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History of the Santa Clara County Rose Society

Organized November 8, 1927
Written by Steve Steps

The Santa Clara County Rose Society is by far the oldest rose society in the NCNH and is probably only second to the Portland Rose Society as the oldest rose society in the western half of the US.

In 1892 Cora Baggerly (later known as Mrs. Fremont Older) and Mary Derby (later known as Mrs. Charles Derby) meet at the Louis Prevost Nursery in San Jose. They are both very enthusiastic about roses. Cora later becomes the Vice-President of the ARS and Mary becomes the garden editor of the San Jose Evening News. Cora has a dream of roses "lining every country road."

There were rose festivals held in San Jose in 1896, 1901, 1910 and 1915. Rose fever hits a high when a group meets to plan two major events: (1) A Fiesta de las Rosas (Rose Carnival) for May 1926 -- an annual event that lasts for at least seven years. An editorial in the Oakland Post Enquirer claims the Fiesta is "just as beautiful, just as well organized..." as the Pasadena rose pageant. (2) December 4, 1925 was chosen as the first of several rose planting days in which all schools, clubs and citizens are encouraged to plant rose gardens. The rose planting committee is chaired by Mrs. Fremont Older (President of SCCRS in 1929) and includes at least 7 later presidents of the SCCRS.

There was a Rose Show, May 20-22, 1926 as part of the Fiesta de las Rosas. It is "under the Auspices of the Santa Clara County Flower Lovers' League, directed by Mrs. William Bogen, Mrs. Charles Derby and Dr. Charles C. Adams." They each become presidents of the SCCRS respectively in 1928, 1931 and 1930. The Fiesta Rose Show opens with an address by Dr. Edmunds M. Mills, President Emeritus of American Rose Society.

The Santa Clara County Rose Society was formed on November 8, 1927, when all members of the American Rose Society were invited by Mrs. Charles Derby to meet at her ranch residence on McLaughlin Avenue. About a year later (November 19, 1928), Mrs. Fremont Older gives an impassioned speech to the San Jose City Council that San Jose should have a Municipal Rose Garden. The motion passes before anyone else can speak in favor of the motion.

The ground breaking was April 7, 1931 when Dr. Horace McFarland, President of the ARS, used a silver shovel to plant a Castilian rose -- the first roses planted at the Californian Missions. John McLaren, who created Golden Gate Park, created the plan for the garden.

An article in the Feb 27, 1932 San Jose Mercury Herald states the SCCRS had planted 3500 rose bushes and contemplated planting 2500 more. Among the original plantings were a rose grown from a slip of a Martha Washington rose. The plant from which the slip was taken was planted 150 years ago by Martha Washington, wife of George Washington.

By the time the San Jose Municipal garden was dedicated on May 15, 1937, it was considered to be the finest collection of rose varieties in the U.S. However, around World War II, thousands of rose varieties (OGRs plus older Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, etc.) were removed to make room for more modern roses. Many of these varieties are now "extinct" to the rose world.

The Santa Clara County Rose Society has and continues to have many other “firsts” and “only” distinctions:

  • The SCCRS sponsored the first flower show in California devoted entirely to roses with its first annual Rose Show on April 28-9, 1928.
  • The SCCRS launched the first American Rose Society (ARS) regional conference. On Tuesday, February 26, 1929, Mrs. Charles Derby brought together representatives from San Diego to Vancouver, B.C. at the Sainte Claire Hotel, the usual site for SCCRS meetings. The fruit of the planning session was the Pacific Coast Regional Conference held the following year on April 25-27, 1930 at the Sainte Claire Hotel, hosted by the SCCRS. The Region was divided into three divisions (or districts): Southern, Central and Northwest. The Regional Conference meets twice a year for the next few years and then seems to disappear. However, the divisions become the current day Pacific Southwest district, the Northern California, Nevada, Hawaii (NCNH) district and the Pacific Northwest district, respectively.
  • The SCCRS hosted the Central District conference of the ARS (later to be called Northern California and now known as NCNH) on April 29 & 30, 1933 at Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School.
  • The SCCRS was the first rose society to have a web page; launched in April 1995.
  • The SCCRS (with help from around the NCNH) has hosted two American Rose Society National Conventions (Spring 1991 and Spring 2002.)

    The SCCRS continues to meet monthly (except July and August), with only a short break during World War II. The SCCRS holds an Annual Rose Show each year, usually in late April or early May.


  • Last updated: 3/7/09
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