Women of Valor

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Career Beginnings

Beatrice Alexander, 1895 - 1990

On June 30, 1912, a few weeks after serving as valedictorian for her high school graduation, Alexander married Philip Behrman. While Philip worked in the personnel department of a hat factory, Beatrice took a six-month commercial course and then worked as a book-keeper for the Irving Hat Stores. In 1915, she gave birth to a daughter, Mildred, in what she would later refer to as "the happiest moment of [her] life."

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"After the first world war began, the importation of dolls ceased and we found ourselves with no dolls to sell. They often say 'necessity is the mother of invention' and it certainly was true in our family. To help my parents I designed my first dolls that year. They were a little Red Cross nurse and a baby doll. The demand for them was so great my father had to work day and night to fill the orders. This helped them through the most difficult times."


World War I, which broke out two years after Beatrice and Philip's wedding, changed Beatrice's future dramatically. While untouched by the immense physical destruction of the "Great War," the United States was not immune to the massive economic disruption of the war. Many of the dolls that filled Maurice Alexander's shop and hospital came from Germany, and Hannah and Maurice's livelihood was soon threatened by Allied embargoes of German goods.

Beatrice and her sisters, determined not to allow their parents' business to fail, quickly decided to produce homemade dolls for sale. Beatrice—recalling the despair of the young customers of the Doll Hospital, and in any case deprived of more exotic materials—proposed that they make a cloth doll. Inspired by the women involved in the war effort, she chose a Red Cross Nurse for her model. Under Beatrice's exacting but effective direction, the Alexander sisters gathered around their parents' kitchen table to sew the dolls, which then flew off the shelves of Maurice's store and saved the family business.

Notes: 
  1. Biographical information from Stephanie Finnegan, et. al., Madame Alexander Dolls: An American Legend (Portfolio Press, 1999), and Madame Beatrice Alexander Oral History, 1982, in the William E. Wiener Oral History Library of the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Women of Achievement series, at the Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library.
  2. Quote about "happiest moment" cited in Krystyna Poray Goddu, "A Personal Profile: Madame Alexander," Dolls: The Collector's Magazine, November 1988: 60.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Beatrice Alexander - Career Beginnings." (Viewed on April 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/alexander/career-beginnings>.