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Guide to the Kate Sessions Collection MS 38
MS 38  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Preferred Citation
  • Processing Information
  • Biographical / Historical Notes
  • Scope and Content
  • Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
  • Arrangement
  • Comments

  • Title: Kate Sessions Collection
    Identifier/Call Number: MS 38
    Contributing Institution: San Diego History Center Document Collection
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 2.0 Linear feet (3 boxes)
    Date (inclusive): 1876-1940
    Abstract: This collection focuses on the early life and European travels of Kate Sessions, San Diego horticulturist and “Mother of Balboa Park.” The collection contains personal diaries and correspondence, as well as scrapbooks, unpublished manuscripts and several articles on Sessions.
    creator: Sessions, Kate Olivia, 1857-1940

    Conditions Governing Access

    This collection is open for research.

    Conditions Governing Use

    The San Diego History Center (SDHC) holds the copyright to any unpublished materials. SDHC Library regulations do apply.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Donations from multiple donors were consolidated to create this collection. Accession numbers 770928, 761217, 751219, 830105A, 2002.031, 440601, 650714 and 980404.

    Preferred Citation

    Kate Sessions Collection, MS 38, San Diego History Center Document Collection, San Diego, CA.

    Processing Information

    Collection processed by Katrina White on July 11, 2011.
    Collection processed as part of grant project supported by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) with generous funding from The Andrew Mellon Foundation.

    Biographical / Historical Notes

    Kate Olivia Sessions was born in San Francisco on November 8, 1857. In 1868, her family moved to a ranch in East Oakland where she grew up surrounded by nature, often riding her pony through the countryside and helping her mother in the family garden. She graduated from Oakland High School in 1875. Sessions traveled to Hawaii in 1876 to better her health and entered a San Francisco business college upon her return. In 1877, she entered the University of California at Berkeley, where she studied chemistry and also completed courses on botany, horticulture, and agriculture. Her thesis was entitled “Rock Soap: Chemical Composition, Mineralogical Nature, Geological Occurrence, Technical Value. (Report of Progress).” Sessions received a Bachelor's Degree from the College of Sciences in 1881 and taught in the Oakland primary school following her graduation.
    In 1884, Sessions moved to San Diego to teach and serve as principal at the Russ School. A year later, Sessions partnered with Mr. and Mrs. Solon G. Blaisdell who purchased the San Diego Nursery. The partnership with the Blaisdells dissolved in 1887 and Kate assumed the operation of the Nursery; she also operated a nursery in Coronado and a flower shop in downtown San Diego. In 1892, Kate leased a portion of City Park from the San Diego City Council for the building of a nursery. In exchange, she was named City Gardener and agreed to provide trees for the city’s landscaping projects. She continued to operate the nursery in what is now Balboa Park until the park’s development in 1903 forced her to move. That same year, Sessions opened a nursery in Mission Hills. She sold her flower shop to Alice Rainford in 1909, in order to focus on her nursery. In 1925, Sessions’ friends helped her finance a trip to Europe, where she spent several months traveling through England, France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland and Germany, visiting botanical gardens, exchanging ideas with prominent horticulturists, and obtaining many new plant specimens to introduce in California. In the 1920s, Sessions transitioned to working and living in Pacific Beach, where she operated a nursery for the remaining years of her life. Kate Sessions died in 1940.
    Sessions is known for her contributions to San Diego and California horticulture. She traveled to Europe and Baja California, bringing back colorful and drought-resistant plants. Sessions was the first woman to receive the Meyer Medal from the Council of the American Genetics Association and is known as the “Mother of Balboa Park.”

