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Pennsylvania Horticultural Society minute books


Held at: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society [Contact Us]McLean Library, 100 N. 20th Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19103

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) was founded on November 24, 1827 by fifty-three prominent Philadelphians; among them, Horace Binney, David Landreth Jr., William Davidson, George Pepper, Nicolas Biddle and Moses Brown. Emulating similar societies existing in England at the time, the men formed their Society to promote “a highly instructive and interesting science for the purpose of improving the growth of vegetables, plants, trees, fruits and flowers.” Since that time, the Society and its membership has fostered “…an appreciation of plants, acquiring scientific knowledge about them, disseminating horticultural information, and involving the public in gardening and beautifying the City of Philadelphia” (Ball, A Celebrated History…, p. 9). In fact, more recently, the Society has worked specifically to beautify the city and help realize William Penn’s founding vision for Philadelphia to be a “greene countrie towne.”

In the beginning, PHS membership (which did not include women until 1835) actively participated in the effort to promote horticulture in a few ways. At meetings, they displayed new technologies, exchanged seeds, propagated new plants, corresponded with European horticultural groups, and hosted wine tastings. In November 1828, PHS held its first flower show. The following year, at the Masonic Hall, it hosted the first ever public flower show in America at which the poinsettia was introduced in the United States. In 1836, PHS introduced sugar beet seeds to the United States. The Society hosted annual Harvest Shows beginning in 1832 and intermittent Spring Shows until 1871, at which point they were made an annual part of PHS programming.

Throughout its history, membership and membership dues played a vital role in the Society’s finances and activities. Overall, PHS witnessed a steady increase in membership over time (from fifty-three members at its founding to 17,000 members in 2010); however, there were periods of significant decline, especially during wartime that severely weakened the Society’s finances. It was during these periods that the Society found new ways to expand its programming, ultimately growing its membership. For example, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society established, around the time of the Civil War, a Woman’s Committee to campaign for new members. Shortly thereafter, PHS instituted a formal lecture series. In the late 1910s and 1920s, Society President James Boyd reached out to amateur gardeners and created an alliance with the Flower Show of the Main Line. A library and reading room was also established. The Philadelphia Horticultural Society officially established the Philadelphia Flower Show together with the Florists’ Club in 1923. Since its establishment, the annual Philadelphia Flower Show has grown to be the largest indoor flower show in the world. Other activities established in the 1920s included competitive flower shows, trips and member garden tours. Membership benefits at that time also included a subscription to the magazine Horticulture.

The mid to late twentieth century was equally as productive. True to its mission to preserve Philadelphia as a “greene countrie towne,” PHS activities focused on planting gardens throughout the city and involving the community at large. In 1953, PHS planted the azalea garden in Fairmount Park and presented it to the city. In 1974, PHS established the “Community Vegetable Garden Program,” encouraging people to make productive use of vacant lots in their neighborhoods. This program eventually evolved into the nationally regarded “Philadelphia Green,” which focused more generally on neighborhood beautification, including vacant lot clean up, planting vegetable and flower gardens, and sidewalk trees, as well as the provision of items such as public garbage receptacles.

PHS has benefitted from at least five strong and productive leaders. The first, William Shaffer, was president from 1867 to 1884 and brought the Society back from near financial ruin due to a drop in membership, among other things. He gave generously, restored the annual Spring and Harvest Shows, formed the Women’s Committee, and revived a program of monthly exhibits. James Boyd was president from 1919 to 1929, and established the Philadelphia Flower Show, re-wrote the Society’s by-laws to change PHS from a professional to an amateur organization, and restructured the budget to generate more income. Frederick C. Stout, who from 1929 to 1950 led the Society with the help of Secretary John C. Wister, built up membership, organized the program “Garden Days,” involved PHS in the newly formed Pennsylvania Federation of Garden Clubs, and increased annual income to $36,000. Ernesta Ballard, who started her work for the Society as a volunteer, became the first paid president of PHS in 1973. She instituted the Philadelphia Flower Show Preview Dinner, which benefitted the Community Vegetable Garden Program. Jane Pepper assumed presidency in 1981. During her tenure, the Philadelphia Flower Show was made the largest indoor flower show in the world, the library’s holdings grew, and by 1993, the “Greene Countrie Towne” initiative was underway.

