Founded in 1773, the Charleston Museum is the oldest municipal museum in the United States. It originated as an auxiliary of the Charleston Library Society dedicated to the collection, preservation, and study of “materials promoting a Natural History” of South Carolina.

Founded in 1773, the Charleston Museum is the oldest municipal museum in the United States. It originated as an auxiliary of the Charleston Library Society dedicated to the collection, preservation, and study of “materials promoting a Natural History” of South Carolina. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Thomas Heyward, Jr., were early curators. Botanical and zoological specimens and cultural artifacts have comprised the majority of the museum’s collections since its founding. The collections moved often during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and were housed in private homes and public buildings. From 1792 until 1815 the museum occupied the upper floor of the Charleston County Courthouse at Meeting and Broad Streets. In 1815 the collections were transferred to the Literary and Philosophical Society of South Carolina. The society obtained a state appropriation of $10,000 and funds from the city of Charleston to expand. Later in the century the museum was in the Medical College of South Carolina on Queen Street. In 1850 the Literary and Philosophical Society transferred the collections to the College of Charleston. The museum secured its first independent home and autonomy in 1907 when it moved to the Thompson Auditorium at the corner of Rutledge Avenue and Calhoun Street. The institution adopted the name Charleston Museum and became an independent municipal institution.

Innovative directors, including Laura Bragg, the first female museum director in the United States, expanded the size and variety of the museum collections, published scientific and archaeological studies, and inaugurated ambitious public education programs. In 1980 the museum moved to a new building at 360 Meeting Street. For the first time since its founding, the museum had a home for its collections, research facilities, and archives in a building designed to be a museum. The Charleston Museum sponsors publications and cultural events in addition to chronicling the natural and cultural history of South Carolina.

Allen, Louise Anderson. A Bluestocking in Charleston: The Life and Career of Laura Bragg. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

Borowsky, Caroline M. “The Charleston Museum.” Museum News 41 (1963): 11–21.

Sanders, Albert E., and William D. Anderson, Jr. Natural History Investigations in South Carolina from Colonial Times to the Present. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Charleston Museum
  • Author Alexander Moore
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/charleston-museum/
  • Access Date June 2, 2020
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date April 15, 2016
  • Date of Last Update August 1, 2016