Grace Lincoln Temple and the Smithsonian's Children Room of 1901

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  • This paper describes the brainchild of third Smithsonian Institution Secretary Samuel P. Langley, who was the driving force behind one of the first efforts to create a museum area specifically devoted to displays for children. In 1889, two years after he became secretary, Langley directed his staff to establish a special children's exhibit in the South Tower room of the Smithsonian building. That early effort consisted of one bird collection case, but the program was greatly expanded by 1901.
  • Langley agreed with proponents of an educational philosophy that believed children should learn by personal observation and activities rather than by rote instruction. He envisioned an encouraging, self-educational environment for children to learn in a novel museum setting. To accomplish this, Langley set aside the entire South Tower room for children in 1899, and over the course of two years closely supervised the room's transition.
  • Architects Joseph Hornblower and James R. Marshall were hired to oversee structural changes and direct final plans for the Children's Room, while interior designer and educator Grace Lincoln Temple was asked to transform the room into a light and airy space that would be welcoming for young visitors. Nature themes and colors from the natural world were complemented by shorter display cases with simplified labeling, an aquarium, a kaleidoscope and hanging birdcages to create the desired effect.
  • The author provides details of the colors, fabrics, materials and other techniques used within the room, such as a mosaic floor, wall frieze and ceiling fresco, producing a pleasant and encouraging learning environment for children to experience the wonder of the natural world. Langley had the phrase "Knowledge Begins in Wonder" painted on the transom above the south entrance, and was pleased with the well-received outcome of his efforts.


  • Temple, Grace Lincoln
  • Hornblower, Joseph C (Joseph Coerten) 1848-1908
  • Langley, S. P (Samuel Pierpont) 1834-1906
  • Marshall, James Rush 1851-1927
  • Smithsonian Institution Building South Front
  • Smithsonian Institution Building Children's Room
  • Hornblower & Marshall
  • Smithsonian Institution Building South Towers
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (Washington, D.C.)


Smithsonian History Bibliography


This paper was produced in conjunction with NeCastro's fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution's Office of Architectural History and Preservation. NeCastro was a Master's student at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia. The draft paper may have been written for NeCastro's Master thesis.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




  • Museum labels
  • Architects
  • Secretaries
  • Interior decoration
  • Labels
  • Museums
  • Furnishings
  • Design
  • Museum buildings
  • Decoration and ornament
  • Education
  • Furniture, equipment, etc
  • Mural painting and decoration
  • Children
  • Children's museums
  • Philosophy
  • Decorative arts
  • Museums--Furniture, equipment, etc
  • Museums--Educational aspects
  • Furniture
  • Museum techniques
  • Architectural firms
  • Education--Museums
  • Museum exhibits


Washington (D.C.)

Physical description

Number of pages: 13; Page numbers: 1-13 (unnumbered)

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