Barbie’s Eastern European Jewish Roots


Ruth (Mosko) Handler poses in patriotic WWI nurses garb with her mother, Ida, and her three other Denver born siblings Aaron, Maurice, and Joseph (left to right). Circa 1917.

Though introduced in 1959, Barbie’s story begins much earlier in turn-of-the-20th century Poland.  Life in Eastern Europe had become increasingly challenging for people of Jewish faith because of religious persecution and the economic restrictions.  It was in 1905 that Jacob Mosko decided to come to America in search of a better life.  By then, Denver had a sizable Jewish population, and Mosko settled into the community working as a blacksmith. He had left behind his wife, Ida, and their six children in Poland, but within a few years he was successful enough to pay for their passage to America. Once reunited, the family grew by four more children.  The youngest Mosko child, Ruth Marianna, was born on November 4, 1916 in Denver, Colorado.

Ruth grew up in Denver and married her high school sweetheart Elliot Handler.  The two were drawn in by the allure of 1930s Hollywood and moved to California. They had two children, Barbara and Kenneth, and ran their own plastics business. In 1945, they embarked on a new business endeavor with a family friend, Harold “Matt” Matson, founding Mattel Creations. The name Mattel stemmed from the founders names, Matt and Elliot. Though Ruth may not have received mention in the company name, it was really Ruth that put Mattel on the map with the Barbie doll.

Ruth’s daughter, Barbara, didn’t care much for baby dolls so Ruth looked for a more grown up doll Barbara could play with. While on a European vacation in 1956, Ruth saw something that caught her eye. The German Lilli doll was similar to what Ruth envisioned so she bought a few to bring home with her.  Though, Lilli was a bit scandalous since the doll was meant as a cigar store gag-gift for men modeled after a comic strip with a voluptuous and sexually uninhibited leading lady.  Ruth made changes to the design and soon created what would be the highest grossing toy of all time.


The first Barbie doll, designed to look like a Hollywood starlet, was available in both blonde and brunette.

On March 9, 1959, the Barbie doll, named for Ruth’s daughter, was first introduced at the American International Toy Fair in New York City. Barbie’s quick success led to the release of the Ken doll in 1961, named, of course, for Barbara’s son.

So, while the first thing that pops into your mind when you picture Barbie likely isn’t turn-of-the-century Jewish Polish immigrants, it is none the less where her roots lie.  Barbie is an indirect product of the American Dream.

Posted in Special Collections Showcase | Tagged , , , , ,

Writing Group

Every Friday from 10-1, a group of graduate students and faculty meet in the Chan Classroom (room 284) at Anderson Academic Commons to work and talk about writing.  This writing group stands out because it is a collaboration between DU’s IRISE and the Writing Center that seeks to create a supportive community of writers who are underrepresented in academia — or whose work is underrepresented in academia.   It’s an interdisciplinary group, and the goal is to create a diverse and inclusive conversation about writing while being productive at the same time.

The group has only been meeting a short while, so the sessions have yet to settle into a distinct pattern.  In general, there has been a lot of time to work, but there has also been time to reflect, discuss, and ask questions.  One session covered a range of topics: advice on literature reviews, thoughts on audience, practical revision tips, and a discussion on the conflict between academic style and authenticity in writing.  Another session focused more on work with a bit of conversation about the projects people had brought with them to work on.  As the group continues, there will be some weeks with consultants from the writing center, workshops, and presentations.

IRISE stands for “Interdisciplinary Research Incubator for the Study of (In)Equality” and is a part of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.  Its goals are to “1: facilitate the interdisciplinary teaching and learning, collaboration, research, scholarship, and creative works that seek to promote equality in historically underrepresented communities, and 2: develop, support, and implement academic programs and activities that seek to promote the advancement of historically underrepresented populations in the Academy.”  The Writing Center “supports and promotes effective writing across the University of Denver campus.”  This includes working with people at any stage of the writing process in a non-evaluative setting.

The continued collaboration of these two centers is exciting.  The Writing Program has previously participated with IRISE’s Roger Salters Doctoral Writing Institute which has similar goals to the Friday writing sessions but “is intended to support students through the writing process from beginning and end.”

IRISE and the Writing Center invite graduate students, staff, and faculty to join this writing group.  Participants can come for the whole time or drop in as their schedules allow.  Light snacks are provided, but feel free to bring a lunch.  For more info, contact Juli Parrish at

Posted in News & Events

Hidden Gems in a Treasured Collection: The Works of Rachel Szalit-Marcus


“Das Krankenzimmer” or “The Sick Room” 1920

When the Beck Archives became home for the Lowenstein Family Holocaust Papers it was certain the collection would contain a wealth of rare and irreplaceable resources. However, mixed within the collection, surprises waited. The Lowenstein Family Holocaust Papers survived due to the foresight and determination of the family’s matriarch, Maria Lowenstein. She knew how important these documents and artifacts were to the story of the family’s survival and as a tool to educate others on the inhumane cruelty of the Nazi regime.

