The Raggedy Ann Story
It was around Christmas, 1918 when the world was introduced to the Raggedy Ann doll and stories. It was a time when traditional values were the norm and homemade, hand-crafted objects were popular. Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy became the world's best known and loved rag dolls. Johnny Gruelle, their creator, was born in Arcola, Illinois in 1880. He was a cartoonist-illustrator and author. He was also a natural born story teller.
Gruelle designed and patented Raggedy Ann in 1915. And how the adorable character came to be is an interesting story. There are several versions, but the basic components of each are similar. The doll was patterned after his young daughter’s life, Marcella whose playful exploits were often incorporated into his cartoons and literary works.
The most popular version tells of little Marcella rushing into her father's art studio, with an old tattered rag doll she had discovered while rummaging around her grandmother's attic. The doll is missing an eye and the face is faded and weatherworn.
The father picks up the doll, takes his drawing pen and gives the doll a new face. He tells Marcella to ask her grandmother to sew on a shoe button to replace the missing eye. Marcella is happy with the new face and exclaims she needs a name for her new companion.
The father ponders the possibilities a moment then spots several books on his desk. He takes the titles from two of his favorites, "The Raggedy Man" and "Little Orphan Annie" and combines them to form Raggedy Ann. Marcella delightfully agrees it fits perfectly. That’s one version of the story. Another has the father coming across the doll in the attic, but decides to tell the story with his daughter finding it to add a more romantic flavor. Thus, in his introduction to the Raggedy Ann Stories a character named Marcella finds Raggedy Ann in her grandmother's attic.
The real life Marcella had served as a model for his writings and cartoons, so she was his inspiration for creating Raggedy Ann in the first place. She was the apple of his eye. Sadly, she died at age 13 of an infected vaccination.
Johnny also had two sons, Worth and Dickie, who included Raggedy Ann in all their games. But the boys felt Raggedy Ann was lonely and needed a brother. So, a sequel to the first book in 1920, Raggedy Andy Stories introduced the character of her brother dressed in a sailor outfit. the The two, along with numerous books, songs, and toys, became a delightful diversion for a country at war. And they continue to be a source of enjoyment for young people and collectors worldwide.
It’s been said, before Marcella passed, Gruelle entertained his sick daughter, by telling her stories about Raggedy Ann. When she died he published those stories in her memory. To help sell the books, the Gruelle family fashioned a blue and white clad rag doll with red yarn for hair, to be sold along with it.
In subsequent Raggedy Ann books, the literary Marcella would become a permanent character, along with Raggedy Ann and Andy. In 1929, Gruelle bestowed Marcella with her own book of stories called Marcella: A Raggedy Ann Story.
Anyone familiar with Raggedy Ann stories knows she had a candy heart. The candy heart, it seemed, exemplified Raggedy Ann's sweet personality. This gave rise to a legend some of the first dolls produced by the Gruelle's were made with candy hearts, with "I Love You" printed on them.
There seems to be some basis in fact this may have been the case. Worth Gruelle remembers being sent to buy them, picking out the "I Love You" hearts from those with other messages. They would then be sewn into the chest of each doll. It’s possible these hearts were placed in the first dolls produced. However, none have ever been found.
Although the Raggedy Ann series was successful, the dolls became more popular than the books. The earliest dolls are marked with the patent date of September 7, 1915, on the back.
Gruelle continued to write and illustrate the series of books until his death in 1938. Many more books were released and credited to him after his death.