Very! For over 35 years, May 18 has been celebrated worldwide as International Museum Day, to raise public awareness about the role of museums in the development of society. But the importance of museums to a community – particularly children’s museums – is nothing new to Junior Leagues. In fact, Junior Leagues across the U.S. have been key players for decades in the movement to develop hands-on, learning-oriented children’s museums to supplement education in the sciences and arts.
According to League history, the first mention of Junior League members getting involved in museum work came in the late 1920’s – first as volunteers, then as committee members, docents and trustees. But it was not until the 1940s and 1950s that Junior Leagues as community organizations started to become forces in the children’s museum world.
In 1945, the Children’s Museum of Denver opened with a $1,000 grant from the Denver Art Museum and a $1,000 donation from the Junior League of Denver. The museum became a model for other children’s museums, both in the U.S. and internationally.
What began in 1949 as an idea for a community initiative by the Junior Museum of Miami became the Miami Museum of Science (now the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science), a major center for scientific education, research and exhibition, and a vital community resource.
In the early 1960s, the Junior League of Winston-Salem was the driving force for a new nature and science facility in Winston-Salem now known as SciWorks. As its 75th anniversary gift to the Winston-Salem community, JLWS’s leadership (and capital campaign) led to the opening of the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem in 2004.
Founded in 1981 by the Rockford Area Arts Council and the Junior League of Rockford, the Discovery Center Museum went on, again with JLR’s help, to open the first community-built outdoor science park – called Rock River Discovery Park – in the U.S. 10 years later.
In response to program cutbacks in the city’s public schools, a coalition led by the Junior League of Chicago founded the Chicago Children’s Museum in 1982. Located on Navy Pier since 1995, the museum is now one of Chicago’s top cultural attractions and the second most visited children’s museum in the country.
It took six years to do it, but an amazing commitment by members of the Junior League of Pittsburgh led to the opening, in 1983, of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. Today, the regional museum is visited by 141,000 children and 126,000 adults a year.
In 2002, the Junior League of Jackson began its focus on children and youth and unanimously voted to adopt the Mississippi Children’s Museum as the League’s second signature project and support the museum with a $1 million financial commitment.
In 2008, a merger of two of the Junior League of Portland legacy projects – the Children’s Theater of Portland, founded in 1923, and the Children’s Museum of Maine, founded in 1976 – resulted in the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine. Located in the Arts District of downtown Portland, the museum has been recognized for its contributions to education on both the local and national levels.
And it’s still going on today!
The Junior League of Billings is currently doing a feasibility study for Wise Wonders – a Montana Children’s Museum. In describing the initiative, JLB says: “Research shows that hands-on learning through interactive exhibits stimulates cognitive development, and this is achieved through an environment such as a children’s museum.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!
Other Junior League projects involving children’s museums and learning centers include:
- The Cedar Rapids Science Center– Junior League of Cedar Rapids
- Charlotte Nature Museum and Discovery Place – Junior League of Charlotte
- The Children’s Museum– Junior League of Lake Charles
- The Children’s Museum of Cleveland– Junior League of Cleveland
- The Children’s Museum of Richmond– Junior League of Richmond
- Children’s Science Center – Junior League of Northern Virginia
- The Discovery Center– Junior League of Fresno
- The Discovery Museum and Planetarium – Junior League of Eastern Fairfield County (then JL Bridgeport)
- Greensboro Science Center– Junior League of Greensboro
- Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center– Junior League of Mobile
- Hands On! Regional Museum– Junior League of Johnson City
- INSIGHTS El Paso Science Center – Junior League of El Paso
- The Junior Center of Art and Science– Junior League of Oakland-East Bay
- Kidsfirst Children’s Museum– Junior League of South Bend
- Kidspace Children’s Museum– Junior League of Pasadena
- MY Museum – The Monterey County Youth Museum– Junior League of Monterey County
- Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum – Junior League of Peoria
- The Sacramento Children’s Museum– Junior League of Sacramento
- Sci-Tech Discovery Center– Junior League of Collin County
- Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts (Museum of Scientific Discovery) – Junior League of Harrisburg
- The Youth Museum– Junior League of Cobb-Marietta
If your Junior League is not included on this list and has been instrumental in founding a children’s museum or learning center in your community, please post it on our Facebook page!