Historical Markers
Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women Historical Marker
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Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
580 Meetinghouse Road, Ambler

Dedication Date:
September 20, 2002

Behind the Marker

"Our vision was of a place where earnest-minded women could live and dream, where they should not be expected to do household work but should give their whole time to learning under competent teachers to become competent workers."

                                                                 -Jane Bowne Haines, 1910.

It didn't seem like much. Five students crammed into a classroom the size of a large closet. Unable to fit in the room, the teacher stood in the doorway to address the eager group of young scholars. The first class of the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women did not get off to an auspicious start. But this institution was one of the first horticultural schools in the nation to be established, funded, and run by women. It was also one of the first to provide women the practical education they needed to pursue careers in horticulture and landscape architecture. After its modest beginning, the school flourished and helped generations of women establish themselves in a growing professional field.

Female students sitting on the steps and slope of bank in front of the school.
Jane Browne Haines' all–female school.
Philadelphia had long been a center of horticulture in the nation and the city was home to many renowned botanical and formal gardens. The gardens of markerJohn Bartram, William Hamilton's markerWoodlands, and other estates were among the finest and most varied in America. Interest in gardening and fruit growing in the state led to the creation of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in 1829, today's the nation's oldest.

Books on housekeeping from the mid-nineteenth century, like Catherine Beecher's The American Woman's Home, encouraged women to landscape their homes and to keep flower gardens and kitchen gardens. Gardening was practiced by women of all classes, and in the early 1900s became a steppingstone for women to participate in professional landscape architecture.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century witnessed a rebirth of the American women's struggle for civil rights. Suffragists pushed the federal government for the right to vote. Women's rights pioneers demanded greater economic equality. More and more women became interested in turning their interest in gardening into a profession.

When women interested in careers in horticulture experienced difficulties in getting the education and training they needed, concerned groups of women established their own schools. A few had the necessary connections and drive to study and work in the offices of male architects. But even these few, highly trained women endured discrimination and severely limited opportunities. In 1901, Mrs. Edward Gilchrist Low started the Lowthorpe School in Groton, Massachusetts, the nation's first landscape architecture school established for women. In 1911, Philadelphian Jane Bowne Haines opened the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women.
Image of women carrying farming tools.
Students from the Horticultural School

Jane Bowne Haines was born into an old Philadelphia Quaker family whose interest in horticulture dated to her ancestor markerCaspar Wistar, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and amateur botanist. Haines grew up on her parent's 100-acre estate in Cheltenham, just outside of Philadelphia, where her father had established a fruit and shade-tree nursery. As a child, she also spent time at Wyck, the Germantown home that had been in the family since the early 1700s. There she learned the fundamentals of horticulture in the formal garden first created by Caspar Wistar Haines in 1790. When Jane Haines was a girl, the Wyck garden, much changed over the generations, was a fragrant, luxuriant spectacle filled with flowering trees, beautiful roses, grape arbors, fruit orchards, and ornamental shrubs. This garden was her delight and inspiration.

Educated at Bryn Mawr and the Library School in Albany New York, Haines worked at the Library of Congress before returning home to help run the family nursery. There she immersed herself in horticulture, became a founder of the Garden Club of Philadelphia, and committed herself to the idea of founding a school of practical horticulture for women in the Philadelphia area. After visiting gardening schools in Europe she and some associates in 1910 purchased a 71-acre farm near Ambler, Pennsylvania for their new school, which they modeled after two horticultural colleges they had visited in England.

Haines wanted her school to serve as a national model for progressive women, and to offer them professional opportunities outside of teaching and office work. It would provide young women expert training for careers in horticulture and agriculture, and in the process instill confidence in their own abilities. Classes began in the farmhouse on February 11, 1911. Haines's "learn-by-doing" philosophy meant that students would not only study in the classroom but also apply their knowledge in the school's garden and orchard. Students lived on campus and engaged in a program of study that included instruction on the production and use of flowers, fruits, ornamental plants, shrubs, and vegetables. It also provided classes on bee keeping, canning, "farm carpentry," farm management, soil science, and raising poultry, and after World War I added courses on business management and landscape architecture.

A small school with a limited funding, Haine's college never educated more than a few hundred students, but its reach and impact was significant. There, in 1913, a conference for garden club women founded the Woman's National Agricultural and Horticultural Association (known today as the Women's National Farm and Garden Association), a group that promoted women's employment in land-based occupations.

In the 1920s, teachers and students at the school began publication of Farmer's Digest, a monthly journal that reprinted condensed versions of articles on agriculture and horticulture drawn from more than 200 technical bulletins and newsletters that soon had subscribers throughout the United States. Starting in the 1920s, the school attracted women from Asia, and served as a model for the Keisien School, founded in 1929 outside of Tokyo, Japan to provide education in the liberal arts and horticulture.

The Pennsylvania School of Horticulture always struggled financially. In 1958 it merged with Temple University's Ambler Junior College and men were admitted to the program for the first time. Today the campus is part of Temple Ambler, which carries on the spirit and the work of the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women through the university's Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture, a program "dedicated to promoting sustainable agriculture, effective land use, and environmental awareness."
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