The flower ladies of Chapel Hill

Robert House with Chapel Hill flower ladies
On our Facebook page and Twitter feed Wednesday, we shared this quote from former UNC Chancellor Robert B. House.

As I saw Franklin Street in 1912, it was a dusty red avenue cut through a forest of magnificent trees….My first impression of Chapel Hill was trees; my last impression is trees….It is no wonder that Chapel Hillians are ardent tree worshippers and the symbol of the place is Davie Poplar.

The mention of House and his comments about symbols of Chapel Hill sparked me to recall the postcard above. It’s from our North Carolina Postcards online collection. That’s Chancellor House buying some flowers from the “flower ladies” on Franklin Street. They, too, were a symbol of Chapel Hill, selling their fresh-picked flowers near the Intimate Bookshop on the north side of Franklin Street almost daily.

No one is sure when the flower ladies began their sidewalk sales. But they had been going strong for a decade or two when, in the late 60s, town leaders passed an ordinance banning sidewalk sales. The law was designed to curb another type of sales that had sprouted on Franklin Street. Some vendors had taken to selling leather goods, jewelry and pot pipes on the street. But if the “hippie” merchants had to go, so, too, did the flower ladies. They were no longer allowed to sell from their Franklin Street location.

After an outcry from towns folks, the Chapel Hill Town Council backtracked and allowed the flower ladies to continue their sales. But they couldn’t do so from Franklin Street. The flower ladies moved to an alley just off Franklin, a space that eventually become the entryway to NCNB Plaza (now known as Bank of America Center).

Sadly the flower ladies are no longer a common sight downtown. In 1983 Lillie Pratt, who does still show up occasionally to sell her flowers, told a reporter for the Greensboro News & Record that her flower sales were less a money-making venture and more a hobby. “I reckon the best you’re gonna do is swap your money,” she said. “The seeds cost a lot more than they used to, and Lordy, you ought to try to fight the bugs….I stand out in the garden and just wonder why I’m doing it, why I’m fighting all these bugs.”

The newspaper writer added:

It’s funny and a little silly to Lillie Pratt that she and the other ladies should be so highly regarded because they tend gardens and sell flowers for a hobby.

She crinkled her nose at anyone who would call her a landmark, and goes ‘Oh, pshaw,’ to anybody who would take her picture and talk to her as if she were the governor.

But, still she comes back, two or three times a week, every week. And she will keep coming back, Lillie Pratt said, as long as her hobby holds her interest and she can keep the bugs at bay.

And as long as there are daffodils in the spring.

Here’s hoping the flower ladies will sprout again.

28 thoughts on “The flower ladies of Chapel Hill”

  1. Hello, Mr John Blyth and to anyone else that published this page and photo.

    Nothing, but tears right now… For the recognition of the flower ladies. My grandmother passed in 1989. Thank GOD I was so lucky to be raised by while mom and dad were at work. Up until the age of 12. She was my great-grandmother, but, we just called her grandma. Salina McCauley (maiden name) Farrington. She is the one on the right end. With the yellow, white blue and a couple of other color flowers in her dress. The gentlemen was covering her face with his wrist while trying to purchase a flower. My grandmother was so many things. Seeing this brought back childhood memories of helping her pick the flowers to sell on that bank of america breezeway. Thank You so much. Have a wonderful memorial day.

      1. Hello Laurie Paolicelli,
        Most definitely and thanks for your response. As you can tell I was filled with emotions that particular day, but thanks to you all for the Post and picture.
        Warm regards

  2. Ms. McCauley,
    Thanks for your kind words. As I suggest in my blog post, the flower ladies bring back warm memories for me, too. I suspect that I or someone in my family probably bought some flowers from Mrs. Farrington at some point.

    1. Hello Mr Blythe,
      Again thank you for this post. This picture means a lot to myself and my family. To see things like this that have possibly been forgotten. Then for this post to show notice and pay homage to all those ladies. It will forever be appreciated. Thank you also for your quick response.
      Keep doing what you’re doing.
      Warm regards to you.

  3. Great article my grandmother is second flower lady on the left Rosa Belle Stone(maiden name Reaves). With glasses and updo hairdo I remember flower ladies on Franklin Street!

    1. Hi Sonja,

      In my grandmother’s belongings, I believe one of the beautiful studies was done of your grandmother, in colored pencil or pastel. I would love for this to belong to your family if you are interested.

      kind regards,

  4. Robert House was my grandfather, who helped raise me in Chapel Hill, He has a great love for the flower ladies which I shared. What a wonderful memory, Thanks!

  5. Where could I possibly buy a copy of the Franklin Street Flower ladies that were done by Nancy Caldwell. Is there a site to order prints? Thank you!

