Dollmakers and Their Stories: Women Who Changed the World of Play

Dollmakers and Their Stories: Women Who Changed the World of Play

by Krystyna Poray Goddu

NOOK BookFirst Edition (eBook - First Edition)


Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now


"Dolls are not a luxury. They are as 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."
-Madame Alexander

A wonderful offering for young doll enthusiasts
and women's history buffs alike

This fascinating book tells the stories of courageous dollmakers, all of whom were-and continue to be-filled with passion, vision, and determination. They are the unsung heroines behind some of the most important dolls of the last hundred years-such as Barbie (Ruth Handler) and Madame Alexander's collection (Beatrice Alexander). Entrepreneurs and feminists of their time, these strong women displayed both creative genius and astute business acumen, serving as excellent role models for today's young female readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429925723
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 10/01/2004
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 160
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 9 - 14 Years

About the Author

Krystyna Poray Goddu is the author of A Celebration of Steiff: Timeless Toys for Today and co-author of The Doll by Contemporary Artists. She lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Dollmakers and Their Stories

Women Who Changed the World of Play

By Krystyna Poray Goddu

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2004 Krystyna Poray Goddu
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2572-3


Martha Chase (18511925)

In the middle of the nineteenth century, when Martha Jenks Wheaton was a young girl, most American girls entertained themselves with handiwork. Publications such as the American Girl's Book and The American Girls Handy Book: How to Amuse Yourself and Others encouraged making things and provided patterns and directions. The American Girl's Book's precise instructions for making "a common linen doll" mention at the end that "some little girls make a dozen of these dolls together and play at school with them." Wealthy girls might be fortunate enough to own fragile French porcelain dolls with glass eyes, mohair wigs, and silk clothing, but The American Girls Handy Book advises even those girls that when summer comes, they should "leave the city doll in her city home, safe out of harm's way, and manufacture, from materials to be found in the country, one more suited to country surroundings." Instructions for making dolls from corn husks, corncobs, and common garden flowers, like petunias and daisies, follow this advice.

Most girls in the 1850s and 1860s were happy to have as companions cloth dolls made by a mother's, grandmother's, or older sister's hand. Rag dolls made from linen or unbleached cotton stuffed with bran, sawdust, or straw were a popular Christmas present. Usually they had flat faces with embroidered or painted features. In her autobiographical novel, Little House in the Big Woods, about growing up in Wisconsin in the 1860s, Laura Ingalls Wilder describes her treasured Christmas gift, Charlotte: "She was a beautiful doll. She had a face of white cloth with black button eyes. A black pencil had made her eyebrows, and her cheeks and mouth were red with the ink made from pokeberries. Her hair was black yarn that had been knit and raveled, so that it was curly. She had little flannel stockings and little black cloth gaiters for shoes, and her dress was pretty pink and blue calico."

While Laura Ingalls Wilder was growing up in the Wisconsin woods, Martha Jenks Wheaton was growing up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, just outside the state capital of Providence. She was born on February 12, 1851, into a prominent family. In fact, her ancestor Josef Jenks Jr. had founded Pawtucket, and her family had been instrumental in the growth of the community since that time. Her father, James Wheaton, was a well-known doctor in town, and her mother, Anna Marie Wheaton, worked tirelessly on projects to benefit the community and was one of the founders of the Homeopathic Hospital in Providence.

Like all little girls of her era, Martha was taught to sew, embroider, and practice the domestic arts. But her own favorite cloth doll had a special pedigree: it was a simple but beautiful creation by one of America's first dollmakers, another Rhode Island native, Izannah Walker. It is rumored that Martha's father was Izannah Walker's doctor, and that is how she obtained one of these oil-painted cloth dolls with molded features. Whether or not this is true, Martha was lucky to have played with such a fine example of the earliest American cloth doll to be patented.

Martha was only a teenager when she married Dr. William L. White and a widow before the age of twenty, for her first husband died in 1870. Before too many years had passed, however, she fell in love with another doctor, Julian Chase, a graduate of Harvard Medical School who was training in her father's office. She and Julian wedded in April 1873, and over the next three years Martha gave birth to two daughters, Bessie and Anna.

