Abstract: Plucky women engaged in obtaining a living from the soil: The Businesswomen of California Horticulture, 1870-1911

Bethany Hopkins


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, commercial horticulture was an ambiguously gendered cultural space in the United States. The businesses of fruit, flower, and vegetable farming intermixed the private, female sphere of domestic gardening with the public, male sphere of capitalist agriculture. In this time period, periodicals shifted from describing women's work in commercial horticulture as limited and doubtful to praiseworthy and successful, with California leading the way. In the 1880s, two conflicting cultural ideas influenced these periodical articles: the belief that a white, middle-class woman's place was in the "domestic sphere," and the belief that settling the American West meant commodifying nature. However, by the 1890s a new idea had emerged in California, one that saw the state as a new Eden, a garden paradise of both domestic pleasures and business profits. This concept allowed for greater acceptance of California's women horticulturalists. As their numbers grew, Eastern periodicals also embraced these women. California's female horticulturalists then leveraged their success and cultural acceptance into demands for expanded roles for women. The rise of businesswomen in California horticulture was a key component of the state's women's movement, which pushed California to grant women the vote in 1911.