Florida feminist Roxcy Bolton spent her life advocating for women’s rights in the state and around the country. A long-time Coral Gables resident, Bolton is credited with gaining access for women to the previously all-male lunchrooms at Burdines and Jordan Marsh department stores; for helping to end the practice of naming hurricanes only for women; and for opening the influential Tiger Bay political club to women. Today, we’re taking a look at the Roxcy O’Neal Bolton Papers (M94-1) for a glimpse of Bolton’s efforts to promote women’s rights.
Roxcy Bolton was born Roxcy O’Neal in 1926 to a Mississippi pioneer family. Bolton became actively involved in community issues and in Democratic Party organizations in the 1950s. She was profoundly affected by Eleanor Roosevelt’s address at the 1956 Democratic National Convention and was motivated to action by the contrast between what women were obviously capable of accomplishing and the fact that “all the men were making the decisions.” Shortly thereafter, Bolton began her women’s rights activism when she spoke before a Democratic women’s group in Fort Lauderdale to advocate equal pay for equal work.
In 1960, Roxcy O’Neal married Commander David Bolton, a U.S. Navy lawyer. They lived for a time in Japan and in Charleston, South Carolina. Upon David Bolton’s retirement from the Navy in 1964, they moved to Coral Gables, where they raised their three children, David B., Bonnie D., and Buddy Bolton.
Bolton was one of the first Florida women to join the National Organization for Women (NOW) after its founding in 1966, and she served as national vice president after being elected to the board of directors in 1968. She also founded and served as the first president of the Miami-Dade Chapter of NOW in 1968. Bolton took NOW’s message to county commissioners, town councils and university presidents, arguing the case for equal rights for women and actively campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). She convinced U.S. Senator Birch Bayh to hold the first hearings on the ERA before Congress in 1970.
In 1972, Bolton was the driving force behind the designation of August 26 as Women’s Equality Day. The proclamation by President Richard Nixon establishing the day was later presented to Bolton in recognition of her diligent work for equal rights. In the video below, Bolton describes her effort to establish Women’s Equality Day:
That same year, after years of personally assisting women in need of clothing, guidance through the legal system, or a sympathetic ear, Bolton founded an organization called Women in Distress. Now operated by the Salvation Army, Women in Distress provides temporary lodging, legal assistance, counseling and caring support to battered women, those with substance abuse problems and other women in personal crisis. (Read more in our blog Roxcy Bolton: Advocate for Women in Crisis.)
In another pioneering effort, Bolton initiated the Rehabilitation Program for Young Prostitutes in the Miami-Dade County area, which offered educational opportunities to incarcerated prostitutes and attempted to keep young women off the streets and away from drugs.
Bolton worked to establish Commissions on the Status of Women in state government and in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, fought for increased numbers of women in policy-making positions, pushed for the creation of the Women’s Institute at Florida Atlantic University and led a sit-in at the University of Miami protesting the unequal treatment of female students and faculty.
She also led the effort to create yet another first for Florida and the nation; Women’s Park was established in Miami-Dade County in 1992 as a tribute to past and present women leaders in South Florida.
Roxcy O’Neal Bolton never wavered in her struggle for equal rights. Her many years of pioneering equal rights activism earned her numerous awards, including her 1984 induction into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.
Bolton died in Coral Gables on May 17, 2017, at the age of 90.
You can view more records from the Roxcy Bolton Papers collection on Florida Memory.