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Texas History

The Bluebonnet Lady of Texas

A San Antonio civic leader galvanized women’s groups to save the state flower

Bluebonnets were so overpicked in the early 1920s that Sallie Ward Beretta worried they’d go extinct. The San Antonio civic leader launched a conservation campaign, which she unveiled at a luncheon for the City Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Beretta placed paper bluebonnets on each table to help make her point: Unless the women got behind her campaign, she exhorted, the state flower would exist only as paper blooms. Everyone there joined her cause.

So did the San Antonio Area Council of Girl Scouts, where Beretta served as president. To further her cause, Beretta recruited volunteers to gather and package bluebonnet seeds from fields around the city. She then mailed seed packets to Scout troops and women’s clubs across the state. Some seeds even crossed state and national borders, and recipients in Alaska, New York and even South America reported growing successes to Beretta.

To bolster her campaign, Beretta collected stories, poems and music about bluebonnets, such as the Texas Bluebonnet Song by Julia D. Owen of Navasota. She also hosted gardening experts and promoted the slogan: “Save the wildflowers of Texas.”

Illustration by David Vogin; Beretta source image courtesy Texas State University

In an October 26, 1923, letter, she implored members of a Laredo social club not to change their organization’s name from the Blue Bonnet Club to the Border Lassies, lobbying for her conservation movement, which was “getting people to promise not to tear them up by the roots.”

She wrote that noted landscape artist Julian Onderdonk of San Antonio “devoted his life to immortalizing the bluebonnet,” describing him as “our greatest Texas painter.” Two weeks before the artist died, Beretta confided, “He told me that he considered the move that I was starting for the conservation of the bluebonnet was one of the finest ever started, and that he would do all he could to help it.”

Her pleas hit home. The group changed its name back to the Blue Bonnet Club. The following January, members said in the Laredo Times that they planned a bluebonnet campaign for spring.

Berreta’s bluebonnet work continued into the 1930s. In March 1931 she and her Scouts sought to ban the sale of bluebonnets in market stands and stores. “The Girl Scouts each year gather bluebonnet seeds and plant many of them along the highways,” The San Antonio Express reported. “Doubtless many of the flowers being sold were from plants that grew from seeds sown by the scouts.” Two years later Beretta directed a film made by the Girl Scouts that featured bluebonnet scenes. She and the Scouts also lobbied, unsuccessfully, to change the name of the Sunken Garden Theater in Brackenridge Park to the Bluebonnet Bowl.

Beretta became widely known as the “Bluebonnet Lady of Texas.” But her civic-mindedness reached far beyond wildflowers. Her leadership roles included 19 years on the board of regents for Texas State University, then called the Southwest Texas State Teachers College. On the San Marcos campus, Beretta Hall, a Spanish-style dorm named in her honor, still houses students, and an annual award to an outstanding female student is given in her name.

Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, a member of Pedernales EC, has counted more than 50 wildflower species at her Blanco home.