Women's History Month: Why it Matters
Updated: Mar 2
The month of March for horticulturists is a time of anticipation and getting ourselves ready for the bustle of springtime. It's also a time to remember our garden idols and learn about new heroes. This month Women in Horticulture will be posting more historic women in horticulture blogs, doing short interviews with leading women in our industry, and highlighting our up-and-coming professionals.
As I began creating this campaign, I asked myself "Why does Women's History matter?", and more specifically "Why do historic women in horticulture matter?". To answer this, I began by looking into the broader cultural and political context of women in the last 250 years. The top of the timeline below features iconic horticulturists from this period. The bottom highlights key political moments that impacted women's professional and civic roles.
In most parts of the western world in the late 1700's women were governed by what are known as "coverture laws". These laws stated that once a woman was married her husband controlled all legal and property rights of his wife. This made it exceptionally difficult for married women to work, get an education, or petition for divorce. Despite this difficulty, Lady Dalhousie (Christian Ramsay) was still able to have a lasting impact on botanic discoveries across the globe.
Over the next 130 years coverture laws were broken down piece by piece in the United States. By 1900 all states allowed women the right to own property separate from their husbands. Note that both Mary G. Henry and Beatrix Farrand would have had the right to own property in their mid-20s.
In 1866 a petition to amend the U.S. constitution allowing women the right to vote was introduced. It wasn't until 1920 that the constitution was actually amended. This meant that the last four women on the timeline all were granted the right to vote during their lifetime. Polly Hill and Pamela Copeland would have been young teenagers when the 19th amendment was passed. In their mid-lives the Equal Pay Act would be passed, and finally in 1974 both women would be granted the right to open a line of credit independently.
During this time period, women were not only contributing to horticulture and botany in significant ways they were also doing so despite the increased social and political barriers inflicted on their gender. Their male peers operated in a society built predominantly for male success, and still these extraordinary women took on the challenges and questions of their day.
Women's rights have come a long way since coverture laws, but there are still barriers to overcome. The pay-gap is still a well-documented issue (read more about it here). Reproductive Rights are in a tumultuous place across the United States. Access to all aspects of healthcare are still not available to everyone. The Family and Medical Leave Act, although incredible for its time, still does not guarantee paid maternity or paternity leave. Thankfully, we as a society are discussing these issues and having conversations about traditional gender norms. It is our hope that by highlighting the stories of women both past and present that we will help to create positive change.
We hope you will tune into this blog as we share women's stories. You are also invited to volunteer with Women in Hort at Wyck Historic House on March 11th to honor the long history of women that have contributed to that site.
Happy Women's History Month!