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Pleasant Rowland.

Pleasant Rowland is the founder and initial owner of the American Girl corporation.

Biography[]

Pleasant Williams Thiele was born March 8, 1941 in Chicago; her father is Edward Thiele (a Chicago advertising executive who eventually became president of the Leo Burnett ad agency). She grew up in Bannockburn, a suburb north of Chicago as the oldest of five children with three sisters and a brother. Her sister Barbara Whitney Carr was the former president of the Chicago Horticultural Society. She attended Wells College, graduating in 1962. She is married to Jerome Frautschi.

From 1962 to 1968, she taught second grade at Mattapan Elementary in Massachusetts.[1] She was a news reporter and anchor for the ABC station KGO-TV from 1968 to 1971. She later pursued a career as a children's textbook writer, including the publisher of the Children's Magazine Guide. In 1971, J.B. Lippincott published Rowland's comprehensive language arts program, called "Beginning to Read, Write, and Listen"; it was known as the "letterbooks" and designed for early education readers (now published by McGraw-Hill). She later cited her teaching experience as the inspiration for this curriculum; she found that classroom textbooks and traditional teaching practices were not enough to help struggling readers. Another textbook publisher, Addison-Wesley, approached Rowland about writing a reading and language arts program. Rowland developed the program, Superkids, from 1973 to 1978[1] with Valerie Tripp as an editor. The program is now published by Zaner-Bloser.[2] As of 2015, Tripp and Rowland continued to work on edits to the program.[3]

Inspiration for the American Girl Collection[]

Pleasant Rowland gave two reasons for the motivation in creating the line. The first reason was to fill an empty space in the doll market of the era. At the time, the majority of playline dolls came in two general widespread portrayals: young infants and child dolls intended to focus on childcare and parental-focused play, and teenage- or adult-aged fashion dolls (such as Barbie) that served as a beauty image, inspired fashion play and offered older aspirations. There were few to no major doll lines in the US that were intended to display a child in the upper to middle ages of about eight to twelve years old, an age when many children still craved dolls and doll play. A doll that was not vastly older or younger than the child playing with it could serve as a companion or playmate character rather than a goal of parenthood, childcare, or future maturity.

The second reason--and thus the reason for the initial historical focus of the line--was to show history from a more personal viewpoint of young girls in the same age range of eight to twelve rather than as the series of dates, important events, and large-name historical figures that was mostly emphasized. The intention was to serve to show that while times, fashions, lifestyles, and technology had changed over American Historical eras, the pastimes and interests, feelings, and family ties of young girls had not. Ms. Rowland said that she was originally inspired to immerse children in history by the atmosphere of colonial Williamsburg, which she visited in the early 1980s. (Notably the character that focuses on that era, Felicity Merriman was not an initial launch character.)

Launch of Pleasant Company and Personal History[]

The line launched in 1986 with three characters: Kirsten Larson, Samantha Parkington and Molly McIntire. These three eras were likely chosen due to the still lingering interest in pioneer stories from the height of the 1970s, the rise in focus on turn-of-the century aesthetics in the early 1980s, and the perceived age of the target audience's grandmothers (who were likely to have been young girls in the mid 1940s).

Ms, Rowland remained primary owner of the company through the development of three other Historical Characters, the launch of the American Girl of Today line, the Our New Baby (later Bitty Baby) line, and the launch of American Girl Magazine among other programs.

In 1998 Ms. Rowland sold the company to Mattel for seven hundred million dollars. She remained on the board as an advisor until 2000, when she retired from the company completely and Mattel took over full rights and ownership. In 2020 it was announced that Ms. Rowland would be inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame.[4]

Controversies[]

The Trunk on the Catalogue[]

On the earliest American Girl catalogues, the following paragraph was written on the back:

“Deep in the basement of a small museum lies a tattered, water-stained doll trunk. Open the dusty lid and the long-ago childhood of some lucky young girl comes instantly to life.

Tucked gently inside is a beautiful porcelain doll — dearly loved and much played with. Dressed in blue silk and surrounded by marvelous accessories, this doll and her tiny treasures were the cherished possessions of their owner — possessions so special that they were put away until some faraway day when her own little girl could delight in them.

I discovered this trunk by chance more than a year after I had begun working on the American Girls Collection. It served as a powerful reminder of why I had begun the collection, and what I hoped it would accomplish.

At an age when girls are old enough to read and still love to play, they need books and dolls that capture their imaginations. The stories in the American Girls Collection come alive with beautiful dolls and period doll clothes. The doll accessories are replicas of real things found in times gone by. They are quality pieces — not plastic playthings — and are made for children over eight years old to treasure.

I hope the American Girls Collection will be dearly loved and well played with and then passed down to other generations of girls tomorrow — a reminder that growing up in America is, has been, and can always be an experience to treasure.”

– Pleasant T. Rowland

However, the story written around this doll and image is false. The doll was purchased for Sybil Hanks (born 1908) by her parents and named "Nancy Hanks." She was kept in pristine condition and never played with before being donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1966 along with her entire collection. The doll, when used for the image, was placed with a water-stained trunk to convey an image of "well played" and worn by Ms. Rowland. [5]

Aurora, NY[]

After selling American Girl, Ms. Rowland moved into Aurora, NY, and began to remodel the town with her own funds to make it more like pre-industrial days. In exchange she promised to help revive the town. However, she has not been well received. Many of the residents there feel that she is attempting to make the town into more of a tourist attraction and remodel it into her version of history, instead of helping to acknowledge the already rich history of the town, and that renovations are not only too quick, they are inaccurate and displeasing. One example cited by the Aurora Coalition:

Billionaire developer Pleasant Rowland then fully gutted the remarkably intact 1833 Aurora Inn and altered all of its historic exterior. Her project, opposed by the State Historic Preservation Office, also demolished an adjacent 1929 store in order to build a large incompatible addition to her phony "ye olde" inn.[6]

It is also said that she was highly inaccessible at times and did not fulfill promises made to the town. Rowland's activities in Aurora were satirized in the 2006 novel Happyland.

In May 2007, Rowland ended her association with Wells College and shut down the Aurora Foundation. Spokespeople said redevelopment of the village was substantially completed. Although Rowland put the local home decor firm Mackenzie-Childs up for sale, she also purchased an additional building in the village and set up a new limited liability corporation to operate her properties. In October 2013, Rowland took personal ownership of all the properties that she renovated for Wells College and purchased several other properties to the degree that she currently owns the entire village business district along with other commercial properties. [7]

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