Women’s Contributions to Documenting Florida Folklife

Since the 1930s, women have had an important role in documenting, preserving and celebrating Florida’s diverse cultural heritage. March is Women’s History Month, and in this podcast we will recognize and give voice to some of these women.

We begin with Eatonville native Zora Neale Hurston, who documented turpentine workers in Cross City, Florida as part of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project. Through her essay “Turpentine,” and field recordings, Hurston captured unique, first-hand accounts of day-to-day life in the turpentine camps, and the traditions that were an integral part of the workers’ culture.

Gabriel Brown playing guitar as Rochelle French and Zora Neale Hurston listen: Eatonville, Florida

Gabriel Brown playing guitar as Rochelle French and Zora Neale Hurston listen: Eatonville, Florida

During the same time Zora Neale Hurston was conducting fieldwork in Florida, Sarah Gertrude Knott founded both the National Folk Festival and the National Folk Festival Association in 1934; among the earliest advisors for these endeavors was Ms. Hurston. In 1952, under contract from the Stephen Foster Memorial Commission, Knott organized the first Florida Folk Festival and formed the Florida Folk Festival Association. She also served as director of the first two Florida Folk Festivals in 1953 and 1954.

Succeeding Sarah Gertrude Knott as director of the Florida Folk Festival from 1954-1965 was “Cousin” Thelma Boltin from Gainesville. In addition to sharing her gifts as a storyteller, organizer and emcee, Cousin Thelma—a title earned from her familial rapport with festival participants—scouted the state for folk artists to recruit for the festival. With the help of Barbara Beauchamp, Boltin established the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs as a valuable institution for sharing and celebrating the state’s varied traditions.

The success of the Florida Folk Festival brought the Stephen Foster Memorial Center a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Florida Folklife Program was instituted in 1976. Dr. Peggy Bulger was Florida’s first State Folklorist, founding and administering the Florida Folklife Program from 1976-1989. She created a large body of fieldwork which laid the foundations for the Florida Folklife Collection, and instituted valuable outreach programs such as apprenticeships, educational videos and publications, workshops and exhibits. Dr. Bulger went on to serve as the Senior Program Officer for the Southern Arts Federation, and later as director of the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center.

Folklorist Peggy Bulger, right, conducting field work with quiltmaker Betsy (Mrs. Denard) Webb in White Springs, Florida.

Folklorist Peggy Bulger, right, conducting field work with quiltmaker Betsy (Mrs. Denard) Webb in White Springs, Florida.

With the establishment of the Florida Folklife Program came significant contributions from many other women. Working alongside Peggy Bulger was Brenda McCallum, who was instrumental in documenting and establishing contacts in Florida’s communities. She also played an important role in developing the Florida Folklife Program Archive, and today the American Folklore Society awards a prize in her honor to institutions and individuals working with folklife collections. Tina Bucuvalas served as the State Folklorist from 1996-2009, though her work in the Florida Folklife Program dates back to 1986 with the Miami-Dade Folklife Survey. She currently serves as Curator of Arts and Historical Resources for the City of Tarpon Springs, and recently edited The Florida Folklife Reader.

Folklorist Nancy Nusz interviewing Mr. Ramesch from the Mandeer Restaurant at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival: White Springs, Florida

Folklorist Nancy Nusz interviewing Mr. Ramesch from the Mandeer Restaurant at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival: White Springs, Florida

The list of women who have been integral to the research, documentation and teaching of Florida’s folk traditions continues with Lillian Saunders, Merri Belland, Doris Dyen, Nancy Nusz, Riki Saltzman, Jan Rosenberg, Debbie Fant, Andrea Graham, Laurie Sommers, Mary Anne McDonald, Teresa Hollingsworth, and Betsy Peterson. As part of the Florida Folklife Collection, the recordings in this podcast provide a unique look into some of the methods, philosophies and motivations behind the work of folklorists.

