Women in Florida History Resources

I would like to take a break from my normal posts which so far have covered fantastic women in Florida history. Up to this point, this blog has focused on stories of women who have made this great state what it is today, and who were the epitome of activistism for Women, the environment, and Native Americans.

However, today I wanted to take the time to point out a few resources I have found that will help an educator bring Women into the classroom, and in particular Women of Florida’s History.

1) The Florida Historic Society produces a weekly radio magazine what can be listened to completely free.  The podcasts can be found here

This site features an excellent lesson plan covering four Women who have impacted the State of Florida and streaming videos on all four women.

Here is a list of the shows that feature Florida women:

#3 – Maya Angelou and N.Y. Nathiri on Zora Neale Hurston, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Home and The Eatonville Quilters

#4 – Rossetter House (Carrie Rossetter)

#8 – Forgotten Florida Women

#9 – F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald in Florida

#13 – Sandra Thurlow “Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge”

#38 – Betty Mae Jumper

#45 – 21st Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival

#51 – Two Generations of Gifford Women

#52 – Weeki Wachee Mermaids

#57 – Marjorie Stoneman Douglas

#60 – Miami’s Female Real Estate Broker, 1940’s

#64 – Florida Women in the Civil War

#69 – Remembering Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

#75 –  Marjory and Marjorie on the Natural Florida

#78 –  “Female Florida: Historic Women in Their Own Words”

#79 –  22nd Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival

2) Florida Women’s Hall of Fame is an excellent site that houses information on past and current Women that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. A downloadable PDF    packet of all the Women inductees so far can be found here

We have covered:

Ivy Stranahan … pg 53.

Jacqueline Cochran … pg 63.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas … pg 70.

Elizabeth McCullough Johnson   . . . 72.

Roxcy O’Neal Bolton    . . . 79.

Zora Neale Hurston    . . . 82.

Mary McLeod Bethune    . . . 87.

3) Museum of Florida History: Voices of Florida Women Exhibit. Though this site is an introduction to the physical artifacts that make up the Women’s Exhibit in the Florida History Museum, it does provide a short overview of each of the women in the exhibit. Without having to travel to the museum, students can be introduced to women who were activist, educators, painters, and philanthropist throughout Florida’s history.

The Roxcy Bolton Collection 

Majory Stoneman Douglas: Environmental Activist 

4) The Florida Memory Project is one of my favorite websites. There is simply a plethora of information relating to all aspect of Florida History. The site features primary documents including photographs and original letters and different “exhibits” that highlight Women’s history in Florida.

Be sure to check out the following,  but take some time and explore the whole site!

Women’s History Month, Classroom exhibits 

Videos, including Weeki Wachee Springs, Angela Davis and more! 

History and cultural significance of Seminole doll making


Marjory Stoneman Douglas: The Grande Dame of the Everglades

The miracle of light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slowly moving, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades. It is a river of grass.

– Marjory Stoneman Douglas


Marjory Stoneman Douglas (April 7, 1890 – May 14, 1998) was an American journalist, writer, feminist, and environmentalist known for her staunch defense of the Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development.

As a young woman she movie to Miami to work for The Miami Herald. She became a freelance writer, producing over a hundred short stories that were published in popular magazines. As a young woman Douglas was outspoken and politically conscious of many issues that included women’s suffrage and civil rights.

Her most influential work was the book The Everglades: River of Grass (1947), considered to be the definitive description of the Everglades and the first to express the notion that it was not a swamp, but a vast, flowing river. Her novel galvanized people to protect the Everglades, it was a groundbreaking call to action that made both citizens and politicians take notice. Even today, it’s impact is still relevant as it is claimed to be a major reason Florida receives so many tourists.

She was called upon to take a central role in the protection of the Everglades when she was 79 years old. For the remaining 29 years of her life she was “a relentless reporter and fearless crusader” for the natural preservation and restoration of the nature of South Florida.

