Children's Museums

The booming twenties spawn a cultural movement for children

Discovery Center, Rockford, IL

Various Leagues including Miami, Nashville, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Las Vegas, Denver, Pittsburgh, Bergen County, New Jersey, and Rockford, Illinois

Issue Area(s): the arts, child welfare, education


As a pioneer in the development of children’s museums, The Junior League helped inspire a cultural movement that changed children’s lives around the world. Many cities in the United States owe a debt of gratitude to The League for its support through volunteer service, funding, and project development.

Community partners

  • Milwaukee’s Art Museum and Art Institute
  • The William Hornaday Foundation
  • The Allied Arts Council of Las Vegas
  • The Denver Art Museum
  • The Bergen County Museum
  • The Rockford Council for Arts & Sciences
  • Nashville’s Cumberland Museum

How it works

In the booming 1920s, the Junior Leagues continued their social reform work, and like many Americans became fascinated by theater, cinema, and the arts. In those early years, League members worked enthusiastically as volunteers, committee members, docents, and trustees in their local museums.

The Junior League of Denver made history in 1946 when, along with the Denver Art Museum, it co-sponsored the development of the Denver Children’s Museum, which served as a prototype for many similar children’s museum programs throughout the world.

In several cities, Junior Leagues worked with the William Hornaday Foundation to establish children’s museum programs. In one such noteworthy collaboration, the Junior League of Jacksonville paid the salary for a full-time curator, provided two volunteers daily to operate the children’s museum, and convinced the city and county to guarantee annual funding.

The Junior League of Charlotte also worked with the Hornaday Foundation to create the Children’s Nature Museum, an interactive museum where children could handle reptiles. By the end of the 1950s, the Junior League of Charlotte had invested more than $100,000 in the facility.

When a children’s museum was planned in Miami, the Miami League contributed more than $50,000 in the first four years to get it started.

Nearly 200 League members helped organize the popular Children’s Arts Program of Milwaukee, jointly sponsored by the Art Museum and the Art Institute.

The Junior League of Pittsburgh developed and seed-funded a hands-on museum for children.

The Junior League of Bergen County, New Jersey developed and funded the World of Discovery room at the Bergen County Museum. League volunteers worked with the museum staff, carpenters, and special consultants to develop hands-on exhibits and activities.

The Junior League of Las Vegas combined forces with the Allied Arts Council of Las Vegas to form an autonomous children’s museum with hands-on exhibits.

The Junior League of Nashville assisted in the research, funding, and building of the Curiosity Corner of the Cumberland Museum.

The Junior League of Rockford, Illinois collaborated with the Rockford Council for the Arts and Sciences to sponsor the Discovery Center, a participatory learning museum for children and families to explore and experience art.