ALEXANDER, BEATRICE (1895–1990), founder of the Madame Alexander Doll Company and one of the best-known U.S. female entrepreneurs. Alexander was born in Brooklyn, n.y., to Hannah Pepper, a widow. When Beatrice was a toddler, her mother married another Russian immigrant, Maurice Alexander; the couple went on to have three more daughters. Beatrice always considered Alexander, who established the first doll hospital in the United States, as her real father. She learned the craft of dollmaking in her father's shop where she observed both the fragility of the china dolls of that era and their importance to children. The contrast between the wealth of many of Maurice's customers and the poverty of the neighborhood made a deep impression on her and she became determined to achieve a better future. Alexander's early surroundings also accustomed her to seeing women contributing to the family economy; her mother worked with her husband in his shop, as well as having full responsibility for the home. In 1915, a few weeks after serving as high school valedictorian, Alexander married Philip Behrman, who later joined her in managing the Madame Alexander Doll Company. The couple had one daughter, Mildred, who grew up in the business, as did her son, William Alexander Birnbaum, company president until 1994.
"Madame Alexander" began her career during World War i when the decrease in imported dolls from Europe created a shortage. Her first project was the "Red Cross Nurse" rag doll. In the 1920s she formally created one of the largest doll manufacturing companies in the United States. The Madame Alexander Doll Company has created more than 5,000 different dolls, often based on literary figures and Disney characters, as well as real people. Madame Alexander dolls, known for their high quality and artistry, are on permanent display at a number of museums worldwide and have received numerous awards. In 1986, Beatrice Alexander was honored with the Doll of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award.
Alexander, who began to withdraw from the business in the 1970s, was a well-known philanthropist, supporting American and Zionist causes. A trustee of the Women's League for Israel, Alexander gave particular support to projects benefiting children.
J. Altman, "Alexander, Beatrice," in: P.E. Hyman and D. Dash Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America, 1 (1997), 34–35; Jewish Women's Archive, "jwa – Beatrice Alexander," at www. jwa.org.
[Judith R. Baskin (2nd ed.)]