History of the organization

The following is a history of the Woman's National Farm & Garden Association with distinguished women leaders like Jane Haines, Louisa King, Clara Ford, Matilda Wilson Dodge and many other talented women.

In the beginning, it was Spring...

"...that singular season within the gardener's year when earth's warmth bursts seed into seedling, bud into blossom, and promise into reality."

And so begins "A Chronicle," The History of Woman's National Farm and Garden Association, Inc., covering 1914-1984, written by Martha A. Nolan. It outlines an amazing story - with strong, educated women looking to be empowered and more importantly, to empower other women. They were filled with optimism and a belief in spring. All things seemed possible.

In 1911, Miss Jane Haines established the School of Horticulture for Women at Ambler, Pennsylvania to provide agricultural and horticultural training for young women. Woman's National Farm and Garden Association, Inc. (WNFGA) was organized in 1914 by Mrs. Francis (Louisa) King, renowned author of gardening books and of many magazine articles as well as garden editor of McCall's Magazine.

Together with some of her friends, Louisa King developed the idea for a farm and garden association whose aim would be to stimulate interest in the conservation of our natural resources and an appreciation for country life as well as to support the Ambler school.

Louisa King was named the first president and served in that capacity until 1920. During her presidency the broad purposes of the organization found expression in education and scholarship; the setting of high marketing standards and in conservation. It also saw the establishment of Woman's Land Army Units (The Farmerettes) of World War I fame.

We honor our founder for her tremendous amount of work and her foresight in recognizing the need to bring opportunities to women. We encourage all of our branches to set aside January 12th of each year as Founder's Day to commemorate and thank our founder Louisa.

  • In 1927, Mrs. Henry Ford (Clara) became president of WNF&GA and served in this position until 1934. Under her leadership the traditional "roadside farm market" became a focal point in improving the financial situation of farm women.
  • Mrs. Ford's leadership inspired rapid growth in Michigan and the Branch became two divisions, eastern and western with US27 as the dividing line. The Branches grew to 100 during this period. In 1933 the two groups merged and became Michigan Division, with Mrs. John F. McKinney as first president.
  • In 1928 the Michigan Division began supporting an annual 4H Club scholarship; by 1942 three annual scholarships were awarded.
  • The first conservation project was sponsored in 1929, when the Jackson Branch assisted in the planting of 45,000 trees. Beginning in 1930 greens markets were popular annual events and are still an excellent source of income for many branches.
  • During World War II, Michigan branches concentrated their efforts to planting Victory Gardens. This practice is mirrored today by the many community gardens in our state and those programs supported by our branches.
  • The Division's program in Horticulture Therapy, spearheaded by Alice Wessels Burlingame, gained national recognition.
  • The 4H International Foreign Youth Exchange was conceived in 1948 by Mrs. Garrison, Mrs. Chapman, and the Michigan Division remains a primary contributor through an annual International Tea.
  • Dr. Russell Mawby, the first IFYE, was solely supported by the Michigan Division and his experience in England, Wales, and Scotland changed his plans. He returned to MSU to graduate and went on to Graduate School rather than return to the family farm.
  • The Michigan Division's Foundation was established in 1966 and branch scholarships, the Matthaei Botanical Garden Internship Fund and other scholarships are funded through the Foundation. The Matthaei Botanical Garden Internship Fund (quasi-endowment), supports a summer intern annually at UM.
  • The Michigan Division's archives are housed at Meadow Brook Hall located in Rochester, MI., the home of the late Mrs. Alfred G. Wilson who served as National President from 1964 to 1966. The archives are stored in the Library and are available to Michigan Division members.
  • In 2006, Jeannette Matyn, Urban-Rural Chair, and Molly Hammerle, Michigan Division President, introduced the Michigan Division 4H Foundation Endowment, to honor our past work with the 4H and to continue our legacy in perpetuity. It was passed unanimously by the Membership.

Throughout its history the Michigan Division has provided leadership and inspiration to the Association, its members serving at the national level, and its programs providing examples of the highest standard. Every aspect of Association endeavor has been achieved by the Michigan Division: conservation, flower shows and schools, international cooperation, horticulture and marketing.

The Michigan Division donated more than $110,000 in scholarships last year!