A Home for Higher Learning

It’s hard to imagine Tallahassee without Florida State University or Gainesville without the University of Florida, but how did they get there? Believe it or not, at one time these institutions existed only on paper, and could have been located anywhere in the state. Multiple towns competed for the honor of hosting them, and the Legislature had to make some tough decisions to choose homes for Florida’s first institutions of higher learning.

Florida’s elected representatives recognized the value of higher education early on, but failed to translate their enthusiasm into action during the territorial era. In 1823, the territorial council voted to set aside two townships’ worth of public land to raise money for a seminary of higher learning. In 1836, Governor Richard Keith Call appointed a 14-member board to plan for a University of Florida. Very little concrete action materialized from these efforts, however, and Florida became a state in 1845 still lacking a state college of any kind.

Two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call (ca. 1840).

Two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call (ca. 1840).

Floridians lamented the state of their educational system. Georgia had had a public university since 1785, while the University of Alabama had been open since 1831. Meanwhile, Florida’s young men and women were obliged to travel outside the state to finish their training, or not receive it at all. In January 1851, the Legislature took action by establishing two seminaries for teacher training, one for each side of the Suwannee River. Beyond this one directive, the act was silent as to where the two schools should be located. The Legislature would have to make that choice once the options were clearer.

Several towns throughout the state took this as their cue to make it very clear why they should be chosen as the site for one of the new seminaries. Several of their petitions to the Legislature have survived and are now part of Record Series 2153 at the State Archives of Florida. In recommending themselves, the petitioners focused on the healthfulness and convenience of their location. Pensacola’s advocates, for example, argued their proximity to the Gulf and points west would attract students from neighboring Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and perhaps even the West Indies. Ocala’s petitioners pointed to their position near the geographic center of the peninsula and the number of stage roads in the area as reasons for the town’s worthiness.

Memorial to the General Assembly of the State of Florida from the citizens of Pensacola, asking that the state seminary west of the Suwannee River be located in Pensacola (1847). Note this petition actually preceded the 1851 act creating the two seminaries.

Memorial to the General Assembly of the State of Florida from the citizens of Pensacola, asking that the state seminary west of the Suwannee River be located in Pensacola (1847). Note this petition actually preceded the 1851 act creating the two seminaries. Click the image to enlarge it.

The committees writing these petitions realized, however, that it would take more than a few beautiful descriptive phrases to sway the Legislature. To sweeten the deal, they included offers of land, buildings, and even cash to strengthen their case.

East of the Suwannee River, Ocala in Marion County and Newnansville in Alachua County were the main contenders for a seminary. The Ocala petitioners offered to give the state 16 town lots in Ocala valued at $5,000, plus $1,600 cash, as well as the buildings then being used by the East Florida Independent Institute. The Institute had been established in 1852 by a New Englander named Gilbert Dennis Kingsbury, who went by the name S.S. Burton in Florida. Newnansville did not yet possess anything like the East Florida Independent Institute had to offer, but in their petition the citizens of the town pledged $5,000 toward constructing new facilities. The Legislature ultimately selected Ocala as the site for the state seminary east of the Suwannee, which after a series of transformations and a relocation to Gainesville became the University of Florida.

Petition to Establish the East Florida Seminary in Alachua County, ca. 1852 - Box 3, folder 55, Territorial and Early Statehood Records (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida.

Petition to Establish the East Florida Seminary in Alachua County, ca. 1852 – Box 3, folder 55, Territorial and Early Statehood Records (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida. Click image to enlarge and view transcript.

West of the Suwannee, Pensacola and Tallahassee were locked into a similar competition. Pensacola’s citizens promised to provide whatever land was necessary to build a seminary, but Tallahassee went much farther. The mayor and city council pledged to donate $10,000 to the cause, made up partly of $7,000 worth of land and buildings already under construction, plus the remainder in cash. City officials also offered to grant the institution an annuity of $1,500. Citizens of nearby Quincy in Gadsden County chimed in with a similar offer of the buildings used by the Quincy Academy, but the petitioners did not commit any specific amount of cash to the project, let alone an annuity. The Legislature chose Tallahassee as the site for the state seminary west of the Suwannee, which ultimately became the Florida State College for Women and later the Florida State University.

First building at the West Florida Seminary (ca. 1870).

First building at the West Florida Seminary (ca. 1870).

Few folks know that Florida State University had a football team well before the school became coeducational (again) in 1947. Prior to its reconstitution as the Florida State College for Women under the Buckman Act in 1905, the West Florida Seminary was coeducational and football was a school sport. This photo of the school's football team was taken in 1899.

