“Christmas won’t be Christmas without presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the hearth rug. Thus began Louisa May Alcott’s beloved 1868 novel Little Women which was to become a classic for the ages and in 1933, when dollmaker Madame Alexander released her first line of Little Women Dolls, it was the start of little girls receiving the most beautiful possible presents for decades to come. Lucky was the child who, on a holiday or birthday, unwrapped a package to find one of Madame Alexander’s exquisitely molded and dressed Little Women Dolls, and to this day, these dolls are probably the most easily recognized and passionately adored of all of long line of Storybook Dolls produced by this world-class dollmaker.
Here at DollKind.com, we consider the Little Women Dolls to be important enough to devote an entire article, separate from our main Madame Alexander Dolls page and we sincerely hope this detailed look at these special dolls will delight your eyes and warm your heart.
The first set of Madame Alexander dolls was released in 1933, prompted by the release of the “Little Women” film starring Katherine Hepburn. They were 16″ tall, with chubby cloth faces and bodies and, pretty apron-covered dresses and fine wigs, but they were just the beginning! Also in the 1930′s a set of 7″ Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls, referred to by collectors as “Tiny Betty Dolls” were introduced. The bitty dolls are rare and valuable.
Then, in 1948-1949, the first set of hard plastic Little Women appeared, and I am delighted to be able to show you the following photo of these large, highly collectible 15″ dolls.
The introduction of these large Little Women dolls was again prompted by a new movie version of the book. The clothing on these dolls is, unfortunately, not original but great care was taken by someone to sew gowns for them with a period feeling. Dolls similar to these were produced by the Madame Alexander Doll Company until 1956 at which point, the company began producing the smaller 8″ plastic dolls that begin to look more or less the way most women will remember them. Below, we have a wonderful photograph of a set of late 1950′s Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls referred to by collectors as Bent Knee Walkers because of the bent mold of their legs. These 8″ darlings in their bright, pretty dresses may be seen as the ‘ancestors’ of the Little Women Dolls with which you may be more familiar from later decades.
Between 1956-1964, dolls similar to the ones shown in the above photo were released in several sets of apparel, but 1965 was the year in which the most recognizable and widely-known 8″ Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls made their debut. Jo’s dress was changed a couple of times, and in 1973 the Bent Knee Walker molds were replaced by the straight leg molds. At this point in our article, we are ready to set the dolls out for your pleasure one at a time and hope you will find it interesting to see how each character has changed and developed over the past several decades. It’s our aim to celebrate both the charm of these Little Women dolls and the storybook characters whom they so memorably represent!
When you think of Meg March, formally called Margaret, you imagine neat, clean gloves, longing for pretty dresses out of reach, long hours spent working as a nursery governess and a character-building vacation with a wealthy family that helps her to better understand her own faults and dreams. Meg, the eldest girl of the March family, grows up to marry John Brooke, overcomes the matronly tribulations of a new wife and mother and to eventually comes to preside over her little cottage with grace.
From 1965-1986, this was the 8″ Madame Alexander doll who represented Meg to two whole decades of little girls. Growing up in the 1970-1980s with my sisters, this was our Meg doll and just looking at her sparks so many happy memories for me. The doll shown above is specifically from 1981 and she wears that unforgettable lilac gingham dress which I so admired as a child. Over this, her white batiste apron with lace trim is always clean and snowy and at her throat perches a ‘ruby’ brooch. I confess, I was simply enchanted by the jewels worn by Meg and Jo, even if the real Little Women characters in the book could hardly have afforded such finery!
In the book, Meg’s hair is described as being of a soft brown – the 1981 Little Women Doll Meg’s is a little more toward dark blonde, but it’s close enough, and the doll has blue eyes. Her half-up hair do is topped by a lilac-hued bow. Her complexion is of the softest pink-and-white kind in the whole series with gently pink cheeks. For me, this Madame Alexander Meg Doll will always be an icon of my own childhood.
Above, we have a new Meg doll from 1987 and I feel that the effort here was to dress her in a style more in keeping with the Civil War era of the book. Her hair remains quite similar to the earlier dolls, but everything else is different and new! This Meg doll wears a camel colored dress with print apron and plain gold brooch. Moreover, the face mold is new. It is thinner and more decidedly peach in tone, making the eyes stand our more startlingly blue. Also, from the above photo, you can see how that famous little booklet of dolls – so minutely examined by ever girl – had changed in appearance, too!
