Women in Garden History

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re taking a look back at the work of some important women throughout the Garden’s past.

When most people think of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s history, the first name that comes to mind is that of Henry Shaw, the Garden’s founder. In establishing the Garden, Shaw of course played an important role in St. Louis history, but women from the Garden have an important place in that history, too, including a few who took on roles that were rare for women to hold at the time.

Elinor Alberts Linder

Today, the Garden’s Orchid Show is one of its most popular attractions, and its collection of roughly 6,500 orchid plants represents one of the largest and finest in the country. That likely wouldn’t be the case without women.

Orchids in Greenhouse 1904
An orchid display in the Garden’s greenhouse, 1904.

Minerva Grimsley Blow gave Henry Shaw the Garden’s first orchid specimens in the early 1870s from plants that she and her husband, Henry Taylor Blow, had collected in country while he served the United States as minister to Brazil. The collection really took off decades later when Elinor Alberts Lidner of Louisville, Kentucky developed the process for growing orchids from seeds.

Linder’s passion for plants began when her father built a small conservatory in their home filled with tulips and lilies. He eventually procured some orchids, but later was unable to bring any new plants back due to a government embargo.  Left with no option but to grow her own, Linder began research.

She spent two years working on the process, with a clothes closet serving as her first culture chamber and a pressure cooker her first sterilizer. Ultimately, she began growing orchids from seeds at an unprecedented rate and attracted the attention of the Garden.

In 1926, she came to the Garden to run its orchid laboratory. In just a year and a half, she had developed 30,000 baby orchids from seeds. Her process allowed the Garden to begin hybridizing orchids. By 1930, she had 60,000 hybrids thriving in her laboratory, according to an article from the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Then-Garden Director George Moore spoke of Linder’s collection in a 1931 paper, saying “there has been accumulated a collection of orchid plants such as has never been before possessed by a similar institution in the world.”

Sadly, Linder’s life was cut short, and she died at the age of 40.

Nell C. Horner

A Missouri native, Nell Horner came to the Garden in September 1919 as an assistant to Jacob Schramm, editor of the Annals, the Garden’s international journal devoted to botany. Horner didn’t have a background in botany but had studied English and Latin at Washington University. By the next year, she was Editor of Publications with responsibility for the Annals and the Bulletin, the Garden’s quarterly publication.

Horner wrote many articles for the Bulletin and her thorough editing helped maintain the quality of the Annals over the years. She developed extensive knowledge of the literature of botany, which was useful in noticing errors in citations. In 1925, she was given the title “Librarian and Editor of Publications.” For many years, her desk was in the reading room where she was readily available as a resource for students.

Nell Horner’s office in the Garden’s Administration Building (originally Henry Shaw’s downtown St. Louis home), 1911

Horner went on a collecting trip in 1930 to the southwest U.S., joining two graduate students at the Garden. In 1957, she earned another title at the Garden, Bibliographer and Editor. Even after moving to St. Louis University, where she worked on the library staff until retirement, Horner maintained close ties with the Garden.

She died on Sept. 6, 1976 at the age of 87.

Anna Isabel Mullord

Anna Isabel Mullord received the first doctoral degree from Washington University at St. Louis, earning a PhD in botany in 1895. Henry Shaw established the school of botany at Washington University in 1885.

Born in 1848 in East Orange, New Jersey, Mulford graduated from Trenton Normal School in 1883. She taught botany and earned her AB and AM degrees at Vassar College. Eventually, she came to St. Louis to study with Dr. William Trelease, then the director of the Missouri Botanical Garden. While she was at the Garden, she took at least two major field trips to collect plants. One was the northwestern U.S. in 1892 and the other to the Southwest in 1895.

On her first trip, she collected 1,100 plants representing four species, including one variety new to science. Several other species were also named for her based on her specimens. Mullord also participated in seed-distribution to St. Louis Schools for use in classes. In 1903, she was president of the St. Louis Botanical Society.

Little is known about her life after she completed her education. She died at the age of 95 in a nursing home in Montclair, New Jersey.

Catherine Martin

Public Information Specialist

One Comment Add yours

  1. Lee Ann Grush says:

    So interesting to read about the roles women have played in ttheir he history of MBG!

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