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A Pamphlet written and published ca.1926 by the Davenport Public Museum

  An Achievement of Iowa Clubwomen Fifty Years Ago
© 2001, Elaine Rathmann


        In the Women’s Pavilion of the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876 there was on display a copy of Volume I of the Proceedings of the Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences.

        It was a unique exhibit—creditable to a young growing city already showing interest in the intellectual and esthetic side of life—creditable to the scientific society not yet ten years old but maintaining a museum, conducting explorations, holding meetings and lectures and exerting a noteworthy educational influence—creditable as well to the women who appreciated what the society was trying to do and with enthusiasm, hard work and pluck aided it when aid was needed.

Here is the story of the Exhibit.

        The Davenport Academy, now the Davenport Public Museum, was organized in 1867 by a small group of scientific men. Its members in their collecting and exploring had accumulated material that was a “contribution to knowledge” and needed to be published. The women of Davenport, anxious to do something for the Philadelphia exposition had in 1875 organized the Women’s Centennial Association. They decided to concentrate their efforts on publishing the first volume of proceedings of the Academy. To raise this money they gave a “centennial tea party” in November 1875, raising $176.00. On February 22, 1876, they gave a “Martha Washington reception with tableaux”. That night after midnight Hills block, at the corner of Brady and Third streets in which the entertainment was held, burned to the ground in the most noteworthy fire in the history of the city. The women found themselves with losses of $1,500 of which $500 was generously remitted. They felt a moral responsibility to pay the balance, $1,000. In less that three weeks, with the help of the Bric-A-Brac Club, which had given a loan art exhibit to aid the printing of the proceedings, and other groups of men and women of Davenport, Rock Island, and Moline every dollar of the fire debt was paid.

        These plucky women did not stop. They kept on raising money, saw the volume of 300 pages and 30 plates through the press and in May took two incomplete copies to Philadelphia for the opening of the exposition, these being placed in the Women’s Pavilion and the Iowa Educational Department. As soon as could be they were replaced by completed bound copies.

        It is not possible to give the names of all the women who aided in this remarkable achievement. The printing committee consisted of Mrs. M A. McGonegal, Mrs. Thomas McCullough, Mrs S. B. R. Millar, Mrs. Charles E Putnam, and Mrs. M. A. Sanders.


        Still earlier than 1876 women had shown interest in the society by raising money to “furnish” the museum, the furnishing including matting and curtains.One of the women of 1876, Mrs. Putnam, continued raising money for the Academy and otherwise fostering an interest in the society as long as she lived and at her death created a trust fund for publication. Another woman, Mrs. Patience V. Newcomb, gave the lot on which the museum building stands. Mrs. C. C. Parry, widow of the botanist, and other women have made substantial bequests or gifts.

        Two women have been honored with the presidency of the Academy, Mrs. Mary L. D. Putnam (Mrs. Charles E. Putnam) and Dr. Jennie McGowan. Among other women who have taken an active part in the work of the museum are Miss Lucy Pratt, Miss Julia Sanders, Mrs. Ruth Irish Preston, now in charge of the museum’s historical library, and Miss S. G. F. Sheldon who for years has been voluntarily assisting the curator.


        Visitors to Davenport are cordially invited to visit the Davenport Public Museum, on Brady Street at Seventh, just across from the Masonic Temple. The collections include natural history, mound builder and Indian material, prehistoric archeology, and material to illustrate the culture and art of Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, Japan, Mexico, Peru and many other parts of the world. The museum looks forward with assurance to the day when it will have a large and suitable fire-proof building with adequate support to enable it to give the citizens of the community all the advantage of an active museum of art, history and science even greater than anticipated by those plucky enthusiasts of fifty and sixty years ago.

        The historical library is on the 8th floor of the Putnam Building, 215 Main Street.


Organized 1867, name changed from Davenport Academy of Sciences 1927
Dr. G. E. Decker,  President
F. H. French,  Vice-President
William  H. Kimball,  Secretary
Elizabeth D. Putnam,  Treasurer

E. P. Adler Edwin Lindsay
A. W. Elmer A. A. Miller
C. A. Ficke  Dr. R. E. Peck
Robert C. Ficke Edward K. Putnam
Charles Grilk Seth J. Temple
William Waterman  

Edward K. Putnam,  Acting Director
J. H. Paarmann,  Curator
Mrs. Ruth Irish Preston, in charge Historical Library

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