Garden Club of America Celebrates 100 Years

by Margaret Whitehead and Julie Morris

2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Garden Club of America.  In April 1913 Mrs. J. Willis Martin and Mrs. Bayard Henry invited the 12 founding garden clubs to form an organization (first called The Garden Guild) “to overcome their indifference and to put aside their fear that being organized would destroy their independence and kill the joy of living.” They came together from as far away as Illinois and Michigan to attend their first annual meeting on May 1st 1913 in Philadelphia where they adopted the following policy:  “The objects of this association shall be: to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs; to share the advantages of association through conference and correspondence, in this country and abroad; to aid in the protection of native plants and birds; and to encourage civic planting.”

Bessie McKee was an early member of the Garden Club of America, and attended its 10th Annual Meeting in Newport, Rhode Island in June 1923.  It was a 3-day conference held at the Casino on Bellevue Avenue, attended by more than 150 members.  On the first day, about 25 members from Bessie’s Chestnut Hill Garden Club stopped at Blithewold for lunch on their way to the Newport conference.  Estelle Clements wrote in her diary that day,

“About 25 members of the Chestnut Hill Garden Club came to luncheon and to see the gardens on their way to Newport to the 3 days meeting of the Garden Club of America.  We had a delicious luncheon and the place looked lovely.  It went off very well, and Marjorie was a great help. I went with [the] party through the Enclosed Garden, and the Rose Garden.” The conference comprised meetings, social activities, and garden visits.  Bessie thought the garden of Mrs. Emerson was by far the loveliest.


1923 Newport Meeting: Bessie center, with black band around her hat.

The Club later gained national attention for its support of the parks in Washington, DC, and for conservation of the Redwood forests.  In 1928 they established a permanent fellowship in landscape architecture with the American Academy in Rome, a partnership that continues today.  In 1994 they presented a valuable collection of thousands of historic glass slides of America’s early 20th century gardens to the Archives of American Gardens of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Following in her mother’s footsteps Marjorie, in turn, became a member of the Club and was honored with two prestigious awards:  The Horticultural Achievement Award in 1963, and the Horticultural Award honoring her achievements in propagating and preserving the Sequoia Redwood in 1976.

The Garden Club of America and its members have visited Blithewold throughout its history as both a private and public garden, and have contributed generously to its upkeep.

Blithewold salutes the Garden Club of America on its Centennial, and sends best wishes for its future.