For many people, rag doll and Raggedy Ann are one in the same. After all, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy have been delighting us for more than 100 years now!
Raggedy Ann first came about when cartoonist Johnny Gruelle refurbished a faceless rag doll he found in his grandmother’s attic. Thinking this doll might generate a good story, he gave it the name of Raggedy Ann. When his daughter, Marcella was born, Raggedy Ann became her doll and Gruelle began writing children’s books based on his observations of Marcella playing with her doll. Marcella was the first, but not the last, child to fall in love with Raggedy Ann!
Gruelle’s stories and dolls were patented in 1915. The first mass-produced Raggedy Ann dolls looked much like our modern day raggedy dolls, but they had straight brown yarn hair and shoe-button eyes sewn in place. Current day Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls are manufactured by Aurora world Inc. These charming red headed dolls continue to capture the hearts of children young and old. One unique feature of the Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls is the signature “I love you” embroidered in their heart. Take a look, on the chest of every Raggedy Ann and Andy doll is a heart with the I love you message sewn in. She is said to be the first doll with a heart.
Raggedy Ann’s status was cemented in 2002, when the doll was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. Raggedy Andy followed in her footsteps, earning his spot in the hall of fame five years later.
Who would have dreamed that when artist and writer Johnny Gruelle filed a patent on Sept. 7, 1915 that his doll, Raggedy Ann, would still be a household name 100 years later? Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls are all about love, kindness, and good morals, messages still worth spreading.
original dolls current day dolls
Part of my fascination with rag dolls is the fact that they are one of the most ancient children's toys in existence; dating from the 1st-5th century AD. For as long as there have been clothes for humans to wear, mothers have been fashioning dolls for their children, and not just their daughters. Boys and girls alike played with home-made rag dolls, lavishing them with love and care. Not until sometime in the 1780s in Colonial America were children encouraged to play with gender-specific toys. Little girls were given rag dolls to play with to learn how to care for babies, learn how to sew, and other duties a Mother would need to know.
A rag doll is any doll made primarily from fabric. Very simple to very lavish dolls were made with left over fabric for the body and clothes stuffed with whatever was available. Old nylon stockings made a soft stuffing but if not available a rag doll body might be stuffed with scraps of fabric too small for anything else or even sawdust. Scraps of lace, string or yarn served as hair. Faces were often painted on, embroidered (a first lesson in hand sewing for many young girls), or sometimes left plain.
Everytime I touch this Topsy Turvy doll I feel connected to its maker and its child. It was made by my mother’s grandmother and given to my mother when she was small, circa 18…
Learning the history of Topsy Turvy dolls helps connect me to generations well before this one was made. Topsy Turvy dolls have two cloth heads, one of which is hidden under a long skirt at any given time. Some of the oldest Topsy Turvy dolls have one black head and one white head. One tradition states that these dolls were made by black Mam’mys, slave women who cared for the plantation owner's white children. Often the very young children of the black Mam’my were allowed to play with the white children but not allowed to play with the white children’s toys. These cleverly designed Topsy Turvy dolls were used to fool the white parents: if the white child held the doll its white head was shown, if the black child held the doll its black head was shown. If the children played with the doll in the presence of the Mam’my they were free to play with it as they pleased! These dolls were a symbol of rebellion on the part of strong black slave women: I am connected to this strength through this doll and so are my children. What a legacy!