National Doll & Toy Collectors Club of NYC


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About Us
       History: The Early Years, Part I

A History of National Doll & Toy Collectors Club ...
Text submitted by Leona Peterson

Mary E. Lewis, our founder, was a dynamic woman with ideas and a charisma that made her a natural leader.

It all started in 1937 when Mary was convinced that somewhere in this big city must be other people who loved and collected dolls too. So, Mary decided to appear on a local radio show hosted by Mary Margaret McBride, requesting any doll collector listening meet her in the Hotel Pennsylvania across the street from Macy's. Eight women resonded, and the National Doll and Toy Collectors Club was born. Mary Lewis was elected as the first president and also served as the first editor of Doll News. As word spread about the club, membership grew. Soon Mary began traveling around the country, organizing satellite clubs from coast to coast. The first unit of National was in Baltimore, followed by those in New Haven, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, Tacoma, Oakland Bay, and Grand Rapid. In 1940 Unit No. 14 was organized, the S. Maude Jones Junior Unit.

During WWII, National was very active in sponsoring activities for the war relief services. Mary, herself, drove a hospital ambulance and spearheaded the organnization of large doll exhibitions pf members' dolls to help raise funds for the war effort. The Pan-American Doll Fiesta brought Latin American consular dignitaries and club members together in a costumed fundraiser. The club also exhibitied for the Red Cross, China Relief, the 4th War Loan Drive and other needy groups.

As we entered the 1950's, National continued to meet every fourth Saturday of the month. Annual gala theme luncheons were held in April, with guest speakers. Exhibits were displayed at Hearn's Department Store, and along windows of the Fifth Avenue store of the American President Line as well as the Century Federal Savings Bank. In 1955, a large and beautiful dispaly was held at the 11th annual National Antiques Show.

National's unit clubs also continued to flourish, and a movement to federate these clubs was started. The war had interfered with our plans, but finally, at the annual 1950 April luncheon, the United Federation of Doll Clubs was formally approved and incorporated. Mary E. Lewis was elected its first president. Unit No. 1 on the charter was given to National. Mrs. Lenea Adelhelm, then our club president, was also a practicing attorney and worked out the details of the incorporation. The first convention was held in New London, Connecticut in September 1950. The first convention was a plate with our logo Dolly National.

In 1953, National withdrew from the federation. The club continued to function as an independent organization and continued its charitable endeavors through dolls. In 1957, the People to People Program was instituted by President Eisenhower to foster international understanding on the basis of human, personal communication between persons here and abroad. It helped in the tremendous task of rebuilding a war ravaged Europe. Mary Lewis was appointed Chairman of the Doll and Hobby Division of the People to People Hobbies Committee. She got the club involved, too. We donated our dolls to a collection of traveling dolls that would serve as cultural ambassadors around the world. It was a valuable opportunity not only to spread good will, but to enrich our own lives through dolls.

We also sent dolls and toys and books to children's hospitals in Rangoon, Burma, Australia and other faraway places. We received many touching, wonderful letters.

In 1955, National undertook its most ambitious project in our history. Mary Lewis had a favorite charity, the New York Philanthropic League. It was planning to buy and remodel an old building at 150 West 85th Street, in Manhattan, as a recreation center for handicapped children. There were to be rooms for work and play, and it was to be called Rainbow House. Our club pledged $2500 to be paid over a number of years. We set about raising it by devising a number of varying projects. Many of our members gave generous donations of their own. On may 12, 1956, Mary presented a $500 check as a down payment on our pledge. We had intended to use our donation to furnish a room as a doll museum, but the League directors eventually limited our display to two glass cases. We continued to exhibit our dolls throughout the 1960's. Notably, at an international display held in Alexandria, Egypt in 1961 and the World's Fair of 1964.

Sadly, National lost its founder, Mary Lewis, in October 1967. At the Spring luncheon in honor of her dedication and inspiration, National started the Mary E. Lewis Annual Memorial Exhibit and Award. This was a special competition related to the theme of the luncheon, interpreted by using dolls and appropriate props and backgrounds. A lovely ribbon was awarded to the winner who was selected by the ballots of the guests at the luncheon.

Mary's dream of a united federation was realized in 1969, when the club voted to rejoin UFDC. Read more in Part II, Recent Years

We are a New York City based non-profit doll club organized expressly for charitable and educational purposes related to doll collecting.