Where Curiosity is the Beginning of Wisdom
Science and history are often two sides of the same coin, but conveying that connection to the public is as much art as science. When the language of science gets bogged down in mechanics, people struggle to relate it to themselves. Famed documentary maker Ken Burns says, “People tend to forget that the word ‘history’ contains the word ‘story’,” but this is not the case at Jacksonville’s Museum of Science & History (MOSH). For the past seventy-five years, every exhibit, whether it be the movement of blood through our body or waves along our shore, is referenced back to us in both science and story, providing us a connected perspective to each other and to our world.
The women of MOSH: bringing a dream to life
Too frequently, science and history are habitually associated with the masculine. And yes, many remarkable men were, and still are, part of the legacy of this museum. John Ripley Forbes, the passionate New England conservationist came to Jacksonville in 1946 to help guide the fledgling museum with governing board structure and institutional goal setting. And in 1968, visionary local architect William Morgan created the iconic space in which MOSH is housed today.
However, what many people may not know is that the history of MOSH is the history of Jacksonville women who loved science and hands-on learning and emphatically believed a permanent home for this should be a part of our city. The genesis of MOSH began in 1910 when Madge Wallace began collecting items from her backyard. She wanted her students to experience the natural world, and started sharing her collections with other teachers. In 1935, Carolyn Stout led efforts to create a children’s museum in Jacksonville to share collections like this on a larger scale. Wallace was appointed committee chairman and was joined by fellow school teachers, Erma Drayer, Edith Pullings, and Mrs. Henry Sawyer. After receiving its charter in 1941 as the Jacksonville Children’s Museum, Mrs. Walter S. Jones secured its first museum space in the Teen Town Building at the Liberty Street Armory Annex, where volunteers ran it during WWII. The first two permanent positions, developed in 1946, museum director and associate director, were held by Madalene Sawyer and Shirley Howard, respectively. Sawyer had been education director for ten years at the Boston Children’s Museum and Howard was field director of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Fast forward to today and we have Museum Executive Director Maria Hane continuing the legacy with the same passion, focus, and commitment as the women who walked before her. “Mine is the job of a lifetime,” says Hane. “I learn something and am inspired every day I am here.”
The museum evolved from its inaugural title of Jacksonville Children’s Museum to the Jacksonville Museum of Art & Sciences in 1977 to its current name, the Museum of Science & History, in 1988. Since 1951, it has also housed a planetarium: With the addition of the fourth generation Bryan-Gooding Planetarium, MOSH now has bragging rights to one of the largest single-lens digital dome planetariums in the United States. But since day one, MOSH has remained true to its motto, “Curiosity is the Beginning of Wisdom,” the enduring guiding principle established by Madge Wallace and her fellow schoolteachers.
Article written by Janet M. Herrick