Sarah & Eleanor Hewitt

Who were the museum's founders?

Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt were two sisters who established The Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration in 1897. Granddaughters of famed industrialist Peter Cooper, they used their considerable means and impressive intelligence to amass a collection comprised of centuries of furniture, textiles, drawings, wallcoverings, and more—the basis of the collection now housed at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Return to Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum history.

Meet the Hewitts

Side by side portraits of two women, one in an 18th-century French riding costume and one in a 15h-century German costume.

This blog series chronicles the lives and work of Sarah and Eleanor, including their collecting pursuits, family travels, recreational activities, and social circle. From treatises on design education to generous gifts of decorative arts from prominent society friends to playful shenanigans at Ringwood Manor (the Hewitt family’s country estate), explore the lives and times of Sarah and Eleanor.

Cooper Hewitt Short Stories

Detail of a painting of a blue sky obscured by orange and gray clouds.

Cooper Hewitt Short Stories is a blog series that highlights important acquisitions to the collection, as well as key figures that contributed these gifts and shaped the museum’s development. Building on the research and storytelling of Meet the Hewitts, Short Stories reveals the vibrant social circle that enriched Cooper Hewitt’s collection.

Sarah & Eleanor Hewitt: Designing a Modern Museum

A museum gallery with cases of objects and wall graphics of a family tree and a textile pattern.
February 4–October 10, 2022

Staged in 2022 in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the inauguration of the galleries at The Cooper Union Museum, the exhibition Sarah & Eleanor Hewitt takes a look at the lives and legacy of the sisters, presenting archival photographs and documents that have never before been on public display.

Sarah & Eleanor: The Hewitt Sisters, Founders of The Nation's Design Museum

Detail of a drawing of two decorative chairs with a small table between them.

Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt began planning for a museum of decorative arts in the early 1890s. This brochure chronicles their plans, travels, and ultimate founding of The Cooper Union Museum.

Sarah & Eleanor Hewitt - Select Bibliography

Detail of a book cover that reads in red lettering "Plan of the Proposed Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration" against a brown background.

Researchers have studied Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt. This bibliography highlights important documents and publications as well as notable archival holdings related to the women’s legacy.

The Hewitt Sisters | Short Stories

Side by side images of a 19th-century evening gown covered in flowers and a long goat with a pattern of flowers on a black background.
May 2021

Step into 1890s Manhattan and explore the stories of Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt, who founded Cooper Hewitt. Hear from curators and historians who have studied the legacy of the sisters—their lives, travels, and the making of a museum.