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Hybridizer Mrs. Wheeler H. (Ethel Anson Steel) Peckham (1879-1965)

Sloatsburg, New York, USA

New Rochelle, N. Y. and later (1939) The Lodge, Skylands Farm, Sloatsburg, N.Y. Horticulturist who specialized in Daffodils, Bulbous Plants, Irises, etc. Hon. Curator, Narcissus and Iris Collections, New York Botanical Garden, Past Director A.I.S. and Horticultural Society of N. Y., Past chairman, Test Gardens, A. I. S. Editor, A.I.S. Alphabetical Check Lists 1929, 1939. Lecturer and writer on horticultural subjects.

ETHEL ANSON PECKHAM [In Memoriam, AIS Bulletin # 182, July 1966]

(An In Memoriam written from papers sent by Fred Cassebeer, Charlotte Gantz, Helen McCaughey, Elizabeth Nesmith, Veronica Quist, and Bee Warburton.)

It is in the order of things that there are those whose works are so perlllanently inscribed on the pages of time that they remain there for all who come after to see. Such a person was Ethel Anson Peckham. To the people who labor with and love irises, two of her works are thus inscribed: The first monumental check lists, now collector's items; and as one of the great personalities of the iris world who founded the American Iris Society, and was a charter member. For these achievements she was awarded the Gold Medal of the American Iris Society, one of the only three such distinguished awards ever bestowed. She was awarded the Gold Medal of the British Iris Society for her paintings of iris species, a truly remarkable collection of paintings and plates.

Ethel Anson Peckham (nee Steel) was born Novelnber 3, 1879, and died February 23, 1965. She was married November 1, 1906, to Wheeler Hazard Peckham. While they lived in New Rochelle, New York, their two children, Content and Anson, were born. It was at this home she became an ardent gardener, and developed the beautiful grounds so many early irisarians remember. She was a woman of many interests-athletics, music, painting, and botany. Her paintings and copper plates of irises, many of which are priceless, have been added to the historical exhibits and files of the American Iris Society. It is the hope of many of us that shortly we may have a place in which these historical treasures may be exhibited properly. These, together with her collection of old catalogues and books, dating back many years, and of bibliographical material which she collected, perhaps are the lnost complete historical treasures the Society has.

Her labors and offices in the field of botany are too numerous to mention here, but it should be noted that she was a member of the Corporation of the New York Botanical Garden, and because of the quality of her work with that distinguished garden, was named Honorary Curator of the iris and narcissus collections in July, 1927. She wrote many articles for the Journal of the New York Botanical Garden, and contributed regularly to Addisonia (Colored Illustrations and Popular Descriptions of Plants) published by that garden from 1925 to 1931. She was a director of the Horticultural Society of New York, and was a life member of the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania Horticultural Societies. She served as President of the Federated Garden Clubs of New York. She held a life membership in the Royal Horticultural Society and the British Iris Society. She lectured in many parts of the country on garden topics, and she was a regular contributor to many gardening and flower magazines.

Of more immediate interest to readers of this BULLETIN is the fact that Mrs. Peckham took an active part in the first trial garden of the American Iris Society, a trial garden which was started at the New York Botanical Garden in 1920; and was the director for many years. She traveled extensively and visited iris collections all over the country. She served as a Director of the American Iris Society from 1925 to 1935, a total of twelve years, and was assigned as the Director in charge of test gardens. in 1923 she was given the herculean task of compiling the bibliography of the Society, a task which she continued until after World War II. She served as the Recorder of the Society from 1940 to 1946, and as Registrar for two years. She taught judging throughout the country, and compiled the first Judges Rules, thus laying the basis for iris judging.

But it is in the monumental task of the Check Lists that Ethel Anson Peckham has written her record in enduring qualities. Even in the 1920's Paul Cook was saying to her and others of the Society that a knowledge of parentages, going back as far as possible, was imperative for successful breeding. A number of other students of the genus, including John Wister, Robert Sturtevant, and Peter Randolph Barr of England, had recognized the need, and already had made a small start at this gigantic task. All this was turned over to Mrs. Peckham, and in 1929 the first Check List of 12,000 names was published. This initial effort stimulated a great flow of additional material from all over the world, and in 1939 it was possible to produce a new Check List, including considerable new information about each iris, and with a new total of 19,000 names. These two Check Lists have set the pattern for all supplementary Check Lists. It takes only a cursory glance at these two publications to become acutely aware of the tremendous, even appalling, magnitude of the task, and of the enormous amounts of time and energy which had to be expended in their preparation. For example, catalogues and books from all parts of the world, dating back as far as a century, had to be checked. But done, they stand as an enduring monument to their author.

It must be recorded that Mrs. Peckham was a student of, and an advocate of, the entire genus. She was one of the first to make an extensive study of dwarf irises; and she included 1,000 dwarfs, arranged alphabetically, in the iris section of the Botanical Garden. To her must go much of the credit for our present class of miniature tall bearded irises. In the garden of her great friend, E. B. Williamson, she found these delicate irises, and insisted that they were worth keeping for arrangements. She christened them "table irises," and in BULLETIN No. 31 she provided the first description of the class. BULLETIN No. 44 records the trip she and Dr. Small made to collect Louisiana irises, and other documents record her very real interest in the entire genus. Charlotte Gantz records the help and encouragement she gave to others, and writes, "She truly was a grand lady of the iris and gardening worlds."

Her publications include:

Peckham, E. A. (1930) Beardless Iris and Iris Group, Journal of the New York Botanical


Arilbred: 'Brukor'

Intermediate Bearded: 'Burger', 'Calata', 'Fantoche'. 'Gamine', 'Ricochette'.

Tall Bearded: 'Alacrity', 'Alizari', 'Badinerie', 'Batuque', 'Bombyx', 'Castorian', 'Chango', 'Colophon', 'Contradanse', 'Courante', 'Czardas', 'Dinkum', 'Dyak', 'Enticement', 'Fanfaronade', 'Faroucca', 'Felucca', 'Freshet', 'Frigate', 'Fun', 'Halidom', 'Hora', 'Huapango', 'Jamboree', 'Jota', 'Manzanilla', 'Masquerade', 'Mazurka', 'Midday', 'Monferina', 'Moonset', 'Morisk', 'Muzetta', 'Ostinato', 'Parthenia', 'Petutti', 'Pinard', 'Primadonna', 'Procella', 'Rafaga', 'Red Victor', 'Ritournelle', 'Roundel', 'Sardana', 'Staccato', 'Syrinx', 'Taliban', 'Tinghao', 'Tirana', 'Tophet', 'Tricorne', 'Tuan', 'Vaquero', 'Vitezza', 'Volatina', 'Waves', 'Winter Shadows', 'Woad', 'Xacara', 'Zaffer', 'Zaleo', 'Zapateo', 'Zarzuela'.

-- Main.RPries - 2012-05-18
Topic revision: r16 - 22 Dec 2019, BobPries
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