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HIST: HIPS latest offering: The Rev. C.S. Harrison Omnibus

Some of you may be looking for holiday presents for the irisarian on your 
list. Here is a unique gift! 

Anner Whitehead has spent the past 2 years meticulously researching the life 
of the Rev. C.S. Harrison, an early and almost unknown champion of the iris as 
a garden plant in America.  The Omnibus is the result of Anner's work, which 
HIPS Guru Phil Edinger calls "a tremendous undertaking, and one of tremendous 

I am attaching excerpts from the forward, introduction, and conclusion of the 
Omnibus. In addition to containing a biographical essay, reproductions of 
both of Harrison's Manuals on the Iris, extensive excerpts from his speeches and 
writings, numerous illustrations and supporting documents, the Omnibus 
contains an article on early AIS Checklist issues encountered during the research. 
Anyone who has ever used these Checklists would find this essay enlightening! 

Copies of the Omnibus are available for $25.00, postpaid in the U.S.  Any 
questions, please ask!  

Sincere thanks,
Dorothy Stiefel
HIPS Publications Sales Chairman
260 Michigan Hollow Rd.
Spencer, NY  14883

Please make checks payable to "HIPS"

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~  ~  ~  ~


Anner M. Whitehead, 2004


In the Autumn of 2002, while researching a related subject, I decided that I 
must pause and resolve my longstanding questions about the Manual on the Iris 
by the Rev. C. S. Harrison of York, Nebraska. This work and its author are 
included in the notes in the Alphabetical Iris Check List, published in 1929 by 
the American Iris Society (AIS), wherein Mrs. Peckham, the editor, conveys that 
in publishing the "Manual of the Iris," [sic], which she unambiguously dates 
to 1905, Harrison "put information about this flower in a form likely to 
spread its popularity." Furthermore, because when the work appeared "there was 
little literature of such a nature available . . . it was of great value, turning 
the attention of many nurserymen towards these flowers." She also notes 
Harrison's influence on the hybridizer Hans P. Sass of Nebraska. This assessment was 
reprinted, with the title of the Manual corrected, in the revised and updated 
Alphabetical Iris Check List published in 1939. 

Then, in Garden Irises, published by the AIS in 1959, John C. Wister, the 
Society's first President, who had included Harrison in neither his seminal 
magazine essay on the history of garden irises in America, "What America Has Done 
for the Iris," published in The Garden Magazine in June, 1921, nor his 1927 
book, The Iris, observes that roughly concurrent with the awakening of nurseryman 
Bertrand Farr's interest in irises in Pennsylvania, "in Nebraska, the Rev. C. 
S. Harrison was growing and writing about irises. In 1905 he published A 
Manual of the Iris [sic] and sold copies for about twenty-five cents. He is 
credited with influencing Hans and Jacob Sass to take up iris breeding." Wister's 
statement reappeared verbatim in The World of Irises, published in 1978, the 
AIS's most recently published review of the history of the period.

This information, while intriguing, was inadequate for my purposes. Internal 
evidence made clear the Manual on the Iris of which I owned a photocopy could 
not have appeared as early as 1905; moreover, I had no substantive 
understanding of who the Rev. C. S. Harrison was or how his Manual came to be written, 
nor could I discover anyone who did. Accordingly, I began to investigate these 
questions, and, in so doing, pieced together from the fragmentary, variable, 
and largely autobiographical record the extraordinary story of a charismatic 
early American promoter of garden irises, a man who was a pioneer and a pilgrim 
in every sense of those words, which is also the story of the first monograph 
on the Iris to be written and published in the United States of America. The 
purpose of this article is to relate that story.

The Rev. C. S. Harrison was a Congregational missionary and minister who, 
moving west with the growth of the United States, organized churches and built 
towns from Minnesota to the Rockies. The Congregationalists were, and are, the 
spiritual descendants of the Pilgrims who arrived in Massachusetts on the ship 
Mayflower in 1620. A man of prodigious physical and intellectual vigor, 
gregarious, imaginative, and progressive, Harrison promoted spiritual advancement 
and material prosperity wherever his influence was felt. As he approached 
seventy years of age, he retired from the active ministry and turned to 
horticulture, his long-cherished avocation, to support himself. Over the next decade and a 
half, beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, he founded a commercial 
nursery which earned a wide reputation, published eight books with revised 
editions thereof, including two distinct versions of the Manual on the Iris, 
communed with, addressed, and enjoyed the respect of notables in his profession 
across the continent, and passionately preached what he called "the evangel of 

Our story began with a need to cast light on two questions: Who the Rev. C. 
S. Harrison was, and how his Manual on the Iris came to be written. I believe 
we are now in a better position to discuss these things. 

The question arises of why those in the "world of irises" have heard so 
little about this interesting pioneer who promoted the Iris so passionately in an 
enormous number of public venues. Perhaps it is in reviewing the broad range of 
his activity that we come to understand fully that the Rev. C. S. Harrison 
was, in fact, an informed intellectual with substantial social agendas and 
far-reaching influence. He was a prophet for popular America, and one lesson we may 
take from his story is that there is a difference between the history of 
garden irises in America and the history of the American Iris Society, founded in 
1920, and the former is arguably a longer, richer, and more ecumenical story 
than the canonical history of the AIS.

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