Contributed by: Joyce H. Munro, Morris Arboretum Archives Volunteer


Frank Bartram, Master of Ceremonies, at the 1912 John Bartam Association gathering. Image courtesy of Newspapers.com

If you ran a nursery business near Philadelphia in the early 1900s, you’d be pretty nervous whenever Frank Mott Bartram, Special Agent with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, came around. It was his job to go from nursery to nursery, examining trees and shrubs for pests and diseases like San Jose Scale, Black Knot and Yellows. If Bartram found evidence of contamination, he might have to order the immediate destruction of stock. Imagine the relief at nurseries like Thomas Meehan & Sons in Germantown and Hoopes, Brother & Thomas in West Chester when Bartram completed his inspection and declared their stock healthy, ready to sell to local orchards and gardens.

Frank Bartram’s course of study at Cornell University prepared him well for his job and for lecturing at meetings of horticultural societies around the state on timely topics. And his upbringing as a Quaker prepared him well for the many leadership positions he held through the years, including the Central Committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and the committees on Philanthropic Labor and First-Day Schools. A vocal leader among Philadelphia Friends, he gave lectures on difficult subjects, including prison reform, advancing Friends’ principles in other countries, and capital punishment. Frank Bartram knew how to deal with conflict, both professionally and religiously.

It’s no surprise, then, that John T. Morris hired a resolute and principled person like Bartram to assist with a project that could have volatile implications for Philadelphia because it was based on a precarious alliance of several city-wide cultural and educational institutions. Bartram was forty-two years old, now a free-lance horticulturist, when Morris hired him in 1914. And within weeks, Bartram was dispatched on a six-country European tour to examine the competition and return with ideas for how to do it better. In his typical eye-for-detail fashion, Bartram amassed a wealth of information, recorded in diaries during his year-long consultancy, periodically shared with Morris in meetings or letters.

But if you think this project was about enhancing the grounds of Compton, you’d be wrong. This was about a state-of-the-art botanical school for Philadelphia. Not even a worldwide war was enough to put this project on pause; only the untimely death of Morris in the summer of 1915 brought things to a halt. Bartram went on to establish a credible reputation as a landscape architect, designing a range of projects from small residential to large-scale institutional.

For thirty-three years, Bartram served on the Kennett Square School Board. Midway through his tenure, the board established the Frank M. Bartram Prize in Science and for the next twenty years, a high school senior received the award during graduation. Bartram’s commitment to religious schooling was equally strong—as a member of the London Grove Friends Meeting, he taught a First-Day class. Bartram and his sister Mary, unmarried siblings, lived together their entire lives (as did John and Lydia Morris). For a number of years, they hosted gatherings of the Young Friends Association in their home and never failed to promote Friends’ principles by word and deed.

Frank Bartram inherited “botanick fire” from his ancestor, John Bartram, the Father of American Botany; he also inherited a few of his ancestor’s gardening tools. And each year, Frank and his sister were invited to attend the gathering of the John Bartram Association, as members of the extended Bartram family. But with so many horticulturally-inclined relatives capable of serving as Master of Ceremonies year to year, it took awhile for Frank to have the honor. His turn came in 1912. That was the year the association recognized Thomas Meehan for his efforts to save Bartram’s 102-acre garden—the garden that produced seed for Thomas Jefferson at Monticello—from total extinction. Imagine Bartram’s pride as he played emcee that day.