Just one year later, in 1988, Meg March appeared in yet another new ensemble. Here she is dressed in a dusky rose gown with rust floral apron and cream lace with gold brooch at throat. To me, the face has reverted more towards the earlier Little Women dolls with a more delicate application of hues and a rounder appearance. I like the colors that were chosen for this Meg Doll – they are pretty but subdued, in keeping with Civil War era fashions.
1995 gave us a significantly different Meg! Her hair is now quite dark brunette and dressed in a period-appropriate braided style with large side puffs. Her eyes are brown. Her aubergine-toned taffeta gown with black trim and lilac top speak to me of Meg’s later life as wife and mother. I find this doll to be a very nice nod to Civil War era couture and while she doesn’t speak to my heart the way the lilac gingham Meg doll does, she is a very interesting example of Madame Alexander’s boundless creativity with the Little Women Dolls series.
Also in 1995, Madame Alexander released this very special edition of the Meg Doll in her blue ball gown – perhaps best known to avid fans of the book as her ‘Daisy’ period! In the story, Meg spends a fortnight with the rich and worldly Moffats. After a life lived in poverty under the careful guidance of a very moralistic mother, Meg’s head is turned by the giddy life of her new companions. She lets her friends dress her up in the latest style and attends a lavish ball. At first, she revels in the gaiety but after receiving a brotherly reproach from friend Laurie as to her fashionable dress and vapid manners, she is at first annoyed and eventually remorseful. Returning home to Marmee she makes a full confession of her flighty and foolish behavior and receives kindly advice that makes it all turn out alright.
Above, in this very unique issue of the Meg doll dressed in a rose-trimmed blue satin ball dress with fashionably coiffed dark brown hair, we can picture Meg as she was at the memorable ball. A large tear drop pearl hangs from her lace tucker – perhaps symbolic of her somewhat tearful lesson in which she learns that it’s best to be simple and enjoy her girlhood as long as she can instead of letting silly adults fill her head with grown-up ideas too soon. Good for Meg!
To all little girls dubbed ‘tomboys’, to all little girls with active spirits and grand aspirations, Jo March has been a heroine for nearly 150 years. Some of her adventures may have been ill-starred, her scrapes comical, her dramatics bordering on the hysterical, but the good sense, generous heart and loving spirit that underlay it all have endeared Josephine to generations of readers.
When you think of Jo, you may picture a plate of russet apples, a cozy corner in an attic, a sheaf of paper inked over with her energetic creativity and a quaint cap perched atop her head that let her family know that ‘genius was burning’. Jo’s sensational writing pays many an urgent bill for the March family, but once in New York, under the good influences of her friend Professor Bhaer, she vows to write the truth of what she knows – a development which paralleled the life of author Louisa May Alcott. Here, DollKind.com presents Jo in her many guises dreamed up with love by the Madame Alexander Doll Company.
Like Meg in her lilac gingham, this Jo Doll in her garnet cotton dress with white eyelet apron and ‘ruby’ brooch is the doll I think of when I think of Jo. She is from 1981, and appeared more or less like this for some 20 years, though she did experience two costume changes that I know if within that time. Her hair is dark brown, and this is my one bone to pick with the Madame Alexander Doll Company regarding their entire brilliant line of Madame Alexander Dolls. Jo’s hair, which she sells to help her family financially, is specifically described as chestnut, her one beauty. And, yet, to my knowledge, no chestnut-locked 8″ Madame Alexander Jo doll was ever released. I’m particular about this because I grew up to have long chestnut tresses myself, and I would have liked to see Jo’s splendid mane more faithfully represented, but I still love this darker-haired version anyway.
The pink-and-white complexion, carmine-orange bow mouth, faintly pink cheeks, brown eyes and expression of plain goodness on this Jo Doll’s face are remarkably appealing. Playing with this Madame Alexander Jo doll as a child, I felt I could look right into her eyes and tell her about my own dreams in a frank manner and she would not laugh. What a special doll she is!
When the new line of Little Women Dolls appeared in 1987, we were gifted with a new Jo in sporty red gingham with white scalloped bib-style top and an overall style in keeping with Civil War fashions. Her wig is similar to the older versions though her face is a trifle thinner and more peach in hue. Jo looks fresh and fine in this crisp dress and one hopes she will not scorch the back of it standing before the fire as she has such a bad habit of doing!
The 1995 Jo doll was the most different yet. Her hair is not chestnut (nor brown) but a sort of dark strawberry blonde. I love the maroon dress with its period sleeves and bow, and I think this a very fine doll, but I do not think it a very good representation of Jo. Perhaps a more grown up Amy? Well, she is a pretty doll, anyway.
