Ernesta Drinker Ballard

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Ernesta Drinker Ballard (1920 – August 11, 2005) was an American horticulturalist and feminist. Among the founders of the National Organization for Women, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, and Women's Way, Ballard was the executive director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society from 1963 to 1981, credited by The New York Times with bringing its annual Philadelphia Flower Show to "international prominence."[1][2]

Women's Way annually awards the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize to a recently published female author who has helped make headway in the dialogue about women’s rights through her work. The 2012 winner was Rebecca Traister for her book Big Girls Don’t Cry.[3][4]

Ernesta had dedicated her life to her family which included her four children and her husband who earned a comfortable living. Even though, Ernesta felt like she was living the American dream, she was lacking accomplishments in her professional career. This was something that was important to her and she wanted to do something for herself to feel accomplished in her professional career.

At an early age, Ernesta’s father instilled in her that the only meaningful role women can have is to be a wife and a mother. Ernesta’s father would pay little to no attention to her and would only spend time with his sons. Ernesta’s father was a well-known lawyer. Ernesta expressed her desire of becoming a lawyer and encountered no support from her father since she was only expected to get married and become a wife. Her father would constantly send hidden messages that women were only supposed to be nice and enchanting and that men’s capabilities were higher than women’s. Unconsciously, these hidden messages stayed with Ernesta for 30 years.

Surprisingly later in life, Ernesta’s mother became a feminist and she was ashamed of her mother’s new beliefs. Ernesta’s mother had never expressed to Ernesta that she was valuable as a woman and therefore, it was hard for her to understand feminism from her mother.

Ernesta’s husband supported and believed in her abilities as a professional. However, Ernesta would unintentionally sabotage herself due to the way she was taught to think about women since a young age.

Ernesta later decided to seek professional help from a psychiatrist who helped her process the reasons why she thought the way she did about herself and her capabilities as a woman. At this point, Ernesta had a breakthrough moment which led her to becoming a feminist and later an activist.

Ernesta Drinker Ballard later obtained her associates degree in science which helped her feel professionally accomplished. Her determination and passion for her job earned her the position of the organizer executive at the Pennsylvania Horticultural society which is historically dominated by men. Ernesta had a difficult time earning the respect of her male colleagues and experienced a lot of hostility from them because they had a hard time accepting the worth of women in the workplace.

Ultimately, Ernesta felt that the best legacy she could leave was to empower her own daughters to help to empower other women.[5]


  1. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (1 September 2005). "Ernesta Drinker Ballard, 85, Horticulturist and Feminist, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 March 2011. 
  2. ^ Ciarrochi, Lillian (15 August 2005). "In Memoriam: Ernesta Drinker Ballard". National Organization for Women. Archived from the original on 18 March 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2011. 
  3. ^ "2012 Women's Way Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize". 2012-10-22. Retrieved 2012-12-04. 
  4. ^ WomensWayPA. "WOMENS WAY EDB Prize Winner Honored by WPVI-TV 2012-03-16 5AM - Rebecca Traister". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-12-04. 
  5. ^ Ballard, Ernesta Drinker (1973-03-01). "Horticulturist". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 208 (1): 32–36. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1973.tb30817.x. ISSN 1749-6632. 

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