Alice and Ann

By Willa Wick in Arts & Music, Poetry & Literature

They’re very old. At 100 and 150 Ann and Alice are still kickin’ around and we all continue to love them – that would be Raggedy Ann and Alice in Wonderland. Alice celebrated 150 years in October; Ann was a mere 100 in September.

Ironically enough, the creation of Raggedy Ann is shrouded in mystery. There are several versions of her creation, but the one that warms the heart is the story that’s easiest to relate to.

Johnny Gruelle (1880-1938) was an American artist, cartoonist, and children’s book author. He was writing at his desk one day when his young daughter, Marcella, came to him with a floppy stuffed doll. Marcella had found the doll in her grandmother’s attic where it had been hidden away for nearly 50 years. The doll was missing one of her button eyes and had no nose. Grandma sewed on a second eye and Marcella ran into the office to show her father what she had found. Gruelle took his colored pencils and drew on a red triangle nose.

The two of them decided the doll needed a proper name so Gruelle went to his shelf and pulled down a book of poems. He flipped the pages and found “The Raggedy Man” and another “Little Orphant Annie”. They decided to combine the two names and came up with Raggedy Ann.

Marcella played with that old rag doll so often that her father decided if she loved it that much, other children might too. Johnny Gruelle created a doll totally different from the stiff and breakable china-head dolls of the period. She was limp, cute, and cuddly. A patent for the doll was issued on September 7th, 1915. The original dolls were handmade and sported brown hair, not the flaming red yarn that we see today. They also had sewn knee and elbow joints for easier movement and sitting. The white pinafore with red and white striped socks has always been a trademark.

Johnny Gruelle thought up many little stories about Raggedy Ann, her friends, and some of the silly things they did. These he recited to his ailing bedridden daughter who developed a serious reaction to the smallpox vaccine. She had been inoculated at school. Marcella lost her appetite and became increasingly fatigued. Her parents advised against further inoculations yet more were given against their will. The young girl lost her muscle control, became listless, and at age 13 died a painful death.

Gruelle worked on polishing and illustrating his tales. Although Ann was created in 1915 it was three years later that she was introduced to the public along with the book “Raggedy Anne Stories”. That was a thoughtful marketing strategy and reaped a huge success.

It wasn’t until 1920 that Ann’s brother Andy was launched into the stories, and the red-haired, sailor-suited boy doll appeared.

Over the years Gruelle authored and illustrated 40 Raggedy Ann and Andy books. Each of these is full of magic and fun, and shows how even little rag dolls can be imaginative and teach lessons of everyday kindness.

Modern Raggedy Ann with her white pinafore emblazoned with 100th anniversary dates (Willa Wick photo)

But 50 years before Ann, while peering through her looking glass, we find that Alice in Wonderland also had a unique beginning before she tumbled down the rabbit hole.

Back in the 1850s Alice Liddell and her family moved to a new church section in England where her father had been appointed dean. The family soon became close friends with other church goers one of whom was bachelor and mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Children adored Dodgson who loved to entertain them with exotic and whimsical fairytale stories.

One warm July day when Alice was ten, she and her two sisters headed out on a picnic with Charles and his friend Robinson Duckworth. They were headed to a distant point in a rowboat and along the way the girls convinced Dodgson to tell them a story. As they rowed along he made up a tale about a little girl named Alice who discovered a magical world after she fell down a rabbit hole.

The real Alice was so captivated with the story that she asked him to write it down for her. Eventually he did, adding a few embellishments, extra episodes, and illustrations. Dodgson showed his manuscript “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” to his friend, Scottish author George Macdonald. His children were so taken with the story that he encouraged Dodgson to look for a publisher.

In 1865 “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” became a household children’s book under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. How he arrived at that pen name was a little complicated. Dodgson took his first two names, Charles Lutwidge, and translated them into Latin – that became Carolus Ludovicus which was then inverted to become Lewis Carroll.

Alice in Wonderland is among the most famous books in the English language and is a perfect example of the literary nonsense genre, but with lots of logic which makes the book loved by both adults and children alike.

The Alice in Wonderland book has remained popular for 150 years (Willa Wick photo)

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of “Alice”, the Harriston library staff arranged a Victorian Tea Party for the monthly Friday Carnegie Café. The theme was taken from Chapter VII, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Tables were decorated with miniature china tea sets and ornate cups and saucers. A history of tea, its uses, and proper etiquette was explained and samples of the more unusual loose teas were enjoyed.

Alice ‘n Ann – popular then, still enjoyed now.