Ernesta Drinker Ballard (1920 – August 11, 2005) was an American horticulturalist and feminist. Among the founders of the National Organization for Women, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, and Women's Way, Ballard was the executive director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society from 1963 to 1981, credited by The New York Times with bringing its annual Philadelphia Flower Show to "international prominence."
Ernesta Drinker was born in 1920 to Henry Drinker, a well-known lawyer, and his wife, Sophie Hutcheson Drinker. She grew up in Merion, Pennsylvania. At an early age, her father instilled in her that the only meaningful role women can have is to be a wife and a mother. Her father would pay little to no attention to her and would only spend time with his sons. Ernesta expressed her desire of becoming a lawyer and encountered no support from her father since she was only expected to get married and become a wife. Her father would constantly send hidden messages that women were only supposed to be nice and enchanting and that men's capabilities were higher than women's. Unconsciously, these hidden messages stayed with Ernesta for 30 years. Surprisingly later in life, Ballard's mother became a feminist and she was ashamed of her mother's new beliefs. Mrs. Drinker had never expressed to her daughter that she was valuable as a woman and therefore, it was hard for her to understand feminism from her mother.
Not encouraged to attend college, Ernesta Drinker attended St. Timothy's Finishing School in Maryland. She married lawyer Frederick Ballard in 1939. Ernesta Ballard dedicated her life to her family, which included her four children and her husband. Even though she felt like she was living the American dream, she was lacking accomplishments in her professional career. This was something that was important to her and she wanted to do something for herself to feel accomplished in her professional career.
As she later expressed it, Ballard grew tired of just being somebody's wife and somebody's mother; she wanted to be somebody in her own right. In 1954 she graduated from the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women (now part of Temple University) and established her own horticulture business, Valley Gardens. She later wrote two popular books on plants, The Art of Training Plants (1962) and Garden in Your House (1971), and hosted radio shows that gave gardening tips.
In 1964, Ballard closed Valley Gardens to become the director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. At the time, the Philadelphia Flower Show was a separate organization, and was in such a poor state of organization that the group who ran it had decided to cancel the show for two years. Fearing that the public would lose interest in the show if it was dormant for that long, Ballard persuaded the Horticultural Society's board to stage the show in 1965; in 1968, the society became the show's official producer. As the show's chief organizer, Ballard expanded the annual event and made it “much more participatory” and educational in nature. Under Ballard's leadership, which lasted until 1980, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society became a thriving organization, and the Philadelphia Flower Show grew to become one of the largest indoor flower shows in the United States.
Ballard's husband supported and believed in her abilities as a professional. However, Ernesta Ballard would unintentionally sabotage herself due to the way she was taught to think about women since a young age.
As president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Ballard took the University of Pennsylvania to task for its neglect of the Morris Arboretum, which it had inherited from its former owners. The lawyer who accompanied her recalled that Ballard was "like a drill boring . . . into stone", in wearing down the resistance of university officials, who responded and developed the arboretum into what it became.
Ultimately, Ballard felt that the best legacy she could leave was to empower her own daughters to help to empower other women.
Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize
Women's Way annually awards the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize to a recently published female author who has helped make headway in the dialogue about women's rights through her work. The 2012 winner was Rebecca Traister for her book Big Girls Don’t Cry.
- Saxon, Wolfgang (1 September 2005). "Ernesta Drinker Ballard, 85, Horticulturist and Feminist, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
- Ciarrochi, Lillian (15 August 2005). "In Memoriam: Ernesta Drinker Ballard". National Organization for Women. Archived from the original on 18 March 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
- Ernesta D. Ballard, The Philadelphia Award; accessed 2018.01.12.
- Morris Arboretum Archives; accessed 2018.01.08.
- Ballard, Ernesta Drinker (1973-03-01). "Horticulturist". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 208 (1): 32–36. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1973.tb30817.x. ISSN 1749-6632.
- "2012 Women's Way Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize". Philly.com. 2012-10-22. Retrieved 2012-12-04.
- WomensWayPA. "WOMENS WAY EDB Prize Winner Honored by WPVI-TV 2012-03-16 5AM - Rebecca Traister". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-12-04.
- Papers of Ernesta Drinker Ballard, 1958-2005: A Container List. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.