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History of THC

Takoma Horticultural Club: A Hardy Perennial Since 1916

Takoma Horticultural Club (THC) celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016 and is among the oldest, continuously active garden clubs in the nation.

Most of the current 120+ members of the THC are in southern Montgomery County, the bordering areas of Prince George’s County, and northwest Washington DC. The club usually meets the third Wednesday of the month at the Historic Takoma headquarters in downtown Takoma Park, MD. The meetings are free and open to the public.

I. A Brief History

The Takoma Horticultural Club (THC) was patterned after the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. The first meeting was held in the Takoma DC Public Library on March 1, 1916 and consisted of employees of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Service who lived in the Takoma area. Mr. D. N. Shoemaker was elected President and the club was then named the Takoma Park Horticultural Improvement Club. Membership was originally restricted to men. After three years they discovered the indispensability of women and in 1919 the Constitution was modified to admit women. This preceded by one year the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The aims of the Club have not changed over the years; although several activities have been curtailed, many still continue. The Club originally offered detailed landscaping services free to members. Collective buying of plants, seeds, bulbs, and lime was a popular service. Pruning demonstrations were held as was a large plant exchange where members shared surplus plants.

Flower Shows had a prominent place in the early activities of the Club as a way to stimulate the acquisition of new varieties. The first Narcissus, Dahlia, and Rose shows were held in 1916. Tulip and Iris shows started in 1917. (An early Iris enthusiast was B. Y. Morrison, who went on to found the National Arboretum and develop the Glenn Dale azaleas.) In 1923, the first Gladiolus Show was staged. Peony shows began in 1925. In the fall, a combined fruit, flower and vegetable show was held. The shows continued from 1916 through 1998.

During World War I, the THC concentrated on the production of vegetables. It purchased and distributed seeds, obtained and developed garden sites, and sponsored the Boys and Girls Garden Club, which was a forerunner of the 4-H Clubs.

Through its collective buying, exchange sales, information services, lectures, and demonstrations, the Takoma Horticultural Club has influenced the planting of thousands of trees and shrubs, and millions of bulbs and plants.

An excerpt from the January 1950 newsletter provides this glimpse of the club:

Meeting minutes, THC 1950“Takoma Horticultural Club starts 1950 with the 3rd woman president in its history.  The first woman to be elected to the highest office in the Club was Miss Margaret Lancaster in 1926…and now we have our own Mrs. Grace Barrett.  During the earlier years of its existence the Club was strictly a man’s organization, and no women were permitted to join. To understand the reason for this, it is necessary to refer to the object of the Club, as stated in the Constitution, which, in part, is here quoted:

“The object of this Club shall be to promote horticultural improvement throughout Takoma Park and vicinity

    1. By serving as a medium for co-operative buying of seeds, plants, and sundries.
    2. By encouraging, through lectures and expert advice, artistic plantings about the homes, public buildings, and in parking.
    3. By stimulating, through exhibitions and lectures, the object of the club.”

“It will therefore be seen that the principal activity was planting, which was considered too heavy work to be successfully done by women. It was also feared that, should the Club be open to women, the primary object of the Club might be made secondary to inside decoration, and the Club become, like many garden clubs, an afternoon tea society. We are glad to note that there is little tendency in that direction, and that planting and growing are the principal activities…. “

One year later, in her last message as President, Mrs. Grace H. Barrett noted that the club’s membership had nearly doubled during 1950, to more than 500 members. Attendance at meetings was such that they had to move from the Takoma Branch Public Library, the Club’s home since its organization in 1916.

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