Margaret Woodbury Strong and the Making of The Strong National Museum of Play

The Strong National Museum of Play

Margaret Woodbury Strong, a lifelong collector of everyday objects and playthings, laid the groundwork for what would become the world’s most comprehensive collection of historical materials related to play. Learn more about The Strong’s illustrious founder and just how this fascinating institution was formed.

Margaret Woodbury and Dolls, The Strong Family, 1902, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play
Growing Up
Born in Rochester, New York in 1897 as the only child of wealthy Victorians John Charles Woodbury and Alice Motley Woodbury, Margaret Woodbury grew up surrounded by luxury and adults, but rarely children her own age. Margaret turned to her dolls and miniatures to keep her company.
Alice Motley Woodbury and Daughter Margaret on Beach, The Strong Family, 1899, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play

Summers at Play

Although their primary home was in Rochester, the Woodburys resided seasonally on the east and west coasts. When Margaret was two years old, her mother purchased a cottage in Kennebunk, Maine. The family and relatives spent many summers at the cottage golfing, picnicking, and playing at the beach.

Alice Motley Woodbury and Daughter Margaret on Beach, The Strong Family, 1899, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play

Alice and Margaret at Kennebunk Beach, 1899.

Margaret's Doll Mabel with Early 20th Century Photographs, J.D. Kestner, 1902, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play

A Lifelong Play Pal

Margaret received her favorite doll, Mabel, at age five. The doll was a beloved companion, and the Woodburys even replaced its original wig with one made from Margaret’s own hair.

Margaret Woodbury and Father John Charles Woodbury in Japan, 1907, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play

Globetrotting

In 1907 and 1908, the Woodburys traveled to Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Yemen. At just nine years old, Margaret had already seen more of the world than most American adults would ever see in their lifetimes. Along the way she developed a fondness for collecting small objects.

Inside Front Cover of Scrapbook by Margaret Woodbury, 1915, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play

Collecting Experiences

In this 1915 scrapbook, Margaret documented her teenage leisure and play activities, which included music classes, golf lessons (under golf pro Walter Hagen), tennis matches, horseback riding, art lessons, trips to the theater, tea dances, dinners, day-long excursions, and world travel.

Margaret and Homer Strong, on their wedding day, The Strong, 1920, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play
The Strong Family
After a six-month engagement, Margaret Woodbury married Homer Strong at St. Ann’s Church in Kennebunkport, Maine in 1920. Homer, 22 years her senior, was a lawyer who dabbled in multiple businesses. Following the wedding ceremony, the Strongs set off on a week-long road trip from Maine back to Rochester.
Barbara Strong with Town Talk, 1935, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play

A Strong Daughter

Homer and Margaret welcomed their only child, Barbara, in 1921. Like Margaret had done as a child, Barbara studied under private tutors and pursued athletics—even becoming an accomplished equestrian. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in 1942, Barbara married twice. She passed away in 1946.

Allens Creek Road Mansion, The Strong Family, 1973, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play

Home at Last

In 1937, the Strongs moved to a mansion on Allens Creek Road in Pittsford, New York. The thirty-room Italianate manor, originally named Twin Beeches, was situated on 50 acres of land, perfect for gardening and landscape design.

Margaret Strong, Archer, The Strong Family, 1931, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play

Cultivating Interests

Both Homer and Margaret were fond of gardening. But while Homer gradually became a homebody who liked strolling around the grounds and tending to his gardens, Margaret continued playing golf, archery, and bowling; attending fundraisers and social clubs; and collecting dolls, dollhouses, and miniatures.

Tour ticket for Mrs. Homer Strong's World-Famous Collection of Doll Houses, The Strong, 1958, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play

Sharing a Collection

The Strongs often hosted social groups on tours of their mansion. After Homer died in September 1958, Margaret launched herself wholly into the pursuit of adding to her existing collections. This ticket from May 1958, documents the first public showing of Margaret’s collection of dollhouses.

Dollhouses at Margaret Strong's Mansion, The Strong, 1970, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play
Making a Museum
For nearly two decades, Margaret weighed the possibility of turning her collections into a museum. She gradually added on extra wings to the house to show off her growing collections of dolls, dollhouses, miniatures, toys, and other objects.
Provisional Charter for Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum of Fascination, New York State, 1968, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play

A Fascinating Plan

In 1968, Margaret applied for and received the provisional charter for the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum of Fascination. Margaret’s personal secretary, Anne Hotra, recalled that “‘Fun’ and ‘fascination’ were two of her favorite words. The collecting was fun, and the people she met were certainly fascinating.”

Main Doll Room at Margaret Strong's Mansion, The Strong, 1970, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play

A Museum is Born

At the time of Margaret’s death in 1969 she was reportedly the largest single shareholder of Kodak stock. In her will, she provided for the transfer of her collections and estate to the museum corporation and entrusted her executors to determine how best to use her collections for a “Museum of Fascination.”

Guests in Exhibit at Opening Day of Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum, Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum, 1982, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play

Not Ready to Play

Although playthings were the heart of her collections, the professionals who organized the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum chose a mission that seemed more serious to them: exploring the impact of industrialization on everyday life in the United States.

The Strong National Museum of Play, The Strong, 2017, From the collection of: The Strong National Museum of Play
Conclusion: The Strong National Museum of Play
In 2003, after an intensive period of research, planning, and expansion, the museum turned its mission to the study of play, one closer to Margaret’s original intent. As the caretaker of the world’s most comprehensive collection of playthings, the museum explores the cultural history of play and how it encourages learning, creativity, and discovery.
Credits: Story

Produced by The Strong National Museum of Play. View the Margaret Woodbury Strong Archives Collection.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
Google apps