Dispatches from the Florida Capital

Spot a politician in the Florida state Capitol building and expect to find a gaggle of reporters nearby, vying to scoop the latest story. While some of today’s bylines carry more weight than others, from 1944 to 1982 United Press International (UPI) reporter Barbara Landstreet Frye dominated Florida’s state politics beat. Dubbed the dean of Tallahassee’s correspondents, Frye’s no-frills, objective style journalism is credited with changing the direction of Florida government. The veteran reporter covered the administrations of 11 Florida governors, dozens of legislative sessions, state courts and a stream of other political events that have since made Florida history.

But Frye broke more than news during her 38-year tenure. As the first female reporter to cover Florida’s capital politics, she broke barriers for future generations of women journalists. “She was a liberated woman long before anyone used that term… She competed against all-male competition in the early days, and she beat them,” remembered former Tallahassee Democrat editor Bill Mansfield. Once declared “an institution” by clerk of the Florida House and founder of the Florida Photographic Collection Allen Morris, Frye’s unmatched work ethic and passion for Florida politics cemented her legacy as a pioneering woman in journalism.

Portrait of UPI Tallahassee Bureau Chief Barbara Landstreet Frye, ca. 1960.

Portrait of UPI Tallahassee Bureau Chief Barbara Landstreet Frye, ca. 1960.

When Barbara Frye was born Barbara Landstreet in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1922, only a handful of women worked in the male-dominated news business. But this prevailing reality did not stop Landstreet from pursuing a journalism degree at the University of Georgia. Upon graduating in 1943, the United Press Association (UPI’s predecessor) offered Landstreet a reporting position in Atlanta.

But there was just one minor problem: she was already engaged to marry her college boyfriend. In those days, married middle-class women didn’t work if they could help it. Moreover, Landstreet recognized the fleeting pretext of the job offer–with so many American men fighting in WWII, employers sought female talent to fill in the temporary wartime gaps. In a career-defining moment, the aspiring reporter bucked societal expectations, broke off the engagement and boarded a train for the Georgia capital. “I just couldn’t resist an offer from a big wire service.”

After a nine month stint in Atlanta, UPI promoted the fresh-faced 22-year-old to head up the new Tallahassee Bureau–a job she hesitated to accept at first: “My family was in Atlanta and I had never been out on my own before. I was nearly in tears, I had never even heard of Tallahassee.” Despite these initial reservations, Landstreet made the move.

Barbara Landstreet Frye, ca. 1945.

Portrait of Barbara Landstreet Frye, ca. 1945. Photo by Harvey Slade.

On the train ride down to Florida’s capital city, she happened to sit next to a hospitable woman focused on easing the young reporter’s fears. The woman turned out to be Florida’s First Lady Mary Groover Holland and she extended a dinner invitation to the newcomer. The UPI bureau chief ate her inaugural Tallahassee meal at the Florida Governor’s Mansion in the company of Governor Spessard Holland and family. On her first night in town, Landstreet was already gathering political sources, a skill that would help earn her an impeccable reputation as one of Florida’s top political reporters.

Soon after arriving in Tallahassee, Landstreet met and married former director of the state Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission Dr. Earl O. Frye. From then on, her byline read simply Barbara Frye (UPI). “I never planned a career when I started work. I always envisioned myself as working a few years, getting married and becoming a housewife.”

But the grip of Florida’s evolving twentieth century political landscape held Frye in the press gallery at the Capitol for almost four decades. In that time, she sat through countless dull government meetings and traveled all over the state to interview sources, all the while remaining dedicated to informing the public on the latest developments in Florida politics.

Barbara Frye enjoying eating at Governor Millard Caldwell's press conference in Orlando, 1946.

Barbara Landstreet Frye eating at Governor Millard Caldwell’s press conference in Orlando, 1946.

Capitol Press Corps interviewing Governor Fuller Warren at the Silver Slipper restaurant , 1949. Frye is pictured second from left.

Capitol Press Corps interviewing Governor Fuller Warren at the Silver Slipper restaurant in Tallahassee, 1949. Frye is pictured second from left.

“She came here almost as a bobby-soxer. I can remember when she first came she was such a spry, attractive person,” remembered Governor LeRoy Collins. When she first started writing about Florida politics, only a handful of reporters covered the state Capitol and Frye was the only woman in the group. “At first no one took me very seriously because they simply were not used to women covering the news here.” In an era when editors often assigned “fluff” pieces to female reporters, Frye fought hard to cover meatier topics. Described by a friend as a “mix of old south and modern feminist,” her disarming southern lilt fit right in with Florida’s “good old boy” political climate of the 1940s and 50s–and helped bridge some  initial gender barriers.

Program from the fifth annual Capital Press Club Skits, ca. 1955. Since the 1940s, Tallahassee's legislative correspondents have put on the press skits at the start of each legislative session, satirizing lawmakers. As a member of the press corps, Barbara Frye participated in a number of skits over the years.

Program from the fifth annual Capital [sic.] Press Club Skits, ca. 1955. William T. Cash Collection (N2004-5, Box 04, Folder 13), State Archives of Florida. Since the 1940s, Tallahassee’s legislative correspondents have put on the press skits at the start of each legislative session, satirizing lawmakers. As a member of the press club, Barbara Frye participated in a number of skits over the years.

By the 1950s, every reporter, politico and pundit in the state not only knew Barbara Frye’s byline but implicitly trusted the accuracy of her reporting. Veteran Florida political writer Martin Dyckman remembered one telling anecdote from the Governor Reubin Askew era: Frye had mistakenly filed a story with the lede “Gov. LeRoy Collins today…” and it almost went unnoticed.

Barbara Frye sits with other members of the Capitol Press Corps covering the Bay County High School awards ceremonies for March of Dimes, 1962. Jim Stokes|State Archives of Florida.

Barbara Frye sits with other members of the Capitol Press Corps covering the Bay County High School awards ceremonies for March of Dimes, 1962. Photo by Jim Stokes.

 Barbara Frye with Governor Reubin Askew, Congressman Bill Young and Florida Secretary of State Richard Stone, 1976. Don Dughi/State Archives of Florida.

Barbara Frye with Governor Reubin Askew, Congressman Bill Young and Florida Secretary of State Richard Stone, 1976. Photo by Don Dughi.

Frye cultivated close relationships with her political subjects, winning high praise from several of Florida’s governors. “I think the way she helped me more than any other way was in her expectation that my conduct would measure up,” said Governor Collins. “She expected the most of me and I felt if I didn’t measure up, she would be disappointed,” he continued. Echoing Collins, Governor Askew characterized Frye as “a woman who, in her own way, constantly challenged those who held positions of public trust to realize their potential as public servant.” Her own public service work extended beyond the press corps, as she was also an active member of the Tiger Bay Club, Junior League and the Statewide Citizens Council on Drug Abuse.

At the height of her dynamic journalism career, while other reporters scrambled to track down sources, tipsters frequently sought the ear of the UPI bureau chief. Sources offered Frye exclusive information because they trusted her news judgement.

Members of the Capitol Press Corps covering the 1968 special legislative session. Note that Barbara Frye, pictured top left, is the only woman in the corps.

Members of the Capitol Press Corps covering the 1968 special legislative session. Note that Barbara Frye, pictured top left, is the only woman in the corps.

From special elections to legislative reapportionment, Frye meticulously drafted an almost half-century’s worth of Florida history with speed, precision and her own personal flair.

UPI article by Barbara Frye regarding the 1967 Special Legislative Session on reapportionment. Barbara Frye Press Files Collection (M90-18), Box 5, Folder 17, State Archives of Florida. Frye wrote most of her articles on a teletype machine, unable to see the words she was typing. Her work was then transmitted over the UPI wire service and printed.

UPI article by Barbara Frye regarding the 1967 Special Legislative Session on reapportionment. Barbara Frye Press Files Collection (M90-18), Box 5, Folder 17, State Archives of Florida. Frye wrote most of her articles on a teletype machine, unable to see the words she was typing. Her work was then transmitted over the UPI wire service and printed.

Before reaching middle age, Frye had become a living legend at the Florida Capitol. Frye set the standard for good journalism in Tallahassee and mentored many up-and-coming Tallahassee reporters over the years, especially young women.

Former statehouse reporter turned Leon County Commissioner Mary Ann Lindley, longtime Tallahassee Democrat journalist Bill Cotterell and retired editor of the St.Petersburg Times Martin Dyckman all learned the ropes from Frye. “Barbara could, and would, teach anybody – including competitors – about state government,” remembered Cotterell. “She was never too big to lend a hand to green frightened reporters covering the big beat for the first time. She never forgot the tears and apprehension she had on the night train from Atlanta so long ago,” reminisced Dyckman.

Barbara Frye interviewing Governor Bob Graham at the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee, ca. 1979. Graham's was the last administration Frye reported on before her death in 1982.

Barbara Frye interviewing Governor Bob Graham at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, ca. 1979. Graham’s was the last administration Frye reported on before her death in 1982.

Though her editor at UPI offered Frye a string of different jobs in Washington, she turned them all down, citing her unbridled enthusiasm for writing about Florida’s steamy politics.

Frye never missed a day of work, until she was diagnosed with cancer in 1981. Even still, she continued reporting on select happenings downtown throughout most of her illness. “I thought I was immortal…. I thought I’d be the last person left. I never thought cancer,” Frye reconciled in an interview during the last year of her life. The Florida Capitol mourned when 60-year-old Barbara Landstreet Frye died at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital on May 22, 1982.

