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Brigham, Dorcas

Dorcas Brigham

Dorcas Brigham was a member of the Class of 1918, and a valued member of the Smith College faculty. After graduating and spending time in Florida, Brigham returned to Smith to do graduate work in 1923, and stayed almost twenty-five years . She taught Botany until her retirement in 1947.

Brigham was born on May 18, 1896, in Newtonville, Massachusetts, but spent most of her childhood in Springfield, Massachusetts. While a student at Smith she was house president, a student adviser, a member of Psi Kappa Psi, played halfback on the field hockey team, was class treasurer her Sophomore year and contibuted to the war effort by chairing the Supply Committee of the Smith College Relief Unit. She was also on the Senior Dramatics Costume Committee.

When she graduated she spent her winters in Florida working in an orange grove and a herbarium. She spent her summers in Alexandria Bay, located in the Thousand Islands of New York State. When she returned in 1923, she studied and taught botany. She eventually became an associate professor in the Botony Department. She wrote several popular articles for the Gardeners’ Chronicle of America, was a member of the Highlands Biological Foundation, Highlands-Cashiers Garden Club, National Horticultural Society, Massachusetts Horticultural Society, American Rock Garden Society, American Association of University Professors, and the American Amaryllis Society. During World War II she “helped locally to promote interest in house gardening” In 1928 she left Smith for a year to teach horticulture at the Lawthorpe School of Landscape Architecture in Groton, Massachusetts. There she met her future business partner, Dorthea Wallace Ward. In the spring of 1929 Brigham located a 25-acre farm about five miles away from the college in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. Together they moved into an 18th century farmhouse, and began to develop the land. They soon turned the farm into a business known as the Village Hill Nursery. They raised pigs, cows, and chickens on the farm, becoming virtually self-sufficient. Both women lectured locally on rock gardens, herbs and various botanical issues and interests. When Ward married in 1939, Brigham sold off the animals, but expanded the nursery, building a greenhouse, putting in a pond, and a massive grape arbor. She began working there full-time when she retired in 1947. In 1955 she was honored by the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts for her “unselfish, untiring efforts in furthering the interest in and knowledge of unusual plants…” Brigham stayed in Williamsburg year-round until the 1950s, then took a house in Mount Dora, Florida, where she founded the area’s first Audubon Society and became the namesake for a nature preserve on Lake Gertrude. She still returned to Massachusetts in the summer months, but spent most of the year in Florida until her death on February 14, 1986.

At Smith she not only taught botany, but she oversaw the care and identification of the many varieties of trees on the campus, (and designed a garden room in Capen House). When Brigham began her career, L. Clark Seelye had left office only four years before. When she died in 1986 Mary Maples Dunn was the College’s president.

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