Douglas received countless awards during her career as an activist. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection named its headquarters in Tallahassee after her in 1980,but she is quoted as having said that she would rather have seen the Everglades restored than her name on a building.

The National Parks Conservation Association established the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award in 1986, that “honor(s) individuals who often must go to great lengths to advocate and fight for the protection of the National Park System”.

In 1993, President  Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to a civilian. The citation for the medal read, “Marjory Stoneman Douglas personifies passionate commitment. Her crusade to preserve and restore the Everglades has enhanced our Nation’s respect for our precious environment, reminding all of us of nature’s delicate balance. Grateful Americans honor the ‘Grandmother of the Glades’ by following her splendid example in safeguarding America’s beauty and splendor for generations to come.

Douglas was inducted into the National Wildlife Federation Hall of Fame in 1999, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000. Though, true to her firery spirit she vocalized her confusion as to why there was a Women’s Hall of Fame and not a Citizens Hall of Fame.

Douglas lived until age 108, working until nearly the end of her life for Everglades restoration. Upon her death, an obituary in The Independent in London stated, “In the history of the American environmental movement, there have been few more remarkable figures than Marjory Stoneman Douglas.”

“It’s a little bit late in the day for men to object that women are getting outside their proper sphere.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas



Amazon book list

Everglades Biography 

Marjory Stoneman Douglas Site 


Zora Neale Hurston: Anthropologist, Writer, Woman

Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to “jump at de sun.” We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.

– Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston has been a women close to my heart since I first read her work in college (I know, way to late to be introduced to a Woman of this magnitude!). She was a trained anthropologist who studied under Franz Boas, though today Hurston is better known as a major literary figure.

We owe our “rediscovery” of Hurtson’s work to another famous feminist author, Alice Walker. In 1975, Ms. Magazine published Alice Walker’s essay, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” reviving interest in the author. In the time since, Zora Neale Hurston has come to be considered one of the pre-eminent writers of twentieth-century African-American literature. Hurston was closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance and has influenced such writers as Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Gayle Jones, Alice Walker, and Toni Cade Bambara.

Zora Neale Hurston was a native of Eatonville, Florida. In her writings she would glorify Eatonville as a utopia where black Americans could live independent of the prejudices of white society. She was the fifth of eight children of John Hurston and Lucy Ann Hurston. Her father was a Baptist preacher, tenant farmer, and carpenter, and her mother was a school teacher.

In the artistic movement of the 1920s black artists moved from traditional dialectical works and imitation of white writers to explore their own culture and affirm pride in their race. Zora Neale Hurston pursued this objective by combining literature with anthropology.  She first gained attention with her short stories such as “John Redding Goes to Sea” and “Spunk” which appeared in black literary magazines.

But her family fell upon hard times during the Great Depression and eventually sought out relief work with the Federal Writer’s Project (FWP). Zora Neale Hurston was already a published writer when she began working for the Florida division of the Work Projects Administration (WPA). Curiously, she never mentioned her work with the Federal Writer’s Project in her autobiography, perhaps because of the stigma associated with the WPA’s relief programs. Having already conducted fieldwork for her own studies, Hurston worked with Herbert Halpert and Stetson Kennedy in the FWP. Her work on Florida’s turpentine camps is still considered authoritative.

After several years of anthropological research financed through grants and fellowships, Zora Neale Hurston’s first novel Jonah’s Gourd Vine was published in 1934 to critical success. In 1935, her book Mules and Men, which investigated voodoo practices in black communities in Florida and New Orleans, also brought her kudos.

Radio drama of “Their Eyes were Watching God”

In 1937 Hurston’s published what is considered her greatest novel, Their Eyes were Watching God. And the following year her travelogue and study of Caribbean voodoo Tell My Horse was published. Her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road was a commercial success in 1942, and her final novel Seraph on the Suwanee, published in 1948. Her  four novels and two books of folklore resulted from extensive anthropological research and have proven invaluable sources on the oral cultures of African America.

