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Raggedy, Raggedy Ann & Andy ~ Around The Frame

In case you missed it, both the Today Show and the CBS Sunday Morning Show with Jane Pauley recently featured cast members of the original musical Shucked! The reviews found the musical to be:

“A glut of Gleeful Puns and Cornography” (New York Times), “Cornfed Musical Comedy” (Wall Street Journal), and “At Shucked the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye!” (Vulture). The latter quote pays homage to Oklahoma’s opening tune. I’m very delighted to have had a tiny role of providing Shucks! costume department with a hired man’s quilt top!

Recently, I purchased a pair of forlorn Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls at a local thrift store. With their hand embroidered faces and raggedy clothes, they looked like something out of the Depression Era. They got me thinking as to how these dolls are truly “raggedy”, unlike the more familiar ones with Raggedy Ann in her nice dress and pinafore, and her younger brother Andy in his sailor suit and hat.

Homemade Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls created with love decades ago.

Johnny Gruelle (1880 -1938) Raggedy Ann and Andy’s creator was born in Arcola, Illinois, and two years later his family moved to Indianapolis. At the age of 19 he met Myrtle J. Swan and married her in 1901 and they were blessed with three children: Marcella, Worth, and Richard.

In 1903, when the Indianapolis Star was first published, he was employed to create cartoons to accompany political and sports articles and headlines. This is a matter of fact. So many details of the creation of Raggedy Ann and Andy are not. The fiction was that their daughter Marcella was playing in her grandparents’ attic and came across a faceless rag doll and asked her daddy to paint a face on it and he in turn asked his mother to sew on a button to replace a missing eye.

Myrtle recalled, after his death, that Johnny, while visiting his parents went to retrieve something from the attic and while up there, he found his sister’s old rag doll made by their mother. This visit and discovery happened years before Marcella’s birth. When Marcella was a young girl, her daddy watched her play with her dolls and started writing stories about her doll play. Fact: The Gruelle family was close friends of the Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley’s family. Gruelle named his rag doll after two of his famous poems: The Raggedy Man and Little Orphant Annie. Fact: Marcella was given a smallpox vaccination, she became gravely ill and died at the age of 13 on Nov. 8, 1915. Marcella didn’t die from smallpox. At her school the inoculation was mandatory and given without parental notification. The same needle was being used over and over and the needle picked up diphtheria bacteria from another child that led to her demise. Her death certificate states her cause of death as heart disease.

Fiction has it that her grief-stricken father wrote the Raggedy Ann books and created the doll in her memory. Very touching, but not true. On June 17, 1915, shortly after submitting his patent application for the doll’s design, Gruelle applied for a registered trademark for the Raggedy Ann name, The U.S. Patent Office registered Gruelle’s trademark application (107328) for the Raggedy Ann name on November 23, 1915: 15 days after Marcella’s death. Poignant fiction at its best.
It seems I’ve come full circle from writing about a hired man’s quilt top and referencing the Raggedy Man poem by J.W. Riley, to now possessing two Raggedy dolls with their Raggedy clothes. Reflecting on the times that WWI was underway, I wonder if Mr. Gruelle decided not to dress them in rags but in simple clean clothes and wrote stories full of courage to bolster the children who read them during an uneasy and unpredictable time.

Lois Levihn is the owner of Born Again Quilts restoration studio and vintage fabrics. If you have a textile story you would like to share, contact her at 260-515-9446 or bornagainquilts.com

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Lois Levihn

She is the author of the "Around the Frame" quilting column. She is a graduate of Wayne HS. Quilts have always been important to her, she loves the stories surrounding them, the techniques used in making them, & restoring them. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer