American Girl Dolls and Pleasant Rowland’s impact on Madison, WI


A lineup of the original historic girl | Photo via American Girl Doll

ICYMI — American Girl Dolls are now a part of the National Toy Hall of Fame. The beloved childhood toy was “recognized for their exploration of the country’s social and cultural history.”

The toy company — started in 1986 — was founded right in Madison + is still headquartered in Middleton. Founder Pleasant Rowland started the company after a trip to colonial Williamsburg. Mattel acquired the brand in 1998, but the company’s headquarters stayed in Wisconsin. Rowland herself was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame last year.


Samatha Parkington’s story was set in 1904. | Photo via @americangirlbrand

If you don’t know what the dolls are: each girl is based in a different time period — think colonial America, the Victorian era, WWI, and more — and comes with a set of stories, as well as clothes and accessories for the doll. The company has expanded to include Bitty Baby, Girl of the Year, Create Your Own doll + has 13 stores in North America.

In Madison, Rowland’s philanthropy efforts have impacted several organizations. Most recently, her $20 million gift helped fund the opening of MYArts youth center at 1055 E. Mifflin St. Organizations like the Wisconsin Youth Symphony, Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, and UW Hospital transplant clinic have all received generous donations from the businesswoman. And Rowland + her husband’s $205 million gift helped to build the Overture Center for the Arts in 2004.

608 overture center

The Overture Center in downtown Madison. | Photo by @overturecenter

In partnership with the Madison Children’s Museum, American Girl donates inventory for a benefit sale. The proceeds support the museum, as well as other charitable organizations for children in the city. The lottery style sale has passed this year, but you can sign up for notifications for upcoming events to snag historical dolls for around $70.

A little doll can certainly make a big impact on the lives of many.

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