This article originally appeared in Northern Gardener as part of the MSHS 150th Anniversary celebration.
Sara Manning, 1853-1900
Born into the New England elite, Sara Manning left her horticultural legacy in what was then the somewhat wild west of Minnesota. Despite the cultural constraints on women during her time, by the time she was 30 she was a botanist in all but name.
Sara was born in Massachusetts in 1853 to a family full of preachers, teachers and merchants, who came to America from England in the 1630s. Her family moved to Pepin, Wis., in 1856 and then to Lake City, Minn., where Sara lived with her parents for nearly all of her life. Sara’s father was a businessman, first in Reading, Mass., and then in the Lake Pepin valley.
She was, by all accounts, an intelligent and studious young woman. In 1871, Sara taught school. Then, she attended Carleton College for a year. As was common for the time, her strenuous studying led her physician to advise her to give up academics. Luckily for her and Minnesota horticulture, she was counseled to lead an outdoor life. She did so with gusto.
She began studying botany with some female teachers at the Lake City high school. Her father’s business took him into the countryside frequently and Sara accompanied him, always on the watch for interesting plants and flowers.
Sara was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and assisted several prominent male botanists with publications and discoveries. An honorary life member of the Minnesota Horticultural Society, she presented a paper that included a catalog of 504 species of flowering plants to the society in 1884. In its day it was considered a pioneer list of Minnesota flora. She continued to study plants in this region until her health failed, and she died at 47 from heart failure.
Sara wrote about her experiences growing native flowers in her garden with humility and humor:
… honesty requires the writer to admit that there were many failures, owing to the perversity of certain rebellious species which refused to live anywhere in her vicinity … .
A cousin, Warren H. Manning, himself a renowned landscape architect, said of Sara, “My cousin was a student always, a lover of art and of nature.”