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Victorian Garden Ads Seldom Depicted Women Working

Victorian garden ads seldom depicted women working.

Recently I received this photo in a press kit to promote a new garden tool. Notice the woman here is raking in the garden while her son observes his mother’s work. [below]

[Courtesy of PR Newswire]
Women depicted as gardeners who were actually working in the garden was something I did not see very often as I read dozens of nineteenth century seed and nursery catalogs in doing research for my book.

I saw many illustrations of women, often cutting flowers to take into the house.  Sometimes women appeared as players in a lawn game like croquet.

Susan Groag Bell wrote an article called “Women create gardens in male landscapes: A revisionist approach to eighteenth-century English garden history.” It appeared in the journal Feminist Studies.

There she said “The discussion of gardening by women in the nineteenth century is not in the landscape books of the period, but rather in their letters, garden notebooks, botanical paintings, and embroideries. From these texts we know that women were actively involved in gardening.”

English writer Jennifer Davies in her book The Victorian Flower Garden does mention Victorian suburban women gardeners as a target audience for garden products.  She says, “Manufacturers were not slow to identify a new market in suburban lady gardeners. Advertisements for lawn mowers appeared with the wording ‘suitable for a Lady’ or with an illustration of a lady pushing a mower.”

Most of the illustrations of women in Victorian American seed and nursery catalogs did not show a woman at work in the garden. Notice the woman in this 1888 catalog illustration from Boston’s Rawson Seed Company. [below]  She’s cutting flowers.

Rawson_1888_garden very small

Illustrations similar to this Rawson image appeared frequently in the catalogs in Victorian America.

Today in selling tools for the garden, women are often depicted as actually working in the garden like digging a hole, weeding, or planting.

The change is not in a woman’s work in the garden, but in the advertiser’s image of woman as gardener.

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