While Zora’s writing was by and large well received by the white press, it caused  discomfort among the emerging black intellectuals, if not hostility. Her uncensored pictures of black life and speech, embarrassed some. Unlike most African Americans of that time, Hurtsons did not confront white readers with the injustice of racism. Instead Zora’s work is notably absent of white characters; she refused to write “protest novels” portraying blacks as victims. She often said that racists were simply denying themselves the “pleasure of my company” and the riches of African American culture.

In 2008, a documentary titled “Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun”  shared insights from leading scholars and rare footage of the rural South (some of it shot by Zora herself) with re-enactments of a revealing 1943 radio interview. Hurston biographer, Cheryl Wall, traces Zora’s unique artistic vision back to her childhood in Eatonville, Florida. There Zora was surrounded by proud, self-sufficient, self-governing black people, deeply immersed in African American folk traditions.

“You are right in assuming that I am indifferent to the pattern of things.  I am.  I have never liked stale phrases and bodyless courage.  I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than clink upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.”

-Zora Neal Hurston

“Jump at the Sun” letter to fellow writer

Folklore in Zora Neale Hurtson’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

Zora Neale Hurston: Fighting Jim Crow through the All-Black Community

Zora Neale Hurtson’s official website

Weeki Wachee Springs: Women creating and maintaining Florida Heritage

I have been facinated with mermaids for as long as I can remember. Maybe it began when I was around four or five years old when my grandparents took me to Week Wachee Springs and I saw for the first time what I thought were real mermaids. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life! So I am very excited to add this post about the Weeki Wachee Springs and it’s mermaids.

Natives of Florida, the Seminole Indians, named this spring “Weeki Wachee” which means “Little Spring”. But don’t let that deceive you, this spring is so deep that the bottom have never been found. Each day more that 117 million gallons of fresh water bubble up out of subterranean caverns.

In 1964 Newton Perry pulled rusted refrigerators and old cars out of the Weeki Wachee spring in an effort to turn in from a garbage dump into a business.  Quiet the entrepreneur, he built an underwater theater into the limestone so visitors could look right into the natural beauty of the spring, thought he knew that wasn’t enough. He began to think of ways to incorporate entertainment into the springs.

A year later the first (and only) underwater mermaid show premiered in Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida. But tourism was slow, cars were few, and Weeki Wachee was off the beaten path. Business was slow to pick up, so everytime the mermaids heard a car passing by the springs, they would run to the side of the road and beckon driving families to come view their show.

The women’s persistence paid off, by the middle of the 1950’s Weeki Wachee Springs was one of the nations most popular tourist spots. The springs grew to include a beack area, gardens, and even filming locations for popular movies such as “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid.”

The Mermaids and their spring became so famous that in 1959 ABC bought the springs and began heavily promoting their shows. The mermaids performed Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, and Peter Pan. As many as half a million people a year came to view the mermaids perform in the ancient springs.

In 1966 Weei Wachee became an incorporated city, putting the spring on maps and road signs, and ensuring the protection of this natural beauty. As of 2009, it is easily one of the smalled cities in America with a population of only 30 people (the mayor is also a former Mermaid).

Today Weeki Wachee is up to the challenge of maintaining its former glory.

Visitors can swim at Buccaneer Bay, see the Misunderstood Creatures animal show, or take a riverboat ride down the Weeki Wachee River and into Old Florida. A family of peacocks roams the grounds. Turtles, fish, manatees, otters and even an occasional alligator swim in the spring with the mermaids, amusing both children and adults. Visitors can pose with mermaids, and even swim in the spring with the new Sea Diver program.

Weeki Wachee springs is one of Florida oldest attractions. The mermaids were instrumental in bringing in visitors and protecting the springs, they are as much a part of it’s rich cultural heritage as the clear 72-degree spring water.

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

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 




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.