It’s Women’s History Month, which celebrates the vital role and notable contributions women have made in American history. Our founder, Annalee Davis Thorndike, was a trailblazer of the 20th century and her influence continues on today. We are honored to celebrate her during this special month.
When Annalee Davis came into the world on February 11, 1915, women in the United States lacked the right to vote and control many of the circumstances about their lives. Even after women gained the right to vote in 1920, their ability to seek higher education, control their earnings, own property, and run a business were still severely limited. Most women working outside of the home generally had jobs as maids and housekeepers. The thought of a woman owning and running a business was completely foreign to most people. The old adage “A woman’s place is at home” still rang as true as when it was first coined back in 467 BC in ancient Greece.
It was “at home” where Annalee Davis would begin bucking those ancient trends one doll at a time. From a young age, Annalee never paid much thought to convention. She was curious, quick tempered, and fiercely independent with a vivid imagination. Just as women were gaining the right to vote, Annalee began playing with fabrics and design. In the years to follow, it was the dolls she first created in her bedroom that led her to start a business and create her own place in women’s history.
Annalee’s creative instincts as well as the need to be self-sufficient in the middle of difficult economic times led her to entrepreneurship. For practical purposes, she learned how to sew and make clothes. For artistic purposes, she was entranced by dolls but she also realized she could sell them to an appreciative audience. Through a lot of determination, she began reselling her dolls to various stores and businesses throughout New England.
It would take many years of experimentation, and the collapse of the farm she ran with her husband Chip, before her dolls became a full-time occupation. Once she started, there was no looking back. Annalee became the name and face of a woman-led business.
Not to say the road didn’t have a few potholes—and some sexism. She would fight with numerous banks that were unwilling to help her company. “You’re a woman,” they would say and wouldn’t work with her. But Annalee fought on and eventually got the financing she needed to grow her business. “My mom would get furious over being discriminated against because she was a woman,” said Chuck Thorndike, Annalee’s son. “She fought hard for everything she believed in.”
One thing Annalee vigorously believed in and supported was the people who helped her make her dolls—most of whom were women. A sizable portion of the woman helping to stitch Annalee dolls worked from home. This gave them flexible work hours and the ability to care for their children. As a working mother, Annalee knew how difficult it was to juggle work and home.
Annalee also helped start a nursery school to help working mothers like herself. Later she would establish a day care center right at the Annalee factory to assist employees. Other benefits offered to employees included an in-house nurse, free beverages, an in-house exercise program, and a personal loan program. Annalee also established a scholarship fund to further the education of her employees as well as scholarship to local high school students.
Annalee’s efforts and determination in business were recognized publicly in 1974 when she was honored as business person of the year by the United States Small Business Administration. It was the first time a woman was presented with the award. It was a vindication that all the years of toil and belief in herself and her product had all been worth it.
Today Annalee Davis Thorndike is primarily remembered as a doll designer, but she was also a very successful businesswoman during a time when women were not welcome in business. Her business provided for the families of hundreds of workers. Annalee was keenly aware of her responsibility to other people. She often sought solutions that were ahead of their time that would benefit her employees and the company as a whole. Her forward-thinking beliefs and efforts make her a significant contributor in the push for equal rights for women and fair treatment for all. So in honor of Women’s History Month, we pay homage and say thank you to Annalee for her many contributions.
To read the complete story about Annalee and her amazing achievements, check out Behind the Smile: The Story of Annalee Thorndike, her first-ever illustrated biography.
In honor of Women’s History Month, Annalee will be releasing a NEW Rosie the Riveter exclusive. Join the waitlist to be among the first to know when this collectible design is available for purchase. Rosie the Riveter is a fictional female munitions worker who was created as a symbol to encourage women to join the workforce during World War II. Today, she represents feminism and women’s empowerment. We think Annalee would be very honored to have this design as part of our 2022 Exclusive Collection.