Friday, March 2, 2018

July 2001 Emails from Sara Lee Creech's Great Niece

After searching through my Saralee doll archives, I found email communication that took place in July 2001 between Norwood Creech Watkins and myself.  Ms. Watkins is the great niece of Sara Lee Creech, the woman who created the Saralee doll, manufactured by Ideal Toy Corporation from 1951-1953.  I decided to post the text of the emails here for my easy access as well as to share with others who enjoy reading doll stories.

Email 1, received on July 21, 2001:
I am always keeping my eyes open for a doll Ideal made called the Sara
Lee Doll. My great aunt originated it, Sara Lee Creech in Florida. Do
you [know] of any available for sale?
My great aunt, Sara Lee Creech, of Lake Worth, Florida, still has the
original, plus all the letters and correspondence from creating this doll.
Such an interesting story of how she came to create it. I would greatly
appreciate you thinking of me should you see one become available.
Thank you,
Norwood Creech Watkins

My Reply  (probably sent the same day):
In 1994, after having been a collector of vintage-to-modern black dolls for
three years, I purchased  Collector's Guide to Ideal Dolls.  When I saw the
picture of the Saralee doll and read the story of how the doll was molded
after the likeness of a real black child, my mouth watered.  I knew I had to
own one, and my mad search for a Saralee "Negro" doll was on!

I was already a subscriber to two monthly-circulated collectors'
publications.  Each month I combed the new editions in search for a for-sale-
ad for a Saralee doll.  Finally, after searching for over two years, and after
having purchased several other black dolls in the interim, an ad for a
Saralee doll appeared in one of the fall issues of Collector's United.  I
ran to the telephone and hurriedly dialed the number listed in the ad.  I
held my breath while the telephone rang, waiting for an answer.  Nervously, I
stated/asked, "I'm calling about an ad in Collector's United.  Do you still
have the Saralee doll for sale?"  Again, I held my breath, anxiously awaiting
the seller's answer, hoping that her answer would be “yes.”

I still remember the seller's name -- Diane Carpino.  Ms. Carpino answered,
"Yes, I still have her.  She's wearing her original tagged dress, her
original socks and shoes, and a replica of her original bonnet."  I asked
about her overall condition, specifically, if there were any flaws.  Ms.
Carpino answered, "She has some minor head rubs, but other than that, she is
in very good condition."  I let her know that I wanted to purchase the
doll and asked her how much I should add for shipping/insurance.  I did not
hesitate to write the check for $180 plus shipping/insurance, which was
mailed to the seller's New Jersey address the very next morning.
Some 10 days later (Ms. Carpino allowed my check to clear before shipping), I
gazed upon what I felt was the most precious black doll with the most supple
vinyl head and limbs that I had ever seen.

Although my owning Saralee was delayed by some 40 years (I was born [four]
years after the doll hit the market), I was pleased to finally have her in my
possession.  Today she graces my bedroom with her precious beauty.

I would like for you to thank your great aunt for creating such a lovely


Scan from the book, Zora Neal Hurston's Final Decade by Virginia Lynn Moylan (University Press of Florida, 2011)

Email 2:  Norwood Creech Watkins replied on July 25, 2001:
Dearest Debbie,
I was so touched by your letter. I called Sara and read it to her over the phone.
It so happens that just last week she came home from the hospital after
having something equivalent to a very minor stroke. The love you expressed so
well for the doll touched her heart and of course could not be more timely.

She is surprised and inspired by the continuing interest in the doll. Recently a
teacher from Miami xeroxed all of Sara's notes, pictures and letters from the
doll's developmental days, including her correspondence with Mrs. Roosevelt, who
was a great benefactor in the doll's creation. This teacher is creating an
educational program inspired by the doll.

If you will give me your address, I will send you a copy of an essay by Gordon
Patterson from "Florida Pathfinders." It provides some insight to Sara's life and
history about the process of developing the Sara Lee doll. (The handwritten
corrections are Sara's.) I have also requested from her the teacher's name and
address, so perhaps I can get her information to you for an enhancement to your
collection, as well.

Sara is an incredible person with tremendous heart and intelligence. Such souls
are rare. Thank you for writing and allowing me the opportunity to bring her some
happiness this Monday morning.

Gratefully yours,

Norwood Creech Watkins
Should you wonder how we are related... Sara Lee Creech Smith is the sister of my paternal grandfather, William Briggs Creech.
[A link to an online Norwood family genealogy was provided, which is now broken.]

Essay from the book, Florida Pathfinders, "Sara Lee Creech:  Working for Racial Sensitivity" 

Ms. Watkins did send me a copy of the Florida Pathfinders essay written about her great aunt, Sara Lee Creech.  A scan of the first page is shown above.   As she indicated, there are notations/corrections written throughout by Ms. Creech.   

My communication with Ms. Watkins ended, probably with my reply to the above email thanking her in advance for offering to send the article and of course I am sure I acknowledged receipt after it arrived.  I would like to locate a copy of the teacher’s compilation of the notes Ms. Creech maintained throughout the doll’s creation.  Perhaps I will write the return address Ms. Watkins used to inquire or send another email to the AOL email address Ms. Watkins used to write me.

Responsible for the first mass-produced, anthropologically correct black doll, Ms. Sara Lee Creech passed away in September 2008. Read more about this remarkable trailblazer here

Read more about the Saralee doll, which was on the market in time for Christmas 1951 in my previous post.

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