Bessie Morse Bellingrath, “Miss Bessie,” died unexpectedly at age 64 on Feb. 15, 1943, only seven years after she and her husband, Walter D. Bellingrath, moved into their new home on the Fowl River, now known as the Bellingrath Home.
Below is her obituary from the Mobile Register, printed on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 1943.
Mrs. Walter D. Bellingrath was a gracious lady whose magnificent vision of beauty enriched immeasurably the life of this community. The news of her death in Hot Springs, Ark., Monday night represents a profound loss to Mobilians who recognized her as a public benefactress, gifted with ability to make others happy.
Bellingrath Gardens, of which she was the inspiration and cofounder with her husband, will be her living memorial through generations to come. It was largely through the coordinated skill, energy and devotion of Mr. and Mrs. Bellingrath that a world-famous garden was born in a setting of great natural beauty on the banks of the Isle-Aux-Oies River, 20 miles south of Mobile.
The garden started as a hobby 26 years ago when Mrs. Bellingrath began transplanting azaleas from her town home to the fishing camp she and her husband owned. The vision of a “Charm spot of the Deep South,” in which man-made and natural beauty would be perfectly blended, was broadened by a trip to Europe, where the Bellingraths were enchanted by gardens of the Old World. Year by year, the Fowl River gardens grew in size and beauty .
As a civic gesture, the Bellingraths invited the public to visit their gardens one Sunday in the spring of 1932. The response was so overwhelming that it was decided to throw the gardens open to the public permanently. An endowment fund to expand the charm spot was established and provision made that any surplus revenue be used for the religious and secular education of underprivileged boys and girls.
Needless to say, a trip to Bellingrath Gardens has inspired many a Mobilian to beautify his own home by planting azaleas, camellias and other flowers, so that Mrs. Bellingrath’s dream of beauty contributed to making Mobile a fairer city in which to live. In appreciation, grateful citizens several years ago presented the Bellingraths a plaque for establishing a garden that has attracted tens of thousands of visitors to Mobile.
Mrs. Bellingrath was responsible for many philanthropies, but modestly concealed her generous gifts to charity, even from her intimate friends.
In her death, the community mourns one to whom it is heavily indebted. Mr. Bellingrath has been deprived of a loving wife and helpmate who was active in helping him establish his business and constantly assisted him up the ladder of success. The community’s sympathy goes out to him and other members of the bereaved family.