Poster of 1984 Florida Women's Hall of Fame inductees. Barbara Frye is pictures on the top left.

Poster of 1984 Florida Women’s Hall of Fame inductees, State Library of Florida. Barbara Frye is pictured on the top left.

Once known as a living legend, Frye has continued to maintain a legendary status some 35 years after her death. Immediately following her passing, the Capitol Press Club of Florida created the Barbara L. Frye Scholarship which awards annual prizes to aspiring young journalists. Additionally, in 1984, the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women posthumously elected Frye to the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame; the Florida Press Association Hall of Fame also honored her in 1990. That same year, the State Archives of Florida acquired the esteemed journalist’s press files, where the story of her legendary career as one of the nation’s trailblazing female political reporters lives on.

 

Miss Nancy’s Story

This is the second installment of our two-part blog series highlighting the Nancy Tribble Benda Collection (N2016-1) available at the State Archives of Florida. Benda was one of the first mermaids to perform at Weeki Wachee Springs when it opened in 1947. She later went on to star in WFSU-TV’s educational children’s television show “Miss Nancy’s Store”  from 1966-1967 before working for the Florida Department of Education.

After splashing onto the scene in the 1940s as one of the first-ever Weeki Wachee mermaids, Nancy Tribble Benda briefly stepped out of the limelight to pursue a degree in elementary education at Florida State University (FSU). But by the 1960s she was making waves again. This time as the star of her own educational television show: The hit children’s series “Miss Nancy’s Store” aired on WFSU-TV from 1966-1967. During an illustrious 40-year public education career, Benda worked both on and off-screen to expand educational access in Florida.

Nancy Tribble Benda on the set of WFSU-TV's educational children's television show,

Nancy Tribble Benda on the set of WFSU-TV’s educational children’s television show, “Miss Nancy’s Store,” ca. 1966.

Nancy Tribble was born in 1930. Back then, radio was king and television was still a new-fangled experiment. But by the time a teen-aged Ms. Tribble landed her role as an underwater entertainer at the new Weeki Wachee Springs amusement park in Brooksville, Florida, in 1947, home television sets had debuted in American markets. Over the next decade, as television began to redefine national media consumption, it would also redirect Benda’s career path.

Shortly after appearing in the 1948 motion picture Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, Benda hung up her mermaid fin and moved back to her hometown of Tallahassee, where she enrolled at Florida State University. She married architect Charles Benda in 1950. After graduation, Mrs. Nancy Tribble Benda took her first job at Havana Elementary School in Gadsden County, teaching fifth grade. A few years later, she transferred to Sealey Memorial Elementary in Leon County. But Benda wouldn’t stay in a traditional classroom for long. Her combined performance and teaching talents would soon thrust her into the emerging educational television industry.

Nancy Tribble Benda with her sorority sisters at Florida State University, ca. 1949.

Benda (second row, right) at the Alpha Xi Delta Sorority rush party at Florida State University, ca. 1949.

Ed. Television Comes to Florida

By 1955, half of American households owned a television. Big networks such as ABC, CBS, and NBC captivated audiences with the comedic cheese of family sit-coms like The Goldbergs, Leave it to Beaver, and I Love Lucy. However, heavy product placement, gimmicky ads and implausible story lines left some parents and professionals concerned that the first generation of American youngsters to grow up in front of the television were starved for intellectual stimulation.

The answer to the call for more educational television programming first arrived in 1952 with the creation of the Educational Television and Radio Center (later renamed National Educational Television and replaced by the Public Broadcasting Service in 1970). The network aimed to educate the nation’s growing number of television viewers with an entertaining yet enriching lineup. Proponents saw potential in the new technology’s unprecedented ability to provide underserved populations with quality educational programming.

Individual states soon caught on to the idea of “teleducation,” developing the first statewide educational television networks in the 1950s. Florida’s population increased enormously after World War II, ballooning from just under 2 million in 1940 to 3.7 million by 1955. The dramatic influx of new residents overburdened the state’s traditional public education infrastructure. Consequently, Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, who was elected in 1954 on a progressive education platform, looked to the remote access afforded by educational television programming as a possible solution.

In 1957, the Florida Legislature created the Florida Educational Television Commission (Ch. 57-312, Laws) “to provide through educational television a means of extending the powers of teaching in public education and of raising living and educational standards of the citizens and residents of the state.”

The commission joined with state universities and the independent Florida Institute for Continuing University Studies (FICUS) to create the Florida Television Network. The entity produced both closed-circuit and public access educational programming to enhance learning in all levels of public education, from kindergarten to adult learning.

Illustration showing the radial reach of the Florida Television Network's six stations, ca. 1966.

Illustration showing the radial reach of the Florida Television Network’s six stations, ca. 1966. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 9, State Archives of Florida. Click to enlarge and view full record.

Some channels also collaborated with local school boards. WTHS-TV in Miami opened the first school board-run station in the country in 1957, serving students enrolled in district by day and the general public by night. In 1960 WFSU-TV, whose production studios were located on FSU’s campus, went live in Tallahassee.

By 1965, six non-commercial broadcast stations were in operation throughout Florida: Tallahassee, Gainesville, Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville and Orlando.

Tallahassee’s T.V. Teacher

Benda’s role in the rising educational television movement started in 1960, when she took a continuing education summer school class on the “techniques” of educational television. The following year, she and several other local Leon County elementary school teachers formulated a curriculum for a televised fifth grade social studies course for students in the district.

Once the Leon County School Board approved the new social studies course, the school board held auditions for an on-air teaching position and Benda won the part. On February 1, 1962, the first episode of the live history-themed puppet show, “Our Nation’s Story,” premiered on WFSU-TV’s Channel 11. During the course, which aired every Tuesday and Thursday at 2:00 p.m. in fifth grade social studies classrooms throughout Leon County, Benda taught lessons on the history of the United States from “the westward movement in the late 1840s … to [the] beginnings] [of] space travel.”

WFSU-TV program guide featuring an advertisement for "Our Nation's Story," 1963. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 9, State Archives of Florida. Click to enlarge and view full record.

WFSU-TV program guide featuring an advertisement for “Our Nation’s Story,” 1963. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 9, State Archives of Florida. Click to enlarge and view full record.

WFSU-TV’s reach expanded quickly to the rural counties surrounding Leon County, including Calhoun, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty and Wakulla counties. The program supplemented traditional classroom material and helped break down educational access barriers, serving an estimated 6,000 viewers in the Big Bend area.

“We want to be sure we’re fulfilling a need and we want to put TV to best use,” Benda said. The school board eventually approved Benda’s transfer from Sealey Elementary to full-time status as a television teacher. Only responsible for teaching one course, the state’s handful of TV teachers were able to devote more time to enhancing their lessons and making them more engaging for students. Additionally, TV teachers could fill in if a school did not have a teacher qualified to teach a particular course.

Before long, Benda was appearing on Florida’s other five regional public television stations as part of the network’s statewide educational programming initiative, “Through the TV Tube,” which offered for-credit elementary, secondary and college telecourses. Benda taught televised elementary level American history and science classes. The network also offered Spanish, physical education,reading, literature, art, writing and speech courses. Additionally, many Florida high schoolers tuned in to watch a televised version of the legislatively mandated six-week high school course, Americanism vs. Communism. The Cold War-era content remained a public school curriculum requirement until 1983 when lawmakers replaced it with an essential economics class.

Tube

Letter from the Florida Institute for Continuing University Studies to Nancy Benda thanking the teacher for her work on “Through the TV Tube” with a “small honorarium,” August 3, 1964. Nancy Benda Collection N2016-1, Box 05, Folder 1, State Archives of Florida.

Florida’s innovative educational television programming garnered high praise from national critics. Nancy Benda won the 1965 Freedoms Foundation Award for her work on “Our Nation’s Story.”

Additionally, Television Digest touted the Florida networks’ expansive coverage, writing in 1964 that “Despite much talk by other states about elaborate, proposed ETV systems, Florida is still the only state to achieve anything like a real statewide network with programs available to significant numbers of major population areas.”

Benda’s interest in educational television stemmed from her deeper passion for educational equality. After participating in Operation Headstart, a federal program launched in 1965 aimed at providing early childhood education for low-income children, she saw a greater need for high-quality kindergarten instruction.

“In many poverty[-stricken] homes children haven’t even seen books or heard good music. But even in middle or upper class homes, children of working parents often lack opportunities… the parents just don’t have time,” the television teacher elaborated to the St. Petersburg Times.

Determined to help bridge the gaps, Nancy Benda pitched a new children’s television show to WFSU-TV.

 “Miss Nancy’s Store”

In 1965, the Florida Department of Education partnered with WFSU-TV to create, “Miss Nancy’s Store,” an enchanting new after school puppet show geared toward boosting childhood literacy. The series starred Benda in the title role and premiered in January 1966.

Nancy Benda working on the set of

Nancy Benda working on the set of “Miss Nancy’s Store,” ca. 1966.

At the height of its run, “Miss Nancy’s Store” aired on all six public television stations in Florida five nights per week at 5:00 p.m, with a potential viewing audience of six million people.

“It’s really a cooperative venture. Parents in the community have felt a need for a children’s show in the area at this time–something they could be sure wouldn’t have to be supervised, something educational, sound, well-done and enjoyable,” she explained.

