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From Miss C.H. Lippincott To Renee's Garden

Miss C.H. Lippincott seedswoman, seed companies owned by women, seed catalog

Miss C.H. Lippincott, the self-proclaimed "pioneer seedswoman of America," was as adept at marketing garden seeds to women as she was at selling her own brand.

Her seed catalogs and advertisements revolutionized how garden seeds were sold. Her 'dainty' catalogs featured idealized images of children, women and flowers and stood out amongst her competition. The seed business that she started in 1886 at the suggestion of her brother-in-law, soon blossomed and was housed in a two-story brick building next to her home in Minneapolis. Contemporary accounts of her business highlight that her staff of twenty-five clerks were women and that besides her growing operations- she often employed housewives to grow out seed stock on their farms and backyard gardens.

Among her employees was Mr. Sam Y. Haines, the brother-in-law that suggested she start the seed business to occupy her time. By July 1896 Mr. Haines was a full-time employee handling every details of the advertising. An interview with Mss C.H. Lippincott and Mr. Haines in the July 8, 1896 issue of Printers' Ink, a journal for advertisers, paints a picture of a woman deeply involved in the operations of the seed business, so much so that all pieces of mail have to be opened before her eyes. The writer, a John Lee Mahin, assures the reader that Miss C.H. Lippincott does indeed exist and isn't a marketing myth in case anyone has doubts.

By 1898 she owned an operated the world's largest exclusively flower seed house in the world and was printing a quarter of a million copies of her catalog. Soon her graphic design and practices were being copied by other seed sellers. In 1894 she pioneered the practice of listing the number of seeds per-packet so her customers could plan their gardens beds better.

A contemporary profile of Miss C. H. Lippincott states "She is the original pioneer seedswoman-a real woman, arranging all the details of a large business herself."

That line seems to be a dig at her competition and an attempt to clear the air about the existence of Miss C.H. Lippincott. Towards the late 1890s Miss C.H. Lippincott must have had many men questioning whether she was actually running her own company, several imitators and perhaps some seedsmen dressing up in drag.

At least two other seedswomen show up in Minneapolis after Miss C.H. Lippincott with a couple more around the country. Was there really an explosion in seed companies owned by women at the tail end of the 19th century? Or were some of them only fronted by women as Miss C.H. Lippincott suspected? In one of her catalogs she tackles the issue head-on calling out seedsmen taking on women's names to sell seeds. It safe to say that to Miss C.H. Lippincott imitation was not the sincerest form of flattery.

So, what does Miss C.H. Lippincott have to do with the seed GROW project? Over 100 years after Miss C.H. Lippincott we don't have seedsmen masquerading as women to sell seeds but we have less seed companies owned by women in America. We worry about the genetic diversity of the seeds in our garden but not so much the diversity of the people who sell us our seeds and that is equally important to me. If not for pioneers like Miss C. H. Lippincott we wouldn't have Renee's Garden to give us the seeds to grow in this seed starting project of ours. Renee's Garden is Renee Shepherd second seed company she's started. Her first, Shepherd's Seeds was sold to White Flower Farm in 1985.

I'll leave you with what Miss C.H. Lippincott wrote about Nasturtiums in Good Housekeeping in 1897, "Next to Sweet Peas, the Nasturtium is a popular favorite. It begins to blossom early in the summer and lasts long after the first frost. It is because of their persistent habit of blooming, the profusion of their bright, cheerful flowers, their hardy, healthy nature and comparative indifference to soils and situations. Both the Dwarf and Tall or Climbing kinds are now to be found in colorings as beautiful and delicate as are offered by any other race of annuals."

I guess my post for the GROW project is a departure, but you can see the various ways I start seeds in my sidebar. View the archived links for March & April where garden bloggers across the country have blogged about starting their Nasturtium seeds provided to us by Renee's Garden. Some really good tips. I'll be adding the best seed starting tutorial posts to the Seed Snatcher Google Custom Search Engine that I've started that collects information about growing garden seeds and saving seeds. Give it a try if you need information about starting garden seeds If you're interested there is also a Seed Snatcher blog that goes along with the search engine.

Edited Sweat to Sweet. LOL. See Walk2Write's comment.


  1. I've read a lot of Miss Lippincott, but your take is interesting, as always. I love looking through old seed catalogs and finding out about the people behind the companies is interesting, too.

  2. It's a very interesting story.

  3. I had heard that Lippincott was the first seedswoman, but I didn't know much more than that about her, especially the stuff about her competition. I wouldn't doubt that some of her competitors were men pretending to be women, assuming that that particular schtick was a sure way to make a buck at that time (incidentally, I also know several male bloggers who started their careers as "mommy bloggers," pretending to be women, for the same reason...) But I digress.

    The Seed Snatcher blog is fantastic, by the way. Congratulations -- you are one busy blogger :-)

  4. Great story and thanks, as always, for sharing the fresh info!

  5. Monica, Lily, Colleen & Lamanda,

    Thanks for commenting. While researching her competition I discovered a curious advertisement. Seems her BIL was in the seed business too around the same time. The interview I read of them too makes mention of him Burpee and another seed company but I wasn't sure what the connection was. I wonder if this means Miss C.H. Lippincott's company wasn't the woman's cottage industry she wanted to believe.

  6. Very interesting post! I think it's a great way to kick off the grow project. I'm surprised at Colleen's comment that men would pretend to be "mommy bloggers"-wouldn't a "Mr. Mom" blogger make a buck, too?

  7. Awesome! I love reading about successful women! Thanks for telling this really awesome story!!!

  8. wow. Thank you for that bit of women's history!

  9. Interesting bit of seed history, MBT. Wouldn't it be nice to have your business right next door like Miss L. did? What a woman she was! Did she really write about "Sweat Peas"? LOL! I would love to try some here in sultry Florida.

  10. Anonymous5:47 PM

    Very interesting AND inspiring and definitely a great post to start off the GROW project! Thanks for sharing your research & I do look forward to watching your seeds grow!

  11. Sounds like Miss Lippincott was a legend in her own time. I'd never heard of her before. Thanks for the interesting story!

  12. Lisa, Julie, Macy C, Garden Girl,

    Thank you all for commenting. Happy to share the information.


    LMAO. Thanks for catching that. I didn't even notice it until I read your comment.

    The Running Garlic,

    No prob. My next one will be about the seeds. Promise.

  13. What an inspiring article. It's very true that not too many women are heading up the big horticulture companies but I don't understand why. It's the ladies that look at gardening from a different view point. The guys think industrial and the women think emotional pay back. I struggle with this issue a little in our industry but I think that if you have a feminine touch at the helm you will have an edge on the competition :)

  14. Really interesting history. I had never heard of Miss C. H. Lippincott before reading this, so I Googled a bit for more info and found a complete catalog from 1898 at the Harvard University Library. There's a nasturtium on the back cover.

  15. Hi Tamara,

    Thanks for the feedback and for your perspective in the business.


    I love that catalog! I'm planning a follow-up on catalogs and advertisements I've come across. It may be a while though because I keep finding one thing and then finding another that is just as interesting.

    For example, while looking through old ads I came across an ad for a Chicago seed company I'd never heard of then I spent a night online trying to discover what became of it.

  16. An interesting bit of history. There's something I like about the title "seedswoman".....has a nice ring to it! :-)

  17. Wow... interesting, feminist, and garden-relevant! This post is a total gem. I've read it a couple times now.

  18. I loved this article on Miss Lippincott. I learned a great deal about her from you. Thanks so much. I always wondered about her as a person and her business. Now I know a bit more. Will use some of this in my own blog soon.



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