Wonderful Women Wednesday: Grace Lincoln Temple

Each week, the Archives features a woman who has been a groundbreaker at the Smithsonian, past or present, in a series titled Wonderful Women Wednesday.

Grace Lincoln Temple (1865–1953) was an interior designer, educator, and one of the first women to decorate a public U.S. building. She designed the Smithsonian’s rotunda, and, in 1901, she helped transform the South Tower room of the Smithsonian Institution Building into the Smithsonian's Children Room, a museum area specifically devoted to displays for children. Temple used themes and colors from the natural world in her design for the room, which featured simplified labeling, an aquarium, a kaleidoscope and hanging birdcages. In addition to selecting room colors, Temple also designed a wall frieze and fresco for the ceiling and stenciled wallpaper by hand.

In 1902, the Smithsonian hired Temple once again to replace the decorative scheme for the United States National Museum, now known as the Arts and Industries Building. She used light red, deep ivory, and olive colors to redesign the main halls and the rotunda. 

Prior to her work at the Smithsonian, Temple studied at the Art Museum School in Boston and had decorated the White House’s East Room under the Cleveland administration. In 1904, she was the interior designer behind the the United States Government Building at the 1904 World’s Fair.

A woman watches from scaffolding as a man paints a ceiling.

To learn more about Temple’s work, read “Knowledge Begins in Wonder: The Design Behind the Smithsonian Children’s Room,” published on this blog in 2016.

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