Born Grace Blaisdell (1899–1966) to a middle-class Indianapolis family, the future Children’s Museum director grew up in a household where education and culture were appreciated. Her father, who owned a grocery store, encouraged her to look closely at everything around her; her mother took her to concerts, lectures, and exhibitions.
At age 18 Grace got her first full-time job as the assistant secretary for the Indiana Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis, an organization where she had already been working part-time. Within two years she was promoted to the association’s education secretary. Around the same time she met Max Golden, a gregarious salesman of X-ray equipment. They married in 1921 and two years later celebrated the birth of their daughter Nanci.
After doing some public relations work and freelance newspaper writing, Golden went to work for The Children’s Museum in 1928, handling publicity and fundraising. Though troubles at home led to a divorce in 1933, Golden kept her focus. (She also kept her name; she never remarried and remained Grace Golden for the rest of her life.) Golden—who could be opinionated and outspoken as well as warm and generous—often clashed with the museum’s director Arthur B. Carr over how best to use objects in the collection.
Despite their sometimes-heated arguments, when it came time for Carr to retire he recommended Golden as his replacement. Assuming the directorship in 1942, she presided over the museum’s move to the St. Clair Parry house at 3000 N. Meridian Street in 1946 and the gradual expansion of that facility over the following 18 years.
In addition to raising the museum’s profile regionally and nationally during her tenure, Golden was one of six Americans appointed by the International Council of Museums to work with UNESCO on museum problems around the world. She was an in-demand speaker at professional conferences and meetings, the author of two nationally acclaimed children’s books, and a well-known champion of museums as educational resources.
“The Children’s Museum is not a settlement house, a play center, or a zoo,” she said in one of her speeches. “It is a museum and its primary function is the meaningful display of objects.”
Following her retirement from the museum in 1964, Golden turned her attention to new book projects. But they remained incomplete; she died just 17 months later. The museum took care of her funeral and the board established a Grace Golden memorial fund to provide educational grants to young people pursuing museum-related studies.