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.
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 and Margaret at Kennebunk Beach, 1899.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Produced by The Strong National Museum of Play. View the Margaret Woodbury Strong Archives Collection.