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Hattie Carthan Collection

Call Number



1969-2007, bulk 1970-1995



3.6 Linear Feet , 4 legal size document boxes, 1 document box, 1 oversize flat box

Language of Materials

English .


Materials concerning the life of Hattie Carthan and the Magnolia Tree Earth Center, an environmental education center founded by Carthan in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Items include photographs, clippings, program information and administrative documents


This collection should be cited as the Hattie Carthan Collection, Brooklyn Public Library – Brooklyn Collection.

Historical note

Hattie Carthan, known as the "tree lady of Brooklyn", was born Hattie Lomax in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1900. She moved to New York in 1928, settling in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in 1953. In 1964, she formed the Tompkins & Throop Block Association, with the goal of raising money to plant new trees in the neighborhood. Interest in a block association grew slowly but steadily, with Carthan soon overseeing over 100 groups, which she directed under the name Bedford-Stuyvesant Beautification Committee. Mayor John Lindsay accepted her invitation to attend a committee fundraising event, which she used as an opportunity to convince him to implement a tree matching program. For every four trees purchased by the committee, the city would donate six. Under her leadership the committee was able to plant over 1,500 new gingko, sycamore and honey locust trees in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

In 1968, Carthan learned that a Magnolia Grandiflora tree planted c1885, at 679 Lafayette Avenue was being threatened by nearby demolition. In response, she formed the Magnolia Tree Committee to fight for the life of the tree. Fundraising from the community, a donation by the New York Horticultural Society and tireless lobbying of the City Planning Commission, the Board of Estimate and the Community Board proved successful. Not only was the tree saved, but in 1970, the Landmarks Preservation Committee designated the Magnolia Grandiflora a living landmark. In the designation report, the Commission cited Carthan as, "The person who, almost single-handedly, has been responsible for arousing local appreciation of the tree and in directing this appreciation towards practical steps for its preservation."

In 1971 The New York State Council for the Arts awarded The Magnolia Tree Committee a grant to form the Neighborhood Tree Corp, a project to help kids and teens learn tree maintenance and the importance of urban horticulture. The success of the committee inspired Carthan to establish The Magnolia Tree Earth Center of Bedford-Stuyvesant, a permanent neighborhood environmental center that was incorporated as a nonprofit in 1973. With the financial assistance of a board member, Magnolia Tree was able to purchase the buildings at 677, 678 and 679 Lafayette Avenue to serve as headquarters. These buildings were granted landmark status in 1977, and after a two-year renovation the new headquarters opened to the public.

In 1975 the City of New York presented Carthan with a distinguished service medal for her work improving city parks. Carthan served on the Board of Trustees for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and continued to serve as an advocate for environmental education. Carthan died on April 22, 1984 at the age of 83 at Brooklyn Hospital. In June 1984 the Brooklyn Botanic Garden named its new magnolia hybrid Magnolia x Hattie Carthan in her honor.

The Magnolia Tree Earth Center continued to expand after Carthan's death, establishing three greenhouses and several community gardens, including the Hattie Carthan Memorial Garden, renamed in her honor. The programs and workshops offered aimed to assist in the revitalization of Bedford-Stuyvesant by developing community greenspace and educating community members in ecology, horticulture, and the natural sciences. Popular programs included the Landscape Apprentice Program, Magnolia Volunteers, and The Science Career Rap and Environmental Project.

By the mid 1990s, Magnolia was working with approximately 2,000 children each year. In addition to education programs, Magnolia organized conferences, co-sponsored a green market and worked to find use for Bedford-Stuyvesant's numerous vacant lots. The 2000s brought a focus on STEM education through Project Green and partnerships with Medgar Evers College, New York City Tech, The Lower East Side Ecology Center, NYCHA and NASA. Magnolia Tree Earth Center continues to provide environmental education to Brooklyn community members, with a focus on the borough's underserved children.


This collection is arranged in four series:

Series I: Administrative is arranged by type. Items have been foldered chronologically when possible. Early administrative items are foldered together in original order.

Series II: Programs and Events is arranged by type. Items have been foldered chronologically when possible.

Series III: Clippings is not arranged.

Series IV: Photographs is arranged to reflect original order whenever possible. Photographs removed from photo albums have been housed in binders. Items accessioned with no original order are housed in box 5.

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of materials concerning the life of Hattie Carthan and the Magnolia Tree Earth Center in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Administrative items include financial documents, board minutes, early organization history and documents concerning the sale of 677-679 Lafayette Avenue. Items documenting Hattie Carthan's life and achievements are also included in the Administrative series. Flyers, pamphlets and garden party programs make up the bulk of the Programs and Events series. Financial information for the various programs is housed with the Administrative series.

Clippings cover programs, general interest stories on Magnolia Tree Earth Center and the life of Hattie Carthan. The bulk of clippings date 1972-1989. Photographs show events, programs, plant life, buildings and street scenes.


This collection is located in the Brooklyn Collection at Brooklyn Public Library's Central Branch at Grand Army Plaza. The collection may only be used in the library and is not available through interlibrary loan. Requests to view the collection must be made at least 48 hours in advance of visit.


While many items in the Brooklyn Collection are unrestricted, we do not own reproduction rights to all materials. Be aware of the several kinds of rights that might apply: copyright, licensing and trademarks. The researcher assumes all responsibility for copyright questions.

Location of Materials

Brooklyn Collection Morgue, Shelf 6.3

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

This collection was donated by Bernice Elizabeth Green in 2020.

Collection processed by

Finding aid prepared by Sarah Quick, Reference Archivist

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 11:20:50 +0000.
Language: Description is written in: Undetermined, Code for undetermined script script.


Brooklyn Collection
Center for Brooklyn History
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201