Monday, November 12, 2007

Children's Museum: In The Beginning

The original museum, in the old Perkins estate above Jamaica Pond.

For over fifty years, the Children's Museum was one of the central institutions of Jamaica Plain. My family was typical: my parents visited the museum in the 1930s, when it was in the building pictured above, my brother attended the summer day camp in the buildings between Burroughs and Eliot streets in the 1950s, and I followed him in the 1960s. Each year, for a small amount of money, I got a season's pass and spent many hours in the various rooms. I do remember the Perkins building, standing above Jamaica pond, but hidden by trees, but I can't say I paid particular attention to it. I had no idea it had housed the museum until many years later.

Boston Daily Globe March 19, 1914

Children's Museum At Jamaica Pond.

From Small Beginnings This Has Rapidly Become An Important Institution For Teaching, Not Only Natural History, But the Study of Races of the Earth and their Growth in Civilization.

From a modest beginning of two cases of minerals and mammals, seven months ago, the Children's Museum at the Park Building, on the shores of Jamaica Pond, has rapidly developed, until at the present time the large main room is filled with natural history exhibits of every description on the first floor, and a multitude of exhibits, a lecture room and a well-stocked natural history library on the second floor.

The Children's Museum is the only one of its kind in New England, and the second in the country, the other, in Brooklyn N.Y. It had its inception in the desire of a group of Boston teachers who felt that they needed help in the nature study which they were supposed to teach the children, in many cases without the means to properly do so.

The first headquarters of the museum were in the library at Franklin Park, but so insistent was the popularity of the museum among teachers and children alike that the quarters became too cramped, and the teachers were forced to seek a more capacious location.

The Park Commissioners offered the use of a room in their building in Jamaica Park, and the museum moved in on the first of August. The exhibits increased so rapidly that room after room was given over to its use, and finally the commission turned over the entire building to the museum.

It is a matter of the greatest pride to Miss Delia I. Griffin, the curator, and the directors of the museum that practically every one of the exhibits has been either given or loaned by museums or private individuals, and that eminent geologists, botanists and natural historians have volunteered their services to give lectures to the children on subjects in which they are recognied authorities.

The main room on the first floor contains exhibits on mammals, birds, minerals, shells, butterflies, moths and insect life in general, arranged in such a manner as to picture to the children the development from the lowest forms of animal life to the most advanced types of mammals, and the geological periods of the earth. The room contains a number of very valuable casts of prehistoric animals, as well as models of corals and fossils.

One of the most interesting exhibits is the continuous, though ever-changing collections of wild flowers, twigs and branches of trees, and fruits in their season. Practically every specimen of the local fauna and flora may be seen by the children in this room, and they are also shown the animals and flowers of the various foreign countries they study about in school.

On the second floor is a large history room, which is in reality an ethnographical exhibit, which contains a remarkably fine exhibit from the Philippnes, showing the costumes, weapons, instruments and objects made by the various tribes, such as the Negritos, Moros, Igorottes, and also show the work of the tribes which have come under the influence of Spanish and American civilization.

The exhibits are arranged in cases, from the most primitive to the most advanced tribes, and the exhibits are used to teach the children the growth of civilization in the Philipines, and of civilization in general. Other cases show the skill of the primitive tribes in basketry, in metal work and in sewing.

A group of mentally defective children who recently visited the museum gazed blankly at the animals, birds and minerals, but became intensely interested in the samples of primitive sewing, and on their return to the instutition at which they are pupils immediately set to work at sewing with admirable results and still speak of the visit to the museum as one of the red-letter days of their lives.

The room also contains the beginnings of a North American Indian exhibit, and an exhibit showing the costumes and weapons of the Eskimos of Greenland has been promised. In complete contrast to these exhibits of primitive life, Miss Griffin intends to have an exhibit of articles from Japan, showing the daily life, costumes, and domestic utensils of that people, expressed in terms of daintiness and excellence. Nearly all the ethnological exhibits have been placed in the building as a farily permenent loan by members of the Woman's Educational Association.

On the second floor is also the lecture room, where the real work of the museum is carried on. Dr. W.W. Atwood, recently of Chicago, who was lately called to chair at Harvard University, said when he saw this room "This is the heart of the museum." On nearly every schoolday classes come to this room from the various schools of the city, to listen to illustrated talks from the curator or from eminent naturalists who give their services.

Mr Horace Taylor of Brookline, game warden of that town, for instance, gave 10 lectures on bird life last week. Despite the inclemency of the weather, since the opening of the museum over 170 talks have been given, to the children, and in every case the lecture room was crowded to its capacity. Dr Franklin P Dyer, superintendent of schools, and the masters are doing all in their power to aid its work.

Except during the dead of winter, outdoor classes are held, during which children can study nature at first hand, the smallest children study, and incidentally feed the ducks and swans, and the larger children study the birds and trees.

The museum is now open on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5 o'clock and popular lectures are given at 3 o'clock by a scientist, which are proving exceedingly popular, a large proportion of the persons attending are adults. The museum is open to the public daily from 9 to 5.

The library contains three book shelves filled with books sent by the Boston Library, dealing with every variety of nature study, history and geology, and the personal library of the museum is small but rapidly growing. It is planned to have a member of the staff constantly present after school hours and on Saturdays to aid the children in their studies.

Also on the second floor is a room filled with industrial exhibits, for which no place has yet been found on account of the inadequate accommodations. These show the development of such fabrics as cotton from the crude stage to the finished clothing.

Among the most intersting features of the museum is the Industries Club, made up of children who gather voluntarily on Saturday mornings to study "Features in the Development of Mankind." The class is at present taking up the subject of foods, beginning with the foods of primitive man, and next week will take up the foods of our Puritan ancestors.

A series of bird walks are planned for the Spring, and in the Summer the museum will cooperate with the vacation schools and the settlement schools.

Miss Delia I. Griffing is the curator of the museum, and her assistant is Miss Ruth King, an the board of directors is made up of teachers, professional men and scientists. The growth of the museum has been rapid and its popularity has been intensely gratifying to all interested in its welfare, but the institution is still sadly hampered in its work by lack of funds.


Some of the writing in the article may tweak the contemporary sensibility. If so, imagine what people will think of Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore one hundred years from now.


  1. As kids we spent many hours at the Museum in the 50's. I remember picking up a worksheet upon arrival and completing it as I progressed through the Museum. My reward was a nature button. They has a playhouse and I remember seeing kids perform in Mid Summers Night's Dream. What a wonderful experience. I also remember walking behind the stuffed elephant in the glass case to check out its nether regions. Happy days!

  2. Now that you mention it, I remember the worksheet as well.

  3. Miss Kimble and Miss Furlong were names I remember ,and the Auditorium then over to the red Office building but most of all the MAP of North and South America painted on the Driveway and the game was to place the proper capitals on each country....I believe the address was 60 Burroughs Street TKS again Robert F Tierney of Hyde Suare .Sheridan St