Roxcy Bolton: Pioneer Feminist

Have you heard of Roxcy?   If not, I would like you to ask yourself, why have you never heard of a women as influential as Roxcy Bolton?

Though not a Florida Native, in 1964 Roxcy Bolton moved to Coral Gables, with her Navy husband, David Bolton where they raised their three children.

Bolton began her women’s rights activism locally when she spoke before a Democratic women’s group in Fort Lauderdale to advocate equal pay for equal work. However her career in activism quickly skyrocketed her into the national spotlight. She was one of the first Florida women to join the National Organization for Women (NOW) after its founding in 1966, and she served as national vice president after being elected to the board of directors in 1968.

Closer to home, she founded and was the first president of the Miami-Dade Chapter of NOW in 1968. A powerful orator and passionate women, Roxcy Bolton took NOW’s message statewide arguing the case for equal rights for women and actively campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Bolton personally convinced U.S. Senator Birch Bayh to hold the first hearings on the ERA before Congress in 1970.

Though she was active on the political stage she was also concerned for her sisters in the local community. Her activism centered on crimes against women, a topic ahead of the times. In an effort to prevent such crimes she organized the nation’s first neighborhood crime watch.

In 1972 she founded an organization called Women in Distress, which is now operated by the Salvation Army. Even today, Women in Distress offers temporary lodging, legal assistance, counseling, and caring support to battered women, those with substance abuse problems, and other women in personal crisis.

Roxcy Bolton was a pioneer in many ways. She controversially initiated  the Rehabilitation Program for Young Prostitutes in the Miami-Dade County area. This program offered educational opportunities to incarcerated prostitutes, and attempting to keep young women off the streets and away from drugs. Her determination to help woman also resulted in multiple marches against rape and brought public attention to the special needs of rape victims. She was influential in the establishment of  the Rape Treatment Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in 1974, which was later renamed in her honor. A woman ahead of her time, this hospital is the first of its kind in the country to be adjoined to a hospital and served as the prototype for many centers established in the following years.

Her activism also includes:

  • Worked to end sexist advertising
  • Organized efforts leading to maternity leave for flight attendants.
  • She gained access for women to the previously all-male lunchrooms at Burdines and Jordan Marsh department stores
  • Helped end the practice of naming hurricanes only for women.
  • Opened the influential Tiger Bay political club to women.
  • Established Commissions on the Status of Women in state government and in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
  • Increased numbers of women in policy-making positions
  • Fought for, pushed for creation of the Women’s Institute at Florida Atlantic University
  • Led a sit-in at the University of Miami protesting the unequal treatment of female students and faculty.

She also led the effort to create yet another first for Florida and the nation; a Women’s Park was established in Miami-Dade County in 1992 as a tribute to past and present women leaders in South Florida.

Roxcy Bolton has never wavered in her struggle for equal rights. She was the driving force  behind the designation of August 26 as Women’s Equality Day. The 1972 proclamation by President Richard Nixon establishing the day was later presented to Bolton in recognition of her diligent work for equal rights.

She was inducted to the Florida’s Women Hall of Fame in 1984.

 

 

 

 Mayor Carlos Gimenez Honors Roxcy Bolton Video

Channel 4 story on Roxcy Bolton by Michele Gillen

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Harriet Bedell: Deaconess of the Everglades

Deaconess Harriet Bedell was born in New York in 1875.  She was trained as a schoolteacher but was inspired several years later by an Episcopalian missionary who spoke at her church describing the many needs of missionary work. In 1906 she applied to, and was accepted by, the New York Training School for Deaconesses. After her training she was sent to a Oklahoman Misson for the Cheyenne Indians, and later to Alaska to help the Native Alaskan people. Bendell worked tirelessly for the Native people of America and Alaska; she cared for the sick and the poor, organized social services for the tribe, and provided education for the women and children. However, the Great Depression resulted in a drastic funding cut to the project and the boarding school she opened for Native people closed.

In 1932 Bedell was invited to visit a Seminole Indian reservation in southern Florida. She was so appalled by their living conditions that she used her own salary to reopen a mission among the Indians. She immediately began campaigning to improve the quality of life among the Mikasuki-Seminole Indians. As she had done in Oklahoma and Alaska, Deaconess Bedell lived and worked with the Seminoles, she did not stop at merely teaching them.

Bedell did not try to force American ideal on the Native people, rather she sought to revive doll making and basket weaving skills which had become nearly extinct. She also encouraged the women to include their intricate designs of patchwork into clothing articles to be sold. The sales from Mission store provided much needed income for the Seminoles. Much in the same vein, she encouraged health and education rather than religious conversion. She won the respect of indigenous people through her compassion and her respect of their way of life and beliefs She truly valued the Seminoles as human beings and not simply people to convert. Her close relationship with the tribe reflects this level of mutual respect.

She faithfully served in the Everglades from 1933 to 1960 Hurricane Donna forced her to retire at the age of 85. The diocese of Southwest Florida remembers Deaconess Harriet Bedell by celebrating  Harriet Bedell Day on January 8, the anniversary of her death.

For more information:

 Episcopal Women’s Project

Remembering Harriet Bedell 

January 8th, Harriet Bedell Facebook page

Through the Dust Blog

Harriet Bedell Flickr 

 

 

Books:

Ames, Elizabeth Scott, The Deaconess of the Everglades. 1995: Cortland Press, Cortland, NY (Phil Fisher illustrations).

Hartley, William & Ellen, A Woman Set Apart. 1963: Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, NY (definitive biography of Harriet Bedell).

