The History of Clara Ford
Clara Bryant was born in April of 1866 and was the oldest of 12 children. She was raised on a farm in Greenfield Township, Michigan, not far from the farm where Henry Ford lived. It was at a dance held on New Year’s Eve of 1885 that they first met. Three years later, on her 22nd birthday, the two became husband and wife at her parents’ home.
Shortly after marrying, the couple relocated to Detroit where Henry was employed as an engineer at The Edison Illuminating Company which was owned by Thomas Edison. Edison supported Henry’s ideas and the two became such great, lifelong friends, they even bought neighboring vacation homes together. Both homes are still in existence today and available for public viewing. They are known as The Edison Ford Estates in Fort Myers, Florida.
Clara Bryant Ford stood by her husband through the years as he made tireless attempts at producing an autonomous non-horse-driven carriage for the working class man. He lovingly referred to Clara as “the Believer” as she was one of the few who truly thought his idea could work. Once the Model T was a success, the Fords moved into a 56 room mansion in Dearborn, Michigan which they named Fairlane. It was there that Clara indulged her love of gardening. Her gardens had more than 100,000 plants including herbs and vegetables which she shared with the community. Her garden boasted over 350 varieties of roses, many of them prizewinners. Yellow and white tea roses were a favorite.
Though the couple employed cooks throughout the years, Clara enjoyed collecting cookbooks and recipes, many of which were handwritten by friends. Henry liked plain food while Clara preferred the rich, traditional, English style of cooking and although their tastes differed, the couple did agree on tea and enjoyed it together often.During the Depression, Clara was a strong advocate for urban gardening. She became a “one-woman food bank,” donating food grown on her family’s farm to a number of organizations. As president of the Women’s National Farm & Gardens Association, she developed the idea of a “Roadside Market” where rural women could sell their products and, in turn, earn money of their own. In 1915, Clara Ford was named the first president of the Garden Club of Dearborn. Their goals were to improve the community through gardening and horticulture.
Clara was also a committed activist for human rights. She served as Vice Chair for the Equal Suffrage League of Wayne County. Along with Henry, she supported the School of Nursing and Hygiene at Henry Ford Hospital and founded the Humane Society of Michigan. Clara Ford died on September 29, 1950 and was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2017.