Beautiful Saralee Dolls

July 31, 2014

By Nancy Kuhl

Beautiful Saralee Dolls, Hollis 7, N.Y.: Ideal Toy Corp., [approximately 1950], call numbers: 2014 Folio 475 &  2014 Folio 476; associated archival materials, call number: JWJ MSS 124.

Beautiful Saralee Dolls were the first anthropologically correct African American baby dolls made in the United States. Two examples were presented to Yale University Library’s James Weldon Johnson Collection in November 1951 by their manufacturer, David Rosenstein (died 1963), president of Ideal Toy Corporation, and Sara Lee Creech (1916- 2008), their inventor. The dolls were named for Sara Lee Creech, and designed by sculptor Sheila Burlingame. The Beautiful Saralee Dolls in the Beinecke Library’s collection are dressed in cream-colored dresses and hats, trimmed in pale blue and yellow. They are in boxes as issued, accompanied by printed tags.

The Collection also includes a binder containing typescripts and photographs compiled by Maxeda Ferguson von Hesse to document the creation and production of the Beautiful Saralee Dolls. The binder contains an essay regarding the dolls’ creation, fifteen black-and-white photographic prints of maquettes created by sculptor Sheila Burlingame (1894-1969), and brief biographies of Creech, Burlingame, and von Hesse, a friend of Creech, who assisted in the production and marketing of the dolls.