With toddler and infant in tow, the couple sailed from Boston for Europe on September 30, 1876, where Julian was to complete his medical training in Vienna, Austria. Martha, who had an organized and efficient nature, practiced the European style of housekeeping on a budget in four small rooms. Keeping up the domestic skills she had learned as a young girl was second nature; Martha sewed the children's clothing, pillowcases, sheets, and table linens.

Toys were plentiful in Vienna, and gifts arrived from home, too, but the deep-seated habit of handiwork prevailed for their first Christmas abroad. "I have made a doll for Bessie for a Christmas present," she wrote in the detailed journal she kept during the years abroad, "just such a one as old Dinah at home, only not as large. The face and hands are knit from black woolen yarn, and the stockings are from red yarn. It is dressed in green trimmed with a feather stitching of red yarn for a skirt and a red waist and white apron, collar and cuffs. The wool for the hair is made of black yarn wound round my finger and tied, and then sewed onto the head." Though Martha did not find any special pleasure in creating the doll, Bessie loved it, Martha wrote later. "The kitty and the black dolly are her favorites," she noted.

During the years in Europe, Martha watched her girls play with their dolls. One day she wrote in her journal: "Bessie played all day long by herself and talks to her playthings as though they were alive. She sees a dolly in everything, a stick of wood, a rag, a piece of paper, a bootjack, anything she can carry around has to be treated as though it were a baby." A few months later, when Anna was a bit older, the girls could play together, she noted with some delight: "They play very prettily together all sorts of things, but their favorite play is to each take a doll and walk side by side round and round the table, talking to each other. Generally, Bessie says she is going to the sugar baker's to buy sugar for the dolly."

By the early 1880s, the family had settled back in Rhode Island, and before too long, Bessie and Anna were joined by another sister and two brothers. (Martha bore seven children, but the two other boys, twins, died when they were babies.) The 1880s were filled with caring for her children and her husband and, in her family tradition, community involvement. While keeping up with her household and civic duties, Martha continued making cloth dolls for her children and eventually for other neighborhood children as well. "I first made the dolls ... as an amusement and to see what I could do," Martha wrote in a 1917 letter quoted in the magazine Toys and Novelties. "For several years I did this, and gave the dolls away to the neighborhood children. Then, by chance, a store buyer saw one and insisted upon my taking an order." The "chance" Martha refers to occurred in 1891, when she took one of her dolls to Jordan Marsh, a large department store in Boston, in search of a pair of shoes for it. The buyer for the store's toy department saw the doll and asked where Martha had bought it. When Martha left Jordan Marsh that day, she had shoes for her doll. She also had an order to make dolls for the prestigious store.

Back home, Martha consulted with her family. All agreed that she should accept the order, and so Martha officially started her dollmaking company. She first installed the business in a small building behind her home at 22 Park Place in Pawtucket but soon took over Julian's garage. Finally Julian built her a workshop of her own, which became known as the Dolls' House and the official home of the M. J. Chase Company.

Martha used a material known as stockinet — a soft, elastic cotton similar to that used for socks and stockings at the time — for her dolls' heads and a heavy white cotton for the bodies. These soft and sturdy materials made her dolls radically different both from the heavy yet fragile bisque of the still-popular German and French dolls and from the floppier raglike homemade dolls less-wealthy children owned.

Martha hired women from town to work with her both in the Dolls' House and in their own homes. The women who worked at home, known as outworkers, sewed and stuffed the dolls' arms, legs, and bodies, and made the clothing. All the dolls' parts came back to the workshop in Martha's backyard, where they were assembled by the women who worked there. Martha oversaw the finishing of every doll at the same time as she and two other women, who sat on a raised dais at one end of the large workroom, painted the dolls' faces and hair.

A booklet issued by the M. J. Chase Company titled How Chase Dolls Are Made described the process to potential buyers:

The manufacture of the Chase Stockinet Doll, from the first stroke of the shears to the last painted eyelash or lock of hair, is fascinating to watch. It is handmade by trained craftsmen of specially wove stockinet, stuffed with clean white cotton batting, till it has the natural lifelike responsive body of a young child. It is painted with the purest and best paint obtainable and completely waterproof so that it may be bathed at will, kept sanitary and perfectly safe for the child to handle. In fact the child can take it right into the tub.

