Theodosia Burr Shepherd

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Theodosia Burr Shepherd
Portrait of Theodosia Burr Shepherd, ca. 1902.png
Theodosia Burr Shepherd, ca. 1902
Born(1845-10-14)October 14, 1845[1]
DiedSeptember 6, 1906(1906-09-06) (aged 60)[2]
OccupationPlant breeder, Horticulturist
Spouse(s)William Edgar Shepherd
ChildrenMyrtle Shepherd Francis
Parent(s)Augustus Hall and Ellen P. (Lee) Hall

Theodosia Burr Shepherd (October 14, 1845, Keosauqua, Iowa – September 6, 1906, Ventura, California) was an American botanist, horticulturist and pioneer in plant breeding. Called the “Flower Wizard of California”,[3] and "The Pioneer Seed-grower",[4] Theodosia was the first woman in California and possibly in the United States to hybridize flowers.[3][5]

The Theodosia B. Shepherd Company, her seed and bulb business,[6] is considered to be the foundation of California’s seed industry.[7] She was compared favorably to Luther Burbank. The location of her former garden is listed as number 34 in the City of Ventura Historic Landmarks and Districts.

Early life[edit]

Theodosia Burr Hall was born in Keosauqua, a settlement in the Iowa Territory, on October 14, 1845.[1] Her parents were Augustus Hall and Ellen P. (Lee) Hall.[8] In 1846, Iowa was admitted to the Union and became a state. In 1854 Theodosia's father was elected as the Democratic candidate to Congress in the First District. In 1857 he became a Chief Justice of the Nebraska Territory.[9] Theodosia grew up in Iowa, where she went to school. From 1857 to 1859 she boarded at a finishing school in Batavia, New York[8] run by Mrs. William G. Bryan (Ruth Beardsley Bryan).[10]

Theodosia Burr Hall married lawyer William Edgar Shepherd[5] of Oskaloosa, Iowa, in Bellevue, Nebraska, on either September 4, 1866,[11] September 9, 1866[2] or September 4, 1867.[8] They had four children: Augustus H., Myrtle Ellen (later Lloyd,[12] later Francis),[13] Margaret (later Oaks), and Edith (later Mrs. Fred Kelsey.)[14][15] Theodosia suffered from tuberculosis, or "lung trouble".[16] In 1873, the family moved to California in search of a more healthful climate.[8][7] They settled in "Ventura-by-the-Sea",[17] where William Edgar Shepherd became the editor of the Ventura Signal.[18]


Cover, Theodosia B Shepherd Company Catalogue, 1900
Mrs. Shepherd's Rose 'Oriole'
Mrs. Shepherd's 'Marvelous' Double Petunias

Described as having "a wizard's touch in the treatment of plants and flowers",[4] Theodosia was the first woman in California to hybridize flowers and sell their seeds.[5][19][20] At the time of her death, she was credited with being "the most noted woman in this line of work... not only in California but over all the country."[21] In 1905, one writer enthused that she was "known to every floriculturist in civilization as a hybridizer of blossoms and originator of new flowers".[5]

She collected seeds, plants, and rare flowers,[22] and developed new varieties, including begonias,[5] Coreopsis section Calliopsis,[8] cosmos,[5] nasturtiums,[8] petunias,[7] poppies,[8] and a rose, ‘Oriole‘.[7] She developed the ever-popular ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glory, and the ‘Golden West’ California Poppy.[23][5] She developed the first of the 'Superbissima' genotype of petunia, a variety called 'California Giant' which became the most frequently grown petunia of the 1930s.[24]

The work of developing a new flower began with the identification of potentially interesting "sports" of a flower, each of which was carefully raised. Then, "When the flower goes to seed, she gathers the seeds, sows them, watches and tends the resulting plants till they fructify and in like manner gathers the seeds of this second generation and garners them for planting." In addition,"hybridizing is an intensely interesting part of Mrs. Shepherd's work. She carefully selects the flowers she wishes to cross, then takes upon the tip of a little camel hair brush some of the pollen of one flower and deposits it upon the pistil of the other flower."[5] Such work involved "accurate, painstaking, patient and continuous labor".[25]

Shepherd was encouraged to consider hybridizing as a business by nurseryman Peter Henderson of New York, around 1881.[26] By 1884, she had formed the Theodosia B. Shepherd Company in Ventura, California.[6] By 1892, she was cultivating 8 acres of gardens,[6] which included a hedge of heliotrope 400 feet (120 m) long,[16] and selling seeds nationally and internationally. The business published an annual retail catalogue as well as two lists for wholesalers. The company was incorporated in 1902.[6][15] The seed and bulb business that Theodosia established is considered to be the foundation of California’s seed industry.[7]

