Celebrating National Women’s History Month: A Reflection on Gertrude Wister and her Accomplishments

Celebrating National Women’s History Month: A Reflection on Gertrude Wister and her Accomplishments

Gertrude Wister cutting the opening ribbon for the original Wister Greenhouse.

Guest Author: Mandie Curtis Banks – Youth, Family, and Diversity Programs Coordinator

The Scott Arboretum recognizes and celebrates Gertrude Wister – a true pioneer in the plant world and instrumental part in the Arboretum’s history. Mrs. Wister gained national recognition as a horticulturist, author, and consultant who devoted her career to public horticulture. When Mrs. Wister passed away, Claire Sawyers, Director of the Scott Arboretum, shared highlights of some of her incredible accomplishments, which we are excited to share in celebration of National Women’s History Month.

After graduating with honors with a degree in horticulture at the University of Wisconsin, Mrs. Wister began making her mark in the industry. She returned to her home state of NJ and started her own business in garden planning and maintenance. In the 1940s, Mrs. Wister began working in Pennsylvania for the Scott Horticultural Foundation and the Tyler Arboretum. Eventually moving to Pennsylvania, from 1955 – 1960 she then served as the Assistant Director of the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College (then known as the Arthur Hoyt Scott Horticultural Foundation) while at the same time serving as the Assistant Director of the Tyler Arboretum. She was also appointed to the Board of Trustees at Tyler, a position she held for more than 25 years. Mrs. Wister eventually served as the Acting Director of the Tyler Arboretum from 1975 to 1977.

Gertrude Wister showcasing lilies in the garden.

One of the most treasured contributions Mrs. Wister made at the Scott Arboretum is the Dean Bond Rose Garden which she designed in 1956. The Wister name also lives on at the Arboretum with our Wister Greenhouse, named for John and Gertrude Wister. Mrs. Wister married John C. Wister who served as Director of the Scott Foundation for more than 30 years. Together the Wisters also created the Wister Garden, which is now part of the Scott Arboretum.

In addition to her indelible mark at the Scott and Tyler Arboretums, Mrs. Wister was a celebrated author and editor. She served as editor of the National Gardener, the bulletin for the National Council of State Garden Clubs.  She authored Hardy Garden Bulbs and numerous articles in horticultural publications and magazines. She was also the assistant editor of the Woman’s Home Companion Garden Book, and she edited the American Daffodil Society Yearbook.

Mrs. Wister’s love of plants and contributions to horticulture won her acclaim over the years and she was the recipient of numerous awards, including the distinguished Achievement Award by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society; the Thomas Roland Medal for skill in Horticulture from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society; the American Rhododendron Society’s highest honor: the Gold Medal Award for cataloging, registering, and perpetuating the Wister hybrid rhododendrons and plants of other hybridizers; and the Scott Garden and Horticultural Award for her national contributions to the science and art of gardening.

I hope you join us in tipping your gardener’s hat to celebrate the trailblazing horticulturist legacy of Mrs. Wister during National Women’s History Month.

Becky Robert
  • Robert Roggeveen
    Posted at 16:50h, 12 March Reply

    It is a privilege to learn about this remarkable person. This is a good time to read or re-read Jennifer Jewell’s.
    The Earth In Her Hnads; 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants (Timber Press). And – how many more ought to have been included!

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