Raggedy Ann is 100 Years Old Today But It’s Not True
Were one to believe everything on the internets, June 28, 1917, was the birthdate of the Raggedy Ann doll. There’s only one problem with that claim. It’s probably not true.
The truth about Raggedy Ann’s inception lands somewhere between 1915, when her creator Johnny Gruelle received his patent for the doll, and the year 1918 when the first Raggedy Ann books hit the shelves.
The date of June 28 seems so arbitrary, it’s good enough to believe, but there is not one reputable account to verify that claim.
For a doll celebrated as much for her hair of red yarn as she is for the legend surrounding her story, getting the cold hard facts about her creation is challenging. To know the doll, one must know the mane behind the doll.
In the account by Patricia Hall, the foremost historian on Raggedy Anne, one gets the impression that Gruelle was a prankster. His doll has been the center of many legends over the years, but what’s crazy to learn is that according to Hall, Gruelle might have been the contributor to many of those legends himself.
On the branded site for Raggedy Ann, Hall lobbies:
“Johnny Gruelle, either unwittingly or with the great sense of humor he was known for, initiated many of these legends, a number of which are continuously repeated as the factual history of Raggedy Ann…”
The man who created the Doll started life in 1880, born in Arcola, Illinois. He was the child of artists, so creative types surrounded Gruelle’s upbringing.
It was from this primordial soup from which many of these legends, including the actual story of Ann first opened her button eyes.
Children today may not know Raggedy Ann. At best, she is that silly doll Grandma has in a rocking chair in the guest bedroom. They may think she looks creepy.
Ann is well described by her name, a doll made from rags, even though modern version looks much less raggedy. She has black button eyes, drawn on facial features, and of course her red yarn hair.
When this writer was growing up, the stories of Ann and her brother Andy were already fading from the lexicon of children’s story time.
Raggedy’s story ties to her legends, this much Hall can assure us, but even more to Gruelle himself. She is the invention of his mind. The ties to reality are as thin as the stitching holding Raggedy’s button eyes to her head.
By the account of legend, Gruelle’s daughter, Marcella Delight, found a doll in her Grandmother’s attic. The truth was that Gruelle found the doll in his mother’s attic before his daughter was even born.
Again, Hall tells us the truth:
“According to Johnny Gruelle’s wife, Myrtle (a warm, but practical woman, who could usually be depended on to provide candid, historical accounts) it was her husband, Johnny, (not her daughter, Marcella) who retrieved a long-forgotten family-made rag doll from the Indianapolis attic of his parents home, some time around the turn of the century.”
In the stories of Raggedy Ann and Andy, Gruelle named the protagonist after his daughter, Marcella. Raggedy Ann and Andy are her dolls.
Readers want to imagine Gruelle crafting his stories from watching his daughter play with this doll she found in her Grandmother’s attic. These legends sell books, but the real life Marcella passed away at a young age, 13, from an infection. Gruelle crafted her tales from his imagination.
The sad but touching truth is Gruelle’s accounts capture his daughter and her life the way he might have preferred it to be.
There are too many legends to cover, but the most recent one connected to Raggedy Ann is concerning. Someone, somewhere, took the story of Marcella’s death from infection and twisted the story to tell another tale.
In the version repeated by the anti-vaccination crowd, Marcella died from an infected vaccination. This much was true, but the legend goes that Gruelle crafted Raggedy Ann as a symbol for the dead children of vaccines.
There are a couple of problems with the timeline on this legend. For one, the anti-vaccination movement took place long after Marcella’s life. Even if Gruelle were leading the charge on the anti-vax movement, he would have also had to be clairvoyant.
Gruelle submitted his patent for the doll on May 28, 1915. His daughter passed away that November, on the 8th, the day after the patent office granted him the rights.
So, did Johnny Gruelle breathe life into the first Raggedy Ann on June 28, 1917? Probably not, but considering how tied to legend is the Raggedy Ann story, it’s fitting that we celebrate the 100 year anniversary anyway.