Mary Gibson Henry Papers
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Mary Gibson Henry Papers

Descriptive Summary

Repository: James G. Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center
Creator: Henry, Mary Gibson, 1884-1967
Title: Mary Gibson Henry Papers
Dates: 1933-1954, undated
Quantity: 0.21 linear ft.
Quantity: (1 half document case)
Identification: ahc.MSS984

Biographical/Historical Note

Mary Gibson Henry (1884-1967) was born August 15, 1884 in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania to Susan Worrell Pepper and John Howard Gibson. Her great grandfather, George Pepper, had been a member of the first Council of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and had the first greenhouse in Philadelphia. Her grandfather also owned a greenhouse and was deeply interested in horticulture. Her father was an avid outdoorsman. Mary’s formal education ended when she graduated from the Agnes Irwin School in Philadelphia in 1902. However, her study of nature intensified as she traveled with her family to the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Rockies and climbed Mont Blanc on a trip to Europe in 1908.

In 1909, she married Dr. John Norman Henry ( -1938). The couple had five children. As her children were growing up, Mary developed a large kitchen garden and experimented with native rock plants on the family’s property in Maryland. Meanwhile, she cultivated orchids in a small greenhouse at the family’s home in Philadelphia. She also read extensively about botany and horticulture. In 1926, the Henry family purchased a 95-acre farm in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia. After nearly two decades of marriage, she began her active expeditionary career as a field botanist the following year. She went on over 200 botanical expeditions over the next forty years and collected floral specimens that she donated to the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Early on, she explored the Atlantic Coastal Plain, the Piedmont Plateau and the Appalachian Mountains. Then, in the 1930s, she made four exploratory trips into largely uncharted territory of British Columbia with a Canadian government topographer, K. F. McCusker. Her husband and four children accompanied her on the first expedition and her daughter, Josephine, joined her on the three subsequent journeys. In 1931, the Department of Lands of British Columbia named a mountain in her honor, Mount Mary Henry. Her 1935 expedition in British Columbia formed the basis for the planning of the Alcan Highway.

In her garden at Gladwyne, Mary developed hundreds of hybrids from the seeds and cuttings she brought back from her trips. Although she continued her botanic expeditions until her death, she focused on expanding her garden after her husband’s death in 1938 and soon offered her plants to nurseries for distribution. During her career, she also wrote over one hundred published articles on horticulture and botany and gave numerous lectures in the United States and abroad. She served as president of the Philadelphia Botanical Club, council member of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and director of the American Horticultural Society. In 1941 she became a research associate in the department of botany at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia. In the same year, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society awarded her the Schaeffer Gold Medal for her “notable contribution to horticulture.” She was also named an honorary fellow of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh. In 1950, she created and permanently endowed the Henry Foundation for Botanical Research at her Gladwyne estate. The Foundation is dedicated to the collection and preservation of choice American native plants. In April 1967, Mary died on a collecting trip to North Carolina at the age of 82.

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains biographical information about Mary Gibson Henry, noted field botanist and plants woman. The majority of the collection consists of articles Mary Gibson Henry wrote related to her botanical studies. Most of the articles contained herein are reprinted versions of those which originally appeared in notable botanical journals and magazines. The collection also contains a Catalogue of Rare Native Plants and Shrubs that she collected and two brochures about the Henry Foundation for Botanical Research that she created. One photograph of the botanist is also included.


This collection is arranged alphabetically according to titles supplied by staff.

Index Terms

Botany--British Columbia
Botany--Southern States
Henry Foundation for Botanical Research (Gladwyne, Pa.)
Henry, Mary Gibson, 1884-1967
Native plants for cultivation--North America
Rock gardens

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[identification of item(s)], Mary Henry Gibson Papers, MSS 984, Cherokee Garden Library, Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Mrs. Molly Whitehead Aeck, 1996 (CGL 1996.08).

Processing Information

Collection processed in 2008.


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright law. (Title 17, U.S. Code) Permission for use must be cleared through the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. Licensing agreement may be required.

Container List




11Articles Written by Mary Gibson Henry (reprints): "Exploring and Plant Collecting in Northern British Columbia;""Lilies in My Garden," parts 1 and 2; "Lilium Canadense;""New and Old Hemerocallis;""A New Lily from Southern Alabama and Northern Florida;""Our Splendid Eastern Gentians;""The Pleasure of Raising Shrubs from Seed;""Rare Southern Shrubs;""A Rock Garden of Natives;""Some Amsonias at Gladwyne;""Some Eastern Penstemons;""Uncommon American Shrubs and Plants;""Uncommon Foreign Shrubs That Should be Common.", undated
2Biographical Information re: Mary Gibson Henry, undated
3 Bulletin of the American Rock Garden Society, Volume 11, No. 1, with an article by Mary Gibson Henry, "The Shady Rock Garden,", January 1953
4Catalogue of Rare Native Plants and Shrubs, Collected by Mary G. Henry, undated
5Henry Foundation for Botanical Research Brochures (2), undated
6Photographic print of Mary Gibson Henry, undated
7 Plant Life, Volume 6, dedicated to Mary Gibson Henry with articles by Mary Gibson Henry, “Mary Gibson Henry, an autobiography” and “A Sectorial Mutation in Hemerocallis”, 1950