Few folks know that Florida State University had a football team well before the school became coeducational (again) in 1947. Prior to its reconstitution as the Florida State College for Women under the Buckman Act in 1905, the West Florida Seminary was coeducational and football was a school sport. This photo of the school’s football team was taken in 1899. The team members are sitting on the steps of College Hall, the seminary’s main building, which stood from its construction in 1891 to 1909, when it was replaced by Westcott Hall, which still stands today.

What state institutions are located near your Florida community? Do you know how long they’ve been around, or how they came to exist? The State Library & Archives is home to a wealth of information on this subject – search Florida Memory, the State Library Catalog, and the Archives Online Catalog to learn more.

Photo Mystery Monday


Be a photo detective! What is going on in this picture? Do you have a guess as to what year it might be? Where in Florida could this be?

What people, objects and activities do you notice?

Try an artist’s trick. Divide the photo into four quadrants and study each section. What new details do you see?

Based on what you have observed, what can you infer from this photograph? What questions do you have?

Come back on Friday when we will update the post with more identifying information.

For Teachers

  • Photo Analysis Worksheet from the National Archives
  • Standards: SS.4.A.1.1, LAFS.68.RH.1.2, LAFS.68.RH.1.1, LAFS.910.RH.1.1, LAFS.910.RH.1.2, LAFS.1112.RH.1.1, LAFS.1112.RH.1.2, LAFS.1112.RH.3.9, SS.912.W.1.3, SS.912.A.1.2

UPDATE: JAWS II!

Much of Jaws II was filmed at Navarre Beach, Okaloosa Island, and Destin, Florida in 1977.


 

Picture Florida: Name That Year!


Be a photo detective! What is going on in this picture? Do you have a guess as to what year it might be? Where in Florida could this be?

What clues do you see? Don’t be afraid to state the obvious. Noticing details can lead to greater insight.

What people, objects and activities do you notice?

Try an artist’s trick. Divide the photo into four quadrants and study each section. What new details do you see?

Based on what you have observed, what can you infer from this photograph? What questions do you have?

Come back on Friday when we will update the post with more identifying information.

For Teachers

  • Photo Analysis Worksheet from the National Archives
  • Standards: SS.4.A.1.1, LAFS.68.RH.1.2, LAFS.68.RH.1.1, LAFS.910.RH.1.1, LAFS.910.RH.1.2, LAFS.1112.RH.1.1, LAFS.1112.RH.1.2, LAFS.1112.RH.3.9, SS.912.W.1.3, SS.912.A.1.2

UPDATE: Leonard Nimoy at the Sheraton Yankee Clipper Hotel in Fort Lauderdale (1972)

Yes, this is Leonard Nimoy at the Sheraton Yankee Clipper Hotel in Fort Lauderdale in 1972!

Shop on Florida Memory

Did you know that you could shop for historic photographs, videos and audio recordings on Florida Memory? You don’t have to wait for Cyber Monday to buy gifts for your loved ones, you can do it all year long! Place your order by December 10th and receive your purchase in time for Christmas.

Ordering online is made easy. Browse the collection and select the historic photographs, videos and audio recordings you want to purchase.

Photographs can be purchased through our online shopping cart system. Simply go to the photograph you want to purchase and click the blue “Buy Now” tab above the photograph. Follow the prompts to select the size and options, and then add to cart. To purchase your selected items, go to your shopping cart in the top right-hand corner of the webpage and follow the prompts.

Videos and audio recordings may be purchased by email, phone, or mail-in orders.

Photo Mystery Monday: Know Your Photographer!

Can you identify a photographer just by analyzing the style of the photo? Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and Annie Liebovitz each have a style that is instantly recognizable. The Florida Photographic Collection also includes some photographers with distinct styles.

These images each have a very similar subject and setting, but they were taken by different photographers. The clues are subtle. Look closely at lighting, props and backgrounds. Also look at the expressions that the photographer chose to capture.

PHOTO A
01405-1

PHOTO B

THE CONTESTANTS

Alvan S. Harper

The images of Tallahassee photographer Alvan S. Harper cover a 26 year period from 1884 to 1910. These photographs provide a visual documentation of Florida’s small 19th century capital and its surrounding communities as they emerged from post-Civil War depression and abruptly moved toward modernity and the turn of the century.

Here are some photos by Alvan Harper:

Richard Parks

Richard Parks was a successful portrait and commercial photographer in Tallahassee, Florida, from the late 1950s until his untimely death in 1974. A self-taught artist well-known for his perfectionism and dedication, Parks used the same older model camera for most of his work, while employing an array of innovative lighting schemes to create unique warmth and intimacy.

Here are some photos by Richard Parks:

Which dog photo goes with which photographer? What are the details that convinced you? Let us know in the comments!


UPDATE:

Yes, Photo A is by Alvan S. Harper  and Photo B is by Richard Parks. The same details that you noticed in these images appear in many other Harper and Parks photographs.

