Throwback Thursday: Almost a Century Later, A Bond Revisited

Sarah Yasuda is the summer Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections and Archives Management. A current student at Simmons University, Sarah is pursuing her Masters in Library and Information Sciences, with a concentration in Cultural Heritage Informatics.


This summer, I had the opportunity to work with the Japan Collection in Boston Children’s Museum’s Institutional Archives. For my project, I processed, re-housed and created a finding aid for the Japan Collection – with the goal of making the collection as accessible as possible for staff, researchers, and the public. The Japan Collection spans over 100 years of exhibits, events and programming focused on fostering cultural understanding between the United States and Japan.

The various documents, flyers and letters of the Collection formed narratives that detailed the history of the Japan Program at Boston Children’s Museum. What I found most exciting about working in the archives was discovering unassuming, overlooked parts of history that built the Museum into one of the oldest museums dedicated to the education of children. The Institutional Archives catalogs and preserves nearly everything the Museum has produced and created. It serves as the focal point for administrative and record-keeping matters but is also a home for the wonderful stories that dwell within its many boxes and folders.

One such story is that of Miss Kyoto, a Japanese doll that was given to the Museum in 1928 as part of the friendship doll exchange between the U.S. and Japan. To this day, Miss Kyoto greets visitors as they walk into the Museum’s Japanese House. She is a centerpiece of the Japan Program and continues to represent the strong ties between Boston Children’s Museum and Japan. Miss Kyoto was one of 58 dolls commissioned by Japanese school children and sent to America to signify the friendship between the two countries. This doll exchange was borne out of a U.S. missionary’s concern for rising anti-Japanese sentiments in the U.S. during the 1910’s.

The story of Miss Kyoto began in the early 1900’s with Sidney L. Gulick, an American missionary in Japan. With the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, Japanese people were racially targeted and Japanese citizens were barred from entering the U.S. Mr. Gulick grew concerned with this rising anti-Japanese sentiment within the U.S. He felt that a friendship between the children of both countries could foster peace and understanding where politics and diplomacy had failed. This idea led to the development of the Committee on World Friendship Among Children. The purpose of this committee was to arrange an exchange of “Doll Messengers of Friendship” between nations.

Over 12,000 dolls were purchased through a nationwide effort of collecting dolls of moderate cost. The Committee worked with groups such as the Girl Scouts, school PTAs and various women’s clubs. The main criteria for the dolls collected was that the eyes had to be able to open and close and that they said “Mama”. The dolls were dressed in handmade clothes, which represented the diverse regions, states and towns of America. Each doll was given a “passport” from the “Doll Travel Bureau”; a “visa” from the Japanese Consulate; an official travel ticket; and a message of goodwill. The message read:

“Dear Children of Japan, I have come from faraway America. Please love me forever.”

On December 19th, 1926, a farewell party took place at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Out of the thousands of dolls, a committee chose 48 dolls to represent the then 48 states; a 49th was chosen to serve as Miss America. New York was the gathering point for the dolls from the states east of the Mississippi, while dolls from west of the Mississippi were sent out from San Francisco.

Martha May

Martha May represents Boston as one of the American friendship dolls delivered to Japan

Upon their arrival in Japan, the dolls found new homes in primary schools throughout the country. They were first exhibited at the Imperial Educational Museum in Tokyo and then joined a traditional Japanese Celebration called Hina Matsuri (Girl’s Day Festival of Dolls) on March 3rd, 1927. Japanese school children welcomed the dolls warmly, writing many thank-you letters expressing their excitement and gratitude toward the children in America. The “blue-eyed” dolls themselves also greatly influenced the art of doll making in Japan.

