One Doll's History - Raggedy Ann Through the Years

One Doll's History

Raggedy began as a family rag doll; an old toy, faded and worn, tossed into an attic. And there, the legend goes, a little girl named Marcella found her one rainy day.      Raggedy Ann is a character created by American writer Johnny Barton Gruelle (1880–1938) in a series of books he wrote and illustrated for young children. Raggedy Ann is a rag doll with red yarn for hair and has a triangular nose. Johnny Gruelle applied for a patent on May 28, 1915 and received US Patent D47789 for his Raggedy Ann doll on September 7, 1915. The character was created in 1915 as a doll, and was introduced to the public in the 1918 book Raggedy Ann Stories. When this doll was marketed with the book, the concept had great success. A sequel, Raggedy Andy Stories (1920) introduced the character of her brother, Raggedy Andy, dressed in sailor suit and hat.

                                                        1915 Raggedy Ann Patent                                                                                                               

                                                                       1915 Patent

It’s said that Gruelle created Raggedy Ann for his daughter, Marcella, when she brought him an old hand-made rag doll she found in a storage barrel and he drew a face on it. From his bookshelf, he pulled a book of poems by James Whitcomb Riley, and combined the names of two poems, "The Raggedy Man" and "Little Orphant Annie." He said, "Why don't we call her Raggedy Ann?”

With her shoe-button eyes and winsome smile, Raggedy Ann soon became the beloved playmate of Gruelle's young daughter, Marcella.
When Marcella Gruelle fell ill and died in her early teens, Johnny was devastated. But knowing how much his daughter had adored Raggedy Ann, he began writing the stories that were eventually published.

Raggedy Ann circa 1915Raggedy Ann Stories BookP. F. Volland Co. Raggedy Doll

             Circa 1915       Gruelle's first "Raggedy" book       Circa 1920

                                                             1918                (The P.F. Volland Co. Doll)

Gruelle soon gave Raggedy Ann a brother named Raggedy Andy, and through the years the two floppy rag dolls acquired many other wonderful story book friends - all inhabitants of a very special world, where dolls come alive and enjoy magical adventures when no mortals are present.

Marcella died at age 13, shortly after being vaccinated at school for smallpox without her parents' consent. Authorities blamed a heart defect, but her parents blamed the vaccination. Gruelle became an opponent of vaccination, and the Raggedy Ann doll was used as a symbol by the anti-vaccination movement.

    Johnny GruelleJohnny Gruelle S. of Miami

                                                       Johnny B. Gruelle

Mr. Johnny B. Gruelle was born in Arcola, Illinois and like the creators of Kewpie and Dolly Dingle, he was an accomplished illustrator who achieved recognition at a young age while employed at the New York Herald newspaper. The basic fact is that Johnny Gruelle created the character of Raggedy Ann around an existing rag doll that was owned by his family. The exact way in which this moment of inspiration came about is the subject of a frequently asked Raggedy Ann question.

J.B. Gruelle Johnny Barton Gruelle with dolls

Johnny Barton Gruelle with Andy

Did Marcella really bring the original rag doll to her father? The popular tale is that Johnny Gruelle's beloved little daughter, Marcella, came down from her grandmother's attic one day holding a tattered and faceless rag doll she'd found. According to the story, Marcella presented the doll to her father, who picked up his cartooning pen and swiftly gave the old doll a charming little face. He told his child to take the doll to Grandmother so that she might sew on a button for the doll's missing eye. This account has gained such credibility that it is even being given in the official biography of Raggedy Ann on Wikipedia. You may be surprised to learn that if Mrs. Myrtle Gruelle were alive, she'd be telling us quite a different story.

Myrtle & Marcella

                                                                          Myrtle & Marcella        

According to Myrtle Gruelle (Formerly Myrtle J. Swann), the original rag doll was actually discovered by her husband, himself, around the turn of the century, in his parents' attic. He was actually hunting for something else he wanted, but when he saw the old doll that his mother had sewn for his sister, he took note of it, saying it would make a good story. While it's true that the legend is more heartwarming and intriguing, the firsthand account of Mrs. Gruelle can hardly be ignored by serious doll collectors.

Is it true that the Raggedy Ann doll was used to represent the anti-vaccination movement? Raggedy Ann has been historically associated with the anti-vaccination movement, and there is some truth and some fiction associated with this belief. The tragic truth that still wrenches our hearts to this day is that Johnny Gruelle's little daughter died after being given a mandatory smallpox vaccination at school. The child was just 13 years old, and her loss was devastating to Johnny Gruelle, who then became a proponent of the anti-vaccination movement. However, there is an absurd school of thought that asserts that the Raggedy Ann doll was created as a limp and lifeless-looking creature to symbolize Gruelle's dead child. This is certainly not the case, and Gruelle's registered patent of the Raggedy Ann character occurred right around the time of Marcella's death. Evidence indicates that he had been working on perfecting Raggedy Ann prior to this tragedy in his family. Modern anti-vaccination proponents have, indeed, used Raggedy Ann dolls to illustrate their position, but this was certainly not the original idea behind the doll.

I have never seen any documentary evidence that Johnny Gruelle, himself, used the image of Raggedy Ann to protest mandatory vaccinations. However, he did make his stance quite well known to the publishers of Physical Culture magazine, who asked him to illustrate an article about vaccinations. He responded to the request with a grim, political-style cartoon showing a small child hanging in the balance of a scale held by an ape-like figure.