Here’s a bonus photo! Do you recognize the photographer? Click on the image to see the catalog record.
 

 

 

What Did Civil War Soldiers Eat?

What did soldiers eat in Florida during the Civil War? What did they wear? What kinds of equipment were they assigned? Sometimes when studying history we get so busy discussing “big” issues like political trends and battles and ideas that we lose sight of everyday experiences. Diaries and letters are two kinds of documents that can help us uncover this sort of commonplace detail, but what if you could get even closer to the heart of the matter and see lists of the supplies and equipment received by an individual regiment?

Portrait of Lieutenant Joseph C. Shaw, 99th U.S. Colored Troops (ca. 1864).

Portrait of Lieutenant Joseph C. Shaw, 99th U.S. Colored Troops (ca. 1864).

That’s the great strength of the Joseph C. Shaw Papers, a collection held by the State Archives of Florida at its research facility in Tallahassee. Shaw was an Ohio native who served in the Sixth Michigan Infantry before accepting a commission as a lieutenant in the Fifteenth Regiment of the Corps d’Afrique in Louisiana. This unit was later reorganized as the 99th United States Colored Troops, which served in Florida in 1864 and 1865. The 99th was one of 175 Union regiments consisting mainly of African-American soldiers. The officers in these units were almost always white.

Shaw served as the quartermaster for his regiment, handling much of the paperwork regarding supplies, equipment, foraging for the animals, and rations for the men. His papers contain a variety of reports describing exactly what was issued to and consumed by the 99th U.S. Colored Troops while they were stationed at various points along Florida’s Gulf coast. Here are a few sample pages from the reports – click each image to enlarge:

Abstract of Provisions issued to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops at Punta Rassa, Florida in March 1865. Box 4, folder 8, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

Abstract of Provisions issued to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops at Punta Rassa, Florida in March 1865. Box 4, folder 8, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

List of items belonging to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops lost or destroyed during the Battle of Natural Bridge in March 1865 near St. Marks, Florida. Box 3, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

List of items belonging to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops lost or destroyed during the Battle of Natural Bridge in March 1865 near St. Marks, Florida. Box 3, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

Record of clothing issued to personnel of the 99th U.S. Colored Troops in October 1864. Note that each unit member's signature is indicated by an

Record of clothing issued to personnel of the 99th U.S. Colored Troops in October 1864. Note that each unit member’s signature is indicated by an “X” mark. Even though the 99th USCT was a Union regiment, it was raised in Louisiana, where its members had enjoyed few if any opportunities for formal education. Box 4, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

These records may seem rather mundane, but it’s exactly this sort of information that helps historians piece together the daily experiences of soldiers during the Civil War. They are especially useful when examined alongside diaries and letters from individual soldiers to help parse some of the references the authors make to their living conditions.

Because these records were generally shared between unit quartermasters and the military departments of the Union and Confederate governments, the majority of these reports (where they still exist at all) are accessible only through the National Archives in Washington. In a few cases, such as that of Joseph Shaw, quartermaster officers or generals retained their own copies of the reports, and they eventually made their way to other archives such as the State Archives of Florida by donation.

To learn more about the Civil War era records housed at the State Archives of Florida, check out our research guide on the subject. We also recommend reviewing the Civil War in Florida bibliography from the State Library.

What’s a Bahia Honda?

The Florida Keys stretch for some 200 miles from Biscayne Bay near Miami to the Dry Tortugas. About 1,700 individual islands make up the archipelago. Looking on the bright side, that’s a lot of breathtaking Florida scenery to explore. On the other hand, that’s also an awful lot of islands to have to name and chart on a map!

Tough as it may have been to give each of the Florida Keys a unique and memorable name (and indeed there are still a few without names), explorers and locals have generally been up to the challenge over the years. Moreover, many of the names contain a little gem of history about the islands they’re identifying. Today’s blog explores a few of the more unusual place names in the Florida Keys, along with the history they represent.

First off, here’s a map showing the places we plan to discuss (click the map to enlarge it):

Excerpt of the Florida Department of Transportation's official 2014 Florida Highway Map showing the Florida Keys, highlighting the four unique place names we discuss in this post. Click the map to enlarge it.

Excerpt of the Florida Department of Transportation’s official 2014 Florida Highway Map showing the Florida Keys, highlighting the four unique place names we discuss in this post. Click the map to enlarge it.