The 1995 Little Women Dolls collection is known among doll collectors as having the ‘Cissette’ head. These were the last of the Little Women Dolls to be released until 4 more years had passed. I hope to add more Jo Dolls to this article as time goes by. If you have a photo you’d like to share of one not pictured here made within the 20th century, please leave me a comment!
Who can think of Beth March without a little heartache? This little ‘cricket on the hearth’ who chirped contentedly all her life for the happiness of others, who was painfully shy but who made many sacrifices and rendered many services to make home comfortable for her family broke the hearts of reading America when she dies in the book of a prolonged illness. I confess, I cry every time I get to that part of the story and have never quite gotten over poor Beth’s death, but the charming dolls created by Madame Alexander allow us to celebrate Beth at her best and happiest, safe in the circle of her family and ever sweet of nature.
When you think of Beth, think of piano music, of dusters and kittens, of an old-fashioned flower garden and most especially of a doll hospital in which she tenderly cared for wounded and neglected dolls. This last attribute should endear her forever to doll collectors who love dolls in all conditions, and if as children, we gave extra love to dolls who had seen better days, Beth March can be our hero!
This 1984 Madame Alexander Beth Doll is in beautiful condition and wears the simple pink dress with white voile apron trimmed with tiny pearl buttons that she appeared in for some 20 years. A perky pink bow ties up part of her curled hair. Her rosy cheeks and brown eyes glow with life. Doesn’t she look as if she’s reaching out to you to be picked up and played with?
Here is a more soberly garbed Little Women Beth Doll, and while her gown is more period perfect, I do miss the pink! She is dressed in olive, brown and cream and while it is certain that such hues would have been correct during the Civil War era setting of the book, I find the tones make Beth’s skin look a little yellow and make me think of her illness. No Madame Alexander Doll is ever released without matchless attention to detail, but in this case, I do not think the final costuming choices were quite right. What do you think about this 1987 Beth doll? DollKind.com would love to hear varied opinions!
Here is a very different and interesting Beth Doll from 1995 that emphasizes her little girl-ness with brown braids. The green brocade dress is trimmed with lace and jacquard ribbon and she looks like she might have jumped lightly off a Christmas tree. Of note, too, she wears brown slipper shoes instead of the more common black. Though I find the dress a little fancy to be believable for a family in straightened circumstances, it is very nice to see Beth dressed up warmly and richly. Perhaps old Mr. Lawrence, her kindest benefactor, sent over this gown in exchange for the pair of slippers she made for him? It’s fun to imagine, isn’t it?
If you have a photo of a Beth doll from the 20th century that isn’t pictured here and that you’d like to share, please leave a comment below. We’d love to see it!
I must confess that when my father first read Little Women to me when I was about six years old, Amy March was not my favorite. She was described as vain and affected and a little selfish and I remember that worried me. But then came the affair of the pickled limes in which she was forced to throw all of her delicious treats out the window and from that moment on, I was much more sympathetic to her. For one thing, I desperately wanted to taste a pickled lime, but I still never have!
Amy’s name is linked with the arts as she draws, sculpts and tries wood burning at various times. She gives an ill-fated party after ignoring Marmee’s suggestions for simplicity and economy and has other humorous and self-mortifying experiences, but her fondest wishes are realized when Aunt March admires her manners and takes her on a tour of Europe. The Madame Alexander Doll Company has done a marvelous job through the years of giving us a series of Amy dolls that capture her proud little head, her wish to be known for her nice manners and, perhaps, just a little spice of self-absorption.
Above, I am showing two near-identical Amy dolls. The first is from 1981 and the second from 1982. The one difference is in the hue of the beautiful dotted swiss pinafore which is lighter on the first doll and bolder on the second. The 1981 doll is the one my family owned and I remember her pale pinafore, the fabric of which I so admired. In both dolls, Amy’s blonde curls are tied up with a bow and her brown eyes contrast handsomely with this. It may have to do with age, but to me the eyebrows of the later doll seem a little darker than those of the former. What do you think?