The mysterious shapes and forms which the shears cut out are quickly sewed into arms and legs, with elbows and knees and fingers and toes. They are then stuffed with cotton batting till hard and firm as flesh and blood.

The head also is made of stockinet and cotton. But the remarkable thing is that the delicate features are all so real and beautiful — raised like the features of a bisque doll, formed and hardened by a special process so that a child cannot crush them.

When finally assembled the doll is sent to the studio where it is thoroughly waterproofed from head to feet and then painted to look like a real girl or a real boy, with pink ears, smiling eyes, wavy hair, round cheeks and pudgy nose.

Although even Izannah Walker in the 1870s had patented her dollmaking process, Martha Chase never patented hers. Her method was well known: she stiffened the stockinet with a gluelike varnish called sizing and then pressed the sized stockinet into plaster molds. She sized it again on the inside and pressed sized cotton to fill interior areas like the nose and chin. The origin of her molds, however, was always kept secret. Many decades later, when the business was sold, German bisque and composition doll heads were found hidden far away in the Dolls' House. Some still had bits of plaster on them — meaning that most likely Martha made the molds for her dolls from doll heads she bought in stores. If this is true, it would answer the question why she never tried to patent her dolls. She knew the head designs were not her originals. Yet her method of using them turned them into completely different dolls.

It is ironic that Martha relied on German doll heads for her original molds, because her dollmaking philosophy was a rebellion against everything the European dolls stood for. She believed that the heavy china and bisque dolls made by the German and French companies were too heavy for small children's hands and dangerous when they chipped or cracked, which was often. She also, like other mothers of her time, disliked the elaborate dress of the European dolls and worried that because the dolls children played with could not be washed, they carried germs. When she began her own dollmaking company, Martha was determined to create dolls that were soft, safe, and sanitary — opposite in every way from the French and German playthings.

She also ran her business in a very different style than most companies run by men in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She created a congenial and productive workplace where women worked in respectful collaboration with each other. She hired only women, and they loved to come to work. They were encouraged to feel close to the dolls they made, and one recalled: "When a new member of the doll family appeared, each of us took the one we liked best and had our pictures taken in the yard." Martha also made time for celebrations. For example, "When the 13th of the month came on a Friday, it was, in [Martha Chase's] mind, a 'redletter day' and she gave us a party saying it was our lucky day!" Martha remembered each woman's birthday and was generous at Easter and at Christmas. Everybody had the month of August off.

The homelike atmosphere of the Dolls' House was strengthened when Martha's daughters, Bessie and Anna, came to work with their mother as well. Artistic Bessie graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and painted the dolls' faces. She lived at home with her parents, while the more business-minded Anna, married and living next door with her husband, managed the company from across the driveway. Even Martha's sons, Robert and Julian, eventually contributed to the business.

Martha sold her dolls through mail order and in the finest stores of the day, such as FAO Schwarz, Macy's, and Marshall Fields. Her dolls were advertised in important magazines, such as Vogue and Ladies' Home Journal. The ads emphasized the high quality of the dolls, declaring, for example: "If Stradivarius had made dolls he would have made the Chase Stockinet Doll." In addition to her standard line of children's dolls, in 1905 Martha experimented with a series of character dolls from the Alice in Wonderland stories, a Mammy Nurse and two Pickaninnies from the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris, and a group of figures from Charles Dickens's books. In 1908 she also created a doll representing George Washington. Because these dolls are so difficult to find today, we can guess that she did not make very many and soon returned to concentrating on her play dolls.

