The Royal Horticultural Society has used social media to track down a gardener denied a horticultural scholarship at the turn of the 20th century because she was a woman.
The search for ‘Miss Harrison’ began after a researcher at the RHS’s Lindley Library discovered an old document which had lain forgotten in a box in the Society’s archives since 1898.
It concerned a determined and pioneering female gardener, Miss Harrison, who had taken that year’s annual exam set by the RHS and not only passed, but achieved the top marks in the country. Normally, this would have secured her a scholarship, £5000 and the chance to study at the Society’s flagship garden in Chiswick.
However, on the paper, the then Secretary of the RHS the Reverend William Wilks wrote, ‘it was never contemplated that a female might claim the scholarship’. Although Rev Wilks went on to fight Miss Harrison’s corner and argued that she should be eligible for the award, after the Society consulted lawyers it was ruled that women were barred from training alongside men. Miss Harrison never received her prize.
There is no further record of what became of Miss Harrison, so the RHS sent out a call across social media in the hope that family members could have letters or memories of the ground-breaking gardener which might solve the mystery.
“I’d really like to know what happened next,” said Fiona Davison, head of RHS Libraries and Exhibitions. “Did she carry on fighting? Did she carry on into a career in horticulture and go on to make a living that way? I’m just really curious to know what became of Miss Harrison.”
The RHS is now looking into several responses it received in answer to its call to see if it can find the real Miss Harrison and make sure she belatedly receives the respect she deserves.