The Horticultural Society has occupied several homes since its 1827 founding. It held its first meetings at the Franklin Institute, the American Philosophical Society, the Athenaeum and a few other locations throughout the city. In 1867, it built Horticultural Hall at Broad and Lardner Streets. In 1917, due to poor finances, PHS sold the building and moved to an office in the Finance Building on South Penn Square. From 1923 to 1946, PHS was housed in offices in the new Insurance Company of North America Building at 1600 Arch Street. From 1946 to 1964, it occupied office space above Suburban Station. In 1964, PHS joined with the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture in order to move into a historical row house in the Society Hill neighborhood, which was being included in the Independence National Historical Park. As of 2010, PHS resides at 100 N. 20th Street.


Ball, Liz. “A Celebrated History: 175 Years of Philadelphia Horticultural Society.” Green Scene, December 2002, pp. 8-14.

Ball, Liz. “Growing Bigger and Better by Year.” Pennsylvania Heritage, Spring 2001.

Peeples, Edwin A. “Summary for a Sesqui.” Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Philadelphia: 1977.

This is a collection of minutes of the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The collection contains twenty-seven volumes of recorded meeting minutes that date from 1827 to 2001. The minutes document the business activities and projects undertaken by the Society. The volumes include reports from standing and special committees, department and project reports, and lists of monetary prizes called premiums and awards. In addition to reports from committees, the minute books contain some announcements of events, correspondence, and a list of awards.

The original numbering for the minute books has been maintained in the volume titles. The volume originally labeled volume two presumably spanning the years 1837 to 1842 is missing from the records. Additionally, volume twenty is presented in its full form but there is also an untitled, partial duplicate of this volume. Earlier volumes of minutes taken at meetings held at the American Philosophical Society and the Franklin Institute contain information that is more explicitly scientific than later volumes. Discussions focus mainly on the scientific study of plant life including areas such as cultivating and sharing new specimens. Committees from this early period of the Society included Plants and Flowers, New Plants, Fruits, and Vegetables. Minutes from later volumes focus more on advocacy and community outreach within the greater Philadelphia area, as well as general business matters, fundraising, events planning and membership development. Committees from later years include Finance, Library Building, and Flower Show (as well committees for other events). The minute books discuss numerous events in the history of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, including the takeover of the Philadelphia Flower Show from Flower Show, Inc. and the acquisition of a new headquarters. Other topics of interest include the mission of the McLean Library, the Preview Dinner set up, and Flower Show reports and attendance.

The minutes in this collection would be especially useful for studies of horticultural societies, local history and environmental and social issues.

The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.

This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.

Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Megan Atkinson and Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe
Finding Aid Date
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.

Collection Inventory

Minute book (volume 1), 1827 November-1837 August .
Volume 1
Minute book (volume 3), 1842 March-1844 November .
Volume 2
Minute book (volume 4), 1844 December-1848 July.
Volume 3
Minute book (volume 5), 1848 August-1850 December.
Volume 4
Minute book (volume 6), 1851 January-1853 September.
Volume 5
Minute book (volume 7), 1853 October-1856 May.
Volume 6
Minute book (volume 8), 1856 June-1859 December.
Volume 7
Minute book (volume 9), 1860 January-1863 March.
Volume 8
Minute book (volume 10), 1863 April-1865 October.
Volume 9
Minute book (volume 11), 1865 November-1868 September.
Volume 10
Minute book (volume 12), 1868 September-1871 September.
Volume 11
Minute book (volume 13), 1871 October-1877 May.
Volume 12
Minute book (volume 14), 1877 June-1885 August.
Volume 13
Minute book (volume 15), 1885 September-1889 December.
Volume 14
Minute book (volume 16), 1890 January-1896 June.
Volume 15
Minute book (volume 17), 1896 September-1908 October.
Volume 16
Minute book (volume 18), 1908 November-1927 October.
Volume 17
Minute book (volume 19), 1927 November-1935 December.
Volume 18
Minute book (volume 20), 1936 January-1946 December.
Volume 19
Minute book (untitled partial duplicate of volume 20), 1942 January-1945 November.
Volume 20
Minute book (volume 21), 1947 January-1956 December.
Volume 21
Minute book (volume 22), 1957 January-1965 December.
Volume 22
Minute book (volume 23), 1966 January-1973 January.
Volume 23
Minute book (volume 24), 1973 January-1983 May.
Volume 24
Minute book (volume 25), 1983 June-1987 November.
Volume 25
Minute book (volume 26), 1987 September-1994 December.
Volume 26
Minute book (volume 27), 1995 January-1999 November.
Volume 27
Minute book (volume 28), 2000 January-2001 April.
Volume 28

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