Senator Beth Johnson

Beth Johnson  was born in Pennsylvania, she graduated from Vassar College and moved to Orlando in 1934, where she was active in the League of Women Voters and other civic groups. She was elected to the Florida House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1957. She served as a representative until 1962 and was subsequently elected as the first woman State Senator, serving until 1967.  Her chief legislative goals were the establishment of the University of Central Florida and development of planning and zoning systems.

 

Jacqueline Cochran

Jacqueline Cochran was board in the beginning of the 20th Century around Panama City, Florida.  In a true Rags to Riches story, she began life as the youngest of five children living in a poverty that was all too familiar to families of the time. By the end of her life she had become one of the most decorated females of her generation.

Cochran received her pilot’s license in 1932, after learning to fly in just two weeks. She quickly made a name for herself in aviation. She flew in the MacRobertson Air Race in 1934 and after working withAmelia Earhart to open the race for women,  was the only woman to compete in the Bendix race in 1937. Later that year, she also set a new woman’s national speed record.

She was the first person to make a blind landing and the set new transcontinental speed and altitude records

By 1938, she was considered the best female pilot in the United States. However, in 1939 the worlds focus was on Hitler’s troops in Germany.  Her offer to rally female pilots for the US war effort if needed was denied by General Arnold. But that did not stop her and Cochran took her talents to Great Britain.

In Britain, she volunteered her services to the Royal Air Force. For several months she worked for the British Air Transport Auxiliary, recruiting qualified women pilots in the United States and taking them to England where they joined the Air Transport Auxiliary. But  the spring of 1942 there was a severe shortage of male pilots. General Hap Arnold asked Cochran to return to the United States to train women pilots to fly America’s military aircraft. She was later appointed Director of Woman‘s Flying Training for the United States.

In 1943 Cochran was appointed to the General Staff of the U.S. Army Air Forces to direct all phases of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program at 120 air bases all over America.

After the war she continued to fly through the glass ceiling. In 1953 she was the first women to break the sound barrier.  By her death in 1980 she was world-renowned and  had used her avaiation talents and her personality to further women’s role in aviation.

Did I mention that she also owned her own cosmetic company?!

Other honors include:

  • In 1965, Cochran was invested in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame.
  • In 1971, induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
  • In 1992, Cochran was induced into the Florida Hall of Fame.
  • In 1993, induction in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
  • In 1996, the United States Post Office honored Cochran with a 50¢ postage stamp, depicting her in front of a Bendix Trophy pylon with her P-35 in the background and the words: “Jacqueline Cochran Pioneer Pilot.”
  • In 2006, Cochran is one of the inductees into the Lancaster, California Aerospace Walk of Honor, and the first woman to be inducted.
  • In 1999, Cochran was designated a Women’s History Month Honoree by the National Women’s History Project.

For more information:

 

National WASP WWII Museum  

US Flight Commission Biography 

PBS.org 

National Air and Space Museum

 

Batter Up! Women’s Baseball in Florida

To honor the beginning of Spring Training I decided to update with a post about the All American Girls Baseball League and their training in Opa-Locka, Florida.

With the shortage of men during WWII women stepped into roles unknown to them prior to the war. Women were riveters, newspaper reports, and even baseball players. In an effort to maintain the popularity of baseball until after the war, as well as keep American’s positive with their favorite base time, Philip K. Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs started the All American Girls Baseball League in 1943.

Wrigley began the team by converting the best of the softball players to hard ball baseball players. Hundreds of women went to tryouts in May 1943, and four teams were quickly formed: the Rockford Peaches, Racine Belles, Kenosha Comets and South Bend BlueSox.

Shortly after the league doubled in size to include Minneapolis Millerettes, Fort Wayne Daisies, Grand Rapids Chicks, Battle Creek Belles, Kalamazoo Lassies, and Springfield Sallies.

The league drew crowds from all over the nation, the players were actually good.  Pitcher Jean Faut won three pitching championships, and pitched two perfect games.

Sophie Kurys, nicknamed the “Tina Cobb” of the league, averaged 100 stolen bases a season and in one year stole 201 bases in 203 tries. Another player, Joanne Weaver hit .429 one season and won the batting title three years in a row. And Anabelle Lee, whose nephew Bill would one day pitch for the Boston Red Sox, once threw a perfect game for the Minneapolis Millerettes.

Though women were playing a traditionally male sport, they were still very much confined to society’s expectations as females. “Femininity is the keynote of our league,” said its new president. “No pants-wearing, tough-talking female softballer will play on any of our four teams.”  Wrigley hired a prominent cosmetics firms to host a ‘charm school’ for his players, and to give etiquette and charms tips off the field. The players were require to have chaperons accompany them from town to town and on each evening outing.

“Players were required to wear skirts, high heels, and makeup off the field; a fifty-dollar fine was levied for infractions if they were caught disobeying.” (PBS.org).  As a part of the leagues ‘Rules of Conduct’, the girls were not permitted to have short hair, smoke or drink in public places, and they were required to wear lipstick at all times.

One batter was called back to the dugout because she had forgotten her lipstick. The league lasted for 12 full seasons.

The All American Girls Baseball League was the first recorded professional women’s baseball league, however women have been playing baseball since the 1800’s. Vassar College hosted the first women’s baseball teaming in 1866, and Bloomer Girls teams (which sometimes included men) flourished from 1890-1930.  Additionally there were at least three female players, Toni Stone, Mamie Johnson and Connie Mogan,  in the professional Negro League.

The story of the All- American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPL) was recently popularized in the movie “A League of Their Own”, with Tom Hanks and Geena Davis. Though a highly fictionalized version of the league, it does portray the conception of the League and the era accurately.  “Baseball Girls” , a documentary by Louis Segal details the history of women’s participation in the male dominated sport, and dedicated much time to the League.

For more information: