Remembering Barbie's Jewish Mother
05/03/02
Staff Writer
Ruth Moskowitz was the youngest of 10 children born to Polish-Jewish immigrant parents Jacob and Ida. Little did they imagine that their baby daughter would grow up to create one of America's most popular icons. As the creator of the Barbie doll and co-founder of the Mattel Toy Corp., Ruth became one of the country's most enterprising and powerful businesswomen. Later in life, her battle with breast cancer led her to create a revolutionary breast prosthesis manufacturing company, and in the 1970s she became an early advocate for early detection of the disease long before it was an accepted idea. She and her husband of 63 years, Elliott Handler, helped found Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, and also were longtime contributors to Jewish causes, including UJA, Mr. Handler said Tuesday. Ruth died Sunday at the age of 85 at Century City Hospital in Los Angeles of complications following colon surgery. But Ruth Mosko Handler will forever be remembered as the inventor of the controversial teenage doll with the ample bosom and tiny waist. Following its 1959 debut, Barbie not only became a best-selling toy, with more than 1 billion sold in 150 countries, but also a cultural phenomenon studied by scholars, rapped by feminists and displayed by the Smithsonian Institution. Ruth Moskowitz was the daughter of a blacksmith who deserted from the Russian Army and an illiterate mother who came to America in the steerage section of a steamship. The couple settled in Denver, and Ruth moved to Southern California at 19 where she married her high school boyfriend and studied industrial design. Ruth's idea for an older doll with breasts, based on her daughter's fascination with paper dolls, was continuously rejected by male executives at Mattel. She finally succeeded in '59. She named the ironic doll after her daughter Barbara. Barbie's boyfriend Ken was named after her son. Later dolls were named after her grandchildren. Barbie is "an archetypal female figure, she's something upon which little girls project their idealized selves," said M.G. Lord, author of "Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Living Doll." But feminists derided Barbie as detrimental for young girls because of the doll's unattainable figure. "My kids never had Barbies," said Jewish feminist writer Letty Pogrebin. "I really thought she communicated the values of acquisitiveness and objectification of women." But she added that she admired Handler as a successful businesswoman who used her money to help breast cancer victims. "I admire that."

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12/10/2009 - 11:39

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