Not long after the arrival of the American dolls, a Japanese committee was formed within the Department of Education to plan a reciprocal gesture of goodwill. But their plan to collect the dolls was a little different. Rather than working with organizations to collect the dolls, the committee asked Japanese schoolchildren at each school that received a “blue-eyed” doll to contribute one sen, worth about one-half of a U.S. cent at the time, toward a fund for “Doll Ambassadors of Goodwill”. The fund, headed by the daughter of the Emperor, H.R.H. Princess Teru, received contributions from 2,610,000 schoolgirls throughout Japan. With these contributions, 58 dolls were commissioned: one from the Imperial Household; one from each of Japan’s six largest cities (Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, Kyoto, Kobe and Nagoya); and finally, one from each of the then 51 prefectures (including four provinces of the Japanese Empire).

A robe made of fine silk and brocade was also commissioned for each doll. Every robe was hand printed, painted and embroidered, complete with an insignia to distinguish that doll’s city or prefecture. Farewell parties were held in each city and prefecture.


Miss Kyoto’s farewell party among schoolchildren in Kyoto

On November 4th, 1927, a final send-off was organized for all the dolls. Each was given her own steamer ticket for the Pacific passage. On November 27th, the dolls arrived in San Francisco aboard the ocean liner Tenyo Maru.

The Japanese dolls also included letters to American schoolchildren. A 6th grade student in Japan wrote a letter introducing Miss Kyoto:

“We adore Julia very much. We celebrate Girls’ Day with Julia. We take care of Julia and be her friend forever. This means we will be friends with America forever, too. Just once we would like to meet you and talk with you, but that would be very difficult. We decided to send our most precious doll “Miss Kyoto” instead. She is our delegate. On October 8th, we had a goodbye party for Miss Kyoto…Perhaps she will feel homesick if she thinks about the cherry blossoms of beautiful Japan. Would you please comfort her if she looks lonely? Miss Kyoto will arrive in America around Christmas time. Please take care of her forever.”

The Committee for World Friendship then needed to find forever homes for the Japanese dolls. Boston Children’s Museum was chosen to be the home for Miss Kyoto in July 1928. Boston and Kyoto became sister cities several years later.

Fast-forward to 1943, when the war in the Pacific heightened tensions between the U.S. and Japan. Many American dolls were taken from Japanese schools and publicly destroyed in the schoolyards. It was only after the war that 334 of the 12,000 dolls were discovered, thanks to teachers in Japan that saved them from destruction. In 1978, the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tokyo held an exhibit for the surviving dolls. Similarly, out of the original 58 Japanese dolls, 46 of them have been located and few are in perfect condition in the U.S.

Miss Kyoto is one of these surviving dolls, and she continues to be a centerpiece in the Japan Collection today. Miss Kyoto has gone through several Museum restoration projects, took part in a Homecoming Exhibition in Japan, and attended various receptions and events…including a reception for the Boston Symphony Orchestra!

Miss Kyoto

Miss Kyoto as she appears in the Museum.

The story of the friendship dolls is not widely known, but it illuminates a facet of the relationship between the U.S. and Japan that dates to the early 1900’s. It also highlights the importance of cultural exchange between children—especially when politics and diplomacy fail. Even when the countries entered the Second World War, it was the heroic efforts of individual people, teachers and students that saved the friendship dolls from destruction. Miss Kyoto is a valuable part of Boston Children’s Museum, and she continues to represent the goals of both the Museum and the Japan program: to foster a love of learning in children and to promote cultural understanding and peace.

This was one of many stories that documented the legacy of the Japan Program and the museum’s long history of promoting cultural exchange between the U.S. and Japan. For more stories to discover and share, please visit the Museum Archives!

Making Manga & Memories at the Museum

A large part of Boston Children’s Museum’s audience includes elementary school students on a field trip.  Every day, these students explore the exhibits and take part in hands-on activities, including several educational programs.  One such program is an in-depth tour of the Museum’s Japanese House.