While filming the show, Benda also earned her master’s in elementary education supervision via correspondence graduate courses at FSU. She brought her expertise to the set and hit all the right marks with viewers.

Miss Nancy stands next to a magical pot-bellied stove in her store, ca. 1966. The stove's smoke transported children into an alternative world filled with music and moving pictures. Other props included a

Miss Nancy stands next to a magical pot-bellied stove in her store, ca. 1966. On the show, the stove’s smoke transported children into an alternative world filled with music and moving pictures. Other props included a “no-cracker cracker barrel” filled with toys, a gramophone, and a secret door in the brick wall where puppets appeared.

Upon turning on the tube, children were transported in the magical world of Miss Nancy’s Store. To get youngsters excited about learning, Nancy employed creative tactics not feasible in a regular classroom. Miss Nancy played dress up and taught language lessons with the help of the show’s colorful puppet characters. “We want children to watch because [they are] interested, not because mama or teacher says it’s good to learn,” she emphasized to a reporter.

Booklet detailing the premise of

Booklet detailing the different characters and quirks of “Miss Nancy’s Store,” as well as the information about the show’s current and future budget, 1966. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 9, State Archives of Florida. Click to enlarge and flip through the full record.

“Miss Nancy’s Store” ranked number one on WFSU-TV’s Channel 11, receiving 11,000 pieces of fan mail in its first year. To make the show more interactive, she spent the last few minutes of each episode acknowledging viewers’ birthdays and reading  fan letters. Florida Commissioner of Education Floyd T. Christian praised the show for its top-notch instructional content.

“I watch your show every day, and I like it very very much…. My mother likes your show too, and thinks you are very pretty and charming. She also thanks you for keeping me out of her hair while she fixes dinner. [We] both send you a big kiss,” gushed one young viewer.

Fan letter to Nancy Benda from five-year-old Timmy Wilson of Hialeah, ca. 1966. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 10, State Archives of Florida. Click to enlarge.

Fan letter to Nancy Benda from five-year-old Timmy Wilson of Hialeah, ca. 1966. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 10, State Archives of Florida.

Despite such favorable ratings and reviews, the show billed high production costs. And a lack of funding forced the network to cancel “Miss Nancy’s Store” in August 1967. Fans, from kindergartners to grandparents, wrote futile pleas to the show’s producers, begging them to keep it on the air.

“I watch Miss Nancy’s Store, everyday. I like her program. Would you please keep her on the air, so children of my age and yonger [sic.] can continue to be educated and intertained [sic.]?”

Letter from

Letter from “Miss Nancy’s Store” fan Wanda Coles in reaction to series cancellation, August 2, 1967. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 12, State Archives of Florida.

One adult viewer pleaded with producers to keep the show on the air, asking if “For once, couldn’t the viewer be considered and some other program be dropped and put the money into this feature that holds so many children’s attention?”  She attached an article referring to children’s TV as a “mini-wasteland” to support her case.

Letter to WFSU-TV producers from Mrs. George Brant on the cancellation of

Letter to WFSU-TV producers from Mrs. George Brant on the cancellation of “Miss Nancy’s Store,” August 13, 1967. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 12, State Archives of Florida. Click to view full record.

Lifelong Educator

Once “Miss Nancy’s Store” stopped filming, Benda accepted a job with the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) as the director of equal opportunity programs. Until her retirement in 2003, the former television star took up the charge of enforcing Title IX–a 1972 federal law barring sex discrimination in scholastic and athletic programs at educational institutions receiving federal funds–in Florida’s public schools. She traveled the state investigating the disparities in athletic offerings for male and female students. Sports teach discipline and competition, she said. Benda intimated that “those are skills that have served our males very well,” and would benefit women as well.

In 1993 she traveled to Washington D.C., testifying as a witness in a congressional hearing on alleged sex discrimination in secondary and collegiate level sports. Toward the end of her tenure with FDOE, Benda expressed tempered views on the progress of educational opportunity in Florida: “Schools have made some enormous strides, [but] there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Nancy Tribble Benda died of cancer in 2015 at the age of 85. After the former educator’s passing, her family donated her career files to the State Archives of Florida for preservation. The collection documents the television teacher’s historic contributions to expanding educational access in Florida. A sampling of items from the collection is now available online.

Florida now boasts a total of 13 public access channels, their success owed in part to the educational television framework built by innovative teachers like Nancy Benda.

Selected Sources:

Nancy Tribble Benda Collection (N2016-1). State Archives of Florida.

Educational Television Commission Minutes (.S 1913). State Archives of Florida.

A Mermaid’s Tale

This is the first installment of our two-part blog series highlighting the Nancy Tribble Benda Collection (N2016-1) available at the State Archives of Florida. Benda was one of the first mermaids to perform at Weeki Wachee Springs when it opened in 1947. She later went on to star in WFSU-TV’s educational children’s television show “Miss Nancy’s Store”  from 1966-1967 before working for the Florida Department of Education.

Many young children play dress up and fantasize about becoming a mermaid, a movie star, or a queen. But what if you really could be a mermaid, act in a movie, and be treated like Hollywood royalty? In 1947, teenager Nancy Tribble would become one of the first “mermaids” to work at Weeki Wachee Springs, landing a role on the big screen in Universal Pictures’ Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid.

Nancy with her mermaid tail, photographed during promotion for Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, 1948.

Nancy Tribble was born in DeLand, Florida, in 1930 to Lewis and Hillis Tribble. The family moved to Tallahassee in 1940, where she would go on to attend Leon High School and Florida State University. As a young woman, her hobbies included swimming in the local rivers and springs, spending time with friends, and competing in local beauty pageants, such as the Miss Underwater contest.

Nancy as Miss Killearn Gardens, with Miss Wakulla Springs during the Miss Underwater contest, 1946.

In 1947, Nancy would accept an unusual position as one of the first underwater performers at nascent tourist attraction Weeki Wachee Springs, situated along US 19 near the small and remote town of Brooksville. A year prior, park founder and former U.S. Navy swim coach, Newton Perry, had recognized Weeki Wachee as a good location for his new underwater theater business. In preparing the site for tourism, Perry first cleared the spring of the abandoned cars and rusted home appliances that had been sunk there by area residents. He then experimented with underwater breathing hoses, eventually creating a method of breathing underwater via a hose supplying oxygen from an air compressor. Taking occasional breaths from this hose, the “mermaids” could perform 20 feet underwater for extended periods of time, rather than being encumbered by wearing an oxygen tank.

Brochure advertising Weeki Wachee Springs, 1949 (Series N2016-1, Box 3, Folder 5.)

Six feet below the water’s surface, Perry built an 18-seat theater so that visitors could view performances and experience the beauty of the blue spring. Perry recruited young women from all over Florida and trained them to perform synchronized ballet moves and host underwater picnics while breathing through air hoses hidden throughout the scenery.

Nancy posed with underwater sign at Weekiwachee Spring, 1947.

On October 13, 1947, the first underwater show at the Weeki Wachee Springs theater opened. In a few short years, Weeki Wachee would become one of America’s most popular tourist attractions. Movies began to be filmed at the spring–notably, Universal Pictures’ Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid in 1948. Nancy tried out for the role of the lead actress in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, but that part was given to Ann Blyth. Instead, Nancy was cast as Blyth’s underwater body double and performed the swimming parts for the film. Journal entries left in Nancy’s scrapbook detail her experience of flying to Hollywood to meet the cast and crew.

Upon arriving in Hollywood, Nancy was immediately fitted for her mermaid costume by having a plaster mold made from her body. The tail in question, originally budgeted at $500, ultimately cost $18,000 to fabricate. In her first journal entry documenting her trip, Nancy comically illustrates the plastering process as if describing a scene from a horror film:

Journal entry by Nancy written December 9, 1947, describing her first day in Hollywood (Series N2016-1, Box 4.)

In the center of the room was a white, pillow-covered operating table with fluorescent lights lowered over it. That was for me! Golly. I turned to run but the door was barred…one of the big fellows grabbed me, while the women, who [were] by no means tiny, greased me from head to foot. Then I was thrown face down on the torture table and “plastered.” The stuff was cold and damp but with no sympathy whatsoever, the tyrants covered me from my neck down to my toes with plaster.

Following this plaster incident, Nancy was fitted for her mermaid wig by two makeup artists, who she described as “beautiful witches with long fingernails”:

Journal entry written by Nancy on December 11, 1947, describing the process of being fitted for a wig (Series N2016-1, Box 4.)

What pain, what agony, why, it was awful! Have you ever had anyone drive nails straight into your head? That’s what they did to me, or at least, it felt like it…jabbing in a hairpin here, driving home a bobbypin there…when at last their fiendish thirst was quenched, I was told to go swimming.

Hollywood wasn’t a complete terror, however. Nancy also wrote of the luxuries afforded to movie stars:

Journal entry written by Nancy on December 10, 1947, describing the luxuries afforded to actors and actresses in Hollywood (Series N2016-1, Box 4.)

Have you ever felt like a queen or wanted to feel like one? Well, I have pinched myself until I am black and blue and my dream still doesn’t fade; I feel like a queen. I live in a hotel room with my mother and what a room it is. We have everything from a radio and Kleenex to clean sheets every night. When I wake up, a merry voice says, “Good morning and what would you like for breakfast this morning?”…After eating, free of charge…I go out the front door to a waiting Cadillac or Lincoln…everyplace I go there is always a happy, cheerful voice greeting me or asking if there is anything he can do to make me more comfortable.

