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Arboriculture & Urban Forestry Online
Volume 48, Issue 6 — November 2022

Forgotten Contributions: The Overlooked Impact of Ellen Harrison and Early 20th Century Women in Urban Greening

Maggie L. McNulty and Lara A. Roman

Abstract: Many women and women-run associations were involved in historical urban beautification in the United States, especially tree planting, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While men had formal roles as city foresters, arborists, horticulturalists, and landscape architects, women from elite families sometimes labored for free to organize and advocate for urban tree planting. Tightly knit social circles of high-society women in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, yielded much greater influence in nascent tree planting and park creation movements than has generally been recognized. They often contributed their time, finances, input, and skill to landscape planting projects; however, they were not considered equal to the men who were compensated employees. These women planted, plotted, studied, and persevered, overcoming preconceived notions of womanhood, although their meaningful efforts were often viewed as merely an offshoot of their feminine domestic role. For women, limited by opportunities in male-dominated arenas, shaping their cities was a socially accepted means for empowerment. Ellen Waln Harrison (1846 to 1922) was a key figure in civic beautification in her hometown of Philadelphia and beyond. Ellen Harrison was married to Charles Custis Harrison, Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, and she personally oversaw campus landscaping efforts, and was referred to as his “right hand.” Her story is emblematic of a larger trend regarding women in botany, horticulture, and urban forestry around the turn of the 20th century.

Keywords: Campus Landscape; Gender; Urban Beautification; Urban Forest History; Urban Tree Planting.

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