After remaining closed to the public for months due to the pandemic, the West End Museum reopened on Friday, April 16, with a new collaborative exhibit that spotlights a trailblazing 20th-century social worker.
“About a half-dozen people showed up, which was pretty good considering the snow, so I was happy,” said Museum Director Sebastian Belfanti. “While we’ve connected virtually with our members and followers throughout our closure, there is no substitute for the in-person experience at the Museum—even if we need to still wear masks.”
The new exhibit, “Learned From Our Neighbors: Stories from the Elizabeth Peabody House,” is the product of a partnership between the West End Museum, Simmons University and Boston City Archives. It was created by a team of students who worked with Simmons Professor Laura Prieto and University Archivist Jason Wood using the papers of pioneering social worker and Simmons University alumna, Eva Whiting White, who ran the Peabody House from 1909 to 1944. The Peabody House opened in 1896 and was one of Boston’s first settlement houses for the city’s poor and immigrant population, offering early childhood education, social services and clubs, among other activities and programming.
“Through Eva White’s eyes, the students saw what a vibrant neighborhood the West End was,” Prieto said in a press release. “We were drawn to the stories of the West Enders who used the many programs at the Peabody House—girls doing science projects, boys writing poems, mothers going to the Milk Station, and everybody getting involved in the big theater productions.”
The students did additional research at the Boston City Archives for the exhibit, which was supported by a grant from the Council of Independent Colleges.
When asked what part of the exhibit he finds particularly interesting, Belfanti was quick to reply “Chemical Man” in reference to a working digestive system children from the Peabody House made from plastic and bottles and brought with them to the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
“It’s also cool to have a student exhibit,” Belfanti added, “because it’s a little different than what we usually do.’
The West End Museum’s new hours are Tuesdays and Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. To learn more about the Museum and the West End, visit www.thewestendmuseum.org.