Raggedy Ann, and her brother, Andy, are the best-known and most adored rag dolls. They began as literary characters by the author, Johnny Gruelle, in whimsical tales of fantasy and make-believe with attributes of kindness, spunk, and trustworthiness.
Johnny Gruelle was born in Arcola, Illinois in 1880, the son of landscape and portrait artist Richard (R.B.) Gruelle. The family eventually moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. There, mixing with his parents' artistic and literary friends (among them, the well-known “Hoosier poet,”James Whitcomb Riley), young Johnny developed a strong love of region, and a penchant for the fine art of storytelling.
When Gruelle reached adulthood, he became a political cartoonist for several midwestern newspapers and, ultimately, a freelance illustrator, accepting a position with The New York Herald, creating a weekly Sunday comic, "Mr. Twee Deedle".
Sometime around 1900, it has been said that Johnny retrieved a long-forgotten rag doll, made by his mother for his aunt, from the Indianapolis attic of his parents’ home.Legend has it that in 1915 he designed a folksy, whimsical doll based on this rag doll and named it after two of James Whitcomb Riley’s most popular poems, "The Raggedy Man" and "Little Orphant Annie." In Gruelle’s introduction to Raggedy Ann Stories, a literary character named Marcella (named after his real-life daughter, Marcella Delight Gruelle) finds Raggedy Ann in her grandmother's attic and takes it to her for repairs.
The real-life Marcella Gruelle had always had an influence on her father's artwork; and she and her toys inspired Gruelle’s storylines and ideas for playthings. Sadly, the real-life Marcella died in 1915, at age 13, from an infected vaccination. In the same month of Marcella's death, Gruelle had been granted final approval by the U.S. Patent office for his doll, that he had designed, called "Raggedy Ann." It has been said that Gruelle gave his storybook Raggedy Ann a candy heart right from the start, which was the invincible, spiritual source of Raggedy Ann's sweet outlook and kindly ways. Worth Gruelle, Johnny's son (who would have been 5 or 6 at the time), distinctly recalls being sent to the confectioners shop to buy candy hearts to be sewn into the chest of each doll, picking out the "I Love You" hearts from those with other messages.
The Raggedy Ann Stories were published in 1918, and subsequent books were published thereafter. In 1929, Gruelle gave Marcella her own volume of tales, entitled, Marcella: A Raggedy Ann Story.