Nancy returned to Weeki Wachee to film the swimming sequences of Mr. Peabody and Mermaid. To promote the film, she toured across Florida in full mermaid garb, ushered around inside of a large aquarium.

“Mermaid” Nancy Tribble receives a key to the city of Tampa in 1948.

As shooting for the film wrapped up, and Nancy’s stint as a mermaid winded down, her adventure was actually just beginning. She would soon enter Florida State University, beginning a long and significant career in education and communications. Stay tuned for next week’s blog in our two-part series profiling the life of Nancy Tribble Benda.

External Sources:

Nancy Tribble Benda’s Obituary on Tallahassee Democrat. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/tallahassee/obituary.aspx?pid=175400455

Weeki Wachee’s History. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://weekiwachee.com/about-us/history/

Some Issues Are Eternal: Keeping the City “in a sanitary condition”

In the 1890s, the City of Tallahassee had a dedicated health officer, a merchant and contractor named Mathew F. Papy (1834-1904), who sent meticulous reports of the condition of the city during his tenure. He was responsible for sanitation as well as health issues, so his reports reflect activities such as clearing sewers, garbage removal, closing open privies, the quality of fish and meat offered at market, and disposing of dead livestock.

In one of these reports is the details of a problem that greatly concerned him: the use of the alley between the Ball Brothers Bar Room and Mr. Levy’s store as a privy. In his report of November 30, 1891, he wrote:

“Your Honor’s attention is called to the Alley between Ball Brothers Bar Room and Mr. Levy’s store, some action should be taken at once by the Council to stop the Alley from being used as a urine Deposit for the public, by either having the same closed up, or positive instruction given to Ball Brothers to stop using the same for a Urine Deposit, I have much trouble in Keeping that place in good condition, and have to watch it very closely, the disagreeable odor which comes from that place at times, is positively Horrible, and I therefore hope the Council will take some action to abate the nuisance.”

Mathew F. Papy’s report about the alley between Ball Brothers Bar Room and Mr. Levy’s store being used as a privy, dated November 30, 1891. City of Tallahassee records 1885 – 1965, Series L 9, Box 36, 1891 Folder 1.

An unhealthy nuisance indeed! There is no mention of the alley in reports for several years, but then in December of 1896, the problem either returned or had not been resolved:

“It again becomes my Duty to Report the Ally between Mr. Julius Ball’s Bar Room and Mr. Lively’s Warehouse in a Bad condition, and it is impossible for me to have it kept in a Sanitary condition, Mr. Ball has a Barrell in the Ally for the public to deposit their Urine in, and most of them use the ground instead of the Barrell, when the Bll is full, I cannot get it taken away. It is a Nuisance, and I beg that you bring the matter before the Council as I have reported him several times to the Mayor. He has promised to do better, but has not done so.”

Papy’s report about the alley between Mr. Julius Ball’s Bar Room and Mr. Lively’s Warehouse and the issue of public urination in that alleyway, dated November 30, 1891.City of Tallahassee records 1885 – 1965, Series L 9, Box 36, 1896.

The Council took note of the issue, as seen in the memo to the mayor. The problem was possibly resolved as the alley behind Ball Brothers is not mentioned again.

“That the Mayor be notified that the City Health Officer reports that certain sections of the Sanitary Ordinances are being constantly violated and that he is powerless to correct nuisances without his Cooperation and that it is the sense of the City Council that he investigate & act promptly upon all…

…complaints made by the City Health Officer”

Memo sent to the mayor regarding the unsanitary alleyway. City of Tallahassee records 1885 – 1965, Series L 9, Box 36, 1896.

Memo sent to the mayor regarding the unsanitary alleyway. City of Tallahassee records 1885 – 1965, Series L 9, Box 36, 1896.

At the time, Levy’s store was located on Monroe Street, and the Ball Brothers’ saloon was very likely located on Jefferson Street a few doors down in downtown Tallahassee. While the original buildings have been replaced, there is still an alley running through the middle of that block called Gallie Alley. Mr. Papy might well be satisfied by its sanitary condition today.

Photograph of Gallie Alley taken by the author on February 16, 2017.

Gallie Alley runs through the middle of the block between College Avenue and South Adams Street in downtown Tallahassee, much as it has for over one hundred years.

200,000 Photographs

Today, the State Archives of Florida reached a major milestone: Resident cataloger Tony Conigliaro officially cataloged the 200,000th digitized photograph from the Florida Photographic Collection on Florida Memory. In commemoration, we are digging into the Archives for a look back at the colorful history of the Florida Photographic Collection. We also interviewed Tony, and he explained more about his role in expanding digital public access to one of the most-used photographic collections in the country.

200,000 Copyright-free Images Online

All photographs available on Florida Memory are now offered under the Public Domain Mark Creative Commons license. Members of the public are encouraged to download and share the digitized archival images, provided they credit the State Archives of Florida. Higher resolution scans or prints of images can be ordered online using the shopping cart feature or by contacting staff at the Florida Photographic Archives via email FloridaMemoryStore@dos.myflorida.com or by phone at 850-245-6718.

About the 200,000th Photograph

For the symbolic 200,000th image, Archives staff selected this print of Harriet Beecher Stowe walking up the steps of Florida’s Old Capitol on April 10th, 1874. Though a copy negative of this photograph has been repeatedly used in publications, the original image was only recently discovered in the State Library. Stowe was an author and abolitionist who wrote the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1851. After the Civil War, Stowe purchased a winter home in Mandarin, Florida, on the east bank of the St. Johns River, now a neighborhood of Jacksonville.

Harriet Beecher Stowe walking up the stairs at Florida’s Old Capitol to greet Governor Marcellus L. Stearns. Governor Stearns is center front and Stowe is the woman in black to the right on the 6th step, April 10, 1874. Photographer A.G. Grant.

In April 1874, Stowe traveled with a group of Northern businessmen to the capital city of Tallahassee to encourage development and investment in Florida. Floridians graciously welcomed Stowe to the capital despite their general disagreement with her political opinions. This meeting on the Capitol steps was meant as a gesture of the South receiving the North. The photograph of the occasion was taken by Irish photographer A. G. Grant, who was hired by a Boston publishing company to capture images of interest for an upcoming publication about Florida.

A closer look at the photograph shows Governor Stearns (left) on the stairs and Stowe (bottom right) walking towards him. Governor Stearns lost his right arm in the Battle of Winchester while fighting for the Union army during the Civil War.

The Florida Photographic Collection

Florida State University, 1952-1982

The Florida Photographic Collection dates back to 1947, when Allen C. Morris, the self-taught historian and well-known Associated Press political columnist and reporter, started writing the Florida Handbook as a reference for the Florida Legislature. The biennial publication, which is still published in a digital format today, contains current information on the history and government of Florida. Tasked with compiling an inviting and educational manual, Morris found himself on a constant quest to illustrate the book with corresponding pictures.

He sought out new images of all types whenever and wherever he could, often using his vast network in journalism, state politics, and industry to make new acquisitions. Within a few years, the collection had exceeded 50,000 photographs.

“The helpfulness of people, both in Florida and elsewhere, has been extremely gratifying,” Morris told the Miami Herald‘s Jeanne Bellamy in 1972. “[Donors] have cooperated to an unusual degree, placing their facilities at our disposal because of the rather general recognition that we are racing against the erosion of time to preserve scenes of lasting human value.”

In an effort to better preserve and organize the many priceless photographs, Morris established the Florida Photographic Collection at the Florida State University Library in 1952. There, Morris, along with other faculty and graduate students, began cataloging the photographs. He soon became known among the press, academic publishers, and the general public as the go-to-resource for printed images of Florida history. The video clip below documents officials from the Florida Development Commission donating promotional films to the archive at FSU in 1964.

Morris continued his oversight of the Florida Photographic Collection throughout the 1960s. In the middle of the decade, his first wife, Dorothy, who was dying of cancer, urged her husband to take a job with the Legislature. She reasoned that a change in careers would ease the longtime journalist’s transition after her death.

In 1966, Allen Morris became clerk of the Florida House of Representatives. That year, he also met graduate student Joan Perry while working in the photographic collection. The couple wed shortly thereafter. Wanting to focus more of his attention on his responsibilities at the Capitol, Morris eventually stepped down from his role at the archives. In 1970, archivist Joan Perry Morris became the director of the Florida Photographic Collection.

Joan and Allen Morris working in the darkroom of the Florida State University Photographic Archives, ca. 1972.

Joan and Allen Morris working in the darkroom at the Florida State University Photographic Archives, ca. 1972.

State Archives of Florida, 1982-Present

During Joan’s tenure, the collection grew to include over one million images of Florida-related people, places, flora, fauna and other items of interest. As the collection continued to grow, Morris sought a new space for the photographs. In 1982, the State Archives of Florida acquired the entirety of the Florida Photographic Collection.

At the state repository, Joan Morris, her photographic assistant Jody Norman and many other archivists on staff continued the work of building and preserving the photographic record of Florida’s history and culture.

The Florida Memory Program, 1994-Present

By the early 1990s, the photo collection had become so popular that requests for copies and scans of photographs accounted for over half of all reference requests at the State Archives. The solution? The internet and its unprecedented ability to provide remote access to information.

