Candied Hearts and Medical Malpractice: Raggedy Ann’s Dark Secret

Nearly everybody is familiar with the sweet ragdoll with red yarn hair and a candy heart, known as Raggedy Ann. The soft huggable doll, which was so different than the stiff porcelain dolls of her time, and her whimsical stories quickly captured the hearts of children everywhere in the 1920s. Songs, newspaper articles and books of her sweet adventures were rapidly spreading across the nation and her legacy survived decades after her creator’s death. But what many do not know is Raggedy Ann has a very dark and secret history, which has long been forgotten or buried. Though many have not heard this side of the story, I won’t be the first to tell it.  However, it is very hard to find all of the valid evidence if you are searching online. This opens the door for not only a lot of confusion and myths but also for out right lies on supposed fact checking websites, who attempt to debunk the very real history behind her creation. I have set out to offer easy access to the evidence in a shareable online format to spread the true and heart wrenching story of the little girl to which the original Raggedy Ann doll belonged.

Our story begins when an old faceless ragdoll is found in the attic of Johnny Gruelle’s family home in the early 1900s. No one can confirm if it was Johnny himself who found her or his daughter Marcella, but what we do know is he drew a face on the doll and it quickly became one of Marcella’s favorite playthings. She carried it everywhere. Johnny Gruelle was so inspired by the way his daughter would play, often describing it as magical, that he decided other children would love the doll as well.


He began working on patents immediately, the name Raggedy Ann derived from a clever mixing of the story “Orphan Annie” and the poems about “Raggedy Man”. But this story has a tragic turn.

Patricia Hall writes in her book Johnny Gruelle Creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy, “one afternoon, in 1915, Marcella Gruelle came home from the New York City school she was attending and announced to her mother that she had to be vaccinated. Though controversy raged over the still evolving innovation of vaccination (whether its risks out weighed risks of the disease it was intended to prevent), the threat of epidemic illness prompted school health officials to embrace mass inoculations. When schools decided to vaccinate, parents were often pressured into giving permission, reluctantly, Myrtle Gruelle gave hers.
The next day, Marcella lined up with several other children and was given the required vaccination. Days passed and it became apparent that hers had not “taken”. Myrtle and Johnny took it as a sign that their healthy daughter was immune to the vaccine. So, they were horrified when Marcella came home several days later, claiming that the school nurse had given her a second vaccination – this time, with neither of the Gruelles’  permission. Ten days later, Marcella complained of pains in her legs. “She had to stop school” Myrtle would later recount. “Doctors were called. She had been poisoned.”
Weeks passed and Marcella’s condition seemed only to worsen. Eventually Johnny and Myrtle admitted her to a New York hospital, and enlisted a team of doctors. But none could give her back her health. Chagrined at their daughter’s condition, but hopeful that fresh country air might be recuperative, the Gruelles decided to leave New York City. With his daughter in his arms, and his somber wife at his side, Johnny Gruelle returned to his home in Silvermine.”
Patricia continues in her biography of Gruelle…..”Here, Marcella spent her days, and many of her nights, lying in a small bed, sleeping fitfully, delirious with fever.”….”Johnny spent as much time as he could at Marcella’s bedside, reading aloud stories he had written. Other times, he would simply make up tales, hopping to lift his little girl’s spirits by  incorporating her own dolls and toys as characters…”despite medical attention and the abundant love and prayers of family and friends, on November 8, 1915, Marcella Gruelle, after months of battling her illness, finally succumbed. Upstairs in Johnny’s studio, cradled in her father’s arms, she lay quietly and closed her eyes for the final time. “In sweet small smiles and whispers, she talked to someone, and we felt loved ones were near.” Her mother would later write. The young girl who had brought such gaiety and laughter into the lives of her family -Johnny’s little Muggins – had lived barely three months past her thirteenth birthday. Still in shock the Gruelles turned to the grim but necessary rituals of death…though Myrtle and Johnny Gruelle staunchly maintained that a bad vaccination had killed their daughter, Marcella’s death certificate, prepared the day after she died, cited valvular heart disease of several years’ duration as the cause of death. And the secondary contributory cause listed was oedema, with duration of about ninety days. Nowhere on the certificate was the vaccination or an infected vaccination implicated as the cause of death. However, valvular heart disease is a condition that, especially without antibiotics, can turn fatal if a bacterial infection ever takes hold. The heart itself becomes infected and inflamed , eventually going into cardiac arrest. Though difficult to prove, a dirty vaccination needle or contaminated serum was the most likely cause of the infectious illness that had proven fatal for the Gruelles’ little daughter.”

One blog poster offers an alternative theory behind Marcella’s death (2) writing that “one of the interesting things Patricia Hall’s book brings up is that ten days after Marcella’s second vaccination, she came home from school complaining of pain in her legs, one of the first symptoms of Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS). After that, the disease quickly became so bad that Marcella had to stop going to school. This fits with rapid weakness and paralysis that accompanies GBS. And while heart disease is listed as the cause of death, GBS is known to cause cardiac and respiratory problems, even death from these complications. The medical community has been trying to distance GBS from vaccination lately, but the fact remains that a strong association has existed since the 1976 flu vaccine was found to cause more cases of GBS than normal. In fact, almost every vaccine package insert carries warnings about GBS. So while we don’t have a complete picture of Marcella’s symptoms and early twentieth century medicine was little aware of the possibility of severe reactions from vaccination, it is possible the Guillain Barre Syndrome from a vaccination killed Marcella Gruelle.”