Following his daughters death, Gruelle took a leave of absence from his job at The Star and when he returned, the doll sat on his desk. He penned the stories he told to his daughter. The first Raggedy Ann book was published in 1918. Gruelle left The Star in 1921.

Until his death of heart disease in 1938, Gruelle wrote and illustrated nearly 40 Raggedy Ann and Andy books.

Raggedy Ann Dolls Everywhere

As my accompanying photos shows, Raggedy Ann dolls over the years have become a little bit like snowflakes - go to an auction, and you'll come away believing that no two dolls are quite alike. The striped socks, printed dress, and white pinafore seem to be common across the spectrum of most Raggedy Ann dolls, but new doll collectors are often surprised to discover that the original Raggedy Ann doll had brown hair - not the flaming red that has become so familiar.

The earliest Raggedy Ann dolls will bear a mark stating Patented Sept. 7, 1915. In addition to the brown yarn hair, they have tin or wooden button eyes, and are made completely of cloth. The nose is quite thin. The eyelashes are painted far below the eyes, and there is no white outline around the eyes. Some of these earliest and most highly-prized dolls have sewn knee and elbow joints. Understandably, these rare and fantastic antique Raggedy Ann dolls are worth many thousands of dollars at auction.

In addition to this, pillowcases, sheet sets, and quilts were embellished with this beloved rag doll. Lamps, calendars, games, toys, dishes, clocks...Raggedy Ann and her spunky brother are everywhere. In fact, I think it might be shorter to make a list of collectibles that haven't featured a Raggedy Ann at some time or another.

Girl with Raggedy Anns
Raggedy Ann dolls were originally handmade. Later, P.F. Volland, a Gruelle book publisher, made the dolls. In 1935 Volland ceased operation and Ann and Andy were made under Gruelle's permission by Exposition Dolls. A single article cannot hope to list all of the types of Raggedy Ann dolls that have appeared on the market during the past century, but here is a short list of a few of the most widely recognized ones that appear at auction:

Volland Co. 1920 - 1934. Brown or red hair. Outward-turned feet. Lashes low on her            cheeks. Three different recognized mouths.
Georgene Averill, Mid-1930's - 1963. Red yarn hair. Painted face. Cloth label sewn in side seam. Both asleep and awake dolls.
Knickerbocker Toy Co. 1963 - 1982. Printed features. Red yarn hair. Tag sewn in seam. The 1974 doll talks. In 1965 begins the Afro-American beloved Belindy.
Nasco/Hobbs-Merrill, 1973. Plastic and vinyl dolls with rooted yarn hair.
Applause Dolls, 1981. Tag sewn in seam.
Hasbro, 1983 - Onward. Marketed under the Playskool label.

Did the original Raggedy Ann dolls have candy hearts sewn inside them? This is a lovely legend inspired by two main factors. The Raggedy Ann stories, written by Gruelle, did tell us that Raggedy Ann's goodness came from her invincible candy heart. Additionally, Gruelle's son, Worth, shared with others a memory he had from early childhood of being sent to a candy store to buy sugar hearts and picking out the ones with I Love You printed on them. Time and creativity have taken these two tidbits and turned them into an oft-quoted myth that the dolls created by the Gruelle family to be used as a marketing prop for the first Raggedy Ann books were embedded with candy hearts.

Sadly, no one has ever discovered a doll containing this sugary trinket, and most serious Raggedy Ann doll collectors agree that this is simply a sweet bit of fiction.In addition to the myriad dolls manufactured, both for children and doll collectors, dozens of Raggedy Ann books have been published over the past century. Johnny Gruelle authored and illustrated the very first, Raggedy Ann Stories, in 1918, and this was followed in 1920 by Raggedy Andy Stories. Over the next 40 years, Gruelle would illustrate and author the books that introduced us to the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees, the Hobby Horse, Grandpa Hoppergrass, and of course, the fictional Marcella. They are tales of magic, fun, and kindness that enchanted children around the world with the thought that even a little rag doll was capable of having the most imaginative of adventures.

The value of both dolls and memorabilia will be based upon age, rarity, condition, and desirability. Some dolls' faces simply seem to have more emotional appeal than others.

Sometimes, rag dolls simply beg to be handmade. For hundreds of years, loving mothers have skillfully turned old scraps into beloved dolls for their children. Handmade rag dolls have a special quality that simply cannot be reproduced on a factory assembly line. Women handy with a needle have been handcrafting their very own Raggedy Ann dolls either from patterns or completely freehand for generations.
Perhaps it is the slightly worn quality that comes from dolls being well-loved that I think of when I see excellently designed primitive Raggedy Ann dolls.


It is such a pleasure when a modern doll designer shows such evident dedication to craftsmanship and the quality of what they create. Dolls as splendid as these can reverse the bad teachings of our throwaway culture, and teach us to treasure special works of love and art as true keepsakes.

I have always been a decided fan of cloth dolls for children. I believe that soft dolls evoke our wish to give hugs and to nurture. Raggedy Ann deserves a special place of honor in the doll world for all of the happy play she has brought to children over many decades past.

100 Year Edition Doll

(The 100 Year Edition Doll)