Ethel Zoe Bailey and her father

Ethel Zoe Bailey and her father on a collecting trip in Panama, 1931

Ethel Zoe Bailey

Ethel Zoe Bailey in 1905

With their luscious arrays of gardening dreams, seed catalogs have stoked our horticultural passions for generations. Floral fantasies, giant vegetables and tiny trees can all be ours-just fill in an order blank, provide payment, send it off and wait for fulfillment to arrive in the mail. However, seed catalogs play a wider role than mere horticultural gratification. Seen from a historical perspective, they reflect cultural and social values, alterations in language, demographics, and changing technologies, both in agriculture and printing.

Shortly after Liberty Hyde Bailey came to Cornell in 1888, he requested catalogs from seed and plant dealers throughout the world. These were to furnish a record of plant introductions, keep up with trends in the business of horticulture, document the sources of all available plants and seeds and to serve as a reference for Bailey's writings. Established as a working collection, it remains so today. Economists, statisticians, historians, those involved in the reconstruction of historic gardens, academics, extension agents and garden writers are a sampling of those who use this invaluable resource. With over 134,000 items, Cornell's catalog collection is considered second only to the collection in the National Agricultural Library; as such, it ranks high in worldwide importance. This collection is part of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium, formed in 1935 when Bailey donated to Cornell his library, herbarium and horticultural catalog collection in order to establish "a place for the scientific study of garden plants, for their naming, for their classification, and their documentation."

Although the seed collection was begun by Bailey, its name honors Ethel Zoe, his daughter and for many years his able assistant and collaborator. Ms. Bailey curated the catalog collection for over 70 years until her death in 1983 at the age of 93. Having graduated from Smith College in 1911 with a degree in zoology, under her father's tutelage she became a respected botanist in her own right. She co-edited Hortus, the standard reference for plants cultivated in the United States and Canada and assisted with the research and writing of Bailey's Manual of Cultivated Plants, The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture and other of his publications. On collecting trips to China, the Caribbean and uncharted regions of South and Central American jungle she was her father's field assistant. For her work in horticulture, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society awarded her a medal in 1967, as did Smith College three years later. In addition to her professional work, Ms. Bailey also took care of an invalid mother, raised a teen-aged niece and nephew, ran a household and took pride in being the first woman in Ithaca to get a driver's license.