This is a two-part series on the Hewitt sisters. Read part one.
By 1897, Sarah and Eleanor had collected enough to formally open their museum on the fourth floor of the Cooper Union. In the tradition of their grandfather, the Hewitt sisters wanted to actualize a museum and library that were not just a showcase, but also tools—places that students and designers could come to for reference and inspiration, then go out and create their own innovative objects. In the birth of the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration, the sisters embodied the increasingly democratic attitudes that grew to dominate the 20th century. Their museum was to be open to everyone, with “no tedious restrictions and formalities,” which were often imposed by the exclusive art galleries of the era. Indeed, their museum provided a means for many women to gain economic independence through art and design.