The First Lady of Dolls
Beatrice Alexander, 1895 - 1990
By 1936, only thirteen years after she founded her business, Alexander was "deferred to by all the gallants of the business as the Queen of Dolls," and Fortune magazine listed her as one of the three largest doll manufacturers in the United States. Alexander Doll later became the largest producer of dolls in the nation, occupying several factories and employing 1500 people at its height. In the 1980s, it produced over a million dolls each year; today, it employs six hundred people at one factory in Harlem, where it is the largest private employer.
The high-quality Alexander dolls were dubbed "the Cadillacs of dolldom" by the press. Customers stood in line for hours to buy new creations, and retailers sometimes had to limit the number of dolls a shopper could purchase. "People were desperate to go home with more than one doll," says an associate of Alexander's of an episode in a department store. "[T]hey would lie, beg or even try to steal to get more than one Scarlett. It was truly amazing."
In 1961, admirers formed the Madame Alexander Fan Club (later called the Madame Alexander Doll Club), membership in which eventually reached 12,000. Although Alexander often said that "nothing [gave her] more satisfaction than to see a child playing with [her] dolls," many of the dolls became collectors' items. Alexander dolls now reside in private collections and museums—including the Smithsonian Institution, the Brooklyn Children's Museum, and the Congressional Club—throughout the United States and abroad.
Alexander's achievements were recognized by her colleagues as well as by her customers. In 1951, she won the first of four consecutive Fashion Academy Gold Medals for "the ultimate in design beauty, for encouraging good taste and clothes appreciation, and for symbolizing 'best dressed' so perfectly." In 1986, Doll Reader magazine awarded Alexander its Lifetime Achievement Award, and FAO Schwarz named her the First Lady of Dolls.
- Quote beginning "deferred to by..." from "Dolls—Made in America," Fortune, December 1936: 199.
- The Christian Science Monitor referred to Alexander dolls as "Cadillacs of dolldom"; see Stephanie Finnegan, et. al., Madame Alexander Dolls: An American Legend (Portfolio Press, 1999), 41.
- Quotes beginning "People were desperate..." and "the ultimate in design beauty..." cited in Finnegan: 58-59, 43.
- Quote beginning "nothing [gave her]..." cited in draft of John Axe, "Exclusive Doll Reader Interview With Madame Alexander," in Archives of Alexander Doll Company, Inc.