1. Archive

Women who made a difference

Published Sep. 10, 2005

You may have heard of the exploits of Juan Ponce de Leon, Henry Plant, Henry Flagler and numerous other men who left their marks on our state. But what about the women who have contributed to the growth of Florida and the welfare of its citizens?

You don't read too much about them in your text books, do you?

Helping to make up for that major oversight, E. Lynne Wright has written More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Florida Women (Globe Pequot Press, $12.95). Her book profiles women who have made an impact on the state.

Some of the 14 women included in the book are:

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)

Bethune, an educator and founder of the National Council of Negro Women, put her stamp on Florida when she opened the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training Institute for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach. In 1923 the school teamed up with the all-male Cookman Institute in Jacksonville and became the Bethune-Cookman Institute, now called Bethune-Cookman College.

In addition to her educational pursuits, Bethune was a presidential adviser to Franklin D. Roosevelt and a member of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation.

Harriet Bedell (1875-1969)

Bedell dedicated her later years to the well-being of the Miccosukee Indian tribe in the Florida Everglades.

Bedell, an Episcopal deacon, moved to Everglades City in 1933 to revive an old mission. At 58, she learned to drive (a clunky Model A Ford sedan) in order to get around town.

Bedell helped the Miccosukees make a living by selling their handicrafts. She also was instrumental in their gaining tribal status and acquiring 200,000 acres of the Everglades, where they could have their own school and control their own hunting and fishing areas. Bedell also made sure the Miccosukees were not displaced when Everglades National Park was established.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

Eatonville, where Hurston grew up, shaped her literary career. The town, near Orlando, was the first all-black township incorporated in North America. Hurston, however, was not born in Eatonville as she claimed but was born in Alabama.

After attending college in New York, Hurston started writing and became part of the Harlem Renaissance literary movement. She returned to Florida in the 1920s and '30s and continued to write.

Her most acclaimed novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, relates the story of an African-American woman in Florida and how she struggles to find her identity.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998)

Douglas also embraced Florida as her homeland though she was born in Minnesota. Douglas moved to South Florida in 1915 to work at her father's newspaper, the Miami Herald.

In 1924 she left the newspaper business to work as a freelance writer, a move that led to a career that included seven books, including The Everglades: River of Grass.

River of Grass is her most famous work and remains the definitive reference on the plight of the Florida Everglades. Until the book, many people considered the Everglades nothing more than a huge swamp. Douglas changed that perception by describing the Everglades as "vast glittering openness, wider than the enormous visible round of the horizon, the racing free saltness and sweetness of their massive winds, under the dazzling blue heights of space."