    Scope and Content

    This collection contains Kate Sessions’ personal diaries and correspondence, including four diaries from her college years in San Francisco, dated 1876-1879, and several volumes of travel journals from her 1925 trip to Europe. The earlier diaries chronicle her life after graduating high school and during the first two years of college at UC Berkeley. The correspondence consists primarily of letters written during Sessions’ 1925 Europe trip addressed to her close friends Mrs. Miles (first name unknown) and Alice Rainford, as well as other miscellaneous correspondence written during that period. The rest of Sessions’ personal correspondence are letters written during her time in San Diego, many pertaining to membership or awards bestowed upon her by different organizations, as well as other personal correspondence. There are also two letters written by Sessions’ acquaintances about her during her illness and after her death, by Max Matousek and Alice Carroll, respectively. The two scrapbooks in the collection were put together by Sessions’ close friend Alice Carroll, and contain news articles, photographs, and memorabilia dating from her childhood in Oakland through her death in 1940. The collection also contains an unpublished manuscript, researcher’s notes and correspondence by M.M. Frechette (first name unknown) who was in the process of publishing a book on Sessions’ trip to Europe in collaboration with Sessions when she passed away in 1940. Frechette’s papers include direct correspondence between her and Sessions regarding the book and her memories of Europe. The unpublished manuscript includes a general biographical introduction of Kate Sessions written by Frechette, as well as typed transcriptions of Kate’s “Letters from Europe.” The collection also includes several published articles on Sessions including a 1943 article by T.D.A. Cockerell. Finally, the collection contains two books: one from Sessions’ personal library, and another that was given as a gift by Sessions to the daughter of a friend.

    Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

    Several pressed plant specimens have been separated from Sessions’ diaries and individually encapsulated. The back cover to the book titled "Flowering Plants and Ferns: Cambridge Biological Series" is partly detached. The book titled "Dollikin Dutch" is very fragile. (July 11, 2011)


    The collection is arranged into five series:
    Series I: Personal Diaries
    Series II: Correspondence
    Series III: Scrapbooks
    Series IV: Manuscripts and Articles
    Series V: Miscellanea
    Items within each series are arranged by subject.


    Detailed "entries of interest" have been included in collection inventory because no preservation copy of the diaries is available. It is hoped that these detailed notes will assist with easier access to the diaries and thus reduce the need for excess handling.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873
    American Forestry Association.
    Arnold Arboretum.
    Brandegee, Townshend Stith, 1843-1925
    Butterfield, H. M. (Harry Morton), b. 1887
    California Academy of Sciences.
    California School for the Blind.
    California Theater.
    Carroll, Alice C.
    Cassino, Samuel Edson, 1856-1937
    Clayton, Will
    Cockerell, Theodore D. A. (Theodore Dru Alison), 1866-1948
    Davidson, George, 1825-1911
    Davidson, Winifred
    Eastwood, Alice, 1859-1953
    Ebell Society.
    Eigenmann, Rosa Smith, 1858-1947
    Frechette, Miss
    Grant, Julia Dent, 1826-1902
    Grant, Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885
    Grant, Ulysses S., 1852-1929
    Hittell, Theodore Henry, 1830-1917
    Hull, Mary
    Judd, William Henry
    Lewis, Dio, 1823-1886
    Livermore, Mary Ashton Rice, 1820-1905
    Matousek, Max
    Meyer, Frank Nicholas
    Miles, Herbert E., Mrs.
    Moore, Justin P.
    National Botanic Gardens of South Africa.
    Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart, 1844-1911
    Rainford, Alice N.
    San Diego Business and Professional Women's Club.
    San Diego Society of Natural History.
    Sessions, Frank
    Sessions, Kate Olivia, 1857-1940
    Sessions, Milton
    Shattuck, Mary
    University of California, Berkeley.
    Vilmorin-Andrieux et cie.
    Wade's Opera House.
    Wangenheim, Julius
    Wark, William O.
    Winchester College.
    Angel Island (Calif.)
    Balboa Park (San Diego, Calif.)
    Berkeley (Calif.)
    Bolzano (Italy : Province)
    Champlain, Lake
    Como, Lake (Italy)
    Gibraltar, Strait of
    Gravetye Manor Gardens (England)
    Hudson River (N.Y. and N.J.)
    Lisbon (Portugal)
    London (England)
    Matterhorn (Switzerland and Italy)
    Meyer Award
    Munich (Germany)
    Naples (Italy)
    New York (N.Y.)
    Nuremberg (Germany)
    Nurseries (Horticulture)
    Oakland (Calif.)
    Paris (France)
    Pompei (Italy)
    Rome (Italy)
    San Diego (Calif.)
    San Francisco (Calif.)
    San Jose (Calif.)
    Venice (Italy)