Biography of our Founder, Grace Osborne Edwards

Written by: Blanche Lowe Hirshberg
April 7, 1960

Grace Osborne Edwards was born in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, November 16th, 1871, daughter of Benjamin Eugene and Ella Osborne Edwards. She attended elementary schools in Lacrosse, boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, and received her B. A. from Wellesley College in 18940

In 1898 she graduated from the Library School of the University of Illinois. She followed the profession of Librarianship until 1910, being in charge of Libraries in Michigan City, Indiana, and Superior, Wisconsin; then she left that work to study for social service at the Armour Institute in Chicago, living in residence at the Chicago Settlement House. She was engaged in Social Service work in Chicago until the time of the great flood in Dayton, Ohio, in 1913, when she went out to that city to do relief work under the Red Cross. She stayed on there for a year in welfare work, then went to head a Settlement House in Baltimore. After this came a period of travel.

In 1915, her family decided to build on a grove lot they owned in Winter Park at the corner of Georgia and Webster Avenue. Miss Edwards came down at that time to assist her father. After his death the following year, the family sold their home in the North and made their permanent home in Winter Park. On the grounds of this home Miss Edwards and her sister Helen, developed a beautiful garden. I have three pictures of this home and garden taken in 1921 by May Spooner Dickson and given to me by Mrs. Lawrence Norem. Miss Edwards lived here until 1936, when she built her own home at 425 Alberta Drive. I also have pictures of this home as it is today. Here, Miss Edwards lived until her death.

From the very first, Grace Edwards participated actively in the civic and cultural life of Winter Park, as evidenced by her membership in the Woman’s Club, the Women’s University Club, the Wellesley College Alumnae Society which she founded, the Allied Arts Society, the Poetry Society, and other groups and committees. She was a member of All Saint’s Episcopal. She served on the Board of Highland Hammock, the first State Park in Florida.

Her love for Winter Park, plus her love of flowers and gardens developed into a great concern for City beautification. She motivated the groups which worked to plant and beautify the grounds of Rollins College, the Woman’s Club, the Grammar School, City Hall and the Station Park. She interested the colored people in conducting a beautification contest in Hannibal Square. At one time she wrote and conducted a Christmas pageant in Station Park, in which all groups and ages took part.

As Chairman of the Civics Department of the Woman’s Club, in 1921 she conceived the idea of a Flower Show. This was held at the Woman’s Club on March 15th, 19220 It was the first flower show to be held in Winter Park and indeed, in all Florida. The Winter Park Herald of March 15th of that year, gave it elaborate coverage, describing as “a scene of beauty and grandeur, the biggest thing that ever happened to Winter Park” and said “Credit for this wonderful achievement is due to Grace Edwards and her Committee.”

The success of the flower show was the inspiration for the organization of a Garden Club, the first meeting of which was held April 10th, 1922. Grace Edwards was elected President and served until 1926.

In 1924 the Winter Park Garden Club became one of four charter members of the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, the others being Miami, Jacksonville and Halifax County. Grace Edwards was elected President and served two years. In view of the fact that the Federation has attained such growth and importance and has just this year dedicated its own Headquarters Building in Meade Garden in Winter Park, it is interesting to note that old records show that “the first dollar that found its way into the Federation Treasury was from the Winter Park Garden Club, and Grace Edwards advanced the money”.

In 1926 the Garden Club divided into four circles and Grace Edwards was elected President of the North End Circle and served until the Spring of 1929.

Miss Edwards died January 1st, 1945, after a long illness, at the age of 73. Funeral services were held at All Saints Episcopal Church. Since burial was to be in Lacrosse at a later date, friends were asked to send potted plants instead of flowers. I believe these were later taken to the May Spooner Dickson Memorial Garden. A friend who attended the services, remembers being given a white camellia at the close of the service.

Miss Edwards left 400 books to the Garden Club which were placed on a special Garden Shelf in the Public Library. I also understand she left the Club a cut glass punch bowl and ladle, but I have been unable to account for this.

There is a Grace Edwards Scholarship Fund at Wellesley College. It is not clear whether this was established by Miss Edwards herself, or by her sister, Ann Katherine, who was also a graduate of Wellesley.

In 1943 the Winter Park Garden Club established a Grace o. Edwards award for the best scrap book of wild flowers done by children through first to sixth grades, under supervision of Chairman of Junior Gardening.

At the March 8th, 1945 meeting of the North End Circle, Miss Mathilde Campbell reported on a tentative plan to beautify Morse Boulevard by planting a Memory Garden of azaleas in honor of Miss Edwards. This plan was formally adopted at the April 11th meeting. At once gifts of money were donated. Poole & Fuller offered to sell fertilizer at cost, the Mayor promised the City would take care of irrigation. From that time the Garden became the special project of our Circle. It was formally dedicated in 1949 and a memorial erected. It became the custom of our Circle to plant an azalea there in memory of any one of our members lost to us through death.

Over the years many causes have contributed to the difficulty of the maintenance of this Garden by the Circle alone, and now that at last we have a Park Board as part of our City Government, it has been deemed expedient to turn the planting and care of this Garden over to the City. The Memorial plaque to Miss Edwards remains there and I am sure the North End Circle will ever be vigilant to see that the plot is properly cared for.

However, the great memorial to Grace Edwards is the Garden Club itself with its many Circles and ever growing membership, all cherishing the legacy of beauty she left us, all striving to maintain and share this heritage.

I have talked to many people who worked with Miss Edwards during her life time, trying to create a mental image of her as a person. I am told she was slight of stature, retiring in manner, working quietly through others to accomplish her objectives but bold to speak out when forthrightness was necessary, friendly to all but intimate with few. I can only conclude that she was by nature and training, one of those dedicated persons who give themselves in service to others, asking so little in return that their own lives lack those close personal relationships which most of us need and cultivate.