In 1993, Joan and her team applied for federal grant funding from the Library Services and Construction Act (now known as the Library Services and Technology Act) and launched the Florida Photographic Collection Electronic Imaging Project in 1994. They developed a plan for digitizing the Florida Photographic Collection and making the photos searchable online. During the digitization project’s first year, over 5,000 images from the Florida Photographic Collection were scanned and put online.

In 2000, the project was renamed the Florida Memory Program, and it has been hailed as one of the state’s best resources for connecting Floridians with their history.

Florida Memory has received several awards in recognition of its public value, including the Society of American Archivists’ 2015 Archival Innovator Award.

As the speed and precision of technology improves, Florida Memory continues to increase access to the historically significant holdings of the State Library and Archives of Florida.

Today, the program keeps an impressive pace, digitizing 100 new photographs each week. And in addition to featuring 200,000 searchable Florida photographs, the website has also expanded to include over 300,000 documents, 250 videos and 2,900 audio recordings, as well as online educational units. Because of Florida Memory’s wide reach, the Florida Photographic Collection receives daily requests from newswires, magazines, interior designers and average citizens from all every corner of the country. They even have a large international customer base.

Our Cataloger Tony on the Ins and Outs of Florida Memory’s Photographs

The ability to quickly search through our online catalog of images is a huge time saver, especially compared to the tedium of thumbing through a traditional card catalog. But, real-life archivists like Tony Conigliaro are usually sitting on the other side of the screen, researching, fact-checking, and cataloging images to optimize your search results on Florida Memory. Here’s what he has to say about how it all happens:

  1.   How long have you been working as a cataloger for the State Archives?

[About twenty years.] I started work as a part-time scanner in 1997 until I became a cataloger in 1999.

  1. What is your academic background? How and why did you first become interested in cataloging work?

I have a master’s in library and information science from Florida State University. I think my interest in archives [grew] over time. I’ve always liked libraries since my youth (they’re so quiet and clean!) and I enjoyed scanning images and learning Photoshop.

But when I began cataloging I thought of myself as kind of an information conduit/provider and more data-entry librarian than archivist. I’ve never done any collection/preservation work but appreciate the fact that these historical items are being made more readily available for researchers and the general public.

I suppose [that as my] appreciation grew, my interest in archival work and the great efforts of archives staff also grew. I’ve heard a few times of patrons who have come across an image, of an ancestor, they never knew existed which just makes my appreciation and interest grow all the more!

Tony Conigliaro in the process of cataloging Florida Memory’s 200,000th photograph, April 24, 2017.

  1. What steps are involved in cataloging a photo on Florida Memory?

It’s really just a matter of filling in each field with appropriate data and adding additional fields when needed or subtracting fields if there are too many. For instance, every record should have data in the fields for “Title” & “Date”, and they do, but each record ought to have data in the “Subject” field to describe what the photo is about and provide keywords, based on a controlled vocabulary list provided by the Library of Congress (or other authorized source), for users to retrieve the digitized image.

  1. How do you identify people and places in photographs?

Fortunately the overwhelming majority are identified by donors. [O]thers are just from familiarity — once Jody [my former boss] was weeding through some political images and held one up to ask me who it was, I looked over and said “Dewey Macon Johnson,” who was State Senate President in 1959.

Senate President Dewey Macon Johnson, ca. 1959.

Florida Senate President Dewey Macon Johnson, ca. 1959.

[Sometimes]  I’ll also grab the loupe (a small magnification device) to look for clues, like road signs, store signs, or any other identifying information. Then I scour the internet, check out the city directories, newspaper microfilm or other library resources. The loupe also helps [to determine] the date of the image as well, especially if it shows an automobile as I can find out the date it was first manufactured. I also make extensive use of the expertise of the smart people around me!

  1.       How many photographs do you think you’ve cataloged for Florida Memory?

I think I have scanned about 88,000 photos. I’ve never done less than 5,000 per year since 2001.

  1.       What is the biggest challenge of your job? What do you like most about your job?

The most challenging aspect is researching images with a lack of accompanying identifications or cryptic/incomplete info. These sometimes also happen to be the most fun.

I suppose I find getting answers to be the most satisfying. Fitting in pieces of information like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes just tracking down the make and model of a car to pinpoint the earliest start date of an image, other times locating a store’s sign in the city directory to pinpoint the street location. I like getting the answers most and being able to provide that information to interested users.

  1.      What is your favorite photograph in the collection, and why?

[That’s]  like asking me to pick my favorite kid – no way! I have a bit of fondness for Political, specifically 1950s, as that’s where I began and was trained. They’re real concrete with bios and dates and over the years some of the faces have become somewhat familiar. Some of the humorous/odd photographs are interesting: C660217Rc04621 (diner title), C003016 (not where I’d want to find myself!) The Tampa skyline and aerial shots I think are attractive. Appears to be a good looking city. The Dale McDonald collection – it’s the first collection that I’ve been the sole cataloger of so it’s kind of special to me and he was a great photographer. Festivalsparades come to mind as they seem to be held just about everywhere in the state so they kind of include something for everyone which I find to be rather special.

  1.       Why do you think the photographs in the Florida Photographic Collection are so significant? In your opinion, what are the benefits of digitizing so many of them on a website like Florida Memory?

They are unique, irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind treasures documenting historical facts! I don’t think I can even fathom all the ways they may be able to touch or affect users if given a chance.

I believe digitization improves accessibility immensely and each image can present a new perspective and provide additional information for users. I don’t think there can ever be enough digitized photographs.

For more information about Stowe’s visit to Tallahassee see Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Stowe’s Visit to Planter Florida,” in Calling Yankees to Florida: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Forgotten Tourist Articles, ed. John T. Foster Jr. and Sarah Whitmer Foster (Cocoa, Florida: The Florida Historical Society Press, 2011), 85-91.

Marjorie Harris Carr: A Champion of Florida’s Natural Resources

Long renowned for its natural beauty, Florida remains a popular destination for tourists and nature lovers seeking pristine beaches, lush forests, winding rivers and an abundance of flora and fauna.  Brought up in this environment, young Marjorie Harris (later Carr), was to become a relentless defender of Florida’s natural resources through her groundbreaking scientific research and activism. Carr is best known for her initiative to preserve Paynes Prairie and for her opposition to the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal Project.

Portrait of Marjorie Harris Carr.

Marjorie Harris was born in 1915 to Clara Louise (Haynes) Harris and Charles Ellesworth Harris in Boston, Massachusetts. The family moved to Bonita Springs, Florida, in 1918, where they resided on a plot of land with an orange grove near the Imperial River. Raised by two naturalists, Harris gained an early appreciation and knowledge of Florida’s plant and animal life. In 1932, she entered the Florida State College for Women (FSCW; now Florida State University). During summer breaks, Harris worked for the National Youth Administration (a New Deal agency). She designed and implemented a naturalist education program for Lee County youth in exchange for financial assistance with tuition, room and board at FSCW.

View of the Welaka National Fish Hatchery, Welaka, Florida, 1960.

Though a passionate and excellent student, Harris would face many obstacles in the professional sphere due to gender bias against female scientists. Harris graduated from FSCW with a B.S. in zoology in 1936. Despite membership in various honor societies and the Florida Academy of Sciences, her applications to graduate programs in ornithology at both Cornell University and the University of South Carolina were rejected on the basis of her gender. Undeterred, Harris found work as a biologist at the Welaka Fish Hatchery, near the St. Johns River in North Central Florida, becoming the first female federal wildlife technician. It was in this position that she developed an intimate understanding of the ecosystems of the Ocklawaha River, a tributary of the St. Johns River that would become a main focus of her environmental activism decades later.

Scenic view of boat on the Ocklawaha River, Ocala, Florida, 1965.

Through her work at the hatchery, Harris met her future husband, herpetologist Archie Fairly Carr, Jr. During their courtship, the couple had some concern that marriage would destroy Harris’ professional career as a scientist. Section 213 of the Economy Act of 1932 enacted workforce reductions of married persons (typically wives)—undermining married women’s tenure in the workplace. After the pair married in 1937, she began a new position as a laboratory technician and field collector at the Bass Zoological Research Laboratory in Englewood, Florida—during which time she concealed her marriage in order to continue her work.

In the fall of 1937, Marjorie Harris Carr entered the graduate biology program at the then all-male University of Florida (UF). She graduated from UF in 1942 and published her master’s thesis, “The Breeding Habits, Embryology and Larval Development of the Large-Mouthed Black Bass of Florida,” in the Proceedings of the New England Zoology Club. In 1945, following the birth of their first two children, the Carr family moved to Honduras. While Archie Carr taught biology at the Escuela Agricola Panamericana, Marjorie took daily excursions into the rainforest to conduct research on local bird life.

During the years that the Carr family spent in Honduras, Marjorie Harris Carr  published several notable ornithological studies. Upon the Carr family’s return to Florida in 1949, Marjorie Carr entrenched herself in community involvement, volunteering as a girl scout leader in Gainesville, then joining the Board of Associates of the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF. While serving on the Board, Carr donated thousands of the specimen skins she had collected in Honduras, greatly enriching the museum’s tropical ornithology collection. Carr’s community involvement served as an entry point into conservation work—first as an officer and board member of the Gainesville Garden Club, and later as a co-founder of the Alachua County Chapter of the Florida Audubon Society in 1960. Within these civil societies, her scientific training and knowledge made her well-positioned to collaborate with University of Florida faculty and government officials on a variety of conservation projects.

