Exhibit explores lives of children at 19th century Fort Nisqually


Visitors to Fort Nisqually Living History Museum now through mid-September will not only get to experience hands-on activities of a fur trade and agricultural center of the 19th century, they’ll also get a unique view into the lives of the children who lived there. 

The current, temporary exhibit, “A Child’s Eye View of Fort Nisqually,” features a wide selection of artifacts, from the museum’s permanent collection, that show how children learned, explored, and fit into the world of adults in the 19th century. Of special note is a beautifully beaded Native American child’s jacket, on display for the first time in three years. Other unique artifacts include a transferware-style child’s tea set, a highchair, and Janet Young’s school book. Janet, the daughter of a Fort employee, was born in the Granary, one of the two original buildings at the museum.

“It’s easy to overlook the presence of children at a site like Fort Nisqually because the business records usually don’t mention them,” said Curator Claire Keller-Scholz. “Thankfully, our permanent collection has a nice selection of items that represent the material culture of children here, and the exhibit was able to grow from that.”

 Because the exhibit is focused on the youngest members of the historical Fort Nisqually community, the interpretive panels feature discussion questions and kid-oriented graphics to appeal to families. The exhibit introduces visitors to the son of Fort manager Dr. Tolmie and provides a glimpse of Fort life through the eyes of young Alec.

The exhibit also includes hands-on features so young visitors can learn about 19th-century children’s chores as well as amusements. A highlight is a miniature theater modeled after a “juvenile drama” set from the 1850s. Families could purchase sets of printed pages, then color and paste them to cardstock or heavy paper. They would then build a miniature theater where children could act out popular London shows with their paper actors. 

“To me, childhood is about seeing with the eyes of imagination,” said Keller-Scholz, “This exhibit gives us a chance to explore just how similar the kids of today and those of the past really are, even with different levels of technology and education.”

Nisqually Living History Museum provides opportunities for visitors of all ages to imagine themselves in a different time and place, and try their hands at activities of everyday life more than 150 years ago. This new temporary exhibit offers an opportunity to go even deeper into the past and imagine ourselves as children of the mid-1800s.

Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, operated by Metro Parks Tacoma, is a restoration of the Hudson’s Bay Company outpost and headquarters of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company. Visitors travel back in time and experience life in Washington Territory during the 1850s. Nine buildings are open to the public, including the Granary and the Factors House, both National Historic Landmarks, and a Visitor Center with Museum Store.

“A Child’s Eye View of Fort Nisqually” runs through Sept. 16. For information, visit metroparkstacoma.org/fort-nisqually-living-history-museum.

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