Hewitt Sisters Collect


Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt  were the granddaughters of industrialist and inventor Peter Cooper, founder of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. In 1897, the sisters established a museum within Cooper Union and curated its core collection. It was conceived as “a practical working laboratory” where students and designers could go to be inspired by actual objects in the four collecting categories then known as Drawings and Prints, Decorative Arts, Wallcoverings, and Textiles. These departments and the objects the Hewitt sisters collected both in the United States and throughout Europe became the basis for Cooper Hewitt’s permanent collection.

With an emphasis on participation, objects could be touched, moved, sketched, photographed, and measured and the museum was open to “anyone who wanted to use it as a place to work and learn.” In galleries that were formerly Mr. and Mrs. Carnegie’s bedrooms, the Hewitt sisters’ collecting philosophy are celebrated with objects they gave to the museum, or which were acquired under their guidance, ranging from prints, drawings, and textiles to furniture, metalwork, and birdcages.

Exhibition Brochure

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Learn more about the history of the Hewitt sisters.


From an extravagant design for a jeweled stomacher to a birdcage model of a church in Queens, New York explore all of the works featured in the Hewitt Sisters Collect exhibition online.

Meet the Hewitts

Interested in learning more about the Hewitt sisters?

Dive into the multi-part Meet the Hewitts series to explore the upbringing, education, adventures and legacy of the Hewitt family members.


Hewitt Sisters Collect is made possible by generous support from Nancy Marks.

Additional support is provided by Margery and Edgar Masinter and the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.