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Beatrice (Bertha) Alexander, who as “Madame Alexander” created the world’s most successful dolls (until Barbie came along), died at 95 on this date in 1990. In the year of her birth, her stepfather created the first American “doll hospital” in New York, but the enterprise was threatened by the drying up of German doll imports during World War I. Beatrice and her sisters saved the family business by creating homemade Red Cross dolls, which were wildly popular. In 1923, she launched the Alexander Doll Company, which she led until she was 93 years old. The company endured even during the Great Depression by pioneering movie tie-ins: Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, and Scarlett O’Hara dolls were created to coincide with film versions of the books. Madame Alexander was also the creator of the first sleep eyes, rooted hair, and walking dolls, and launched the first fashion doll, Cissy, four years before Barbie was created by Ruth Handler. In the 1980s, Alexander Dolls was manufacturing more than a million dolls per year.
“Dolls should contribute to a child’s understanding of people, other times and other places. Dolls should develop an appreciation of art and literature in a child.” —Beatrice Alexander