Museum creator honored at 95th anniversary celebration

When Baltimore Sun columnist HL Mencken described Arkansas as a backwater nearly a century ago, Bernie Babcock decided she had to do something.

In 1927, the suffragist, author and mother proved her “I’ll show her” determination by opening the Arkansas Museum of Natural History and Antiquities in a storefront near Second and Main streets.

Today, Babcock’s great-great-granddaughters help the Museum of Discovery – its name since 1998 – celebrate Babcock and the museum’s 95th anniversary. The theme for the March 31 Science After Dark event for adults is a birthday party with games like Pin the Tail on Mencken.

Meg Terry, 52, and Jenny Holmes, 46, heard family stories about Babcock from their father, Michael Holmes. Babcock had an apartment in the basement of the museum when it was located in MacArthur Park, and a young Michael often spent the night with her.

“She didn’t want people to think Arkansas was hillbilly and walking around barefoot,” Terry said. “She reached out to presidents and first ladies and people sent her articles from all over the world.”

Both sisters are teachers – Holmes teaches third grade at Forest Park Elementary and Terry teaches fifth grade at Jefferson Elementary. Before the pandemic, Terry would take his class on field trips to the museum. And when her children were younger, she took them to the museum.

“I have a photo of the two of them – Jackson and Mary Margaret – standing in front of a photo of Bernie Babcock before the museum was renovated,” Terry says.

Holmes recalls going to the Arkansas Museum of Natural History and Antiquities as a young girl “when it was really like a museum.”

In 1929, the museum moved to City Hall and operated there until 1935. In 1939, Babcock, with the help of the city, renovated the Dominion Armory Tower Building in MacArthur Park and reopened the museum there. in 1942, where he remained for 55 years.

The museum moved to the River Market in 1998, when it was renamed the Museum of Discovery. It was then renovated and reopened in 2012 with a new mission to focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

Holmes says she initially thought changing the name and purpose was “very rambling” and out of line with Babcock’s idea of ​​a museum. But a visit after the renovation changed her mind.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God. All that stuff. They really relate to Bernie’s vision and everything,'” she says. “It really lit a fire under me.”

Terry says Babcock’s legacy fills her with pride – pointing out that Babcock’s name is carved into the parapet of the Central Arkansas Library System for his work as an author.

“It makes me proud of our family for just having a rich sense of history to do something big for the community,” says Terry of the Babcock Museum.

Babcock’s first book, “The Republican’s Daughter”, was published in 1900 and sold 100,000 copies in six months. It was followed by “The Martyr”, also in 1900. These were “temperance novels” and described the suffering caused by the consumption of alcohol. “His emotionally charged books and tracts on the subject have been credited with contributing to the banning [18th] amendment in 1920,” according to the Arkansas Encyclopedia.

In addition to the birthday party, the Museum of Discovery plans to host Bernie Babcock’s inaugural brunch on June 11. The event will raise funds for the museum’s Girls in STEM program, which introduces young women to their potential in STEM education and careers.

“Very few nonprofit institutions that double as centers of education and tourist attractions have made it past 95,” Kelley Bass, executive director of the Museum of Discovery, said in a press release. “And we’ve overcome many challenges since our inception, most recently a 13-week Covid-19 shutdown in the spring of 2020, then 27 weeks in 2021 due to our devastating flood. But we’ve always bounced back.”

During the February 2021 cold snap, the building’s roof pipes burst, causing $7 million in damage, including the loss of several exhibits. In November, the museum will unveil a two-story, three-tower climbing structure, and in the summer of 2023 new exhibits will be added in two new galleries: Science Lab and Dynamic Earth. The museum also hopes to renovate the WoW Gallery and Room to Grow, its space for children 6 and under, if the money can be raised.

“Bernie Babcock, our founder, built this museum by investing her own money, time and energy, beginning in 1927 and continuing for more than 25 years…Now we are ready to position the Museum of Discovery for a future even brighter by transforming four of our five galleries, and we look forward to seeing how far these investments will propel us – and the experience they will help us deliver to our guests.

For more information on anniversary celebrations, visit museumofdiscovery.org.

Sisters Meg Terry and Jenny Holmes are the great-great-granddaughters of Bernie Babcock, who created what is now known as the Museum of Discovery. The museum is hosting a 95th anniversary party on March 31. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)

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