“Madame” Beatrice Alexander:
The First Lady of Dolls
by Seymour “Sy” Brody
Beatrice Alexander lived with her parents above her fathers’ doll hospital. She was deeply touched by the young girls being upset and crying as their mothers brought them with their broken porcelain dolls to have them repaired. She was determined to make a doll that would never break.
She was born on March 9, 1895, in Brooklyn. Her pregnant mother arrived in the United States to escape the pogroms that killed her husband and the other children. Her mother met and married Maurice Alexander. Beatrice adored her step-father and she considered him to be her real father.
A few weeks after graduating high school, she married Philip Behrman. In 1915, she gave birth to a girl, who was named Mildred.
Her future was changed two years after their marriage. World War I was affecting the doll industry. Germany was one of the biggest suppliers of porcelain dolls. Her father’s doll hospital business was threatened when the United States placed an embargo on German products.
Beatrice and her sisters started to produce homemade dolls for sale. She remembered the heartbreaks for young girls when their porcelain dolls were broken. They made cloth dolls which were quickly sold and it saved their father’s business.
In 1920, she became involved with the Women’s League for Palestine, which was the precursor organization for theWomen’s League for Israel.
Officially, the Alexander Doll Company was founded in 1923. With a loan, they put their production in the old Studebaker factory in the Harlem section of New York City. Beatrice was fulfilling her dream to make a doll that wouldn’t break. They also created the first doll which could open and shut their eyes.
In the 1930s, Madame Alexander began creating composition dolls with painted features. Their dolls included Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, 3 Little Pigs, Scarlett O’Hara, Princess Elizabeth and Snow White. In 1935, they introduced the Dione quintuplets, which was very successful.
Alexander Dolls won for four years the Fashion Academy Gold Medal Award for the “ultimate in design beauty of dolls in 1951 through 1954.
In 1940, they started making dolls from plastic instead of composition. The first one was the child film star, Margaret O’Brien.
In 1955, she introduced Cissy, who was the first full-figured, high-heeled fashion doll. This was four years before Barbie was created.
One of the many acknowledgments of her generous philanthropic efforts was the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Anti-Defamation League, in 1981.
Her husband, Philip Behrmandied, in 1966. In 1988, Beatrice Alexander officially retired and sold the Alexander Doll Factory. She died on October 3, 1990, in Palm Beach, Florida.
“Madame” Beatrice Alexander Behrman was the “first lady of dolls,” who was another example that women can succeed in business.
Return to Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America: 1900 to World War II Table of Contents
Return to Jewish Heroines of America: Colonial Times to World War II Table of Contents