Many incoming students have studied Japan in their social studies classes, where they’ve shared their knowledge of the country’s culture.  Studying about Japanese culture can include the various art forms created in the country…including cartoons!  Japanese cartoons are often known under the name, “anime.” Growing up in the 1990s, I was introduced to Japanese culture through the anime adaptation of the Nintendo video game series, Pokémon.  When I teach school groups, I tend to bring up clues in the Japanese House regarding Pokémon.  For example, did you know the Pokémon Meowth is based on a traditional Japanese charm known as Maneki-Neko? If you study the picture, you’ll see he shares a lot of cool quirks with the famous “Beckoning Cat!”


Pokémon has become a timeless phenomenon, with fans of all different ages. When I mention Meowth’s design, the audience I am teaching gets excited to learn more about Japanese popular culture. Some students will even bring their love of anime, sharing popular titles like InuYasha, Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon. Thanks to digital streaming services, adults can access their favorite anime from both past and present—and kids who love anime will often bring up how their caregivers are the ones who introduced them to their favorite series!

But there is another alternative to enjoying Japanese cartoons. Manga—or “mischievous pictures,” as it’s translated in English—is one of the most popular forms of comic books amongst children and adults.  Bookstores and libraries host plenty of manga for readers, and even carry guidebooks on creating your own characters and stories.  Online, websites like YouTube and Pinterest offer free lessons for artists to practice drawing manga.  At Boston Children’s Museum, one of the programs I offer within my curriculum is manga illustration.  When I introduce this activity, older children get really excited, mentioning their love for manga and how often they practice this art form at home.  Sometimes, I don’t even need to give any instructions—I just let the visitors get creative with what they enjoy doing!

When I offer manga illustration at the Museum, young artists get to learn about contemporary Japanese art and pop culture.  As visitors engage with these topics, they are also sharing their stories of their love of manga and anime outside of the museum.  To me, teaching manga isn’t simply nostalgic. It’s a way to let our visitors share their own knowledge, wisdom, and appreciation of Japanese culture, in both the classroom and beyond.

Full STEAM Ahead! New Maker Workshops Arrive for Summer

Just in time for summer, the STEAM Team at Boston Children’s Museum is introducing a new series of Family Workshops! Designed to support visitors as they explore new and current technologies, these programs help chart a pathway to creativity and innovation.

The most important thing to know is that STEAM (short for science, technology, engineering, art, and math) is a ton of fun for both children and grownups! These workshops are hour-long, hands- and minds-on challenges designed to introduce those aged 7 and older to a diverse set of skills and new ways of thinking.

Past offerings include:

  • Learn to Solder”: visitors made necklaces, key chains, rings, and trinkets based on the designs they imagined.
  • Engineering Challenge: families designed model penguin enclosures to keep feathered friends cool at the zoo.

And we ran a screen printing workshop, resulting in a story that has really stuck with our STEAM team staff:

This past May, one of our screen printing workshops hosted three generations of a single family. Together with their adult children and granddaughter, a local couple had stopped by the Museum that weekend to celebrate their 51st wedding anniversary! Each family member got to screen-print his or her own design; along with some T-shirts and fabric designs, Grandma crafted a very special tote bag, which we’ve pictured here.

Heart Tote Bag

And that’s what we mean by “and older”. Grownups, too, deserve the chance to design and create! STEAM workshops don’t just build new ideas—they create lasting memories as kids and parents work to make something great. And the best part is they do it together.

Because when it comes right down to it…exploring our world is a skill we never outgrow.






Throwback Thursday: How the Museum Rebuilt Itself After Burning to the Ground

On the night of October 19, 1942, smoke poured out of Boston Children’s Museum. The 2-alarm fire blazed while Jamaica Plain firefighters sought to extinguish it, and neighborhood children stood on the street watching and waiting. After several hours, two boys—James Baird and John Barrett—gained permission to enter the smoldering ruin to try and save any live animals inside. Rushing in, the pair unearthed two guinea pigs, both of which were still drenched from the hoses. As The Boston Post observed, the creatures immediately became “friendly and composed in the hands of their rescuers.”

James Baird and John Barrett with the rescued guinea pigs.

