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!
HIPS Publications Sales Chairman
260 Michigan Hollow Rd.
Spencer, NY 14883
Please make checks payable to "HIPS"
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THE REV. C. S. HARRISON: ADORNING THE BEULAH LAND OF THE HITHER SHORE:
REDISCOVERING THE FIRST AMERICAN BOOK ON IRISES AND ITS REMARKABLE AUTHOR
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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