View of water hyacinths at Paynes Prairie, Alachua County, Florida, 1970.

Sign for Paynes Prairie wildlife sanctuary, Alachua County, Florida, 1969.

In 1957, as her first major project with Gainesville Garden Club, Carr spearheaded the preservation of Paynes Prairie, a 20,000-acre prairie made famous through the writings of naturalist William Bartram in the late 1700s. As the land was being rented by private owners to cattle ranchers as grazing lands, and having been drained in the 1930s for development purposes, Carr perceived a need to protect the sensitive prairie ecosystem from further damage. Capitalizing on the Department of Transportation’s program to set aside roadsides as preserves, Carr and the Gainesville Garden Club set aside roadside of U.S. 441 through the prairie as a preserve. In 1970, the Florida Department of the Environment bought the rest of the Prairie, establishing it as Paynes Prairie State Preserve. Using Bartram’s writings as a guide, the State proceeded with restoration efforts to revive the prairie’s native species, including the reintroduction of bison to the area by 1975.

Buffalo gathered around a windmill at Paynes Prairie near Gainesville, Alachua County, Florida, 1976.

By far, the longest fought battle of Marjorie Harris Carr’s career was her campaign to stop the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. A project designed to connect the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean through mainland Florida for barge traffic, the idea of such a canal had been proposed and rejected repeatedly throughout the years—in the 1930s, as part of an economic recovery program and again in 1942, as a national defense project. The project was finally granted funding in 1963 as a project under John F. Kennedy and was to be completed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Construction of the barge was planned along a section of the Ocklawaha River—near where Carr had cut her teeth as a biologist at the Welaka Fish Hatchery. Concerned about the potential environment impacts of the canal, Carr penned “The Ocklawaha Wilderness,” an essay published in a 1965 issue of Florida Naturalist, articulating the damage that the Canal would cause to the Ocklawaha ecosystem.

Forest debris from the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal, 1969.

In 1969, Carr and members of the Alachua Audobon Society formed Florida Defenders of the Environment (FDE). The organization, composed of hydrologists, geologists, economists, zoologists and activists wrote a scientific report entitled “The Environmental Impact of the Cross Florida Barge Canal With Special Emphasis on the Ocklawaha River System.” The environmental impact statement of the report was influential in the creation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970. The NEPA required all federal public works projects to evaluate potential environmental impacts before initiating such projects. Finding that the construction of the canal would threaten Florida’s water quality, FDE entered a suit with the Environmental Defense Fund against the Army Corps of Engineers, with the aim of ending construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. A federal judge issued an injunction halting construction on the project, and on January 19, 1971, President Richard Nixon issued a statement against the construction of the canal, citing potential serious environmental damage.

Governor Claude Kirk presenting award to Marjorie Carr for her environmental efforts as head of Florida Defenders of the Environment, 1970. Her husband, prominent herpetologist Archie Carr at right.

In 1976, Carr and her colleagues spoke before Governor Askew and his cabinet. Following two days of testimony, Askew and his cabinet voted to ask Congress to completely deauthorize the canal. The canal was not fully deauthorized until George H. W. Bush signed SB2740 into law, officiating the demise of the canal project and repurposing the lands comprising the canal’s route to conservation and recreation.

Governor Askew accepting jawbone during club meeting at the Silver Slipper restaurant in Tallahassee, 1971. The gift is for Lt. Governor Tom Adams as part of the S.T.A.B. movement (Send Tom A Bone) by a conservationist who reacted to Adams comment that stopping the Cross Florida Barge Canal was just “throwing a bone to the conservationists.”

Marjorie Harris Carr passed away in 1997 at the age of 82. A year after her death, the Cross Florida Greenway was renamed the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway. A 110-mile corridor encompassing lands formerly occupied by the Cross Florida Barge Canal project, the Greenway provides sanctuary for diverse plant and animal life, and offers a myriad of bicycle and hiking trails to Floridians. Carr’s 27-year battle against the Cross Florida Barge Canal project illustrates individuals’ power to safeguard natural beauty and maintain clean and balanced ecosystems. Through hard work and dedication, Paynes Prairies and the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway stand for future generations to enjoy not simply on Earth Day, but every day of the year.

For further information, interested persons can peruse The State Archives’ record groups on Cross Florida Barge Canal Project and contemporaneous efforts to preserve Florida’s public lands. Check out our research guide in the form of a three-part blog: If You Build It…; Where There’s a Will…; and Land, Land, Everywhere – But What to Do With It?

External Sources:

Bull, R. (January 19, 2001). Failed barge canal project leads to Cross Florida Greenway. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/011901/ent_barge.html#.WPk7FmnysuU

Florida Division of Recreation and Parks. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2017, from https://www.floridastateparks.org/trail/Cross-Florida

Macdonald, M. F. (2010). “Our Lady of the Rivers”: Marjorie Harris Carr, science, gender, and environmental activism (Doctoral dissertation).

Marjorie Harris Carr. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2017, from http: //fladefenders.org/histroy/marjorie-harris-carr/

Letters to Governor Bob Graham

As the 1982 deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) approached, pro- and anti-ERA activists sent letters to Florida’s Governor Bob Graham expressing their opinions about the amendment. Letters from all over the state and country arrived at the governor’s office. A selection of these letters have been digitized recently, and they demonstrate the passionate feelings U.S. residents had regarding the ERA.

Senator Bob Graham speaking at an ERA rally in Tallahassee (1978). After becoming governor in 1979, Graham led marches and gave speeches offering his support for the ERA.

A supporter from Sarasota encouraged the governor to speak up for the amendment to persuade legislators to vote in favor of it. “We are so close,” she wrote. “I am trying not to give up hope.”

A letter from Kelly Smith asking Governor Graham to speak often of the ERA to persuade the Florida Senate to ratify the amendment, February 14, 1982. Click to enlarge.

Governor Graham supported the amendment, but a pro-ERA activist criticized the governor for his “lukewarm” support of it. “I am confident that this Legislature will ratify [the] ERA, and send a state ERA to the people for ratification,” the supporter wrote.

A letter from Richard H. Samples, Jr. telling Governor Graham that his support for the ERA needs to be more vigorous, April 2, 1980. Click to enlarge.

Activists also employed creative methods to communicate their message with the governor. This Valentine’s Day poem requests “a more meaningful gift” for the holiday — the ratification of the ERA.

A Valentine’s Day card from Anita Andres urging the governor to support to the ERA, February 14, 1982. Click to enlarge.

Anti-ERA activists wrote letters equally as impassioned as the pro-ERA activists. A resident of Penney Farms in Clay County believed the amendment would have negative effects on American society: “If all of [the] ERA’s ramifications were fully enforced American society would soon become confused, frustrated and hardly recognizable.”

A letter from Helen Springer requesting the governor consider her opposition to the ERA, February 16, 1982. Click to enlarge.

Another opponent asserted that supporters were mistaken about the benefits of the amendment, saying that “If all Americans would be capable of studying it and visualizing possible consequences and damages ERA would cause, they would have to reject it.”

A letter from O.R. Havelka requesting that Governor Graham oppose the ratification of the ERA, March 1, 1980. Click to enlarge.

The governor’s position on the ERA remained unchanged. In the final days before the June 30 deadline, Governor Graham called the Legislature into a special session hoping to pass the amendment. On June 21, the amendment narrowly passed through the Florida House with a vote of 60 to 58. A few hours later, the amendment was defeated in the Florida Senate by a vote of 22 to 16.

For more information about the history of the ERA, read our blog Florida and the Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Siblings in Florida

April 10 is National Siblings Day and we’re celebrating with stories about well-known brothers and sisters in Florida.

The Bryan Brothers Come to Florida

In 1913, William Jennings Bryan and his wife, Mary, built their winter home in Miami, Florida, and called it “Villa Serena.” Bryan was at the height of his political career during that year as he had recently been appointed Secretary of State by President Woodrow Wilson. Bryan had served as congressman of Nebraska from 1891-1895, and was the Democratic party’s presidential nominee in 1896, 1900, and 1908, losing each time.

Charles Wayland Bryan helped his older brother, William, with his presidential campaigns before beginning his own career in politics. William relied on Charles to organize his speaking engagements and other campaign activities. The stress of the campaign trail helped the brothers grow closer, and they remained close throughout their lives. Charles was elected as mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska, and governor of Nebraska, both for multiple non-consecutive terms. He served as mayor from 1915-1917 and 1935-1937, and as governor from 1923-1925 and 1931-1935. He was selected as the Democratic party’s nominee for vice president in 1924 but lost the election.

Charles Wayland and William Jennings Bryan at Villa Serena in Miami, Florida, 1925.

The two-story home of William and Mary was built along Brickell Avenue and was one of many mansions in the area known as “Millionaire’s Row.” But Villa Serena wasn’t the only connection the brothers had to Florida; their cousin William Sherman Jennings served as Florida’s 18th governor. After resigning as secretary of state in 1915 due to disagreements with President Wilson’s foreign policies that led to U.S. involvement in World War I, William and Mary made Villa Serena their permanent residence. As Charles began his political career, he would rely on William for advice. In the photo above, the brothers are seen smiling for the camera at Villa Serena shortly before William’s death. The home still stands and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

The Stephens Sisters Fight for Civil Rights

Priscilla Stephens (later Kruize) and Patricia Stephens (later Due) were civil rights activists who fought for equality, especially in Florida. Both sisters were born in Quincy, Florida, and began attending Florida A & M University (FAMU) at the same time in the late 1950s, even sharing a room in the freshman dorm. The sisters grew closer during the summer before their sophomore year when they were introduced to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) during a visit with their father in Miami. There they attended their first CORE workshop, learning the skills needed to organize a CORE chapter in Tallahassee. The Tallahassee chapter included students from both FAMU and Florida State University, as well as other people from the community.

