Donald L. Opitz

Associate Professor, DePaul University, School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS)

2023 to 2024
Keith S. Thomson Research Fellow

Daughters of Ceres: The Scientific Advancement of Women in Horticulture, 1870–1920

The confluence of two 19th century movements—one dedicated to the promotion of scientific agriculture, another to the advancement of women's education in science—fueled international efforts to elevate women's position in the fields of horticulture and "the lighter branches" of agriculture. This new international movement organized to create new educational, employment, and civic opportunities for women in fields traditionally constructed as male bastions. Amid a rich gender historiography of science, few studies have focused on horticulture as a context of women's work in science. In this project I build on my prior research in this area that focused on specific schools in North America and the United Kingdom to flesh out the broader extent of the international movement at its height in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a CHSTM fellow, I will carry out new research in consortium member collections to inform my new book-in-progress, Daughters of Ceres: The Scientific Advancement of Women in Horticulture, 1870–1920 (under contract with Lexington Books). I will sketch out more fully the professional and civic-oriented sides to the movement, accounting for the role of commercial industries, industrial associations, professional societies, garden clubs, philanthropic foundations, and educational and scientific institutions that, collectively, participated in an extensive network that undergirded this movement. My book will offer a new perspective on "women in science" with a repositioning of horticulture in the overall landscape of scientific disciplines. It will also expand our understanding of the gendering of horticulture across contexts, engaging with studies on women's botanical writing, nature study, garden design, land armies, and victory gardens.