Missouri Historical Society: The Next 50 Years (1917–1967)

9, August 2016

The Missouri Historical Society celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2016. This is the second in a three-part series on the organization's history. You can read the first installment here.

Photo of the 1932 Charles Lindbergh exhibitCharles A. Lindbergh exhibit in the west wing of the Jefferson Memorial Building, 1932. Click for a closer look at the trophies Nettie Beauregard secured for the Society's collections.

In a period that stretched from the beginning of the First World War until the Vietnam era, the Missouri Historical Society experienced a golden age. It was a period of great expansion in terms of both the importance of its collections and its professional leadership. In 1913, Nettie Beauregard assumed the role of full-time curator for the Society. Miss Nettie, as she is affectionately known at MHS, not only greatly expanded the Society’s holdings but also worked hard to secure some of the institution’s most historically important collections. It was Beauregard who used her social connections to acquire the now-iconic Clark Family Collection for the Missouri Historical Society. She was also responsible for securing another of the organization’s most popular collections: the trophies of aviator Charles Lindbergh.

It was also during this period of expansion that the Society began to promote itself as a center of historical research. Librarian Stella Drumm contributed greatly to the history of the American West through her books and well-researched articles printed in the Society’s journal, Glimpses, which still serves as an important historical resource.

Black-and-white photos of visitors in the Costume RoomVisitors view the Costume Room at the Missouri Historical Society, 1959.

In 1946 the Society passed an important milestone by hiring its first full-time Museum director. Under Charles van Ravenswaay, the Society’s collections expanded further. He also instituted the Education Department and expanded the institution’s publications realm. Van Ravenswaay was highly esteemed in the museum field and did much to boost the professional reputation of the Missouri History Museum. In 1962, van Ravenswaay moved on and was replaced by George R. Brooks, a former MHS curator. Brooks focused on improving conditions for the collections by completing much-needed renovations of the Jefferson Memorial Building. He had air conditioning installed in the library and archives to improve environmental needs, organized storerooms, and updated long-standing exhibits. 

A lot happened during this 50-year period. The Missouri Historical Society could have floundered or remained a small, dusty afterthought of the community, but under the guidance of these dedicated individuals and many others like them, the Missouri Historical Society matured and established a standard of pursuing museum best practices, which continues to this day. 

—Christopher Gordon, Director of Library and Collections

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