In addition to growing and hybrizing flowers and running a company, Theodosia wrote and lectured about plants and flowers.[19] She encouraged other women to make horticulture a profession by growing flowers and selling seeds.[26] She was seen as an exemplar for women in the profession.[27] She was favorably compared to Luther Burbank of Santa Rosa, California, a hybridizer of vegetables and fruits.[28][1] She was sometimes called "The Female Burbank" or "The Pioneer Seed-grower".[4] Her gardens were considered "to have put Ventura on the map".[20] Visitors to her gardens included Susan B. Anthony, Julia Ward Howe, and Washington Atlee Burpee of Burpee Seeds.[29][30][3]

"I sometimes think that we do not always choose our work, but are chosen, or called to it. It has always seemed to me that I was called into the field of flowers with a special mission for them: to grow and disseminate them, where they are loved; to write about them; to talk about them, and, most of all, to create new varieties."[19]

Later life[edit]

Theodosia Burr Shepherd died on September 6, 1906 in Ventura, California.[31][2] She was cremated and interred in the Rosedale cemetery in Los Angeles.[21] On December 7, 1907, William Edgar Shepherd married Theodosia's widowed sister Ella Hall Enderlein.[11]

Theodosia's daughter Mrs. Myrtle Shepherd Francis inherited her business. Like her mother, she specialized in breeding flowers, including self-seeding double petunias.[17][32] Her second husband, Willard H. Francis, acted as manager.[33][34]

In 1946, Myrtle Shepherd Francis wrote a biography of her mother, entitled Theodosia: The Flower Wizard of California. Manuscript copies were left in the archives of UCLA and UC Berkeley.[3] An edited edition of the book was finally published on May 10, 2014.[13]

Remnants of Theodosia's garden still remain in Ventura. She planted a banana plant and two strawberry trees which are now in the grounds of the E. P. Foster Library.[26] The corner of Chestnut and Poli Streets, near where she lived, was designated a local historic landmark as of July 17, 1978. At that time, the only plants remaining from her garden were a Star Pine and a Bird of Paradise.[35] There have been attempts to reclaim some of the areas that were once part of Shepherd's garden as community gardens.[3][13][36]

Materials relating to Theodosia Burr Shepherd are located in the archives of the Charles E. Young Research Library at UCLA[2] and the Bancroft library at UC Berkeley.[37]