Boston newspapers lamented the loss of the Children’s Museum. The Boston Globe described the building as “gutted from cellar to roof,” going on to note how “at least $50,000 of damage” was done to the collections and exhibits. Much of the botanical specimens, doll collection, model ships, and taxidermy had been damaged or destroyed, and some valuable Audubon prints had suffered heavily from the smoke. Calls for funds, as well as donations of natural history objects to replace the ones lost in the fire, were quickly raised in the newspapers.

Despite the extensive damage, the Museum retained a brave face, persevering in holding their planned fundraisers for the next day. Children gathered in the auditorium next door to send Christmas gifts to the children of a then war-torn Great Britain. And, perhaps after noting a sudden interest in the public, the Museum also put together “Fire Fighting Today and Long Ago” in 1946, a special exhibit mapping the evolution of that profession.

Kids with Engine Model
Boys crowd around a model in the new Fire Fighting exhibit.

Correspondence in the Archives relates how a local donor agreed to contribute several items to the new exhibit, including models of fire engines, leather buckets and belts, brass nozzles, and prints of several fires…provided they were, in her words, “kept under glass where they would not be handled by the kids.” Upon her recommendation, the Museum also launched additional correspondence with the city’s Fire Commissioner, as well as the Chiefs of both the Boston and Cambridge Fire Departments. From this arrangement, reports indicate the Museum obtained several fire alarms for demonstration, as well as some equipment and models. Luckily, the Fire Departments were more open to the idea of children handling the donations!

Engine & Fire Models
A case in the Fire Fighting special exhibit.

Within hours of subduing the flames, Museum executives confirmed to the public that activities would continue next door while reconstruction took place. And yet, the 1942 fire at Boston Children’s Museum sparked a great appreciation for what was almost lost. As The Boston Traveler noted a few days later: “The serious fire at the Children’s Museum brings home more clearly…the value of this unique institution in the educational structure of the city. For years the children of Boston have learned there about the visible universe and its creatures in the most impressive and lasting way, by the direct impressions that come from seeing, handling and studying objects. This is teaching at its best.”

Explore with Your Child: Adapting Museum Activities to Your Own Home!

This blog post was written by our Health and Wellness intern, Lilly Day. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University, and is pursuing a degree in Child Life.

When I first began my internship at Boston Children’s Museum, I loved exploring and learning about the exhibits. I was curious to know how children responded and engaged with each exhibit, and how children’s behavior changed between areas in the Museum. I decided to observe in four Museum exhibits; Peep’s World, Kid Power, KEVA, and the Japanese House. I chose these four because they differ greatly from each other in both environmental design and the type of activities included.

After completing my observations in exhibits around the Museum, I considered what these observations demonstrated about child engagement both within and outside of the Museum environment. Keep reading for suggestions on how to bring favorite Museum activities and lessons into your own home!

dowel structures

In the Japanese House, children are often quieter and more cautious than in the rest of the Museum. The Japanese House is an authentic silk merchant’s home from Kyoto, Japan that is approximately 100 years old. Children likely recognize that this is a special environment compared to the rest of the Museum and adjust their behavior accordingly. If you want to facilitate your child’s participation in an activity that requires quieter voices and calmer bodies, try talking and demonstrating to your child how special the activity is. For example, if you are looking for a more peaceful dinner time, try setting up your home like a “fancy” restaurant; this could mean simply adding real or fake flowers to the center of the table and playing quiet music in the background, or going all out and making pretend menus (with only a few options).

Kid Power has a series of stations designed to inspire children to be active and move their bodies; one such station is a seat attached to ropes that instructs children to “Use your power” and pull themselves up using the ropes. Some adults help their children pull the ropes and lift the child’s weight for them, while other adults instruct their children on how to pull the ropes instead of directly helping. The children who completed tasks independently often spent longer focused on each activity. When working to inspire persistence in your children, consider offering guidance rather direct help. Next time you’re at a playground and your child is asking for help crossing the balance beam, maybe hold your hand just a few inches away from theirs. That way you are there to catch them if they start to fall, but you are also demonstrating your confidence in them to make it across the beam independently!