This podcast features songs, stories, speeches and interviews from Zora Neale Hurston, Sarah Gertrude Knott, Thelma Boltin, Peggy Bulger, and Doris Dyen.

Download: MP3

WTVJ Miami Airs First Broadcast (March 1949)

In March 1949, WTVJ, Florida’s first television station, began broadcasting from the humble confines of the Capitol Theater in Miami. In its first year, the station covered everything from hurricanes to the annual Orange Bowl football game.

Left to right: George Thurston, Keith Leslie and Bill Tucker, WTVJ news crew

Left to right: George Thurston, Keith Leslie and Bill Tucker, WTVJ news crew

WTVJ accomplished many firsts in Florida’s television history, including the first female sportscaster, Jane Chastain, and the first African-American broadcast journalist in South Florida, C.T. Taylor.

The film clip below features the first televised political debate in Florida, between Governor Charley Johns and his opponent in the 1955 gubernatorial election, LeRoy Collins.


Sebring Endurance Race (March 16, 1952)

On March 16, 1952, the team of Harry Gray and Frank Burrell won the inaugural endurance race held at the Sebring International Speedway. The track served as an airfield during World War II prior to opening as a European-style, road racing course in the early 1950s. The Sebring Endurance Race lasts for 12 consecutive hours, challenging drivers’ stamina as they navigate a winding course over five miles long.

In 2012, the Sebring Endurance Race celebrates its 60th anniversary. Some of the biggest names and top automakers in racing regularly compete at Sebring. Celebrity drivers such as the actor Steve McQueen have also endured the 12 hour race. The video above shows footage from the 1970 endurance race. Mario Andretti narrowly defeated McQueen, who entered the event despite suffering from a broken leg.

Traditional Irish Music from the Florida Folklife Collection

In the yearly bedlam of green dye, corned beef and cabbage, and pints of stout on the 17th of March, no celebration of Irish culture would be complete without acknowledging the country’s rich musical traditions. Ireland has birthed musicians in all genres from classical to pop, though it is perhaps best known for the traditional jigs, reels and ballads still heard in the pubs today.

James Kelly and Mick Moloney playing Irish music at Historical Museum of Southern Florida during Traditions Festival: Miami, Florida (1986

James Kelly and Mick Moloney

Fiddler James Kelly and harpist Claire Fleming are two musicians who have shared traditional Irish music with the state of Florida. Born in Dublin, Kelly began learning the fiddle from his father, a renowned musician from County Clare, at the age of three. By the time he moved to Miami in 1984, he had toured the United States, Europe, Canada and South America, appeared on numerous recordings, and taught fiddle classes and workshops. In 2001, he won the Florida Folk Heritage Award.

This medley of reels accompanied by guitarist Mick Moloney at the 1987 Florida Folk Festival includes “The Crooked Road to Dublin,” “The Sligo Maid” and “The Boyne Hunt.”  James Kelly is also featured in a podcast as well as the Folk section of the Florida Memory Audio page.

Download: MP3
More Info: Catalog Record


Harpist Claire Fleming performing: Jacksonville, Florida (1991)

Claire Fleming

The Irish Cultural Association of Jacksonville brought harpist Claire Fleming from Dublin, and she performed on multiple occasions at the Florida Folk Festival. This rendition of “She Moved Through the Fair” was captured at the Old Marble Stage in 1996.

Download: MP3
More Info: Catalog Record


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

LeRoy Collins’ Birthday (March 10, 1909)

LeRoy Collins was born March 10, 1909, in Tallahassee, Florida. In 1934, Leon County elected Collins to the Florida House of Representatives. Collins later served in the Florida Senate, until successfully running for Governor in a special election in 1955. He won the gubernatorial election again in 1956, becoming the first Florida Governor to serve two consecutive terms in office.

