Most existing garden clubs in the early 1930s were well established, but not well publicized, and met as groups of friends who discussed horticulture and shared flowers and gardens with their friends and family. The “founding sisters” of the Garden Club of South Carolina, Inc. sought to widen the circle of friends who shared a mutual love for gardening.
Claudia Lea Phelps (Mrs. Sheffield), First and only Life President of GCSC, visualized one large body of garden clubs in South Carolina. In 1930 she invited representatives from active clubs across the state to meet at her home, Rose Hill, in Aiken.
The ladies met and discussed proposed plans. Early records describe the women, “almost giddy with excitement,” as they shared good ideas during lunch. The expansive dining room table seated more than 16 people, and some of the ladies laughingly confessed to “buying new dresses” for the luncheon. The meeting concluded with a tour of the spacious grounds of the 34-room “cottage” which occupied a whole city block in the Winter Colony. Weekend visits followed the initial meeting, affording more time to make plans for the emerging organization.
Representatives from twelve active clubs met at Parish House of Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbia on April 22, 1930 to formally organize GCSC. The Charter member clubs were Garden Club of Aiken, Four o’clock Garden Club of Anderson, Garden Club of Charleston, Columbia Garden Club, Saluda Garden Club, Book and Garden Club of Spartanburg, Fortnightly Garden Club of Spartanburg, Flower Study Club of Spartanburg, Iris Club of Spartanburg, Sumter Garden Club, The Gardeners of Spartanburg, and The Summerville Garden Club of Columbia.
The first Officers were:
- President, Mrs. Sheffield Phelps, Aiken
- 1st Vice President, Mrs. Heyward Gibbes, Columbia
- 2nd Vice President, Mrs. Robert Wilson, Charleston
- Secretary-Treasurer, Mrs. Frank Henderson, Aiken
There were three members on the first Board of Directors. The first Committees were Program, Membership, Visiting Gardens, Publicity, and Conservation. Nine Members-at-Large were listed as charter members.
A meeting on December 9, 1930 in the Rose Mary Tea Room, Columbia, was called to confirm the vote by the whole membership to seek federation status.
Delegates from South Carolina were guests at the annual convention of National Council of State Garden Clubs in Chattanooga, TN in May 1932. They extended a warm welcome to the South Carolina ladies, and heartily recognized this emerging “force for good” of federated garden club work in South Carolina. An abundance of qualified leaders, and a state with such magnificent scenic beauty, natural wonders, and established gardens, provided a perfect fit with National Council leaders.
The Garden Club of South Carolina, Inc. was federated with National Council of State Garden Clubs on April 22, 1934, becoming the 25th state to join the national organization. NCSGC shortened its name in May 2001 to National Garden Clubs, Inc.
For 84 years, GCSC has met challenges with unwavering hope and perseverance, and measured time with successful ventures. We have experienced growth in membership by including youth, seniors, men and couples clubs. The goals of promoting conservation and environmental responsibility, and achieving successful beautification projects and educational endeavors, are legacies we leave to our members and our state.
Helen Goforth, GCSC Historian