Maria Lowenstein was an artist living in Berlin during the 1920s-40s. During her time there, she met and socialized with many other artists who called the Berlin art scene home. When the Lowenstein Family Holocaust Papers were donated to the Beck Archives, they included many works by Maria Lowenstein both from during the Holocaust as well as prior to and after WWII. Mixed in with Maria’s works, a few unrelated names graced some of the art, and those are where the hidden gems appear.


“Die Strasse (?)” or “The Street (?)” 1920

Four pieces with a very distinct style were signed by artist Rachel Szalit-Marcus (1894-1942). She created lithographs to illustrate some of Sholem Aleichem’s (Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich) literary works. Aleichem is perhaps best known for his stories about the Russian-Jewish character Tevye and his daughters, the tales were later adapted into the play “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Szalit-Marcus was also an artist living in Berlin in the 1920s-30s. She was Jewish and fled Berlin to France in 1933 as Hitler rose to power but was ultimately apprehended and murdered at Auschwitz in 1942. The exact relationship between Maria Lowenstein and Rachel Szalit-Marcus is unknown but the presence of Szalit-Marcus works in the Lowenstein papers suggests some connection.



“Die Fahrt Nach Amerika” or “The Journey to America” Circa 1920

More interestingly, three of the lithographs in the Beck Archives are dated 1920 and bear the original artist’s signature- not simply one that was engraved on the plate. The book for which these three lithographs were created was published in 1922 and contained scenes of Jewish life from an unfinished novel by Sholem Aleichem. An appraiser was able to authenticate the three Szalit-Marcus works from the Lowenstein Family Holocaust Papers featured in Menshelakh un stsenes as the artist’s originals. As a complement to the Lowenstein Family Holocaust Papers and Maria’s dedication to art, the Beck Archives was able to acquire a hardcover first edition of the book Menshelakh un stsenes.


Sholom Aleichem’s “Menshelakh un stsenes” 1922


Sholom Aleichem’s “Menshelakh un stsenes” 1922


Posted in News & Events, Special Collections Showcase | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Welcome back, Prospector!

Welcome back, Prospector! DU Libraries is pleased to announce that Prospector borrowing services have returned after a long hiatus. During the spring and summer of 2016, the Libraries migrated to a new catalog system which required us to temporarily suspend Prospector services. DU patrons may now request materials from other Colorado libraries through the Prospector system.

To access Prospector, choose the link from the Libraries’ homepage or go directly to the site at When requesting material, be sure to select University of Denver as your affiliation and then enter your name and DU ID number.


Prospector Link on Library Homepage (

Links to Prospector are also available within the Compass system under the “Get it” tab for each Catalog item.


Location of Prospector link in “Get It” tab within Compass

Prospector loans normally take 2-5 days to arrive at DU, but please allow a little extra time during these initial weeks when processing may be busier than normal. While DU patrons may borrow from other libraries, it will be a few weeks before other Colorado library patrons are able to borrow books from DU Libraries.

Prospector is a unified catalog of 23 academic, public, and special libraries in Colorado and Wyoming. Through Prospector you have access to over 20 million books, journals, DVDs, CDs, videos and other materials held in these libraries. With a single search, you can identify and borrow materials from the collections and have them delivered to the DU Libraries.

Because our server can only join one INN-Reach group, such as Prospector, we will no longer be connected to Mobius.  We still provide access to WorldCat, for borrowing materials not available in our collections or in Prospector.


Posted in News & Events

Research Center Open House

The Research Center is proud to announce an upcoming event:


What:  Research Center Open House

When:  Tuesday, January 31st 5-7pm

Thursday, February 2nd 9-11am

Where:  Research Center @ Anderson Academic Commons

Why:  Research doesn’t have to be hard. Stop by the Research Center to learn about the services we offer and meet our librarians and staff. Grab a breakfast burrito and a coffee and have a good time.

*Burritos served on first-come first-served basis to the first 75 students

We hope to see you there!

(View invitation)

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“A Nation That Does Not Yet Exist” Presentation

University Libraries invites the DU community to Dr. Art Jones’ presentation of “Singing and Social Justice: The Role of Spirituals in Resistance and Resilience.” Using musical illustrations, Dr. Jones will address the ongoing fight for freedom and the positive energy around collective resistance in our efforts to thwart oppression. Chancellor Rebecca Chopp will provide welcoming remarks.

Join us on Thursday, October 27 at 4 pm – 5:30 pm, in the Special Events Room, Anderson Academic Commons.

Food will be provided by Kirk’s Soul Kitchen.
Space is limited. Please RSVP here by October 23.

Posted in News & Events

Celebrating Black Womanhood

Inspired by Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade, “sisters” were inspired to identify resources reflecting this work and that speak to the “essence of Black womanhood,” making it available via a “Lemonade Syllabus”” hashtag. This October, University Libraries is featuring three book displays made up of a collection of sources selected from the “Lemonade Syllabus.” You are invited to view these displays on the main floor of the Anderson Academic Commons and checkout any of the material at the front desk.


Posted in News & Events