Regardless of Marcella’s true cause of death there is one thing we know for certain: both Johnny and Myrtle Gruelle were convinced it was due to her vaccination (we shall revisit this claim again in a bit.). Two months before Marcella passed away Johnny’s patent for the Raggedy Ann doll was approved. Directly following her death Patricia Hall writes “according to friends who visited Gruelle during this time, Johnny was keeping in his studio a single, tangible reminder of his daughter, one of the few that he could bear to have near. This memento, made so many years before by Alice Gruelle, had been adopted and held and loved by Marcella as her very own. …when all else would fail, it was this plaything-a floppy, tattered little rag doll, with a crooked smile and scraggly hair-that seemed to give Johnny Gruelle consolation and inspiration, as he worked to lift himself out of a pool of incredible sorrow” Johnny kept himself busy marketing his very popular ragdolls and stories and in 1929 he dedicated one such story to his beloved daughter Marcella.

6 years following her death he was still working for Physical Culture magazine, a well known health publisher, based out of Arcola, Illinois, that had a strong stance against vaccination. This anti-vaccine perspective was not at all uncommon, in fact, whole towns scattered throughout the country were so against vaccination that in certain areas no one would vote for a pro-vaccination politician and in many places all had agreed to ignore the vaccine mandates in their school districts. One such story in New York was highlighted by the very Magazine mentioned above in 1911. (4)



In 1921, after a doctor wrote to the magazine about a little girl, mourning the loss of her sisters by smallpox vaccination, Johnny wrote a return letter and illustrated a matching political cartoon (pictured below) that would forever mark him as an antivaxxer and change the way others saw that candy hearted doll he was famous for creating. The letter read as such: “Feb 28, 1921. Dear Mrs. Williams having recently lost our only daughter through vaccination (in public school, without our consent) you may realize how terribly HUMOROUS the subject of vaccination appears to Mrs. Gruelle and myself. Of the seven physicians called in on the case, six pronounced it in emphatic terms MALPRACTICE. The seventh did not commit himself, being the head of the school board and a firm advocate of vaccination. Sincerely, Johnny Gruelle.”




And herein lies the dark secret of Raggedy Ann, in a time where whole towns of people were fighting against vaccine mandates, a famous and beloved doll  became over shadowed, to some, by the tragic death of a cherub faced girl following vaccination. It should come as no surprise that shortly after Johnny’s letter, Raggedy Ann was adopted as a symbol of vaccine injury and death.

Still to this day there remains a strong and growing movement of those who question the safety of vaccines and the trustworthiness of big pharma. Some of us are Antivaxxers, some provaxx and others prefer the term exvaxx or even vaccine reformists, but all of us have one thing in common: We believe in medical choice, bodily autonomy and informed consent; and we are against drug company’s dictating our legislation. Many believe we are free and safe from the threat of losing such rights in America but we are here, ringing the warning bell that we already have lost many of them and in some states ALL! Due to the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 we are no longer able to hold vaccine manufacturers liable if their products injure or harm our children! This year alone over 57,000 adverse reactions to vaccines, including hospitalizations disability and deaths, were reported to VAERS ( vaccine adverse event reporting system ). There are currently only four major vaccine manufacturers who create and produce all the vaccines in the childhood schedule on the market: Pfizer, Merck, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline. All four of which have been entangled in lawsuits for fraud or fraudulent studies.  (8)(7) (6)(5) The conflicts of interest in our own government and even our medical universities when it comes to these companies are enough to make anyone question how much faith we ought to be placing in them. And now  New York, California and Maine recently passed bills to repeal the right to a religious exemption, California even going as far as removing medical exemptions and proposing an adult mandated schedule. Many other states have begun proposing similar bills and a document put forth by the CDC and DHHS entitled Healthy People 2020 details their agenda for forced vaccinations for ALL ages and medical backgrounds and the tactics they plan to use to enforce such mandates. (9) Such tactics include: refusing state assistance, drivers license renewals or health insurance to families or individuals who do not comply with the new schedules and are not up to date on their vaccinations. Just forewarning: YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SKIP, DELAY, OR SPACE OUT ANY OF THE SHOTS MANDATED! This means if you are pro-vaccination but don’t want to get the flu shot you will be considered unvaccinated! If you are being treated for Cancer and your doctor advises you not to get vaccinated while undergoing treatment, during such time, YOU WILL BE CONSIDERED UNVACCINATED, and if similar laws like the ones in California pass in your state you will be unable to obtain a medical exemption.

(1) Raggedy Ann and Andy: history and legend by Patricia Hall

(2)Did the Smallpox Vaccine Kill the Real Marcella? blogpost with references to Patricia Hall’s biography of Johnny Gruelle

(3) Johnny Gruelle Creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy by Patricia Hall

(4) Physical Culture magazine public archives

author: Jenn Perry

editor: Elizabeth Munson


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