had to fight to be taken seriously as a businesswoman, for bankers often saw women as poor credit risks and retailers tried to take advantage of them. But she skillfully manipulated people's assumptions for her own benefit. Firm when necessary, she flirted when it would help her cause. She also brought along her daughter to meetings to heighten loan officers' sympathies for a struggling young mother. When a sympathetic banker granted her a much-needed loan but clearly did not expect her to repay it, Alexander vowed to repay the entire sum early. "I wanted to teach him a lesson," she said. "You need to believe in people's dreams, especially women's."
- Biographical information from Stephanie Finnegan, et. al., Madame Alexander Dolls: An American Legend (Portfolio Press, 1999).
- Information about second child from "These Dolls are So Real They Seem to Have Souls," Boston Herald, August 11, 1967; "Madam Alexander and her Dolls," Palm Beach Times, March 6, 1970. Some articles identify the child as a boy, others as a girl.
- Information about Alice in Wonderland dolls from John Axe, "Exclusive Doll Reader Interview with Madame Alexander," Doll Reader, April 1984: 87-88.
- Quote beginning "I was desperate..." cited in Catherine Calvert, "Madame Alexander: Dolls and Dreams," Town and Country, December 1983: 56.
- Quote beginning "I wanted to teach him a lesson..." cited in Finnegan, 21.