    1. Nancy Cornwell was my grandmother and painter of “the Flower Ladies” oil painting from the mid-to-late 60’s (I don’t remember the exact year she finished the painting). She recently passed away (July 2021). We have several prints available in Wadesboro, NC where she lived until she passed.

        1. @Laurie
          I’m not sure how to do personal messages here.
          Email me at r e b e c c a [dot] w i n k e r
          (I added the extra spaces in there and the [dot] is really a “.” Sorry if this is confusing, I just know spam right now is really on the rise)
          If you live near Wadesboro, the auction is at their house this weekend.

      1. We have a lithograph of the flower ladies that I can’t find anywhere, do you know where I could find the value of this? It is numbered inside the frame on the back. I was told by original purchaser that it was purchased for $50,000.00. I can’t find any values online, but am interested in selling if I can find a purchased that is interested. Please email me if you know of anyone that I can contact, for a true estimate.

  6. i recently found a print of the flower ladies of Chapel Hill in an old house a friend of mine purchased, I was wondering if someone that is related to one of the flower ladies would be interested in it? This print is done by Fowler

  7. I am not related but I would love to purchase this print. If you still have this would you please contact me. Thanks

  8. Hi Teresa,
    I’m pleased that you’d like a copy of the postcard of the flower ladies. There are two ways that you can obtain it.

    1)You can download the image file yourself and then print it (or have it printed). Go to Look for the Download tap on the upper right just above the image. Click on it. You’ll see several download option.

    2) You can email my colleagues in our Research and Instructional Services department ( They can tell you about our image reproduction offerings. There will be a cost to this service.

    John Blythe
    Assistant Curator
    North Carolina Collection

  9. I recently came across a most beautiful yard bursting with colorful flowers while canvassing. When I asked who the gifted gardener was, I was told that it was planted by one of the Franklin Street Flower Ladies, Mrs. Allison, and is tended now by her daughter who keeps the beauty, and the history, alive. What a wonderful story.

  10. Hi Mr. John Blythe,

    My name is Amelia Keesler. I am a student journalist at UNC Chapel Hill. My fascination with the flower ladies began when I started working for our Alumni center. We have shelves upon shelves of archives. I found a picture similar to this post card – grainy and black and white. A classic.

    I want to write a feature story on this, possibly a profile on a flower lady for one of my classes. Do you have any contacts? I left my email in the reply.

    I can picture the fresh-picked flowers near the intimate bookshop, though this was well before my time. What a wonderful story. Thank you.

    1. Hi Amelia,
      The flower ladies were a great part of Franklin Street. Their offerings always proved a great mix of colors. I’ll follow up by email.

      John Blythe
      Assistant Curator

      1. John,

        I have a print from my deceased mother. How much is the print worth? I have enjoyed it in my keeping room above the mantle for years. Now I have a health issue and trying to downsize for my family.

        1. Ms. Phelps,
          Thanks for your interest in the print of the flower ladies. As I wrote, I have fond memories of there time on Franklin Street, and I know the print well. Unfortunately, I’m not able to help you in determining its value. I have no experience in appraising the value of art or books. Additionally, as an employee of the UNC Library (and consequently the state of NC), I’m not allowed to offer estimations of value. You might want to contact someone from this list of appraisers, created by the NC Museum of Art in 2010:

          Good luck!

      2. Yes, they were! Loved seeing The Flowers Ladies! My husband worked on Franklin Street for years and would love to surprise him with the print. Can you please tell me if I could get a print of any and I am particularly interested in the one with the first lady in a green dress. Please email me with logistics.
        My email is
        Thank you so much! Ann

  11. I worked at Ledbetter Pickard in the early 70s and we sold prints of the flower ladies. I bought flowers from them for my bouquet and hair for my wedding at the Chapel of the Cross in 1972. As our 50th anniversary approaches, we would looooove to purchase one of those Flower Lady prints

  12. My grandmother, Nancy Cornwell, painted a masterpiece of the Flower Ladies in the 1960’s. She just passed away in July 2021. We found several prints of the painting, approximately 24″x36″. If anyone would like one, I would be happy to ship domestic US. I too am very interested in learning more about the ladies represented in her art (there are several studies and sketches as well).

    kind regards all,

    1. Good morning Rebecca,
      I hope that it is not too late. I would love to have one of those paintings. Alo would not mind sharing some of my thoughts and memories with you. Some of the flower ladies like my great grandmother were members of Bethel Hickory Grove Baptist Church. In Chapel Hill North Carolina. Thanks so much for sharing that. Whatever you have and could give of the flower ladies would be greatly appreciated. Please let me know how to contact you.

    2. Rebecca, I am interested in obtaining one of the prints. What is the cost and how do I obtain one? I have very fond memories of the flower ladies.
      Thank you so much for your information & sharing.

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