The Mint Museum’s history is women’s history 

By Ellen Show

 

A postcard of the founding women of The Mint Museum
L-R: Susie Van Landingham, Katherine Clark Pendleton Arrington, Mary Myers Dwelle, Sadie Burwell, October 1936, unknown photographer. Image courtesy of The Mint Museum Archives.

When the Mint Museum opened its doors on Oct. 22, 1936, it was thanks to the efforts of a passionate sisterhood devoted to bringing art to the Charlotte community. At the helm was the Mint’s fairy godmother Mary Myers Dwelle. Hailing from a family who made it their mission to advance culture in Charlotte, it was fitting that she was the driving force behind the creation of the first art museum in North Carolina. As Charlotte Woman’s Club art department chair, Dwelle organized art exhibitions and lectures that were eagerly attended. 

Recognizing the need to give the arts a permanent Charlotte home, sights were set on the historic-but-condemned U.S. Mint building on Tryon Street. The task of transforming the Mint into an art museum was daunting until a passionate speech for saving the U.S. Mint building was presented in February 1933 at a luncheon hosted by Dwelle. The speech inspired a spontaneous donation, and a significant sum was given toward the purchase of the building—that was already in demolition—for rebuilding on another site. The generosity was contagious. Within two days, the required funds were raised and paid to the demolition contractor.

A developer donated the Eastover neighborhood land on which Mint Museum Randolph sits today. Dwelle continued with her determination to establish the art museum. She tirelessly wrote letters to government aid agencies from Raleigh to Washington, D.C. lobbying for reconstruction funds. In her Mint Museum Association leadership roles, she coordinated the rebuilding process, built relationships with other arts organizations and garnered public support. She also courted art acquisitions, including the now iconic portrait of Queen Charlotte donated by Jane Hall Liddell Battle. The Mint Museum opened its doors three years later with an inaugural gala. Dwelle’s determined efforts made what seemed impossible, possible, and her devotion to the arts is the perfect way to celebrate Women’s History Month this March.  

 

This story first appeared in Spring 2020 issue of Inspired, the Mint Museum’s member magazine.