On this day in WNC history: In 1985, one of Asheville’s iconic residents passed away at the age of 92. Emily Jones, known as “the flower lady” was an Asheville-born resident who sold flowers downtown to passersby for nearly sixty years, brightening the day of many residents and tourists. She was one of, if perhaps not the last of her kind.
Western North Carolina is home to an array of native wildflowers and herbs which have been valued for their ornamental and medicinal values by Natives and later settlers. Galax, which grows in large patches, is often used in floral arrangements, while ladyslippers, cohosh, and various worts have long been sought for medicinal properties. And, famously, ginseng has a long history of commercialized harvest. Many women eked out livings harvesting flowers and herbs to sell for supplemental income in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the mountains. As tourist hotels developed in the late 1800s, many of these women sold their hand-dug or cut wares by these lodges, rising long before dawn to harvest fresh specimens. This practice began to wane by the mid-1900s though.
Emily Jones was born in 1893, and sold wood and kindling with her husband in the early decades of the twentieth century before she found her market selling flowers in Asheville in 1925. Her husband died in the 1960s and Jones, who was illiterate, took care of herself selling flowers seven days per week in front of the hospital when it was on Charlotte Street. She had many admiring customers who came from nearby towns to buy specifically from her. When a business owner forced her to move, the JC Penny department store manager gave her a spot in the front vestibule of his store and in 1975, she was made an unofficial member of the Asheville Merchant’s Association. Beloved by many, Jones told the Citizen-Times: “People come by and want a bunch of flowers and say they don’t have the money, and I let ‘em have the flowers and they always come back and pay me. People are honest, most of ‘em. At least they’re honest with me.”