Date of Award

Summer 8-19-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

MA Museum Professions


Language/Literature /Culture


Martha Easton, Ph.D


P.T. Barnum, Reform, Dime Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History, New York Historical Society, philanthropy


New York City's most recognizable museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History came to prominence in the second half of the nineteenth century thanks to the support of wealthy benefactors. At the same time, social reformers, mostly Protestant and middle or upper-class, were combating the vice and poverty that they saw in the diversifying city with a moralizing rhetoric of character building. This paper will show that these two movements, the rise of Philanthropic Museums and the Social Reform movement were connected and that the large temple-like museums that thrive to this day were viewed as a way to improve the moral character of the poor by imposing the standards of the wealthy.