Now we have assembled all 4 of the Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls you most likely played with if you were a child between the 1960s-1980s. Meg in her lilac gingham, Joe brave in red, Beth in her pastel pink and Amy in her frothy yellow and white set. What treasures they are! If you bought an Amy doll later in the 1980′s, she likely looked like these photos below:
Above we see in order the blonde, blue-eyed Amy dolls from 1987, 1988 and 1989 and I thought readers would find it interesting to compare the subtle variations in skin tone and face bold within just 3 consecutive years. To my eye, the first and last dolls’ faces are thinner than the round-cheeked doll of 1988 and the skin shades are definitely different on each doll. Amy’s pretty pink plaid dress is beautifully done, but as for me, I will always think of her in yellow!
Finally we have the 1995 Amy doll and I think the dress created for her with its tartan plaid and blue design is just exquisite. A big plaid bow sits atop her head and she looks both fashionable and ready for ladylike play. In this article, you have now seen all 4 of the 1995 Madame Alexander Little Women dolls and can form a solid opinion of how the main four dolls in this famous series changed over the years. But wait…we’ve got two more Storybook Dolls to cover before our Little Women Doll Collection is complete.
Destined to be Joe’s best childhood chum and Amy’s future husband, Laurie Laurence adds boyish fun and the occasional upset to the lives of the March girls in Little Women. The orphaned boy lives with his crusty but kindhearted wealthy grandfather and finds a stand-in mother figure in Mrs. March. A throwaway life of idleness tempts Laurie, but the good influence of the whole March family eventually leads to him making a man of himself of whom everyone is proud.
Boy dolls are fewer and farther between in the Madame Alexander array than girl dolls. Laurie stands in company with the likes of Little Boy Blue, the Little Drummer Boy, Rhett Butler and some very dear International dolls. My family never actually owned any boy Madame Alexander dolls but I know my mother would always exclaim over their charms when we looked through the tiny doll catalogue booklet together.
Above we have the 1979 Laurie doll meant to complete the set of the 4 Little Women Dolls released between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s. Any girl would be happy to have this cheerful chap as a brother. Great care was put into designing his navy peacoat with brass buttons and matching hat, and his grey striped trousers. Even his little shoes are unique. I think this is one of the nicest little boy dolls ever made by the Madame Alexander Doll Company.
Moving forward to 1996, the above Laurie doll nicely matches the 1995 series of newer Little Women dolls, but I don’t him quite as endearing as the older doll. Wigs on boy doll are always hard to make work, and to me, this Laurie’s hair is just not perfect. The clothing, too, while imaginative, somehow leaves me longing for a little refinement. The blue velvet coat is very lovely but the checks on the brown trousers just seem to large to me. Mid-19th century fashions for men were sometimes loud and peculiar – everything from colored top hats to ostentatious waistcoats. Certainly, considering his wealth, Laurie could afford to be a ‘dandy’ and this costume does a nice job of playing into that, but I still prefer the simpler costume of the earlier doll. What do you think?
No collection of the 4 March girls would be complete without their mother. Marmee is the center of life, the wise instructress, the sympathetic listener and loving adviser to whom each daughter turns for kisses, consolation and truth again and again in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
Interestingly, when Madame Alexander released this 8″ mother doll to go along with the four girls, she was named ‘Marme’ instead of “Marmee” – a difference remarked upon by Alcott fans ever since. But whatever her name, here is that sweet, ideal mother doll so beloved by readers for generations:
In her wine colored frock, white eyelet apron and white mob cap with black bow, the Marme Doll by Madame Alexander exudes kindliness and sagacity. I so admired her pearl pin when I was a girl and I had a distinct sense of all being safe with my family’s Little Women dolls when Marme was near. This doll is from 1984, and like the others in the set, she appeared basically like this for some 20 years. I remember her so well, with real fondness.
If you have other Marme doll photos not pictured here from the 20th century and you’d like to share them with the other readers here at DollKind.com, please leave me a comment below.
Louisa May Alcott
Last but not least, I want to showcase Madame Alexander’s beautiful tribute to the author herself, Louisa May Alcott. She belongs with the collection of Little Women Dolls because, without her, these beloved characters would never have existed.
I cannot praise too highly this doll released in 1992. I think the choice of purple gown with Civil War print apron is absolutely perfect. Here we have the entire spirit of the famous book and the era in which it was penned distilled down into one little doll with a sweet and serious face and expression of intelligent thoughtfulness in her eyes. With this lovely doll, our collection of Little Women Dolls by Madame Alexander is truly complete. But please read on if you’d like to to know more!
Collectors Value Of Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls
The Madame Alexander Doll Company is still releasing new Little Women Dolls, and the sets of these dolls from 1965 onward are not rare but they are highly collectible.
