Rash's Surname Index

Notes for Ernesta DRINKER

Philadelphia Daily News (PA) - Friday, August 12, 2005
Deceased Name: Ernesta Ballard, a 'treasure,' dies Pioneer in area feminist causes was 85
Ernesta Drinker Ballard was a Main Line socialite who succeeded in freeing herself from a suffocating atmosphere in which women were supposed to know their place to become a prominent feminist and much-honored champion of many causes of benefit to her native city.

Ballard died yesterday. She was 85 and lived in Cathedral Village, a retirement facility in Upper Roxborough, but had lived most of her adult life in a stone mansion on Crefeld Street in Chestnut Hill.

Mayor Street said of her, "Philadelphia has lost a grand lady, and an influential and respected leader whose lifelong contribution to so many worthwhile cultural and civic causes has greatly enhanced the beauty and vibrancy of our great city."

"She was a real Philadelphia treasure," said Daily News columnist Jill Porter, who frequently wrote about Ballard's activities.

Ballard was a 20-year member of the Fairmount Park Commission and head of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for 18 years.

Under her guidance, the Philadelphia Flower Show blossomed in more ways than one and gained international prominence.

She founded Philadelphia Green, which turns inner-city vacant city lots into gardens of vegetables and flowers.

She worked tirelessly to raise funds for the restoration of the historic Fairmount Water Works and the Swann Fountain on Logan Square.

As a founder of the Philadelphia chapters of the feminist groups, the National Organization for Women and Women's Way, Ballard was called the "godmother of Philadelphia feminism."

Strongly pro-choice, she was a founding member of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

She was a rock-ribbed Republican, but she nevertheless worked for candidates of either party who supported abortion rights and women's issues, not exactly Republican causes.

She even switched her registration to Democrat briefly to vote in the primary election in 2002 for Edward G. Rendell for governor because he supported abortion rights.

She ran unsuccessfully for the City Commission in 1983. The Republican candidate for mayor that year, Charles F. Dougherty, called her "a woman who is eminently qualified to be in public office." But voters didn't agree.

She was a board member of the White House Project, founded in 1998 with the goal of getting a woman elected president by 2008.

She marched on Washington in 1970 to support the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.

She traveled to Nairobi to support women in the East African nation, and led hiking expeditions to study plants in the Pacific Northwest, to Maine and to the Caribbean.

She was the author of two books on gardening, and taught retirees to create bonzai trees.

Ernesta Drinker came from a renowned Philadelphia family. Her father, Harry Drinker, was a prominent lawyer, senior partner of the firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath. Her mother, Sophie Hutchinson Drinker, was also a feminist and author of "The Story of Women in Their Relation to Music."

But her father was old-school and scoffed when Ernesta said at the age of 13 that she wanted to be a lawyer, too.

She was raised in sumptuous circumstances in Merion. She attended St. Timothy's Finishing School in Catonsville, Md., to be taught how to comport herself as a proper Main Line lady.

She was the niece of Catherine Drinker Bowen, a famed biographer (Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Adams and others), and a great-aunt of hers was Cecilia Beaux, a well-known artist whose work hung in the Ballard home.

Ernesta was the fourth of five children and had her "coming out" as a debutante at 18. At 19, she married a handsome, athletic, Rhodes Scholar and Penn law student named Frederic L. Ballard Jr.

He was the grandson of the founder of the prestigious law firm of Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, where he would spend his entire law career and become partner. He died in 2001.

Until Ernesta was 28, she lived that life of the proper Main Line-Chestnut Hill matron, giving birth to four children and tending the family manse.

One day when her husband joked that she was the least-educated person he knew, she had a revelation. She had to do something else with her life.

She enrolled in 1952 at the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women (now part of Temple University's Ambler campus). After graduating she started her own greenhouse business.

She once said in an interview that she was a little embarrassed by her mother's feminism in those days. But after reading Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique," she came to appreciate what her mother had been up to.

In 1963, Friedan invited her to form a Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women.

The same year, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society was looking for a director - a man, of course. But when Ballard applied, she was offered the job at $2,000 less than her male predecessor had been making.

She told the selection committee to forget it, and the committee changed its mind. They gave her full salary and she set about to transform the organization.

She took control of its annual Flower Show, invited amateur growers to join, and turned it into a teaching tool.

She would zip around the show at the old Civic Center in a yellow motor scooter to keep everything under control.

One of her proudest accomplishments was the creation of Philadelphia Green, to bring gardens and pride to the inner city.

In 1974, she persuaded the city to let the Horticultural Society clear a cluttered, debris-strewn vacant lot at 49th and Aspen streets in Mill Creek to plant a garden.

The garden, tended by neighborhood residents, attracted national attention. National Geographic wrote about it, and Charles Kuralt featured it on his "On The Road" TV show.

The movement spread from there.

She was working with women in prison in 1977, when she and Lynn Yeakel, a Democrat who narrowly lost to Arlen Specter in the 1992 Senate race, founded Women's Way, a fund-raising group that supports women's organizations and feminine causes. Ballard was the first chairperson of the board.

She served as a Fairmount Park commissioner from 1982 to 2002. A nominating panel recommended her for a vacancy on the Board of Education in 1982, but then-Mayor William J. Green did not select her.

Despite suffering a stroke on Easter Sunday this year and being confined to a wheelchair, Ballard insisted on attending a dinner at the Water Works, the restoration of which she had struggled for years to attain.

"She was fighting to the end," said Yeakel. "After her stroke, she was trapped in a disabled body, but she kept her feisty personality.

"She really cared about helping women to succeed, to fulfill their potential. She was a person who could get things done. She would see a problem and tackle it. Her legacy is all over the city."

When Ballard received the Gimbels Philadelphia Award in 1976, one of many honors she achieved over the years, she told a crowd at the old Bellevue-Stratford:

"Feminism is a revolutionary movement - though not, of course, a violent one - and its position today is quite reminiscent of the position of the American Revolution 200 years ago."

She said Colonial Americans could not make changes piecemeal, but had to "renounce their dependent status and declare their liberty."

"Today," she said, "we feminists have taken that same action. We have rejected gradualism and gone back to first principles, the principle that all human beings are created equal - equal in opportunity and equal in expectation."

She is survived by a son, Frederic L. "Rick" Ballard Jr.; three daughters, Alice Ballard, Sophie B. Bilezikian and Ernesta B. Barnes.

Services: Memorial service 10:30 a.m. Sept. 2 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 22 E. Chestnut Hill Ave. *

Return to The Pennocks of Primitive Hall website.

The information in this database may contain errors. If you find any questionable data, or if you have something to add my findings, please feel free to e-mail me by clicking on the "E-MAIL" link above. Thank you!

Page built by Gedpage Version 2.21 ©2009 on 07 July 2020