Monday, February 6, 2012

Madame's Legacy

Last week I went to visit the Madame Alexander doll factory, which I was excited to learn is located in NYC's own Harlem neighborhood. I know someone who collects dolls, so I thought it would be fun to take her there. Not only is it a doll factory where the prototype dolls are handmade, it is also a doll hospital where people can send "injured" dolls for repair, and a Heritage Gallery displaying hundreds of classic collectible dolls from the Madame Alexander line.

I don't know much about dolls (that is to say, not any more than I knew back when I was six) but regardless, it's always fun to see something behind the scenes. My favorite thing was learning more about Madame Alexander, the company's founder, who was a pioneering business woman of the 1920s. She founded her doll company in her kitchen in 1923, and over the following decades nurtured it into an internationally respected business.

It turns out, she also developed a lot of the features I took for granted in my own childhood dolls. Madame Alexander was the first doll maker to license literary and film characters for look-alike dolls (like Rhett and Scarlett from Gone with the Wind). She created "sleep" eyes, which are eyelids that close when the doll is lying down. She manufactured the first line of hard plastic dolls in the 1940s. Madame Alexander's Cissy dolls were the first to be modeled after an adult woman's body as opposed to a baby or young girl. (Yes, this was several years pre-Barbie, and Cissy is more properly-proportioned!)

Bottom line: the dolls are really cute! And for me, they become more so when I realize they represent the legacy of a woman who must have faced every challenge the early 20th century posed to talented ambitious women, and still rose to the top doing what she loved. That's inspiring.

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