Famous Rochesterian Was A Member of the Rochester Button Society
By Linda Hickey, Rochester Button Society
Did you know that Margaret Woodbury Strong was a member of the Rochester (NY) Button Society?
Margaret Woodbury Strong, the only child of the wealthy, philanthropic Woodbury family joined the RBS in 1958 and was a member until her death in 1969. Margaret, whose only child passed away as a young adult had established a private museum to house her many extensive collections and she endowed the museum (now known as the Strong Museum) with her large fortune.
Born in 1897, Margaret started her collecting with a silver spoon that was a baptism gift. Her father collected stamps and coins and documented his life, extensive travels and times with many scrapbooks. Her mother collected 19th century Japanese objects d’art and her aunt collected bookplates. By age 11 Margaret had spent 6 month traveling in Japan, had also done an extensive European tour and spent another 6 months on a tour of Hawaii, Shanghai, Ceylon, Egypt and the French Riviera. Along the way she used her spending money to purchase small souvenir items. She preferred small items because she could get more items for her money and they took up less space in her suitcases than larger items. This interest in miniature and small items continued throughout the remainder of her life.
In 1920, at the age of 23, she married 45-year-old Homer Strong who happened to collect stamps and Sandwich glass. Her well-to-do parents gifted him with a significant amount of money upon the marriage so that it wouldn’t be said that they had to live off her money. In 1937 they purchased the 51 acre Tuckaway Farm and its 20,000 sq ft Italianate stucco mansion on Allen’s Creek Rd adjacent to Oak Hills Country Club. Since Margaret was an avid golfer who had won many national tournaments living close to a country club was important. The large secluded house had 30 rooms, 15 bedrooms, an indoor pool and an elevator. Though Margaret always collected items, it wasn’t until after the deaths of her daughter (at age 24) and of Homer in 1958 that Margaret truly devoted her life to her collections and her private “Museum of Fascination.” It has been said that she had the three qualities of a world class collector; 1) passion, 2) money, and 3) a place to store the collections.
Margaret was known for several quirks such as never wearing a girdle but always wearing a hat and only paying bills on January 1 each year. She wanted to earn as much interest money as possible each year and refused to deal with any shop owner or business that wouldn’t let her pay just once a year. One of the oddest set of items in her collections was the 50 bath tubs she purchased from an old hotel in Maine. She had the gardener line the tubs up along the driveway to her Maine summer home and used them as flower planters. She also got various artists to decorate the outside of the tubs so each one was unique.
At the time of her death her estate listed the following significant collections:
- 400 Japanese writing sets, medieval canes and sword guards
- 86,000 bookplates
- 27,000 dolls
- 600 doll houses
- 10,000 rare books
- 20,000 library books
- 12,000 prints, photos and etchings
- 1000 paintings
Since her interests were mainly in miniatures or small scale, highly decorative mass-produced Victorian and Edwardian items it makes sense that she was interested in buttons. Unfortunately for the button collecting world, Strong Museum decided that buttons were not where they wanted to put the museum’s focus so the majority of Margaret’s button collection was sold at auction.
On June 8, 1968 Margaret hosted the Rochester, Buffalo and Genesee Buttons Clubs at her home for a gala lunch (catered by Oak Hills) and tour of her museum to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Rochester Button Society. Sadly Margaret passed away just over a year later on July 16, 1969.
Below is a card of some Margaret Woodbury Strong’s Buttons that are part of Norma Brown’s collection today. Thanks Norma for sharing!
Information gathered from Strong Museum website, Crooked Lake Review website by local historian Donovan A. Shilling and RBS historical files.