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The Children's Room in the Smithsonian Institution Building

Knowledge Begins in Wonder

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Sources for this exhibit:

"Grace Lincoln Temple and the Smithsonian's Children's Room of 1901," Linda NeCastro, unpublished master's thesis, Bryn Mawr College, 1988.

"The Children's Room at the Smithsonian, 1901-1939," Mary McCutcheon, research paper for the Smithsonian Institution Office of Architectural History and Historic Preservation, 1988.

"The Castle, an Illustrated History of the Smithsonian Building," Cynthia R. Field, Richard E. Stamm, and Heather P. Ewing, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993.

All material © Smithsonian Institution 2009

Introduction

 

The Smithsonian was one of the first museums in the country to develop a special children's place during the early part of the 20th century. Convinced that museums could provide a fertile environment conducive to children as well as adults, then Smithsonian secretary Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906) converted a room on the first floor of the Smithsonian Institution Building's south tower into a gallery of natural history exhibits aimed specifically at children. Langley felt that if children were to benefit from the educational possibilities that existed in museums, a different approach to exhibit design would be necessary. Langley identified himself with children in trying to make suitable choices for the room. Special display cases were designed so that the exhibits were all within a child's view. Latin labels, commonly found in all natural history museum displays of the day, were abolished and replaced with poetic inscriptions, because, as Langley explained taking the viewpoint of a child

We are not very much interested in the Latin names, and however much they may mean to grown-up people, we do not want to have our entertainment spoiled by its being made a lesson.

During 1900 and 1901, the room was altered and lavishly decorated with special colors and imagery that were chosen based on their ability to provide a pleasant environment. Throughout the course of these two years, many physical changes took place in the south tower room under Langley's close and constant supervision. Washington architects Joseph Hornblower and James P. Marshall oversaw the many structural changes to the room and local interior designer Grace Lincoln Temple provided the ornamental details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Color lithograph of the Children's Room from the 1901 Smithsonian Annual Report.