John Wister lantern slide collection
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
John Casper Wister (1887-1982) devoted his life’s work to horticulture. He was a noted author, editor, speaker, organizer, hybridizer, designer, planter and all around flower lover. Wister was closely affiliated with numerous horticultural organizations including the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the American Rose Society, the John Bartram Association, the American Daffodil Society and the American Iris Society. He also served as director of Swarthmore College’s Arthur Hoytt Scott Horticultural Foundation and the Tyler Arboretum in Media, Pennsylvania.
John Casper Wister was born in 1887. He was raised in Germantown, Philadelphia, on his family’s farm (now a public park called Wister Woods Park), where he first learned about growing plants. He studied at Harvard University, graduating in 1909. After graduation, he enrolled in Harvard’s School of Landscape Architecture and, after that, studied at the New Jersey Agricultural College. Wister also served in World War I in France.
In 1929, Wister became director of the Arthur Hoyt Horticultural Foundation at Swarthmore College. There, “…he transformed the campus into something of a botanical wonderland” ( Philadelphia Inquirer, December 29, 1982). Of note, were the rhododendron hybrids that he developed, which he named “Swarthmore Hybrids.” Wister’s private garden at Swarthmore was also open to the public. In 1942, Swarthmore honored Wister with an honorary doctorate for his work on the campus.
Among many other administrative appointments, he served from 1930 to 1957 as vice-president and then president of the John Bartram Association. He also helped found the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboretum in 1940. He went on to serve as president of that organization from 1954 to 1955 and on the board of directors. He was a member of the American Rhododendron Society, contributed to the American Rhododendron Society Quarterly and in 1961, spoke at the first International Rhododendron Conference. In 1946, Wister also became director of the John J. Tyler Arboretum (Media, Pennsylvania).
Wister wrote or edited dozens of books on horticulture including, The Iris; Four Seasons in Your Garden; Lilac Culture; Bulbs For American Gardens; Plants and Gardens, which was published by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden; Lilacs for America; The Peonies; and The Woman’s Home Companion Garden Book. He also wrote countless articles and gave innumerable lectures around the country. As a result of all this work, he was honored by many horticultural groups, including the New York Botanical Garden, the Horticultural Society of New York, the Royal Horticultural Society of Great Britain, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and the Garden Club of America.
John Casper Wister married Gertrude McMasters Smith, a noted horticulturist in her own right, in 1960. She worked with Wister as assistant director of the Scott Foundation and Tyler Arboretum. In 1982, she received the gold medal from the American Rhododendron Society, making them the first husband and wife to receive a gold medal from [any] plant society based on their own merits.
John Casper Wister died in 1982. In his obituary, the Philadelphia Inquirer aptly described him as “the dean of American horticulturists.”
Van Atta, Burr, “John Casper Wister, known as the dean of horticulture in U.S,” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 29, 1982.
Skidmore, Arden, “Dr. John C. Wister Decides to Retire at 81,” Delaware County Daily Times, March 29, 1968.
“He’s all thumbs – green ones,” The Bulletin, August 3, 1980, 5.
This collection consists of 220 lantern slides dating from 1930 to 1940. The first series consists of 109 slides of different gardeners from the Philadelphia area. The second series consists of 111 slides and depicts different flowers and gardens from around Philadelphia, the surrounding areas, and Europe. This is a very rich collection that researchers interested in Philadelphia gardens or 1930s gardens and horticulture would wish to consult. It is a visually compelling collection, useful for exhibits, publications and online productions.
The creation of the electronic guide for 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.
Finding aid entered into the Archivists' Toolkit by Garrett Boos.
- Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
- Finding Aid Date
- The creation of the electronic guide for 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. Finding aid entered into the Archivists' Toolkit by Garrett Boos.
- 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.