March-April 2020

Celebrate the

Garden Club of

Virginia’s Centennial

Tour beautiful homes and gardens April 18-25, and
help the environment

Women made a lot of history 100 years ago. Historians say Edith Wilson secretly became the first de facto female president of the United States after her husband, Woodrow, suffered a serious stroke. While some women in temperance groups convinced the country to prohibit alcohol (unenforceable), waves of women suffragettes won the right to vote (enforceable). In May 1920 in Richmond, women in eight garden clubs quietly formed the Garden Club of Virginia (GCV).

“In the early 20th century, there weren’t outlets for educated women to become politically active,” says Missy Buckingham, GCV centennial chairwoman. “They couldn’t vote yet. Some worked for suffrage. For others, the formation of garden clubs was a way to be impactful in their own backyards and communities. These women changed the landscape of our country.”

GCV members started by urging the commonwealth to preserve trees as construction crews started building the first state highways. Some members wielded axes against unsightly billboards. The ladies dug in to restore and protect historic public gardens and landscapes, from Monticello to Mount Vernon. They protect nearly 50 today. After years of lobbying the General Assembly for a state park system, GCV celebrated the opening of six parks in 1936.

Changing the landscape extended beyond Virginia’s borders. In 1941 during World War II, the club sent funds overseas to help England recover its landscape after German bombing raids. In recent decades, GCV sent money to Charleston and New Orleans after hurricanes.


Today, GCV has 47 regional clubs. Nearly 3,500 active members continue efforts to preserve trees, and advocate for native plants and pollinators. They award their GCV Conservation and Environmental Studies Fellowship to graduate students.

“The GCV is committed to providing education and facilitating public dialogue to help enact balanced policies that are economically and environmentally sound,” says Nina Mustard, a past president.

To celebrate its centennial, the nonprofit GCV will donate $500,000 over five years to the state park system, which now operates 38 parks. The club will also open its centennial exhibit at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond. The exhibit will run from May 14 through Sept. 6.


GCV raises funds by organizing the nation’s largest and only statewide house and garden tour. During Historic Garden Week 2020, club members will greet almost 26,000 people at 29 tours. Dogwood and lilac trees will bloom above colorful azaleas and tulips. Unique flower arrangements created by GCV members will grace each home.

“By showcasing beautiful homes and landscapes, Historic Garden Week generates almost $11 million each year in economic impact,” says Karen Cauthen Ellsworth, director of special programs.

“With tour proceeds, the women in our 100-year-young Garden Club of Virginia will continue to celebrate the beauty of the land, conserve nature’s gifts, and challenge future generations to build on this heritage. We invite electric cooperative members, their friends and family members to put on comfortable walking shoes and enjoy one or all of our 29 tours. We’ll be open rain or shine,” she says.

To learn more about Historic Garden Week, visit Photos courtesy of Garden Club of Virginia.