  1. ^ a b c "Theodosia Burr Hall Shepherd". The Annals of Iowa. 8 (2): 158. October 2, 2014. doi:10.17077/0003-4827.4643. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Finding Aid for the Theodosia Burr Shepherd Papers, ca. 1900–1940". Online Archive of California. California Digital Library. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e Kallas, Anne (May 14, 2014). "Ventura garden harkens to historic woman's contributions to hybridize flowers". Ventura County Star. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Hard, William (1906). "Women in Technical Work". The Technical World Magazine. 6: 136–137. Retrieved September 15, 2018. Mrs. Shepherd is known in California under the two titles of 'The Female Burbank' and 'The Pioneer Seed-grower'.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Gray, Lillian (July 7, 1905). "Women who do things: Theodosia Burr Shepherd". The Wilkes-Barre Record. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Retrieved September 15, 2018. this quiet indefatigable woman floriculturist was the first person to grow flower seed for the eastern states' trade. Her seeds have found their way throughout Europe. She is the pioneer flower seed grower of California.
  6. ^ a b c d Bresler, Linda (May 2011). "The real dirt on... Theodosia Shepard" (PDF). Let's Talk Plants (4). p. 4. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Women of the Horticultural World". The Pacific Garden. 5 (1): 6–7. December 1911. Retrieved September 14, 2018. On the foundation which she laid is builded the great seed industry of California.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Leonard, John William, ed. (1901). "Shepherd, Theodosia Burr". Who's who in America 1901–1902. 2. Chicago: A. N. Marquis & Co. p. 1026. Retrieved September 11, 2018.
  9. ^ Gue, Benjamin F. (1902). "Augustus Hall". History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century. 4. New York: The Century History Company. pp. 114–115. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  10. ^ Barnes, Larry D. (February 9, 2012). "An Overview of the Joseph Ellicott Mansion in Batavia". Batavia City Historian. Retrieved September 11, 2018.
  11. ^ a b "Shepherd, William Edgar". Builders of our nation. Chicago, Illinois: American Publishers' Association. 1915. p. 693. Retrieved September 11, 2018.
  12. ^ "VENTURA COUNTY) PROMINENT WOMAN MARRIED Mrs. Myrtle Lloyd Weds W. H. Francis at Ventura". Los Angeles Herald. October 8, 1903. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
  13. ^ a b c "Mother of Flowers Theodosia Shepherd's Biography Launches With New Ventura Garden". Cision. May 2, 2014. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
  14. ^ Guinn, James Miller (1902). Historical and biographical record of southern California; containing a history of southern California from its earliest settlement to the opening year of the twentieth century. Chicago: Chapman Pub. Co. pp. 1130–1131. Retrieved September 17, 2018.
  15. ^ a b "Theodosia B. Shepherd Company". American Florist. 18. Associated Floral Publishing Company. May 3, 1902. p. 554. Retrieved September 17, 2018.
  16. ^ a b Brown, Clara Spalding (July 1895). "Midland women in California". Midland Monthly Magazine. 4 (1): 393=410. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  17. ^ a b Smith, Bertha H. (1912). "The evolutionist of the petunia". Sunset, the Pacific Monthly. Southern Pacific Company. 29: 69–72. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  18. ^ Taylor, Judith M. (2003). Tangible memories : Californians and their gardens, 1800–1950. Xlibris Corp. pp. 331–338. ISBN 9781401094669.
  19. ^ a b c M-B, Leslie (October 14, 2013). "Theodosia Burr Shepherd". The Clutter Museum. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  20. ^ a b Hayes, Virginia (August 19, 2009). "Pioneer Horticulturists The People Who Helped Make S.B. a Floral Haven". Santa Barbara Independent. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  21. ^ a b "Obituary". American Florist. 27: Associated Floral Pub. Co. 1906. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
  22. ^ Catalogue of seeds, plants rare flowers. Ventura-by-the-Sea, Calif.: Theodosia B. Shepherd Company. 1908. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  23. ^ Denny, Geoffrey (March 6, 2018). "Luther Burbank was the Male Theodosia Shepherd". Mississippi State University. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  24. ^ Anderson, Neil O. (October 1, 2007). Flower breeding and genetics : issues, challenges and opportunities for the 21st century. Springer. p. 302. ISBN 9781402044274. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
  25. ^ Jerome, Lucy Baker (January 1905). "Business women of California". Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine. XLV: 61. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
  26. ^ a b c "Theodosia Burr Shepherd". Ventura County Library. November 22, 2013. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  27. ^ "Florist and Gardener: Women as florists". Pacific Rural Press. 49 (19): 295. May 11, 1895. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  28. ^ Shinn, Charles Howard (October 2, 1895). "Glimpses of Ventura gardens". Garden and Forest: A Journal of Horticulture, Landscape Art and Forestry. 8: 399. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
  29. ^ Hershey, David R. (1992). "Notable Women in the History of Horticulture" (PDF). HortTechnology. 2 (2). Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  30. ^ "Mother's Day celebration for "Mother of Flowers: Theodosia Burr Shepherd"". Art Predator. May 10, 2014. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  31. ^ "DEATH CALLS FAMOUS FLORIST Mrs. Theodosia B. Shepherd Passes Away. WAS KNOWN AS 'THE BURBANK OF THE SOUTH" Originated a Celebrated Flower Garden in Ventura, and Put Forth a N umber of Imported Plants—Her Death a National Loss". Morning Press. September 7, 1906. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
  32. ^ "A self-seeding double petunia". Journal of Heredity. 2 (4): 316. 1911. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.jhered.a104616. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  33. ^ Taylor, Judith (July 2009). "The Begonia in California, Part 2: The Begoniacs". Pacific Horticulture. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  34. ^ Taylor, Judith M. (December 1, 2014). Visions of loveliness : great flower breeders of the past. Swallow Press. ISBN 978-0804011570. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  35. ^ "CITY OF SAN BUENAVENTURA HISTORIC LANDMARKS & DISTRICTS". City of Ventura. May 3, 2016. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  36. ^ Forman, Jill (September 27, 2017). "The G.I.F.T. Garden in Ventura". Ventura Breeze. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
  37. ^ "Photographs of Theodosia Burr Shepherd [graphic]". Online Archive of California. California Digital Library. Retrieved September 10, 2018.

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