Fact Check: Raggedy Ann And Andy Dolls Were NOT Created To Symbolize Children Who Died From Vaccines

Fact Check

  • by: Christiana Dillard
Fact Check: Raggedy Ann And Andy Dolls Were NOT Created To Symbolize Children Who Died From Vaccines Wrong Timeline

Were Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls created as symbols to represent children who died from vaccinations? No, that's not true: Although Johnny Gruelle, an illustrator and the creator of the dolls, had a daughter who died after getting a smallpox vaccination at her school, the patent for Raggedy Ann dolls was granted several months before her death. Some evidence suggests that the character of Raggedy Ann was developed even earlier by Gruelle as one of the minor characters in his illustrations.

The claim appeared on Instagram (archived here) on June 17, 2021. The graphic features an illustration of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls with the text:

What do you know about Raggedy Ann & Andy?

Patented September 7, 1915 by Johnny Gruelle. His 13 year old daughter, Marcella, was vaccinated without his consent at school for smallpox. She subsequently died as a result. He created the dolls to stand as symbols for the dead children from vaccines. The dolls represent very real vaccine deaths and danger.

This is how the post appeared on Instagram on June 18, 2021:

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Fri Jun 18 19:21:20 2021 UTC)

The claim does contain some verifiable information but does not draw a conclusion based on evidence. The application for the patent of the doll that became known as Raggedy Ann was filed on May 28, 1915, and patented on September 7, 1915. According to "Johnny Gruelle, Creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy," a biography by Patricia Hall, Marcella was vaccinated for smallpox at her school in 1915. Although Marcella's mother Myrtle consented to the first dose, the Gruelles did not agree to a second, which was given to Marcella anyway. She died from subsequent illness on November 8, 1915, which puts the theory that her death inspired the doll at odds with the timeline of the doll's creation.

Further, Hall noted that the cause of Marcella's death is somewhat muddled:

Though Myrtle and Johnny Gruelle staunchly maintained that a bad vaccination had killed their daughter, Marcella's death certificate, prepared the day after she died, cited valvular heart disease of several years' duration as the cause of death. The secondary/contributory cause listed was oedema, with a duration of about ninety days. Nowhere on the certificate was a vaccination or an infected vaccination implicated as a cause of death.

However, valvular heart disease is a condition that, especially without antibiotics, can turn fatal if a bacterial infection ever takes hold. The heart itself becomes infected and inflamed, eventually going into cardiac arrest. Though difficult to prove, a dirty vaccination needle or contaminated serum was the most likely cause of the infectious illness that had proven fatal for the Gruelles' little daughter.

In an email to Lead Stories on June 18, 2021, Jonathan Green, a toy seller and Raggedy Ann and Andy enthusiast, said:

It is true that Johnny Gruelle did lend his name to campaigns against vaccinations, but I have not found any anti-vaccination advertising or propaganda that used the image of Raggedy Ann. I imagine that the publisher, PF Volland, would not have allowed it.

The oft-repeated origin story of Raggedy Ann's creation is more chronologically plausible. According to "Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them" by game inventor and toy historian Tim Walsh:

The story goes that Marcella, while exploring her grandmother's attic, happened upon an old, tattered rag doll. The doll was faded and had lost one of her shoe button eyes. Still, it was love at first sight as Marcella rushed off to her father's studio with the floppy old doll and an uncontainable smile. Johnny, with brush and ink in hand, took a long enough break to paint a new face on the doll.

The book continues:

Whether or not Raggedy Ann came to be in just this fashion is anybody's guess. One thing is known for sure--Marcella had a rag doll that she cherished and Johnny Gruelle, the consummate observer, watched his little girl play and gathered wonderful ideas for his stories. Soon a droopy rag doll called "Rags" began appearing within the panels of Gruelle's Mr. Twee Deedle comic strip. Rags continued to have a limited role in Gruelle's stories until she came to life one day in 1915.

According to The Strong National Museum of Play, Raggedy Ann dolls and its corresponding children's books were not sold by toy manufacturers until 1918 and the character of Raggedy Andy did not appear on the market until 1920.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Christiana Dillard

Christiana Dillard is a former news writer for Temple University’s Lew Klein College of Media and Communication. She received her undergraduate degree in English Writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She has been a freelance writer for several organizations including the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation, Pitt Magazine, and The Heinz Endowments. When she’s not producing or studying media she’s binging it, watching YouTube videos or any interesting series she can find on streaming services.

Read more about or contact Christiana Dillard

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