Inez Harrington Whitfield, noted for her community work in Hot Springs (Garland County), was nationally recognized for her paintings of Arkansas wildflowers. She was one of forty Arkansans to appear in American Women in 1935. The publication was a who’s who of feminine leaders in America.
Inez Whitfield was born May 25, 1867, in German Flatts, New York, to James and Ida Dota Whitfield. She received her early education in Ilion, New York, and graduated in 1889 from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, with a bachelor of letters degree. After graduation, she taught at the Gardner Institute for Girls in New York City. Whitfield later left the school and formed the Whitfield-Bliss School for Girls in New York City with friend and colleague Caroline Bliss.
By 1901, Whitfield, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, had started visiting Hot Springs for the therapeutic baths and soon moved there. By 1911, she was confined to a wheelchair but continued to immerse herself in Hot Springs society.
In the late 1920s, Whitfield helped organize the first Little Theater in Hot Springs. In 1931, she helped organize the Hot Springs Garden Club and served as its first president. Having been a member of the New York branch of the American Association of University Women, Whitfield organized a Hot Springs branch in 1932 and helped young women secure scholarships bearing her name. She served as a charter member and the first president of Hot Springs’ Business and Professional Women’s Club.
Whitfield’s artistic talents were her most notable asset. Her choice of media was watercolor. Whitfield’s extensive collection of paintings represented the state’s native wildflowers. She painted them in the exact size and color, depending on the season. She visited the city’s many trails in her wheelchair to obtain specimens. Later, as she grew more famous, people would bring flowers to her from all over the state.
Whitfield was known for giving her paintings to friends, but in the 1940s, the Federated Women’s Clubs of Arkansas bought 400 of her pieces and donated them to the Arkansas Arts Center. Whitfield also displayed her paintings at the Rockefeller Center in New York and at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and an exhibit of her paintings was held at the Hot Springs Fine Arts Center as part of the Arkansas Sesquicentennial Celebration.
In her later years, Whitfield lived in the Shumaker Rest Home in Hot Springs. She died there June 26, 1951, and is buried in Ilion, New York.
For additional information:
Rendleman, Ethel A. “Arkansas Wild Flower Painting.” Arkansas Gazette. May 29, 1938, p. 1, Magazine Section.
Scully, Francis J. “Inez Harrington Whitfield.” The Record 2 (1961): 24–27.
Storey, Jean. “Inez Whitfield.” The Record 24 (1983): 61–64A.
Jane A. Wilkerson
Arkansas History Commission and State Archives