For a mint condition Little Women 8″ storybook-type doll from any time over the past 50 or so years, you can expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $40-$100. Sometimes, the whole lot of 6 dolls will come up at auction for bargain prices. Check the condition of wigs. Check for shoes, stockings, pantalets and petticoats. Check the movement of the arms and legs. Sometimes, the inner workings of the older dolls deteriorate making their limbs come loose. Flaws can be repaired by skilled doll hospitals. Even faded faces can be repainted. But mint condition means being in the box, with all parts and looking next-to-new. See photo below:
The older version of the Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls, such as the 1940s 15″ set shown at the beginning of this article, are rarer and more valuable. You can pay as much as $300-$400 per doll but again, deals can be found sometimes on lot deals of the dolls. The early 1930′s cloth Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls are very, very rare and bidding wars at auction can drive up their values into the high hundreds or higher.
Where To Buy Madame Alexander Dolls
It is not uncommon to find these dolls at garage sales and flea markets for small sums, but it is unusual to find one in mint condition at such venues. Antique stores tend to do a better job of displaying Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls in good condition on their shelves, but eBay is definitely the richest and most easily accessible treasure trove of the Little Women dolls from all eras.
Dollkind.com highly recommends the following three eBay sellers whom we have found to take painstaking care in presenting very high quality and mint condition Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls.
Not only are these sellers professional and friendly, but they are also the gracious donors of many of the beautiful photos displayed in this Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls article, for which DollKind.com is deeply grateful!
Cultural Value Of Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls
It is one thing to talk about monetary values. These can be looked up on the Internet or in doll collecting manuals. Discussing the emotional and cultural values of iconic dolls like these is a more challenging matter, but as a lifelong admirer of Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls, I would like to give it a try. And, I do hope you will comment with your thoughts on what has made the book and the dolls such a special part of American history.
An instant success upon publication, repeatedly made into motion pictures and holding pride of place on millions of shelves in children’s rooms and children’s libraries, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is one of few American novels worthy of being called a true ‘classic’. Countless girls have admired Meg, frolicked with Joe, mourned over Beth and grown up with Amy. These fictional girls have earned a relationship akin to extended family and loved sisters with generations of readers.
My father wept when he read to me about little Beth dying and my older sister went through a long phase of making crayon drawings of the Little Women sitting under blossoming plum trees. As for myself, I have spent many years ruminating on the elements that have made this book of such lasting value to so many people.
Literary critics have frequently denounced the works of Louisa May Alcott as being too preachy. It is true that all of her books from Eight Cousins to Rose in Bloom to Jack and Jill and An Old Fashioned Girl contain definite morals and some long dialogue and prose about moral thought. Some people may find this boring, and throughout the considerable length of Little Women and its sequel Good Wives, morality is a major theme, not an afterthought. It was the fashion of the age for literature aimed at youth to try to guide young people’s paths. Some authors went at it with a hammer, but Alcott gives us the bitter medicine of life’s hardest lessons sweetened with a much lighter touch than many of her contemporaries possessed.
And there is a defining theme in the story of Little Women that can ring every bit as true with we modern readers as it did the day it was published. That theme is love and the virtue of letting love guide us in our personal relationships, our work in life and our efforts to overcome the difficulties we encounter. When Laurie is saved from dissipation and disaster, it is the loving influence of the March family that keeps him walking a better road than he might have. When Jo vows to give up her sensationalist writing in order to tell an honest story, it is the love of truth that appeals to her highest potentials. When Marmee learns to think before she speaks sharply out of the anger she often feels it is love of husband and children that empowers her. And when the whole family suffers a reversal of fortune and the father goes off to the war, it is that golden familial love that keeps the family together.
In our own small circles, we can foster this kind of love. It is not a thing of the past.
At the same time, the Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls tap into one of the novel’s secondary running themes, and that is of the wisdom of letting children stay children for as long as they can. Childhood is short enough as it is. These days, media and marketing trade on selling grownup ideas to very young kids and the parents are the only safeguards against this. By putting a set of Madame Alexander’s Little Women dolls into a young child’s hands, you are saying, “play, imagine, be joyous and uncomplicated.” What a gift that is to give. The friendly, innocent faces of these dolls have marked them as lovely companions for the young for many generations going, and DollKind.com sincerely hopes that today’s mothers and fathers are seeing the value in simple toys, like dolls, and giving their children plenty of time to play in the happy garden of childhood for as long as they possibly can.
Do you have special memories of the Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls? Please share them! You’re in good company here and if this article has brightened your day, I am truly glad!
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