The archives of ICOM are a treasure still largely unexplored. In our recent research, we found one of the most precious objects of ICOM’s history: the oldest photograph of our archives.
When picturing international meetings around the time of ICOM’s birth in 1946, one inevitably thinks of men in suits with stoic expressions and perhaps one or two women in the backlines. To our surprise, the oldest picture of ICOM’s archives depicts the contrary – a group of women posing together in a relaxed setting, with an almost palpable sense of camaraderie. A simple caption describes the photo: “The Children’s Museum Committee. Paris, 28 June – 3 July, 1948”.
On June 28, 1948, 310 museum professionals from 28 countries gathered at the UNESCO House in Paris for the first ICOM General Conference: 44 speakers presented their most recent outcomes from the different fields of museum studies, focusing on post-war reconstruction efforts and the reaffirmed educational duties of museums. One of those speakers was Margaret M. Brayton, Chair of the Children’s Museum Committee. Few months before the conference, she had coordinated a meeting in New York City with its members, most of them women, to discuss its values and objectives. The outcomes of that meeting were later presented by Brayton in Paris during the first ICOM General Conference, where the photograph was taken. Fascinated by this unusual image, we decided to dig deeper into the story behind it.
ICOM was founded in 1946, after the two World Wars. It was a time in which calls for pacifism and unity gave birth to many international organisations with the aim of sending a message: “never again”. The conflict was over but division had been planted in the minds of people – reconciliation was still a long way ahead. Back then, the few original members of our organisation were convinced that, if the culture of every nation was more widely known, there would be a broader ground for mutual understanding. Brayton, curator at the Children’s Museum of Detroit, was an ardent believer in the need to educate the younger generations for lasting peace, and the key role of museums in doing so.
After doing some research, we found the inspiring speech that Brayton delivered during the first ICOM General Conference – a plead for all museums to recognise their power to shape a new generation: “Children are the true internationalists. Left to themselves they recognize no barriers of race or creed but they grow up fast and time is short.”
Brayton was an ardent believer in the need to educate the younger generations for lasting peace, and the key role of museums in doing so.
To her, the idea of including educational activities for children within all museums was critical to bridge the divides after the war. She considered that “all children need to learn certain basic principles governing human existence […] such principles as survival, nutrition, defence, power, cooperation, freedom, and peace. Museums have the resources to dramatize these principles in materials which children understand and enjoy.” Nonetheless, she also recognised that it was up to the adults to set example for the next generation. “All of us can influence opinion of the young people we know: we can examine our own information and prejudices about the world situation; we can see that no young person has bias because of us; we can cultivate our global point of view by doing something to increase our own appreciation of other cultures”.
“Children are the true internationalists. Left to themselves they recognize no barriers of race or creed but they grow up fast and time is short.”
The Resolutions presented by the Children’s Museum Committee in Paris were well received by the members. Encouraged by the result, Brayton declared that “the fact that these museum leaders recognize the increasing contributions which museums can make in developing the world citizens of the next generation […] gives the delegates from the Children’s Section renewed vigor to undertake more responsibilities and to do credit to whatever they undertake for the coming goal of peace among nations.”
HELP US BRING LIGHT TO #WOMENINMUSEUMS
Margaret M. Brayton and the women of the Children’s Museum Committee were pioneers – yet like countless others, their stories and work were forgotten or ignored. It is our collective responsibility to shed light to them. This International Women’s Day we are celebrating #WomenInMuseums by sharing the accomplishments of remarkable women of history. Take part in the celebration by sharing their stories on social media and using the hashtag #WomenInMuseums!
Do you have more information on Margaret M. Brayton and the other members of the Children’s Museum Committee? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.