The Organizer

On an English tour, Mrs. King became impressed by the British Womans Garden and Farm Organization. She returned to the United States determined to recreate the organization in this country. In 1912 she took her first step in this direction by forming the Gardeners Club of Michigan. In 1914 she became a founding member and first president of the Women's Agricultural and Horticultural Association in America. (later renamed to Woman's National Farm and Garden Association). She was also instrumental in forming the Garden Club of America, serving as President and Founder and receiving their top honor, a Gold medal, in 1923.

The Gardeners Club of America was particularly successful in attracting as members prominent women from the American social elite: the Biddles of Philadelphia, the Ridgeleys of Baltimore and the McCormicks of Chicago, all became members. Despite the important role these women played in promoting gardening, Mrs.King believed that garden clubs were not elitist. Rather, she believed gardening was fundamental to American democracy and in her writing argued that a love of plants could break down differences between different economic groups and neighbors. Adopting a very Jeffersonian spirit she believed that gardening served the human spirit.

"Rich or poor, old or free, when we garden we are at the same work; we work in faith that the seasons will still roll for us and for our sowing's and planting's. There is no other such meeting-ground there is no community of interest such as this of gardens."

The garden clubs in which Mrs. King was involved did indeed prove to be more than simple social organizations of individuals with similar avocational interests. The clubs provided an outlet for women to organize themselves and gave them access to educational sources, discussion groups, and resources. The WNFGA led by Elizabeth Leighton Lee and Jane Browne Haines, the founder of the Pennsylvania school of horticulture for women, provided scholarships and funding for women to go to agricultural colleges and schools of landscape architecture. The groups provided an outlet for many whose access to formal higher education limited or denied.

During World War I Mrs. King immersed herself into war work with the WNFGA and the GCA's Womens Land Army in New York city. This plan had placed over 15,000 "farmerettes" on farms throughout the country to alleviate the problem of a shortage of expert help on the land. The operation was a success, despite concerns, and Mrs. King won the Bronze medal from the National War Garden Commission for her efforts in food production. Mrs. King believed the WNFGA encouraged women to join together from both the city and the farm, crossing the economical boundaries that were to be found in other aspects of society.

The Michigan branches of the WNFGA were particularly strong under the watchful eye of Mrs King. Many Michigan gardeners participated in the Mid-West Branch from 1915-1926, which began at Mrs King's Alma house. The Michigan branch also benefitted from the presence of Mrs Clara (Henry) Ford of Dearborn. Mrs. Ford was the national President from 1927-1934 and was a devotee of Mrs. King's lectures and books On several occasions she visited Mrs. King in Alma. Today, at least one branch of the WNFGA remains active in Milford, Michigan.

Mrs King was also actively involved in local gardening groups and projects in the Alma area. This involvement continued throughout her life and included such activities as hosting the annual flower show, giving regular lectures, and participating in the Civic League of Alma. The League, formed in May 1907, contributed to many beautification projects during the 1920s: the cleanliness of streets and yards, establishing more water fountains, planting elm trees along the road to St. Louis as a memorial to those killed in World War I, planting a beautiful rose hedge at the train depot and planting a lilac grove at the Great Union school. During this time Mrs. King was vice president of the League. Her strong belief in the democratizing effect of gardening was clearly seen in Alma were she encouraged individuals of various age, privilege, and economic standing to become involved in the projects and took particular time to involve the community's children.

Mrs. King had a particular concern for involving children in the garden. In 1910 she helped produce a collection of verse for the Michigan Forestry Association. The verse was used on "Forestry Day," which was marked by programs presented in the Woman's Clubs and Granges of Michigan, and, perhaps more importantly in her mind, for Arbor Day, the celebration of gardening in the schools. She firmly believed that children could and would appreciate the beauty and peaceful nature of a garden. In 1921, in her book The Little Garden, she clearly saw that gardens could be designed with children in mind: "In the successful treatment of ground small in dimension, in the beautiful quality of the little garden, lies the true future beauty of America."

In 1921 the Horticultural Society of Massachusetts awarded her the George Robert White medal - making her the first female recipient and only one of two women to receive it until 1968. Mrs. King was a prominent figure listed in Who's Who of America. As well as her national and local involvement in gardening clubs and the Civic League she was a strong voice in the Women's League of Voters and always maintained a distinct thread of feminism through all the organizations she joined.

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