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.

 

Sources

“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.

From the Scrapbooks: Boston Children’s Pet Shows of the 1920s

 

Being the archivist at Boston Children’s Museum means that I often come across little tidbits of information that I want to chase until I have the whole story. Recently, I came across the photograph above, of two children and a goat. Thankfully, the back of the photograph was labelled: “Jack Dixon and His Goat, Pet Show June 1928.” From there, I could hunt down more images of children and their pets by perusing the 1920s-era photograph albums in the archival collections. I found images of children with more traditional pets including cats and dogs. I then turned to one of the most valuable resources in the collection, scrapbooks of newspaper clippings about the museum. The scrapbook that covered 1928-1931 included multiple pages of coverage of the Pet Show, with some articles multiple pages themselves, so the readers of Boston were well-apprised of the happenings.

On June 16th, 1928, Boston Children’s Museum held a Pet Show requesting remarkable, unusual, and intelligent companions. The children of Boston responded, and brought all sorts of creatures to the lawn of the Pine Bank building on Jamaica Pond. These included the expected cats and dogs, but also chameleons, turtles, Japanese waltzing mice, parrots, goats, geese, canaries, tree toads, snakes, rabbits, hens, a salamander, and a Brazilian wildcat.

There was a day-long schedule beginning with the show itself. One newspaper described the action: “If you brought your pet you had to explain all about it, which made it all the harder for the contestants, because lots of the pets-for instance, Faith Holden’s Brazilian wildcat, “Zuni,”- didn’t even seem to care even a very little bit for the noted human custom of sitting still while somebody talks about you.” [Boston Sunday Post, June 17, 1928]

Besides listening to children discuss their pets, spectators had much to keep them occupied. The newspaper article noted a particular moment of hilarity, when “George Smith’s pet tree toad, measuring one and one-half inches big, got pretty near scared to death when a whole gang of collie dogs galloped into the arena to be exhibited.” And the audience all sucked its collective breath once again when Fluff the Angora cat, who had remained impassive all morning long, especially while being shown, came into contact with the two Japanese waltzing mice (named Hunca Munca and Tom Thumb) and gave them a good long look. Pet show-goers went on record later saying they were in “some suspense on account of the possibilities of the situation.” Thankfully, “Fluff, with a touch of disdain, remembered his dignity.” [Boston Sunday Post, June 17, 1928]

Prizes, in the form of ribbons and books, were given out for different categories and classes by Mrs. Huntington Smith, founder and president of the Animal Rescue League. Zuni the wildcat won Most Unusual, while the tree toad won Most Remarkable. Prizes were also given for the winners of the essay contest “What My Pet Knows.” These winners included Edward Russell about his Angora cat Fluff, and Virginia Coolen about her collie Scrapper (who also came with her 8 puppies).

Last of the day was an illustrated lecture from the Animal Rescue League on “How to Keep Pets.” All of the newspaper articles described the day as successful, with children gaining the opportunity to speak about their best friends, while also learning about the pets of others.

The day was so successful, in fact, that Boston Children’s Museum hosted another Pet Show the following year, on June 22nd, 1929. That year, descriptions of the pets and their owners made the front page of the Sunday Boston Post. This was probably partially in thanks to 5 year-old Francis Curley (son of former mayor James M. Curley) and his rambunctious English bull dog.

The article related the scene: “What had been comparative peace among the 60 oddly assorted pets, before the arrival of this blue blooded English bull dog, threatened to become a free-for-all in a brief, hectic second. A huge St. Bernard immediately took umbrage at the snooty condescending manner of ‘Tammany Boy’ and wanted to settle all claims of social standing right then and there…A two week old fluffy bit of kittenhood climbed in terror to the shoulder of her master Richard Mishler. Even ‘Caesar,’ the black snake, made his first wriggle of the morning, whether from excitement or just to shake a few kinks out of his length could not be determined.” [Boston Sunday Post, June 30, 1929]

The winner of Most Unusual went to Pep the monkey, owned by 4 year-old Russell Bradley. According to the Boston Globe, Bradley told others that Pep was “born on the Isle of Madagascar during the only thunderstorm in 200 years.” [The Boston Globe, June 30, 1929] There was also much amusement over Richard Daniels’ three goldfish, named Tom, Dick, and Harry. The Boston Traveler noted, “how their owner could identify them was a mystery to onlookers.” [Boston Traveler, June 29, 1929]

The Pet Show of 1929 wrapped up in similar fashion, with Russell Keller and Sophie Khyskow winning first and second place for the essay competition.

The stories one finds in the Archives at Boston Children’s Museum are often exciting and adorable. They can be traced through the vast range of materials in the collections. If you have any stories, events, clubs, or people that you want to learn more about, please email Caroline at turner@bostonchildrensmuseum.org.