Painted portrait of Florida's 33rd Governor LeRoy Collins: Tallahassee, Florida

Painted portrait of Florida's 33rd Governor LeRoy Collins: Tallahassee, Florida

As governor of Florida, Collins clashed with members of the Florida legislature who wanted to halt integration following the historic Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education ruling in 1954. Governor Collins wrote that efforts by the legislature to uphold segregation constituted an “evil thing, whipped up by the demagogues and carried on the hot and erratic winds of passion, prejudice, and hysteria.” (See the document below for more information.)

LeRoy Collins on the Interposition Resolution by the Florida Legislature in response to Brown v. Board of Education (May 2, 1957)

LeRoy Collins on the Interposition Resolution by the Florida Legislature in response to Brown v. Board of Education (May 2, 1957)

Collins remained in public service after his second term as governor ended, until losing a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1968. When his career in politics ended, Collins and his wife Mary Call Darby Collins retired to their family home, known as The Grove, located in Tallahassee, Florida. In 1981, Secretary of State George Firestone designated LeRoy Collins as the first “Great Floridian,” in recognition of his achievements and significant contributions to the progress and welfare of the state.

LeRoy Collins died in 1991, followed by his wife Mary in 2009. Before LeRoy’s death, the Collins family sold The Grove to the State of Florida. The agreement allowed the couple to remain in the home until both passed away. In 2009, the State of Florida began efforts to restore The Grove for use as a multipurpose historic house museum.

Governor LeRoy Collins and Mary Call Darby Collins are remembered for their legacy of public service and for promoting equality for all Floridians.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ WWI Service Card

The Collections page on Florida Memory is home to more than 475,000 digitized records from the State Library and Archives of Florida. In a recent search for Women’s History Month resources, we came across an interesting record in the World War I Service Cards:

WW I Service Card: Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1917)

WW I Service Card: Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1917)

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, perhaps best known as an environmentalist, served in the United States Navy from April 1917 to May 1918. Frank Bryant Stoneman, Marjory’s father and editor-in-chief of the Miami Herald, sent his daughter to cover the story of the first woman in Miami to enlist in the armed forces. As it turns out, Marjory arrived first and she became the first woman from Miami to enlist. Marjory later joined the Red Cross and traveled to Europe. Upon returning to the United States, she became an accomplished author and tireless proponent of environmental protection. Marjory Stoneman Douglas passed away in 1998 at the age of 108.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas canoeing with an unidentified Miccosukee man (1983)

Marjory Stoneman Douglas canoeing with an unidentified Miccosukee man (1983)

Commerce Collection

Barbara Hughes cutting a back flip with beach ball (black ballet fashion) - Saint Petersburg Beach, Florida
State beverage of Florida
Tommy Dodgen, age 4, standing by the largest lamp in the world - Tampa, Florida

If you’re looking for iconic images of Florida, the Commerce Collection is the place to start. The collection is especially rich in classic images from the ’40s and ’50s.

The collection contains approximately 30,000 images of cities, industries, tourist attractions, rivers and leisure activities taken by the Department of Commerce’s Division of Tourism, and its predecessors, from the 1940s to 1996.

You’ll see more images from the Commerce Collection in upcoming posts. See if you can recognize the style. If you think you spot one, you can check your guess by looking for the series title in the catalog record.


George Firestone (May 12, 1931 – March 2, 2012)

George Firestone passed away on March 2, 2012 in Hollywood, Florida. During a political career that spanned three decades, Firestone tirelessly advocated for the arts and for economic development in Florida.

Firestone served in the United States Army, the Florida House of Representatives (1966-1972), the Florida Senate (1972-1978) and as Florida’s Secretary of State (1978-1987).

Please join the Florida Department of State in honoring businessman, public servant and humanitarian George Firestone.

George Firestone with Florida Folklife Program director Philip A. Werndli and Patti Schutt at the Florida Folk Festival: White Springs (1980)



George Firestone awarding the Ambassador of Arts medallion to Allen Morris: Tallahassee (August 8, 1985)



Portrait of George Firestone: Tallahassee (between 1979 and 1983)