Visitors spent longer in KEVA and Peep’s World than in the other exhibits I observed. Peep’s World is designed for young children and includes a cave to walk through, shadow play, the Imagination Playground, and a large water play area. KEVA consists of large platforms and bins of KEVA planks, as well as structures built out of KEVA planks displayed to inspire visitors’ own creations. Both are fairly open-ended; in other words, they allow lots of room for children to interpret how they want to manipulate and play with the materials provided. If looking to engage your child for an extended period of time, consider providing them with open-ended materials. But that doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy KEVA planks! Do you have extra plates, cups, napkins, and straws from your child’s last birthday party? Challenge your child to build something with the leftover materials – if you are excited about the project, they will be too! Or, borrow an idea directly from Peep’s World and paint with water. All you need is a cup for water, a paint brush, and a few rocks for your child to magically change the color of with their water brush!

To brainstorm more activities that your child may enjoy, take time during your next visit to observe their likes and dislikes; notice which exhibits keep them the most engaged and replicate these activities at home. But don’t worry if an activity doesn’t work out exactly as planned! Children explore and experiment to figure out how this world works, and they will often find completely unique ways to play. Embrace this, and wherever your child’s creativity takes you, I hope you enjoy the adventure!

Introducing the CreatedBy: Festival!

CreatedBy logo

Boston Children’s Museum is thrilled to unveil a new twist on an old(ish) event! Mark your calendars October 25 & 26, 2019, for the CreatedBy: Festival—our new and improved annual celebration of hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) learning and discovery.

For the past three years, Boston Children’s Museum has produced and hosted the Boston Mini Maker Faire. This event engaged creative spirits and innovators from Boston and beyond, including engineers, artists, technologists, musicians, and anyone with a passion project they were excited to share. Going into our fourth year, we were determined to keep all of the aspects of our past events that visitors told us they loved, including featuring young innovators and lots of hands-on projects. We also wanted to be sure we had engaging activities for our youngest visitors, and opportunities to share the fun of the event with educators and students. Ultimately, we decided the best way to accomplish these goals was to develop a new event, the CreatedBy: Festival, entirely produced by Boston Children’s Museum with assistance from some of our amazing event partners from years past, including Artisan’s Asylum, NE First Robotics, and Olin College of Engineering, as well as an exciting new partner in Massachusetts STEM Week.

What is Massachusetts STEM Week, you ask? It’s a celebration of STEM across the state and a chance for all children to experience the exciting “ah-ha” discovery moments of engaging in STEM. On Friday, October 25, school groups and educators, as well as Museum members and visitors will engage in hands-on STEAM workshops and fun learning activities led by Museum staff and education- and technology-focused organizations meant to engage, share, and inspire. On Friday evening, our partners, makers, and sponsors will help us fill the Museum with fun, surprising, and kooky creations, and more opportunities to engage in hands-on STEAM. Saturday, October 26, will be another full day of opportunities for families and innovators to experience CreatedBy: Festival.

Over the next few months we will be communicating more information and details about the event. We can’t wait for you to join us for the CreatedBy: Festival which will be a truly memorable experience CreatedBy: Boston Children’s Museum, CreatedBy: Kids, and CreatedBy: You, Boston Children’s Museum’s visitors!

Message in a Milk Bottle: Creating a Geometric Community Garden

This blog post was written by Health and Wellness intern, Lilly Day. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University pursuing a degree in Child Life.

geometric garden 1








Each spring, the Health and Wellness Educator’s intern creates the Message in a Milk Bottle project, which centers on community building. This year, I had the wonderful privilege of designing and implementing this project. I wanted my project to represent spring and the exciting new possibilities that come with the season and to encourage children (and adults!) to contribute unique artwork; the combination of these ideas led to creating a Geometric Community Garden.