Priscilla Stephens being arrested at the Tallahassee Regional Airport, June 16, 1961.

Tallahassee CORE began holding nonviolent sit-ins at lunch counters around the city in 1960, and the Stephens sisters became strong leaders in the fight for equality. A sit-in held on Saturday, February 20 at the Woolworth lunch counter included the Stephens sisters and 15 other Tallahassee residents. Priscilla was designated spokesperson for their cause. The activists garnered so much attention for their actions that the mayor came to the counter and asked them to leave. The Stephens sisters and nine other protesters were arrested when they refused. This would be one of many times that the sisters would be arrested in their fight for civil rights. In the months and years that followed, additional demonstrations and picketing took place at downtown stores and theaters in Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida. The hard work of the Stephens sisters and others activists eventually led to the passage of landmark civil rights legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For decades after the sit-ins, both Priscilla and Patricia continued to speak out against racial inequality.

Patricia Stephens Due, foreground in black dress, picketing with others at the State Theatre in Tallahassee, May 29, 1963.

The Goodson Sisters Make Music

Raised in Pensacola, Florida, all six of the Goodson daughters pursued careers as blues and jazz pianists. The strict Goodson household encouraged the girls, Mabel, Della, Sadie, Edna, Wilhelmina and Ida, to learn music from an early age for the purpose of performing at church. As teenagers, the young women expanded their musical interests and began performing jazz and blues throughout the South with famous musicians.

Wilhelmina, known professionally as Billie Pierce, began playing piano professionally as a teenager. In the early 1920s, she accompanied famous blues singer Bessie Smith and performed in the bands of George Lewis and Alphonse Picou. During the 1930s in New Orleans, Pierce met trumpeter De De Pierce. They married in 1935 and continued to play together for the rest of their lives. It was at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter in 1961 that the Pierce’s gained international attention and solidified their place in music history.

Portrait of De De and Billie Pierce.

Ida Goodson performing at the Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival in Pensacola during the 1980s.

Ida Goodson was the youngest of the sisters and a 1987 Florida Folk Heritage Award recipient. In the late 1920s, Ida was the accompanist at the Belmont Theater in Pensacola, the city’s main black music hall, and followed in the footsteps of Wilhelmina as accompanist for Bessie Smith. In the early 1980s, the Florida Folklife Program began the Ida Goodson Recording Project, which includes a collection of recordings and photographs of Goodson in her senior years. The second interview of that project is digitized and available below:

Do you have any favorite memories of your siblings in Florida? Share them with us in the comments below.

Selected bibliography:

“Billie Pierce.” Music Rising at Tulane. http://musicrising.tulane.edu/discover/people/259

Due, Tananarive and Patricia Stephens Due. Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.

“Ida Goodson.” Florida Division of Historical Resources.  http://dos.myflorida.com/historical/preservation/florida-folklife-program/folk-heritage-awards/list-of-past-recipients/ida-goodson/

“National Register of Historic Places Program, Weekly Highlight: William Jennings Bryan House, Miami-Dade County, Florida.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/weekly_features/12_01_27_williamjenningsbryanhouse.htm

Osnes, Larry. “Charles W Bryan: ‘His Brother’s Keeper.’” Nebraska History 48 (1967): 45-67.

Remembering the Historic William S. Stevens School

In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 26, 2017, Florida lost a piece of its tangible history after the historic Stevens School in Quincy caught fire and burned. Join us as we delve into the Archives for a brief look back at the history of this community fixture which stood near Live Oak and Cooper streets for nearly 90 years.

Stevens High School building in Quincy, Florida, built 1929.

Stevens High School building in Quincy, Florida, built 1929.

Originally known as the Dunbar School, the school first opened to grades 1-12 in the early twentieth century. With funding for black education scarce in the Jim Crow South, the African-American community in Quincy received a contribution from the Rosenwald Fund to build the school. Illinois-based philanthropist and part-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company, Julius Rosenwald, headed the organization. His concentrated largess helped build schools for African-Americans all over the segregated South, including dozens in Florida.

Dunbar High School class portrait, ca. 1928.

Dunbar High School class portrait, ca. 1928.

Dunbar High School football team, ca. 1910.

Dunbar High School football team, ca. 1910.

Dunbar soon caught the attention of the ambitious Dr. William Spencer Stevens, who saw potential in expanding the school. Born in Tallahassee in 1882, Stevens attended Florida State Normal and Industrial College before graduating from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. After medical school, Stevens moved to Quincy where he made history as the first African-American doctor to open his own medical practice in the area. Stevens also operated a community hospital for blacks as well as a drug store.

Portrait of Dr. William Spencer Stevens, ca. 1906.

Portrait of Dr. William Spencer Stevens, ca. 1906. Stevens served as city school supervisor from 1914 until his death in 1949.

Wedding portrait of Dr. and Mrs. W.S. Stevens. Order unknown, included in the photograph are Mrs. W.S. Stevens, Dr. William Spencer Stevens, Mrs. Maggie Stevens, and Mrs. Maggie Proctor.

Wedding portrait of Dr. and Mrs. W.S. Stevens on February 8, 1910. Order unknown, included in the photograph are Mrs. W.S. Stevens, Dr. William Spencer Stevens, Mrs. Maggie Stevens, and Mrs. Maggie Proctor.

In 1914, the doctor’s good standing in the community earned him the title of Supervisor of the Quincy City Schools. In this role, he sought to enlarge the reach of Dunbar High School and oversaw a four-year improvement project in the late 1920s.  Locals were so pleased with Stevens’ work to install new classrooms and an auditorium in the building, that they voted to change the school’s name in his honor. According to an article printed in the September 19, 1929 edition of the Gadsden County newspaper, the new William Stevens High School building opened with a reported enrollment of 450 students.

Stevens High School faculty, ca. 1940.

Stevens High School faculty, ca. 1940.

Stevens High School continued to serve Quincy’s black students until 1955, when the school board replaced it and moved the students and faculty into the new  Carter-Parramore High School building. In 1970, during a push to integrate segregated schools, the school board shut Carter-Parramore as a secondary school and repurposed it as a middle school.

The original Stevens High School plant most recently housed an African Artifact and Cultural Museum. It was operated by Quincy native and civil rights activist, Priscilla Stephens Kruize. WCTV’s Lanetra Bennett reported that over one million dollars worth of historic material was lost in the blaze. Recently, the Florida Division of Historical Resources had recommended that the historic building receive grant funding for restorations during the upcoming year.

 

Florida and the Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment

Florida’s diverse and heavily populated electorate has written its longstanding reputation as a political battleground state — in the 1970s, one of the biggest battle facing state lawmakers was the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The amendment proposed that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex,” and stirred ongoing controversy between leaders of the women’s liberation movement and anti-feminist activists. Though it ultimately never passed, Floridians’ response to the ERA mirrored the sharp national divide over the amendment’s message on gender equality.

ERA supporters rally outside the Florida Capitol Complex, 1981.

ERA supporters rally outside the Florida Capitol Complex to kick off ERA Awareness Week, November 1981. Their efforts were aimed at pressuring lawmakers to ratify the amendment during the 1982 Legislative Session.

In 1923, three years after American women won the right to vote, National Woman’s Party President Alice Paul wrote and introduced the ERA to U.S. Congress. Only three short sentences long, its intent to eliminate all sex-based legal distinctions was clear, but  it failed to gain unanimous political support from the outset. Some feminists viewed the ERA as the surest avenue for eliminating gender discrimination, but opponents countered that it would undermine hard-fought legal protections for women such as maternity leave and revised labor laws (Muller v. Oregon, 1908). As was the trend in many states in the years after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, the vigilant political activism that had won women the right to vote died down in Florida. Though there had been a suffrage movement in Florida in the 1910s, the state constitution did not officially adopt provisions for women’s voting rights until 1969.

League of Women Voters recreating scenes of suffrage activism on the steps of the old Florida Capitol, 1963.

League of Women Voters recreating scenes of suffrage activism on the steps of the old Florida Capitol, 1963.

For over four decades after Alice Paul drafted the ERA, it languished unaddressed in a congressional committee, until the 1960s when the women’s liberation movement strengthened renewed interest in the measure. Both the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 addressed gender discrimination. Both the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 addressed gender discrimination on the federal level. At the state level, population increases and legislative reapportionment in 1960s diversified legislative representation and sparked the passage of more progressive legislation–lawmakers barred sex-based discrimination in divorce, custody and child support cases in Florida. In 1966, Betty Friedan, Pauli Murray and many other feminists co-founded the National Organization of Women (NOW) to enforce these new laws and further advocate for women’s equality. Despite marked gains in addressing some of the specific issues, NOW stressed that the new laws contained insidious loopholes, and insisted that the ratification of the ERA was the best solution for achieving true gender equality. “Existing laws are not doing the job,” said Florida State Senator Betty Castor, echoing the sentiment of ERA proponents across the nation.

