Thursday, January 24, 2008

Children's Museum - 1950s, and Miss Miriam Dickey

This entry is a two-fer, a short article and an obituary. Newcomers to Jamaica Plain all learn that the Children's Museum was once housed across from Jamaica Pond, but they can have little idea of what the Museum was actually like. We are all probably the same when it comes to the buildings still standing that once contained carriage factories. Unless you were there, it's difficult to imagine the day-to-day goings-on of the carpenters, blacksmiths and leather workers. In this case, I doubt many residents today know that the Children's Museum showed movies for children, or that children came from around the city for regular programs. The Museum was more than glass cases and stuffed animals - it was an active community with a caring staff.

The mention of the Bird Club made me think of Miss Dickey, who was a fixture at the Museum for many years. She was in charge of education programs at the Museum, and led the weekly bird walks over decades. I found the obituary below in a usenet group, and it came without attribution. She was even more busy than I remembered, and lived an active life, dying in her Nineties in 2002. She inspired generations of children at the Museum and around the city, and deserves to be remembered as much as any Curtis or Greenough or Weld.

Jamaica Plain Citizen January 31, 1952

Peck's Bad Boy At Children's Museum Feb. 2

All indications are that young people find "Peck's Bad Boy at the Circus" a very entertaining motion picture. That is why The Children's Museum in Jamaica Plain has scheduled it once more - this time on Saturday, February 2d at 2:30 p.m. Admission is free but limited to those in grade three and above.

At Story Hour this week, it will be a Hans Anderson fairy tale - "The Tinder Box" - that Miss Ruth Green will tell to her little listeners of first and second grade. The stories are always made more vivid by use of objects from the Museum's collection. The boys and girls look forward to the handwork which they may take home afterwards. This program begins at 2:30.

Museum Bird Club members are among those who go on the regular two-hour Saturday Morning Nature Walk. Sometimes they have the thrill of adding a new bird to their list. Anyone of any age is welcome to join the Museum leader at Centre and Eliot streets, Jamaica Plain, at 8:00 a.m.

As a result of the Game-Making Contest, five new Museum Games will be published on February 2d. The names of the winning game-makers are:

James Boyle, Dorchester, Carolyn Glennon, Jamaica Plain, Francis McCusker, Jamaica Plain, Robert O'Connell, Jamaica Plain, and Susam Parmalee, Roslindale.


In 1969, when Miss Miriam Dickey pulled into the South End, Boston,
Massachusetts, in a shocking yellow hearse called the Plantmobile, she had her work cut out for her.Her mission was to lead a flower walk for kids, but nothing was blossoming on Shawmut Avenue. She eventually found dandelions growing in a vacant lot.

"It's only a weed if it's growing where it's not supposed to," she said. "In the city, it's a flower."Miss Dickey, 94, a teacher and naturalist, who was director of education at the Boston Children's Museum, died May 23, 2002, in Charlwell HouseNursing Home in Norwood, Massachusetts.

In the late 1960s, she and her staff in the Plantmobile, part of the city of Boston's Summerthing program, brought nearly 18,000 plants and trees to neighborhoods, where they were sold at cost - about a nickel a flower - as part of an effort to spruce up the city.The Plantmobile's most popular program was Miss Dickey's wildflower walks for city kids.

One morning in 1969, she led 20 fidgety 4- to 7-year-olds around the South End . . . and there wasn't even a dandelion to be found. But she hit paydirt peeking through the mesh of a yellow fence: a pale magenta plant called a ladies' thumb.She patiently pointed out the "thumb print" on the green leaf to the hooting and hollering kids. Then she plucked a small green plant and distributed its tiny green seeds.

"Does it taste good?" she asked one 5-year-old.

"Oh, it's hot," said the youngster.

That's how Miss Dickey introduced the youngsters to the pepper plant.

Born in Medford, she graduated from Wheaton College in 1932. Soon after graduation, she joined the education department at the Children's Museum. She became head of the department in 1941. At the museum, which was then located overlooking Jamaica Pond in Jamaica Plain, she was constantly lobbying to upgrade its natural history exhibits of skunks and woodchucks.

"Traditions have to be brought up to date for young space cadets already
dreaming of the 25th century." she said.

But she had both feet firmly planted on the ground.

"For many," she said, "the wonders of nature are limited to what can grow, crawl or fly in a city backyard."

For 27 years, Miss Dickey ran a summer day camp for kids. She also taught natural history classes in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and Roxbury, Massachusetts, sponsored by the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

"She knew everything about all the birds and plants," said a former student, Frederick T. Atwood, a naturalist and nature photographer who teaches at Flint Hill School in Oakton, Virginia. Atwood, who is now in his mid-40s, took her classes at the Children's Museum when he was 8 years old. He said she cultivated his interest in birds into "a passionate fascination and curiosity with everything about nature.

"She took us to the same places every week: Arnold Arboretum and Jamaica Pond," he said. "She was always enthusiastic and interested in everything. If you brought something to her, she'd gush about it, even if she'd seen it a hundred times."

Miss Dickey continued to teach natural history to preschool children as a volunteer for the Visiting Nurses Center in Dedham, Massachusetts, until her retirement in 1997, when she was 90. The following year, she was inducted into the Massachusetts Hall of Fame of Science Educators.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this discussion about the Boston Children's Museum and the
    Bird Club, including the references to Miss Dickey. I encountered it while trying to figure out how far my father, Joe Greenberg, actually walked to get from his family's home in Dorchester to the Children's Museum during the early
    thirties. His visits to the Museum and the Bird Club engendered in him a love of birds and birding that lasted his entire lifetime.

    He just passed away in Oakland, California, on Sunday (Feb. 24th) at the age of 89. Even in his final days he often talked about the Children's Museum, the Bird Club, and those long walks to and from his home. He also told me he was chosen to teach adults about birds
    while he was at the Museum.

    I was wondering: does the term "Dickey bird" (for common species) come from Miss Dickey? I think this is too much of a coincidence for it not to be the