Hannah Toby Rose
Hannah Toby Rose began working at the Brooklyn Museum as a docent in 1931 and was promoted to supervisor of education in 1943, a post she held until her retirement in 1972. She used the Brooklyn Museum as a testing ground for new, interactive experiences and spread successful ideas to other museums through her role as president of the International Committee on Education in Museums from 1953 to 1962. She saw museums as a unique resource for education, research, and entertainment, encouraging interactive experiences. She loaned video and audio recordings to schools both before and after museum visits to enhance students’ understandings of field trips. Her success is evident in the fact that most museums now offer these services as a matter of course.
The Brooklyn Museum was one of the pioneers of a comprehensive relationship between museum and public, and Hannah Toby Rose was the chief architect of that alliance.
Born in New York City on April 12, 1909, Rose arrived at the Brooklyn Museum in February 1931 to work as a docent. By 1943, she was supervisor of education—a position she held through many administrative shifts until her retirement in 1972—and had already begun implementing the revolutionary changes that irrevocably altered the way that the public regards the museum experience.
Hannah Rose was able to disseminate her progressive programs as a member of many prominent national and international groups, including the International Committee on Education in Museums, of which she was president from 1953 to 1962. Rose’s words from her speech accepting the first annual Katherine Coffey Award accurately reflect her vision: “A museum is a very, very unique place. It is an educational institution, but it’s not a school. It’s a place of reference for children, and research for scholars, but it’s not a library.” Recognizing the need for a new strategy to incorporate the museum into a comprehensive public educational matrix, Rose conceived of novel and effective means of forging this coalition. Her perspicacity is confirmed by the fact that today such links between the museum and the public are taken for granted.
Rose’s innovations broke down boundaries, eliminating the invisible barrier between the museum’s collections and the outside world. She instituted programs to teach classes directly in the galleries—called the “Mobile Classroom”—in an attempt to recast the museum as a site of exploration, not merely of entertainment. Augmenting the experience beyond the galleries themselves was the policy of lending films, sound recordings, and slides to public schools for use in educating students about the museum, either before or after an actual visit to the museum. Rose also initiated a television series highlighting various strengths of the museum’s collections and organized music concerts relevant to specific exhibits, which were performed both at the museum and broadcast on New York public radio.
In a 1955 report, Rose summed up the goals of the museum’s education department, stressing the need to provide information that would enhance classroom studies, arouse appreciation for humankind’s relations through many eras and periods, and encourage the habit of visiting museums. She was acutely aware of the need to resist the concept of a museum as existing in a vacuum and believed that to assure an institution’s existence in perpetuity, one must appeal to the younger generations and instill in them a sense of the museum’s potential role in their lives.
Hannah Toby Rose died on December 14, 1976.
“The Brooklyn Museum Study Tours.” Brooklyn Museum Annual 9 (1967–1968): 28–29.
“Education Division.” Brooklyn Museum Bulletin 16, no. 4 (1955): 4–10, and Brooklyn Museum Bulletin 20, no. 1 (1959): 23–24, and Brooklyn Museum Bulletin 21, no. 1 (1960): 23–25.
“The First Families of North America,” with Michelle Murphy. Brooklyn Museum Quarterly 22, no. 4 (1935): 183–189.
Museums and Teachers (1956).
“Museum’s Role in Education.” Art Digest 29 (February 15, 1954): 24; Role of the Arts in Meeting the Social and Educational Needs of the Disadvantaged (1967).
Obituary. NYTimes, December 21, 1976, 36:1.