Women of Valor


The Doll Hospital

Beatrice Alexander, 1895 - 1990

Alexander's association with dolls began the year she was born, when her step-father opened the United States' first Doll Hospital. Before the invention of plastic, most dolls were made of china and were highly breakable; by restoring their shattered dolls to health, Maurice earned the gratitude of countless children. "I remember a father coming in the middle of the night because his little girl was sick and had broken her doll and needed it right now—a difficult task when the poor doll's head was shattered into dozens of pieces," Beatrice said in 1983.

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"As far back as I can recall I have always been surrounded with dolls. When my father came to America he brought with him the profession of doll repair, which he learned in Germany. He founded the first doll hospital in the United States under the name of M. Alexander. People came from far and wide. The doll hospital was located on the east side of New York. I can still see the tearful faces of the children, holding their broken dolls. Although we were in limited circumstances, we were never poor. Our lives were filled with love and appreciation. I learned then something I have never forgotten: how important a doll is in a child's world.

"We could hardly get by on the income from the doll hospital alone so we bought shopworn sample dolls from the German representatives. My mother would clean them, comb their hair and make them as presentable as possible, and we would sell them in our shop."

The contrast between the wealth of many of Maurice's customers and the poverty of the neighborhood made a deep impression on the young Beatrice, and like many other children of immigrants, she became highly motivated to achieve a better future. "When I was 11 or 12," she remembered, "I realized that there were poor people and there were rich people, and I leaned towards the rich. I wanted to have a carriage and a hat with ostrich feathers." Hannah assumed her daughter would achieve these goals by "marry[ing] well" and joked that it would take three husbands to support Beatrice in the manner she desired.

Alexander's early surroundings also accustomed her to seeing women working at least as hard as men. Because few immigrant families could afford to conform to middle-class ideals of leisured ladies, the mothers and older sisters of most of Beatrice's playmates would have contributed to the family income. If they did not work outside the home, then immigrant women helped in family businesses, took in boarders, or did piecework in the home. Beatrice's own mother worked with her husband in his shop, as well as having full responsibility for the home. "I can truthfully say," Alexander asserted, "that my mother worked harder than my father."

  1. Biographical information from Stephanie Finnegan, et.al., Madame Alexander Dolls: An American Legend (Portfolio Press, 1999).
  2. Quote beginning "I remember..." cited in Catherine Calvert, "Madame Alexander: Dolls and Dreams," Town and Country, December 1983: 46.
  3. Quote beginning "When I was 11 or 12..." cited in Krystyna Poray Goddu, "A Personal Profile: Madame Alexander," Dolls: The Collector's Magazine, November 1988: 59.
  4. Story about "marrying well" from "Madam Alexander and her Dolls," Palm Beach Times, March 6, 1970.
  5. Quote beginning "I can truthfully say...." from 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, 3.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Beatrice Alexander - The Doll Hospital." (Viewed on April 16, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/alexander/doll-hospital>.