Missouri Historical Society: The Last 50 Years

10, 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 and the second installment here.

Photo of workers painting the sin on the Jefferson Memorial BuildingMen painting the engraved sign of the Jefferson Memorial Building, 1980-1989. Missouri Historical Society collections.

The modern institution that we recognize today as the Missouri History Museum really began to materialize in the 1970s. During this period, the museum field in general was working to standardize best practices for collections care, and the 1976 American Bicentennial prompted a renewed effort to protect and preserve American history. The Missouri Historical Society had long established itself as a repository for some of the most important collections on the history of the American West, but building constraints and limited financial resources allowed for neither the expansion of exhibits nor room for overall growth.

Progress came to the institution in two forms in the 1980s. First came a successful campaign to construct a new gallery space beyond the confines of the Jefferson Memorial Building. Under Harold M. Stuhl, then president of the Board of Trustees, the Isaac H. Lionberger Courtyard Gallery was completed in 1984. The second breakthrough was the passage of Proposition H in 1987, which brought the Missouri Historical Society into the Zoo-Museum District. This publically supported boost allowed the Society to continue and expand its mission to explore St. Louis history like never before.

Inside the Margaret Blanke Grigg Reading Room at the Museum's Library and Research CenterInside the Margaret Blanke Grigg Reading Room at the Museum's Library and Research Center.

In 1991, under the direction of Dr. Robert Archibald, the Society celebrated the opening of the Library and Research Center in the former United Hebrew Congregation Temple on Skinker Boulevard. This facility was a new milestone for the Society and provided for a whole new level of collections care. Nearly ten years later, the Emerson Center provided a much-needed expansion of the Jefferson Memorial Building and replaced the Lionberger Gallery. The final product of all this development was a modern, nationally recognized museum and research institution that continues to preserve our region’s history after 150 years while using its collections and resources to educate and fascinate the visiting public.

—Christopher Gordon, Director of Library and Collections

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