Real life community gardens offer individuals small plots of land within a larger designated area to grow plants of their choosing. Community gardens bring people together and often create a space for gardening that would not otherwise be possible in urban areas across the world. While implementing the Geometric Gardens activity, I provided handouts explaining a real life community garden in images and with developmentally appropriate language, along with suggestions of what is in a community garden. The suggestions included flowers and vegetables, but I also included images of rocks, topiary (shrubbery sculptures), and buildings to encourage participants to think outside of the box. The materials I offered for creating gardens echoed the visuals I provided in that they were open-ended; participants started with a piece of cardstock to act as a base in their representation of a garden. Gemstones, wood squares and ovals, multicolored felt cut-outs in a variety of shapes, brightly colored packing peanuts, and fabric samples were just some of the materials offered.

geometric garden 2








In order to involve community outside of the Museum walls, I facilitated the Geometric Gardens project at Franciscan Children’s, Shriners Hospitals for Children – Boston, and The Campus School at Boston College. Each of these organizations serves children and families with special medical and developmental needs. By bringing the Message in a Milk Bottle project to them each year, individuals at these organizations have the opportunity to participate in a Museum event, and the visitors at the Museum have the opportunity to see and appreciate the individual creative contributions of individuals from different backgrounds and life circumstances than themselves.

Throughout late March and early April, I personally implemented the project at Franciscans and Shriners, and brought materials to the teachers at The Campus School to work on the project with their students. The activity was open to visitors at the Museum during April Morningstar Access, as well as twice during April vacation week, the theme of which was “Tell me a Story”. Before opening the activity up to Museum visitors, I began to create the Geometric Community Garden with contributions from those at outside organizations. As visitors completed their projects, they were encouraged to choose where their gardens fit into the community garden and tape them up themselves. With the display directly next to the activity, visitors could draw inspiration from projects that were already completed and appreciate the stories represented in each geometric garden.

geometric garden 4


Although I designed this project with the idea of encouraging creativity in children across Boston, I was still in awe of their creations and surprised by the unique ideas and depth of stories contributed by each participant. A child at Franciscans made an ice cream garden; a child at Shriners made a pepperoni pizza on a stick garden. A child from The Campus School created a football garden; a child at the Museum created a button to operate an airplane with. Participants ranged in age from approximately 2 years all the way to adulthood; one father helped his newly 2 year old daughter to stick down objects and then interpreted her work as creating a tractor, and proudly added the tractor to the community garden display. Children created 3D as well as 2D gardens, and adults asked questions about the gardens, interacting with their own children as well as other visitors while in the Museum. The range of storytelling weaved into the creation of this Geometric Community Garden project was inspiring, and an exciting representation of the uniqueness that each of us has to contribute to our communal story.

As an intern, this project enabled me to develop skills in planning, organizing, and facilitating a large scale activity that reached children and families across Boston. I was able to enhance my professional communication skills and learn from the story of each child’s garden. As a person, this project reminded me of the excitement in allowing creativity to flourish, the benefits of community and teaching community ideals to children, and the beauty of using open-ended materials to create something new.

geometric garden 3

Passover Memories in Collections

The Museum’s April vacation week theme is “Tell me a Story,” a perfect opportunity to share a story from the collection. With an estimated 50,000 items, the collection holds a treasure trove of stories waiting to be told. Some of these are simple, recounting what is known about a specific item or group of items – who the donor was, what the item is, when it entered the Museum collection, where it came from. These are always fun stories to share but I love when visitors to storage share their own stories too! Stories of their childhood or family memories inspired by finding a familiar object, stories of past Museum visits, or both. In these moments, I get my own behind-the-scenes glimpse at what makes the Museum’s collection so special.

