Adelle B. Harper and Harper’s Flowers

Harper’s Flowers building, ca. 1950. Harper’s Flowers photographs, VIS 239, Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center. 

Atlanta’s history includes many influential and entrepreneurial women, including Adelle Bartlett Harper, proprietor of the floral shop, Harper’s Flowers. She became the first woman to own and operate a florist shop in Atlanta in 1921.

Harper was born in 1885 in Dudleyville, Alabama, and moved to Atlanta at the age of three. She taught school in Fulton County and married John Lampkin Harper in 1905. Among her many talents, she was an expert sidesaddle horseback rider who rode her horse to work, as well as to church for her wedding. Her husband, a successful realtor, studied law and was a member of the Atlanta Historical Society (today’s Atlanta History Center). Together they had four children, John L. Harper Jr., William B. Harper, Auverne Harper Woods, and Doyal Alexander Harper. In the years to come, her husband John and three of her children joined her to help run the floral shop. Her eldest son operated the Harper family cattle farm outside of Decatur on the site of Flakes Mill on the South River.

When Harper found herself in poor health in 1920, her doctor advised outdoor exercise as a remedy, so she planted a garden. A neighbor offered to buy some of her blooming sweet peas and soon after, her hobby turned into a business. She first opened Hillcrest Flowers on Virginia Avenue in 1921. She continued to broaden her knowledge with floriculture coursework. She began giving lectures for local garden clubs and also taught high school art classes. Harper organized flower study classes at the High Museum of Art. In 1928, she opened a new shop at the corner of 1094 Peachtree Street and 12th Street under the name Colonial Flower Shop, which later became Harper’s Colonial Flower Shop.

Adelle Bartlett Harper in her garden in 1928. Magnolia Garden Club records, MSS 917, Cherokee Garden Library, Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center.

In 1938, Harper organized Harper’s School of Floral Design, approved by the State Board of Education, and held floral arranging classes in her shop. In 1949, Harper relocated her shop again to 1201 West Peachtree Street, calling it Harper’s Flowers. There, Harper had space to maintain several greenhouses for her growing floral arrangement business.

In 1951, Harper was named Atlanta Woman of the Year in Business by WOTY (Women of the Year). After Harper’s death in 1974, Harper’s Flowers moved again to 1300 Spring Street in 1978 and was sold by the family in 1987.

While Harper was a successful businesswoman, she pursued many other interests, including genealogy research. For twelve years she wrote a column for Georgia Magazine titled, “What’s Your Family Line?” Harper also wrote Adelle Bartlett Harper’s Family Lines, published in 1973, and was honored with a book reception at the Atlanta Historical Society’s Swan House in August of that year.

Harper was a member of numerous historical and genealogical organizations, including the Atlanta Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Huguenot Society, the Oglethorpe Chapter of the American Colonists, the DeKalb Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Daughters of 1812. She also served president and treasurer of Atlanta Ladies Memorial Association.

In addition, Harper was active in other women’s groups and community organizations including the Board of the Georgia Children’s Home Society Auxiliary, the Women’s Division of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Atlanta Women’s Club (life member), the Decatur Women’s Club, the Atlanta Branch of the Pen Women of America, the Atlanta Historical Society, Druid Hills Methodist Church, Atlanta Quota Club (president), and Magnolia Garden Club (president).

We invite you to explore more about this remarkable woman highlighted in the Kenan Research Center collections including Magnolia Garden Club, MSS 917; Harper’s Flowers Photographs, VIS 239; Harper Family Photographs, VIS 366; and the Adelle Bartlett Harper Papers.

Kenan Research Center is currently open by appointment only. To schedule a time to visit, please contact us at 404.814.4040 or at least two business days in advance.