Mother Hen & Independent Woman


Annalee Thorndike Mother Hen
Annalee and her giant Rhode Island Red Chicken, created for the State of New Hampshire in the early 1960s.

Free spirited, creative, and certainly artistic, Annlee Thorndike always preferred to go her own way. Today Annalee is known around the world as a doll-maker extraordinaire. But there was a time when dolls were only a part-time hobby for Annalee. Once upon a time, Annalee along with her husband Chip were chicken farmers. From chicken farming to doll making, Annalee was always a mother hen.

At one time there were 32,000 Rhode Island Red chickens roaming around the Thorndike farm in Meredith, New Hampshire. The sign at the end of the long driveway said Welcome to the Thorndike Farm: Eggs and Used Auto Parts.

But in the early 1950s, the bottom fell out of their chicken business. Chip and Annalee could no longer make a decent living selling chickens and eggs. Faced with mounting debt, they began looking for new ways to make a living. Out of necessity, Annalee would return fulltime to dollmaking.

It was at the sunlit kitchen table in the Thorndike’s farmhouse where Annalee would begin her business in earnest. The operation expanded to the larger dining room table, then the living room, and then the upstairs, until dolls spilled out of every corner of the house. Annalee was determined to turn her passion into a business.Annalee Mother Hen Thorndike Farm

Word of the petite dollmaker’s skill, and that of her enchanting dolls, slowly began to spread. It became necessary to hire a group of local women to help in the production of the dolls. Both as homemakers and as friends who gathered around Annalee’s tables, the women filled the expanding order list. Annalee continued to design and make faces for new dolls and expected her assistants to pass rigorous production standards. She established an inspection process to make sure all dolls were made to her high expectations. She became a perfectionist where her dolls were concerned.

Success and recognition came very slowly to the fledgling doll company. But little by little, doll by doll, and with lots of persistence, Annalee dolls were finding their way in the marketplace.

Annalee focused on expanding her designs and collection of faces. She was continually experimenting with how to paint faces on felt, and stretching the felt, to make sure the faces and every expression looked just right. Each doll became a painstaking process.

In 1955, Annalee and Chip incorporated the company as Annalee Mobilitee Dolls. The creative name perfectly referenced the type of doll as well as Annalee’s and Chip’s contributions to their design and construction. The company’s dolls had their earliest success as promotional decorations and displays. Many department and specialty stores started featuring the dolls in their windows and sales displays. Through rough-and-tumble determination, by the 1970s Annalee dolls were being sold in stores throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada. Annalee’s efforts in business were further 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.

Annalee the chicken farmer had become Annalee the successful doll maker.

Annalee’s dolls became almost like her own children. Each design was unique and loved in its own way. And she treated the people who loved her dolls like family.

With Annalee, you always got the sense that there were no customers — only friends to which her business happened to sell dolls. Annalee’s son, Townsend Thorndike, best described how his mother viewed the process: “Sell an Annalee? No!” quipped Town, “You don’t sell an Annalee doll — you adopt it.”

And just how adoptable Annalee‘s creations have become is more evident every day. Today, years after Annalee’s passing, her dolls are still lovingly adopted and passed down from generation to generation. Annalee’s creative vision of making dolls to entertain and warm the heart has endeared her as the mother hen for doll collectors, and those who love to smile, all around the world.

Click here for more information on Annalee’s Place in Women’s History.

New Hampshire Magazine names Annalee Thorndike one of New Hampshire’s first woman entrepreneurs.

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.

850723 6in Mother Hen
In honor of Women’s History Month, Annalee will be releasing a  NEW 6in Mother Hen exclusive on Wednesday, March 22, 2023. Join the waitlist to be among the first to know when this collectible design is available for purchase. Mother Hen commemorates Annalee’s early days when she and her husband ran a chicken farm. We know Annalee would be very honored to have this design as part of our 2023 Exclusive Collection.