On Friday evening, February 2, 1939, the city of Florence got its first look at what would come to be the Florence Museum. The public library on the corner of Pine and Irby streets opened its downstairs doors to a crowd of people who had come to see the guest speakers, two archaeologists, both of them professors who were invited by the museum’s founder, Jane Beverly Evans.
Dr. Ralph Magoffin, one of the speakers, had been in negotiation with Miss Evans to donate a significant selection of antiquities collected during his career. Many of these artifacts arrived by train in time to be presented for the occasion. As he gave a slideshow of his work in the Mediterranean, where he excavated sites in Greece, Rome and the Near East, Dr. Magoffin spoke about the intractable vale that a museum would add to the growing city of Florence.
He recognized in Miss Evans the dedicated volunteerism and determination that was necessary to nurture a successful drive to create a competitive museum. Inspired by her “persistent effort”, Dr. Magoffin gave Florence the nucleus of a diversely representative, world-conscious, educational collection.
Augmented by later contributions of archaeological artifacts, the objects contributed by Dr. Magoffin included: Greek vases, Roman glass, Palestinian terracottas and effigies from the island of Crete, objects that told a story of religious worship, daily routine, decorative tastes, and the adolescence of modern civilization.
Today these artifacts occupy a place of special consideration to the Florence Museum, not only as representations of distant and static points in human history, but as part of a story which continues with each museum visitor, each member, every donor and every volunteer
Dr. Ralph Van Deman Magoffin (1874-1942) was professor of Classical History and instructor of Archaeology at Johns Hopkins, in charge of Classical Studies at the American Academy in Rome in 1920-21 and from 1923 to 1930 head of the Department of Classics at New York University. From 1908 to 1934 he wrote eight books on archaeology and history, including Magic Spades: The Romance of Archeology, which was widely used as a university textbook.