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Apr 08, 2019
Receipts Tell Stories: Letitia Glenn Biddle

 Letitia Glenn Biddle (1864-1950) came to live at Andalusia as a new bride to Charles Biddle (1857-1923) in 1888. Her love of horticulture was evident early during her life at Andalusia, when she recorded in garden journals her observation of farmland without flowers. She went on to host the first meeting of The Garden Club of Philadelphia at Andalusia in 1904.  By 1913 Letitia and her lady associates wrote the Constitution for the Garden Club of America in the Billiard Room, then used as a summer retreat.  As a member of these prominent organizations, Letitia was also among the founders of the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture For Women, one of America’s first horticulture schools established by women for women, now Temple University’s Ambler Campus. 

 With the recent changes in the development of Andalusia’s gardens, let’s enjoy a bit of history recently uncovered during an archival project Candis Mirande and Deborah Schmidt have been working on during the past year. Recently discovered were several boxes of receipts dating from 1918 through 1923, all neatly folded and beautifully tied with ribbon. These findings were fascinating, giving the reader a very unique story of her life at Andalusia.

 Purchases from the traditional Philadelphia department stores Gimble Brothers and John Wanamaker were diverse including bulbs and sockets, women’s foundations, men’s clothing and collars, and 40-dozen golf balls! From Strawbridge & Clothier she purchased a bucket and shovel, 1-½ yards of satin, 36 dolls, a stove for $29.50 and an oven for $7.75; and from B. F. Dewees, the ladies shop at 11th and Chestnut, she bought gowns and chemises.  

 Other purchases of interest from a variety of grocery stores teaches us her love of Keillers Orange Marmalade, purchased monthly from Mitchell Fletcher Co., Finley Acker Co., Woodland Ave., Philadelphia.  Also monthly she purchased a variety of seasonal fish and Roe from Bernhard Ernst Bros. Smoked Fish Establishment, and John Ellis and Bro. Coffee Roaster and Tea Dealer, where she bought various nuts, rice, and raisins.

Most important, however, were a few of her garden purchases. From the mail order department of Cedar Acres Gladioli she purchased 84 Gladioli in six different varieties in 1919: Schwaben, Sunrise, Isaac Buchanan, Prim. Hybrids Yellow, America, and Baron Hulot.  In 1920 she purchased 225 in six different varieties as well: White Glory, Baron Hulot, Blue Jay, Yellow Prince, America, and Primulinus Hybrids Rose.   Within the same two orders she sent Gladioli gift boxes. 

On October 19, 1923 she ordered 300 Tulip bulbs: Moonlight, Mon Tresor, and Clara Butt from Chester Jay Hunt, Inc. The Cream of Holland Spring-Flowering Bulbs, Little Falls, NJ. Yet another purchase from Hoopes, Bro. & Thomas Co. Maple Avenue Nurseries, West Chester, PA, tells us that on July 8, 1918 she purchased ten peach trees, two ornamental trees, and two roses, one of which was a Climbing American Beauty.

According to Mrs. T. Richard Fisher, in an article about Letitia Glenn Biddle, “In 1946, the Philadelphia Garden Club presented her an award in which was mentioned her knowledge of horticulture and her ability as a gardener. The club also cited her preservation of Andalusia, one of America’s finest old homesteads, and her loving care of it.”

Letitia Glenn Biddle passed away at Andalusia on May 1, 1950 just when many of the bulbs she had purchased over the years were in full bloom. 

*Addendum with appreciation to Old House Gardens for history of the Clara Butt tulip

Clara Butt, the same tulip bulbs ordered by Letitia Glenn Biddle, were introduced in 1889. ‘Clara’ was named for a seventeen year-old British contralto with a glorious voice who was eventually named a Dame of the British Empire. Her memory lives on in photos and recordings—and one amazing tulip. Tall, elegant, and a lovely shell pink, Clara’ reigned as the most popular tulip in early twentieth-century perennial borders—and the first “modern” tulip, but became endangered as time progressed. Clara Butt tulips are once again available to the public via Old House Gardens, a company who searches the world for antique bulbs that have disappeared from mainstream sources. You can now grow beautiful, vibrant tulips like Letitia Glenn Biddle did at Andalusia a century ago.

 

*Article written by Deborah Schmidt, Andalusia Head Guide and museum assistant

*Additional information and photographs added by Connie S. Griffith, Houchins, Andalusia Foundation Executive Director. 

*All images from the Andalusia Archives except the Clara Butt tulip which is courtesy of Old House Gardens, Ann Arbor MI