Belida Aiken Elson, 88, of Plymouth Meeting, a writer and volunteer who named the Please Touch Museum, died Monday of small cell carcinoma at home.
In the 1970s, Mrs. Elson met Portia Sperr, a Montessori educator who planned to establish a children's museum in Philadelphia. Mrs. Elson joined the founding board of the museum and proposed its name. She used the words please and touch, said her son, Wylie, because she wanted young visitors to respect the objects displayed and at the same time know they were accessible. The museum, for children 7 and younger, opened a gallery in the Academy of Natural Sciences in 1976 and is now located nearby in Center City. It will move to Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park in 2008.
Mrs. Elson was also involved with children's activities as a member of the board of Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library. She lobbied library officials to commission a Pueblo Indian Storyteller Doll for its collection in 1988, and often dressed as a clown character, Ready Reader, to present children's programs.
As volunteer publicity director for the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, she dressed as Bobo the Clown for children's clown contests there.
She was very creative, her son said, and as a young woman owned a business designing hats. In 1989, she won the prize for most original hat at the Easter Parade on Rittenhouse Square. Her flower-bedecked straw chapeau included two live chicks perched in ventilated egg-shaped containers.
Mrs. Elson was also a member of the Friends of Montgomery County Library District and, since 1983 directed its cultural outreach program, organizing trips to museums and theaters on the East Coast.
Mrs. Elson graduated from Philadelphia High School for Girls and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She married optometrist William Elson in 1946, and they then lived for two years in the Panama Canal Zone. While there, she wrote for a magazine published by Pan American Airlines and traveled all over South America on assignments. She continued to enjoy exotic travel, her son said, including an African safari with her husband in 1993.
After returning to Philadelphia, Mrs. Elson wrote free-lance articles for the Norristown Times Herald and wrote dozens of articles for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin's Sunday magazine, including feature stories about motorcycle riders, glider planes and belly dancers.
She is survived by her husband and son.
The funeral will be at 1 p.m. today at Joseph Levine & Sons, 7112 N. Broad St., Philadelphia. Burial will be in Montefiore Cemetery in Rockledge.