Residents Learn About Wonder Women of Toys

Chris Bensch presents on “Wonder Women of Toys”

“Women have been formative and essential throughout the history of toys,” explained Christopher Bensch, chief curator at the Strong National Museum of Play. Bensch, who also serves at the museum’s vice president for collections, presented to over three dozen residents at St. John’s Meadows on the topic of “The Wonder Women of Toys.” The July 19 presentation told the stories of nine women who became pivotal figures in the toy industry during the 20th century.

Residents in attendance were treated to stories about the women who became great creators, influencers, and marketers of some of our favorite toys and games. They heard the story of how Ruth Handler purchased the racy “Build Lilli” doll in a German tobacco shop, thus beginning the evolution of the Barbie doll her and her husband Elliott would eventually develop. Bensch also explained how Ruth, described as Mattel’s “one person sales force” marketed Barbie on the wildly popular Mickey Mouse Club television show with great success.

Among the other incredible stories involving the female titans of the toy industry included that of Leslie Scott. Scott lived near a saw mill growing up in Ghana, where she would select scrap pieces of wood to bring home and fashion into games for the family to play. One of her games that featured identical wooden blocks was eventually launched and enjoyed tremendous popularity around the world. “Jenga” was the first of many successful games that Scott created.

Following the presentation, St. John’s Meadows resident Carol Pearson brought out what she believes is called “Sweet Sue.” The unique toy was given to Carol on her 5th birthday- some eighty years ago!

This presentation is just one of many regularly scheduled educational programs hosted by St. John’s. The program was part of the museum’s Women in Games initiative.

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