Doll That’s More Than a Toy

Kiystyna Poray Goddu, a writer and editor specializing in toys, gives us succinct but satisfying chapters outlining the lives of several preeminent doll makers in Dollmakers And Their Stories: Women Who Changed The World Of Play (Hemy Holt and Company, 2004, $17.95). Of particular note is Bertha Alexander Belmnan (1895-1990) eldest daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants who settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and ran the country’s first doll hospital. Bertha—she changed her name to Beatrice and then added Madame to further gussy it up—recalled the wealthy yet tearful girls who frequented her parents’ shop with their broken dolls. Although only 12, she vowed she would one day create an unbreakable doll. The advent of WWI gave her the chance: suddenly, the German dolls and parts that were the mainstay of the business became unavailable. Alexander, by then a young married woman, saw a way to make dolls that were both unbreakable and not dependent on foreign materials. The result, a Red Cross nurse doll, was an instant success and the start of the legendary Madame Alexander Doll Company, still in operation today.

In this book Alexander emerges as a feisty, independent woman whose belief in the importance of play was nothing short of profound: Dolls are not a luxury. They are necessary to a child’s life as a loaf of bread. What a doll does for a little girl is develop her capacity to love others and herself.