A brochure produced by the American Association of University Women encouraging women to support the Equal Rights Amendment, ca. 1974. Governor's Commission on the Status of Women (S.79), Box 1, Folder 37, State Archives of Florida.

A brochure produced by the American Association of University Women encouraging women to support the Equal Rights Amendment, ca. 1974. Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women (.S 79), Box 1, Folder 37, State Archives of Florida.

One of the most outspoken members of NOW was pioneering feminist Roxcy O’Neal Bolton from Miami. Bolton launched the Miami Chapter of NOW in 1966 and was elected national vice-president of NOW in 1969, in which capacity she became one of the ERA’s chief advocates. Her husband, Commander David Bolton U.S.N., later presided over the organization Men for ERA.

Roxcy and David Bolton in Miami, 1961.

Roxcy and David Bolton in Miami, 1961. Learn more about Roxcy Bolton’s fight for women’s equality in our online exhibit.

With the ERA gaining traction, Roxcy Bolton personally, and successfully, lobbied Indiana Senator Birch Bayh for sponsorship while he was visiting Miami in January 1970. The next month, members of NOW picketed a congressional committee hearing, demanding action on the ERA. On August 10, 1970, U.S. Representative Martha Griffiths of Michigan submitted a petition to finally bring the ERA to the House floor for a debate and vote. It passed and headed to the Senate for approval. On March 22, 1972, the U.S. Senate voted in favor of the ERA.

But the real battle began when the ERA went to the states for ratification, where it would need a three-fourths majority approval to become law. “Our work has just begun,” squared Bolton. “We’ve got to get ratification. We must start in each state and see what we can do.”

Within one year, 30 state legislatures had ratified it. But Florida’s had not.  Nonetheless, in 1974, the ERA seemed unstoppable. But eight more states still needed to ratify it by the 1979 deadline and it soon met fierce obstruction.

Roxcy Bolton (center) and Representative Gwen Cherry (to Bolton's left) leading an ERA march, ca. 1972. Re. Cherry was the first black woman to serve in the Florida Legislature and the first person to introduce the ERA to the House Judiciary Committee in 1972.

Roxcy Bolton (center) and Representative Gwendolyn Cherry (to Bolton’s left) leading an ERA march, ca. 1972. Rep. Cherry was the first black woman to serve in the Florida Legislature and the first person to introduce the ERA to the House Judiciary Committee in 1972.

In Florida, the amendment was introduced or voted on in every legislative session from 1972 until 1982. Though it passed the Florida House of Representatives on several occasions, it never passed the Senate. Thirty women served in the Florida legislature between 1920 and 1978, but when the ERA was first introduced into the Florida Senate in 1974, the only woman in the legislative body was Senator Lori Wilson. She became the original sponsor and solitary female voice of the ERA in the senate, and she faced an uphill battle with convincing many of her reluctant colleagues to ratify it. In 1977, she took her stand on the senate floor:

… the good old boys in the southern legislatures traditionally do not consider people issues like ERA on their merit. They consider only what it might do to their manliness or their money-ness or their manpower…. [They]refused to give up their slaves … [or] approve the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote … fought the 1964 Civil Rights Act … until the rest of this nation fought them in the courtrooms, and on the streets, and at the polls … with legal power, and … PEOPLE POWER.

League of Women Voters of Florida pamphlet explaining the group's pro-ERA position, the statewide ratification campaign, and the amendment's legislative history, 1977.

League of Women Voters of Florida pamphlet explaining the group’s pro-ERA position, the statewide ratification campaign, and the amendment’s legislative history, 1977. Florida Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women (.S 79), Box 1, Folder 37, State Archives of Florida.

Since its initial submission to the legislature, every Florida governor had expressed support for the ERA.

Governor Reubin Askew addresses an ERA rally on the capitol steps, 1978.

Governor Reubin Askew addresses an ERA rally on the capitol steps, 1978. Beginning in 1972, Askew also oversaw the first functional Florida Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, charged with  identifying and increasing public awareness of the needs and concerns of Florida women. Among other things, the commission was active in ERA ratification efforts.

But as political scientist Joan S. Carver has observed, the legislature’s unpredictable mix of strong personalities and political interests proved far less agreeable. One of the ERA’s biggest foes was Senator Dempsey Barron of Panama City, who served as Senate President from 1975-76 and in the Senate until 1988. A powerful force in the Florida Senate, Barron emphasized a belief that voting for the ERA would accelerate moral decay and give undue power to the federal government. He asked his senate colleagues, “How many of you want to transfer those remaining powers we have under the present Constitution into the hands of the federal government and the federal courts?” His political sway effectively won several “no” votes during the ERA years.

Portrait of Senator Dempsey Barron, 1982.

Portrait of Senator Dempsey Barron, 1982.

Representative Gene Hodges with STOP ERA sign draped from his desk in the House chamber, ca. 1972. Photograph by Donn Dughi, State Archives of Florida.

Representative Gene Hodges with lace STOP ERA apron draped from his desk in the House Chamber, 1974. ERA opponents reportedly sported red aprons like this one as they made the rounds at the Capitol, offering baked goods, “from the bread makers to the breadwinners” to legislators. Proponents also began offering up homemade treats. Donn Dughi/State Archives of Florida.

By the mid-1970s, a vocal faction of anti-feminist activists led by lawyer and politician, Phyllis Schlafly, had begun organizing the Stop-ERA campaign. Their strategy was to thwart ratification in the states. “[The ERA] is a giant takeaway of the rights women now have,” Schlafly told a Miami Herald reporter in 1974. “It will not give any advantages to women in the employment area, the one area where women are discriminated against,” she concluded. In Florida, former beauty-queen and anti-gay activist Anita Bryant, along with anti-feminist Miami radio host Shirley Spellerberg, spearheaded Schlafly’s cause. In 1979, Spellerberg explained her belief that women were meant to be homemakers to the Boca-Raton News: “Little girls in the formative years should view women as mothers and homemakers, this is their ideal role in the traditional family structure.” Whereas Florida’s feminists found their political support in the state’s increasingly urban voting base, the Stop-ERA campaign wedged itself into the state’s many conservative, rural and elderly pockets.

STOP ERA pamphlet describing the positions of the movement, ca. 1972. Florida Governor's Commission on the Status of Women (S.79), Box 1, Folder 36, State Archives of Florida.

STOP ERA pamphlet describing the positions of the movement, ca. 1972. Florida Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women (S.79), Box 1, Folder 36, State Archives of Florida.

In the 1970s, sizable groups of feminist and anti-feminist activists made regular trips to Tallahassee to lobby the legislature for and against the ERA. Moreover, women from both sides organized rallies, marches, workshops and fundraisers all over the state.

Anti-ERA lobbyists speaking with lawmakers in the Florida Capitol rotunda, 1975

Anti-ERA lobbyists speaking with lawmakers in the Capitol Rotunda, 1975.

When the original ratification deadline came in 1979, 35 state legislatures had approved the amendment, Florida not included. The ERA was still three states shy of the three-fourths majority needed to amend gender equality to the U.S. Constitution.

ERA demonstration between the Florida Capitol and Supreme Court building, 1979.

ERA demonstration between the Florida Capitol and Supreme Court building, 1979.

Anti-ERA activists line the wall of the Florida Senate chamber, 1979.

Anti-ERA activists line the wall of the Florida Senate Chamber, 1979. State Archives of Florida/Dughi.

In 1978 NOW organized a 100,000 person march in Washington D.C. demanding an extension on the ratification deadline. President Jimmy Carter approved a three year extension. In 1982, four of the remaining 15 undecided states, including Florida, declared special legislative sessions to cast their final vote on the ERA. The state capitol saw tremendous turnout as both pro and anti-ERA activists threw their remaining energy into the last battle over the ERA. The media drew heightened awareness to Florida’s position as a “swing state,” suggesting that the Legislature’s decision on the ERA would be a toss-up.

ERA supporters in the capitol rotunda, 1982.

ERA supporters in the capitol rotunda, 1982.

Constituents from all over the state and nation wrote letters to Governor Bob Graham and their representatives about the matter.

Though it was once poised for quick ratification, the ERA met its final snag with the unpredictable mix of personalities in the Senate, failing in a final vote of 22-16.

Political cartoon showing the final results of the Florida Senate vote on the ERA, 1982. Dana Summers, Orlando Sentinel.

Political cartoon showing the final results of the Florida Senate vote on the ERA, 1982. Dana Summers, Orlando Sentinel.

None of the other three legislatures passed it either, and with that, ratification was off the table. Over thirty-five years later, representatives from both the Florida House and Senate have continued to introduce the ERA into committees to no avail. For now, the wildly controversial amendment effectively remains dormant in Florida.

Selected Sources:

Roxcy O’Neal Bolton Papers (M94-1). State Archives of Florida.

Florida Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women (.S 79). State Archives of Florida.

Governor Bob Graham Correspondence Files (.S 850). State Archives of Florida.

***The State Archives of Florida has digitized additional pamphlets and correspondence related to the ratification of the ERA in Florida.

Brock, Laura E. “Religion, Sex, and Politics: The Story of the ERA in Florida.” Florida State University: M.A. Thesis, 2013.

Carver, Joan S. “The Equal Rights Amendment and the Florida Legislature,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 60:4 (April 1982):455-481.

Wilmot Voss, Kimberly. “The Florida Fight for Equality: The Equal Rights Amendment, Senator Lori Wilson and Mediated Catfights in the 1970s,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 88:2(Fall, 2009):173-208.