Mattel’s Barbie doll has come a long way since 1959.
Toward the end of her life, in explaining her rationale for never marrying, Susan B. Anthony said she wanted to avoid becoming a man’s “drudge or a doll.”
More than 100 years after her death, she’s become a doll — a literal doll, a Barbie doll.
On Monday, Mattel launches its Susan B. Anthony doll as part of its Barbie Inspiring Women Doll line, which “pays tribute to incredible heroines of their time — courageous women who took risks, changed rules and paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before,” according to the toymaker’s website. Other dolls in the series bear the likenesses of legendary NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart and Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.
Susan B. Anthony doll by Mattel. (Photo: Provided photo)
Victoria Brzustowicz, director of marketing and communications for Rochester’s National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, played a major role in shaping the Anthony doll’s look and packaging.
Mattel contacted the museum at 17 Madison St. on the city’s west side nearly two years ago seeking guidance on product development, Brzustowicz said.
“They felt we were the people who would be the authorities,” she said.
Brzustowicz and other museum officials were familiar with the Johnson, Earhart and Kahlo dolls, “so when they reached out about a Susan B. Anthony doll, we all thought that was very exciting.”
There was a lot of back and forth between Mattel and the museum. “We helped them wherever we could,” she said.
Initially, the toy company put the Anthony doll in a royal blue Edwardian dress, Brzustowicz said.
“But she never would have been seen in anything like that,” she said. Most of the dresses Anthony wore were actually tops and skirts that worked together and could be interchanged, almost like a modern-day “power suit,” she said. So Mattel went back to the drawing board and tried to duplicate the look of a two-piece dress in black. Many of Anthony’s garments were garnet-colored but appeared black in black-and-white photographs, Brzustowicz said.
Mattel added lace accents to the dress and a cameo at the collar, also in keeping with Anthony’s style. And about her style, “She was quite the clothes horse,” Brzustowicz said. “She really loved clothes.”
Her dresses “were made from beautiful, ornamental material, but it wasn’t ostentatious,” Brzustowicz said. Anthony knew she was representing a movement. “She knew that people were looking at her, and she didn’t want them to get hung up on the fact that she wasn’t dressed appropriately.”
The Anthony doll’s face doesn’t look anything like Anthony — and definitely not the one people are used to seeing in pictures.
But the Anthony Barbie is different from the Barbie that Brzustowicz played with as a child. “The Barbie I grew up with was more Barbie-like,” she said. The Anthony Barbie does have boots with heels, “so she’s standing on high heels, but she’s not wearing outrageous lipstick, and her eyebrows look like real people’s eyebrows — not little penciled lines. And she has gray in her hair.”
Mattel did not take all of the museum’s design suggestions.
“We had said that adding a red shawl would be ideal because that was her trademark and really helped her stand out in a crowd,” Brzustowicz said. “They just felt it would push the price point too high.”
Ditto for having the Anthony Barbie clutch a miniature alligator purse.
However, museum officials felt strongly enough about offering those accessories as options that they hired an artisan to craft them and will sell them through the museum’s gift shop. The museum also will offer a package of the Anthony Barbie and the accessories, along with several other keepsake items, in exchange for a $200 tax-deductible donation.
The doll itself can be ordered now on the Mattel site and at Target.com for $29.99.
It’s release in 2020 coincides with the 200th anniversary of Anthony’s birth, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote and the 75th anniversary of the museum, its president and CEO Deborah L. Hughes noted in a statement.
The museum is not getting a cut of the proceeds from doll sales, Brzustowicz said. But the box that it comes in includes information about the museum and its website address.
“That was pretty nice,” she said.
As for what Anthony might think about inspiring a Barbie, Brzustowicz said: “I would never put words in Susan B. Anthony’s mouth. But knowing that she had a great sense of humor and how funny she was, I would think she would find this pretty amusing.”
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