What Are Your Madeline Memories?

madeline1At the New-York Historical Society, we mount exhibitions that directly connect American history and art to you, our visitors. This summer, we will present Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the beloved schoolgirl and the iconic illustration and writing of her creator.
The story of Madeline‘s author Ludwig Bemelmans mirrors that of so many other New Yorkers: he was an immigrant who went against the grain in his home country (in his case, due to juvenile delinquency) and used his creativity and hard work to make a name for himself in America. Madeline was also born in New York – in some notes scrawled the back of a menu at Pete’s Tavern in Gramercy. Since then, many New Yorkers have grown up reading the Madeline series, inspiring them to travel to Paris, to find bravery to undergo appendectomies, and to pursue their adventures and dreams.
Our former high school intern Lily Shoretz is a prime example. We were thrilled when she reached out to us to reconnect and share her excitement for the exhibit:
Madeline has had a particularly important place in my childhood. She was my role model — the smart, strong, spunky female character I aspired to be like. My mother read me the Madeline books, watched the Madeline videos with me, and organized Madeline-themed tea parties for my third and fourth birthdays. These parties included dramatic presentations that my family put on for our guests, with me as Madeline (in a home-made blue coat and yellow hat), my mother as Miss Clavel (in a full habit, no less), and my father and brother filling in as the secondary characters. My brother, 11 at the time, even went so far as to don dog ears and a yellow bow to play Genevieve.
My family’s enchantment with Madeline became meaningful early on when, at age two and a half, I had open heart surgery. While I was in the O.R., my mother embroidered an open heart surgery incision on my beloved Madeline rag doll, who already came with a scar on her tummy from her appendectomy. I was stuck in the hospital for a month, and my family did everything they could to entertain me. We drew pictures, made paper chains, and watched Shirley Temple movies on repeat, but one of my favorite things to do was read Madeline books. When we got to the right page, I, like Madeline, would sit up in my hospital bed and shout, “Voila! My scar!” Madeline taught me to be proud of my scar and gave me the confidence to know that I was brave and strong.
What are your Madeline memories? Tell us below in the comments, and visit the exhibition July 4 – October 19, 2014.


  1. hb says

    I usually ask my young female appendectomy patients (postop) if they’ve read the book. If not, I tell them about it, and recite that wonderful first line “In the middle of the night, Miss Clavel turned on her light, and said, ‘something is not right!’…

  2. ME says

    Madeline Christmas was the first cartoon ever my little girl watched in 2003. I am a NYC transplant. I didn’t grow up in the USA and I didn’t know the work of Ludwig Bemelmans until I had my first child. I became a fan of this lovely, petite yet brave character. At age 3, for Halloween, my daughter was Madeline and I was Miss Clavel. I made a Madeline birthday cake for that birthday with Genevieve shaped cookies for the guests, which they loved! and we still have most of the books and dvds. Can’t wait to visit the exhibit!

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