Recently, I heard a story that is too good not to share. It is a Passover story. In January, one of the Museum’s long time staff, Jessie Kravette, started working on a project in the collection office. Although Jessie has worked at the Museum for 8 years, she had not previously spent much time in collections and so, like all new staff in the office, her project began with a tour of storage. Not far along our path, Jessie peered in a drawer of dollhouse furnishings and shared her collection story:

When my children were young, we used to come to the Museum regularly, at least once a month. And at some point during our visit, we would always head for the Dollhouse Exhibit, a quiet, darkened, carpeted space full of dollhouses, where you could really relax away from the crowds and immerse yourself in the tiny worlds throughout the room. There was also a wall-based exhibit with cutout Plexiglas windows which allowed visitors to peek into individual family scenes with different set-ups.

My absolute favorite was the Jewish family who were celebrating Passover from around the 1930’s. We were coming from a town where we were the only Jewish family I knew of. I frequently felt isolated and my children had some issues with their Jewish identity because it was so different from what was all around us, particularly at holiday times. So, I used to gravitate to this Passover Seder display and just soak in all of the familiar objects and little set-ups, letting the scene fill me with warmth and ages-old support for my identity.

Fast forward, and now I’m working part time in the collections department. On my first day, Rachel let me explore the storage room and I noticed some dollhouse objects in a large drawer. Looking more closely, my heart literally skipped a beat when I realized it was the same Passover set-up! And when Rachel said I could handle the objects, I couldn’t believe I was finally able to reach through that little window and pick up each tiny, very familiar item, turn it over in my hands, and remember back when…

As Jessie looked at the each detail, she noticed that the same Haggadah (Seder Service book) that lives on the dollhouse Seder table, one at each place, is the exact replica of the Haggadah for her own family’s Seder table. No detail was too small to duplicate in miniature.

While the “Dollhouse Exhibit” – The Ruth Harmony Green Hall of Toys – is no longer a permanent exhibit here at the Children’s Museum, this is just one of the many memories that it sparked. I can’t wait to hear your BCM collection story. Share it with us over on Instagram @bcmcollections, we’d love to hear it!

The Archives Celebrates Women’s History Month: Delia Griffin

Delia Griffin at work

In 1926, Delia Griffin, Director of the Children’s Museum of Boston, was featured in The Boston Herald, New England Portraits column:

“That the first Children’s Museum of New England is a big success is due in large part to the enthusiastic efforts of its director, Miss Delia Griffin. Miss Griffin is one of the leaders of educational interests in this country. She has had charge of the Museum on the shores of Jamaica Pond since its inception, 13 years ago, and she inaugurated its educational work which is widely and most favorably known…She hopes, this season, to arrange miniature museum exhibits for schools around Boston. She is increasingly being consulted by philanthropists, from all over the country, who are desirous of setting up and endowing children’s museums.”

Delia Griffin was born in Maine and educated at the Bailey School and Kent’s Hill Female College. She became supervisor of nature study at the Newton and North Attleboro, Massachusetts schools where she introduced school gardens and bird walks, and created lesson plans for teachers. She became Director of the Fairbanks Museum in Vermont for 10 years, where she revolutionized museum education for children. She developed live exhibits with hundreds of specimens and enhanced the historical department by creating new displays and hosting lectures. Griffin accepted the position as Curator at the Children’s Museum of Boston and began work on its opening day, July 1st, 1913.

At the Boston Children’s Museum, Griffin wasted no time filling the rooms with natural history and ethnological exhibits, a lecture room and a library. She ensured that display cases were created at a child’s eye-level, and that labels were written at an appropriate reading-level. Griffin led nature walks and encouraged local scientists to lead expeditions as well. She mentored groups of children creating their own clubs which would meet at the Museum. One club created a monthly magazine about happenings at the Museum, called Our Hobbies. They had yearly subscribers from many New England states, Japan, England, and Belgium. The Loan Department also grew under Griffin, creating kits of materials that teachers and groups could borrow. She collaborated extensively with Boston schools to ensure that the Museum and school curriculum worked hand in hand. The Museum presented lectures designed to complement children’s lessons and each month sent a bulletin to schools to alert them to upcoming events.

