Georgene Hopf, born May 21, 1876 in Denver Colorado, grew up in Salem, Oregon. In 1905 she married William Hendren, whom she later divorced. According to an account in a Salem morning newspaper as she was recovering from a serious illness in about 1910, she conceived of the idea of creating what she referred to as “Wild West” dolls. Purchasing locally available dolls she costumed them in colorful felt outfits depicting Cowboys and Indians. Her brother helped her sell the dolls to local shops where they became quite popular with area tourists. Using the name Madame Georgene Hendren she established a nice little business which allowed her to support herself and her daughter Maxine.
She soon met a toy buyer from New York City named James Paul Averill who was so taken with her dolls that he took her entire stock to New York to sell. Paul and Georgene married in 1914 and thus began a personal and business relationship that would bring great success to the couple. Georgene designed the dolls, Paul ran the business and Georgene’s brother Rudolph managed the production end of the business. They called their business Averill Manufacturing Co. and based the company in New York. In 1915 the couple took out a trademark on the name Madame Hendren. Buying dolls from various companies, they brought out a line of dolls dressed in outfits designed by Georgene. Eventually the company started to make its own dolls as well.
Georgene became interested in creating soft cuddly bodies for dolls which led her to her 1918 design patent for a new type of cloth doll body. The development of her ideas in this area led to the invention of what many consider to be the first of what would eventually be referred to as Mama -style dolls. This style of doll body would become immensely popular and often imitated.
In 1923 James and Georgene ended their association with the Averill Manufacturing Co. The name Madame Hendron, which was trademarked by the Averills in 1915, was used both before and after their split with the Averill Manufacturing Co. Averill Manufacturing would continue to offer a diverse line of dolls through the 1930s and ’40s.
Meanwhile, Georgene and her husband continued to be active in the doll and toy business. In 1924 Georgene became the superintendent of importer/manufacturer/distributor George Borgfeldt’s toy department. She continued to design dolls, doll costumes and stuffed animals which were sold under the name Georgene Novelties and distributed by Borgfeldt. In 1926 she designed a baby doll called Bonnie Babe. Borgfeldt arranged to have Bonnie Babe’s bisque head made in Germany and used his K&K factory in the USA to make the bodies.
Throughout the late 1920s into the 1940s Georgene designed dolls with cloth mask-faces which were dressed in a variety of styles, many depicting world costumes. These were marketed under the Georgene Novelties name. She would continue designing new dolls throughout the mid-20th century. In 1938 Georgene received the licensing to produce Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann, Andy and friends. Her company would hold those rights until 1962. In 1944 Georgene made comic characters Nancy and Sluggo and Little Lulu and friends which bear the Georgene Novelties name on their tags. These 14″ dolls are very faithful renditions of the original drawings of the characters.
Toward the end of her life Georgene moved back to California and she passed away there on August 27, 1963. Her impact on the world of 20th century dolls was recognized during her lifetime and lives on as we continue to collect the dolls she created and tell her story to new generations of doll collectors.
Author – Linda Edward
Dorothy S., Elizabeth A., Evelyn J. Coleman The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Dolls Vol. II. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1986
Myra Fay Graubard Georgene Averill: Averill Manufacturing/Georgene Novelties. Antique Doll Collector magazine, March 2001
Ursula Mertz Collector’s Encyclopedia of Composition Dolls. Paducah: Collector Books, 1999
Ursula Mertz Collector’s Encyclopedia of Composition Dolls Vol. II. Paducah: Collector Books, 2004
Various contemporary newspaper articles and interviews found online, sources unknown
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