In 1910, however, she was presented with a challenge that, with her family's strong medical connections, she could not turn down. Mrs. Lauder Sutherland, principal of the Training School for Nurses at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, wrote asking if Martha could make an adult-size doll to train nurses in caring for patients. While such a doll was a far cry from the playthings made by the Chase Doll Company, Martha met the challenge. In 1911 she sent the first hospital mannequin, which stood five feet four inches tall but was otherwise constructed exactly like the Chase play dolls, to Hartford Hospital. In 1914 the mannequins, which came to be known as Chase Hospital Dolls — or to the nurses who used them, Mrs. Chase — were exhibited at a nursing convention and became available to hospitals throughout the country. Before Martha's hospital dolls, nurses had practiced caring for patients using straw-filled dummies. The Chase Hospital Dolls were much more realistic and therefore in great demand. Soon after that, Martha added a baby doll, representing a two-month-old infant, to the hospital line. Nurses could now learn to care for infants on a realistic baby doll as well. Eventually the company was making a series of hospital dolls representing children of several ages. Demand for the Chase Hospital Dolls soon exceeded the demand for the playthings, and more and more of the production was devoted to these dolls.

But Martha continued to make play dolls, representing both boys and girls in sizes ranging from twelve to thirty inches. They wore simple school or play clothes and had painted (almost always blond) hair in short styles, some with bangs and bobs, some with side parts and swirls. They ranged in price from $2.40 to $7.50 — not quite as expensive as the European dolls, but far from cheap.

True to her family heritage of community involvement, Martha did not focus only on her business. She promoted education for girls and established domestic studies as part of the curriculum of local schools. She also taught sewing and dollmaking in the community. At the Church Hill School, she taught girls to sew doll parts for eight-inch dolls, which were then finished and painted at the Dolls' House and given back to the girls to keep.

Family involvement remained strong and allowed the company to stay securely in family hands after Martha's death in 1925. Anna continued to run the business until her own retirement in 1947, when Martha's grandson, Robert Chase, took over. He emphasized production of the hospital dolls and instigated a new, modern style of play doll, still waterproof but made of vinyl. When he himself retired in 1978, he sold the company to a medical supply company in Chicago, which stopped making the play dolls altogether. By 1981 the Chase Doll Company had closed.

Long before then, though, the influence of Martha Chase had penetrated deep into the toy industry as like-minded women continued to create dolls meant for a child's hands and imagination. In Europe and in America, the women who followed Martha Chase built on the foundation she laid of integrity in design, production, and entrepreneurship. The popularity of her soft, safe, unadorned dolls and the success of her femalecentered business established Martha Chase as a pioneer of feminist thought and activity. One of the earliest American women entrepreneurs, Martha Chase not only created a better plaything for girls, she also created a better workplace for women.


Käthe Kruse (1883 — 1968)

Home for lonely Käthe Kruse was a single gloomy room on a busy city street, which she shared with her seamstress mother. While there was much her mother could not provide for her, she did shower Käthe with love and affection, ensuring that her daughter grew into an open-hearted adult. Käthe's desire to share that love led to the creation of the warm and sturdy cloth dolls that continue to be cherished by children today.

She was born Katharina Simon on September 17, 1883, in the town of Breslau, in southeastern Germany. (Today the town of Breslau is the Polish town of Wroclaw.) Her parents were in love but not married, for her father was already unhappily married to a woman thirteen years older than himself. A civil servant, he lived a typical middle-class life with his family. His discontent, however, eventually led him into romance with Käthe's mother.

Käthe's mother's parents, the Simons, had been farmers, and her mother, one of seventeen children, had lost her parents to illness when she was twelve. Not all of the children survived the difficult life that followed their parents' deaths, and Käthe knew only her aunt Paula, who played an important role in the girl's future. Her hardworking mother, who passed on the qualities of steadfastness and levelheadedness to Käthe as well, became a seamstress. Her skills brought wealthy women of the region to the room that served both as sewing workshop and home for her and her daughter.


Excerpted from Dollmakers and Their Stories by Krystyna Poray Goddu. Copyright © 2004 Krystyna Poray Goddu. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Martha Chase (1851-1925),
Käthe Kruse (1883 — 1968),
Sasha Morgenthaler (1893 — 1975),
Beatrice Alexander Behrman (1895-1990),
Ruth Handler (1916-2002),
Today's Women and the Future of Dolls,
Author's Note,
Photo Credits,
Copyright Page,

Customer Reviews