In only the second year of the Museum’s existence 297 classes visited, representing more than two thirds of Boston school districts and serving over 10,000 children. Griffin bolstered Museum activities during World War I to help keep children occupied as schools and libraries closed due to coal shortages. Extra events were planned for school vacation weeks, such as special nature collecting excursions and patriotic films. Under Griffin’s leadership Museum programs experienced huge growth, and in 1925 served 90,000 Boston students. Griffin directed the Museum for 14 years until 1927. Delia Griffin had a deep and wide-reaching impact on Boston Children’s Museum, education in Boston and the formation of children’s museums around the nation.



“Rare Work by Miss Griffin.” Boston Globe, June 21, 1913.

“New England Portraits: Miss Delia I. Griffin.” Boston Herald, November 26, 1926.

Sayles, Adelaide B. The Story of the Children’s Museum of Boston. Boston: Geo. H. Ellis Co., 1937.

Hidden Object Highlight: Feathered Capes

Every day, I come in to work and am surrounded by treasures. My “office” is a veritable cabinet of curiosities, and it is my job to gain an understanding of them. Most of this work is guided by immediate exhibit and program needs, intern projects, research requests, and other activities directed by institutional need. It is rare that I get to explore for the sake of exploring, but earlier this week the internet and Museum servers were down, so what’s a curator to do? I stepped into storage and made it a priority to take a closer look at two pieces that have held my fascination since I first “discovered” them in storage years ago.

The two items in question are feathered capes, or pelerines, each identified by different regional codes in the collection catalogue.

feathered cape back

Feathered Cape, Gift of Mrs. Susan S. Harriman, 1927, AF 96 (back)

I first came across “AF 96” years ago when searching for materials to incorporate in programs. It is stored with the Chinese cultural materials and was a true surprise to open the drawer and come across this gem. With a background in Chinese studies, this area of the collection has long held my interest. Because I completed those studies in Hawaii, something about the design also suggested the ʻAhu ʻula (feathered cloak) of Polynesia. The cape is in rather frail condition with significant feather loss and gives one the sense that the feathers might blow away with the slightest breath. The vibrant blue and green feathers come from peacocks, but the other feathers are unidentified in the records. The interior is also lined with feathers.

feathered cape back

Feathered Cape, Gift of Miss Ruth Louise Leighton, 1937, 3NK XX 380 (back)

The second item, “3NK XX 380,” is a similar feathered cape but is stored among the American History holdings. With the button details, this item seems right at home with Victorian era (1850-1920) fashions in the Museum’s collection. It is lined with silk and the neckline is bound with ribbon trim. The exterior design also includes peacock feathers and other fowl, which are again unidentified.

feathered cape back

Feathered Cape, Gift of Miss Ruth Louise Leighton, 1937, 3NK XX 380 (front)

Only ten years separate these two gifts to the Museum, but it is unknown if their origins are closer than the Museum’s records might suggest. AF 96 entered the Museum’s collection in 1927 with a note that it was “brought from China many years ago.” There is an additional note written in the 1960s stating, “change to Pacific Islands, Hawaii – although this may have been bought in China, is was made in Hawaii.” Meanwhile, 3NK XX 380 was given in 1937 and first identified as “Chinese” in the registration records. It was later changed to American History but no reasoning was given for this change.

feathered cape front

Feathered Cape, Gift of Mrs. Susan S. Harriman, 1927, AF 96 (front)

We may never solve the mysteries of provenance that these two items raise, but an internet search shows that these were popular accessories in the 1820s-30s. The time period coincides with King Kamahameha and Queen Kamamalu’s (fatal) trip to London in 1824. Feathered capes caught the attention of fashionistas in Europe and America and thus they may have been made globally to meet demand. China, South Africa, and England are all identified as possible locations of origin for these garments. For comparison you can search for and see other pelerines in several Boston area museum collections:

Historic New England

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard

While the two capes here at Boston Children’s Museum may be more common than first expected, they are no less fascinating and treasured here in the collection.