Plantation Key

The Florida Keys might not seem much like the place to have a plantation, but that’s exactly how this island got its name. Plantation Key is located between Tavernier and Islamorada. Spanish charts generally do not give it a name, but by the 18th century it appeared on some maps as Long Island. The “Plantation” appellation likely stems from its use for coconut and pineapple production in the late 19th century by Captain Benjamin Baker. Baker was widely known as “King of the Wreckers,” engaged as he was in the business of salvaging the cargoes of ships that had foundered on the Florida Straits. An 1871 account in Harper’s Monthly Magazine claimed Baker had realized a profit of seven thousand dollars from a single year’s crop of pineapples. Not a bad haul for a second job!

Two men wearing leis made from sponges - Plantation Key (circa 1910).

Two men wearing leis made from sponges – Plantation Key (circa 1910).

Bahia Honda

No, this place name has nothing to do with foreign automobiles. Bahia Honda (pronounced Bah-EE-ah OWN-dah in Spanish) is a key located just southwest of the Seven Mile Bridge and northeast of Big Pine Key. The name, which means “deep bay” in Spanish, has appeared on maps and nautical charts at least as far back as the late 16th century. When Henry Flagler began building his Over-the-Sea Railroad through the Keys in the 1900s, Bahia Honda became home to two large dormitory-style buildings for the crews building the Bahia Honda Bridge connecting the island with West Summerland Key.

Excerpt of a 1763 British map of Florida showing the Florida Keys, including Bahia Honda. Map Collection, State Library of Florida. Click the map to enlarge it.

Excerpt of a 1763 British map of Florida showing the Florida Keys, including Bahia Honda. Map Collection, State Library of Florida. Click the map to enlarge it.

Original Bahia Honda Bridge under construction (circa 1908).

Original Bahia Honda Bridge under construction (circa 1908).

Ramrod Key

Ramrod Key is located about 25 miles northeast of Key West between Summerland and Big Pine keys. Despite the name, the island is shaped nothing like a ramrod. Evidence pointing to the origin of this unusual name is a bit hazy, but local experts generally agree the name hails from a British ship called Ramrod that wrecked nearby in the early 19th century. The name was well enough known by the 1850s that it began appearing on government surveys. A post office operated at Ramrod Key from 1917 to 1951, whereupon mail service was transferred to neighboring Summerland Key.

Ramrod Key Post Office (ca. 1950).

Ramrod Key Post Office (ca. 1950).

Lake Surprise

Lake Surprise is one of the first bodies of water crossed by the Overseas Highway after it leaves the Florida Mainland. As strange as it might seem, this is indeed a true lake contained entirely within Key Largo, and its discovery was truly a surprise, and not a pleasant one. The lake was unexpectedly encountered by the construction crews building Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway across Key Largo. The water had not appeared on preliminary surveys of the island, and it presented one of the earliest major obstacles for the project. When the crews attempted to fill in a causeway for the railroad rather than build a bridge, the fill material simply disappeared. Lake Surprise was eventually conquered, but only after 15 months of fill work.

Florida East Coast Railway engine #10 crossing Lake Surprise on a barge. The engine was used by railroad work crews during construction to transport workers, supplies, and building materials (1906).

Florida East Coast Railway engine #10 crossing Lake Surprise on a barge. The engine was used by railroad work crews during construction to transport workers, supplies, and building materials (1906).

These are, of course, only a sample of the many unusual names found throughout the Florida Keys, but hopefully it will inspire you to pull out a map and explore further. Who knows? You may get some ideas for a future Florida vacation!

Photo Mystery Monday: November 16, 2015

This is one in a series of posts inviting our users to learn how to get the most information out of historic photos. We’ll post a new photo mystery every Monday, and then follow up with more information about the image on Friday. Get the conversation started by commenting on the blog and sharing it with your friends and family.


Be a photo detective! What is going on in this picture? Do you have a guess as to what year it might be? Where in Florida could this be?

What people, objects and activities do you notice?

Try an artist’s trick. Divide the photo into four quadrants and study each section. What new details do you see?

Based on what you have observed, what can you infer from this photograph? What questions do you have?

Come back on Friday when we will update the post with more identifying information!

For Teachers: Photo interpretation is a great critical thinking activity for students. The Photo Analysis Worksheet from the National Archives lets you use any photo as an opportunity to analyze primary source documents.


UPDATE: Auto-to-airplane transfer stunt at Daytona Beach

This photograph was taken on December 1, 1921 at Daytona Beach.

The Mabel Cody Flying Circus featured night-flying, wing-walking, auto-to-airplane transfers, single- and double-parachute drops, and acrobatic loop-to-loops. Mabel Cody (who was not officially a pilot) was hired by fairs and promoters like George E. Merrick to attract crowds and potential land and home buyers.

Mabel Cody is flying above Sig Haugdahl in his Frontenac automobile. Stuntman Louis “Bugs” McGowan is transferring from the car to the plane.

Louie “Bugs” McGowan, Sig Haugdahl and Mabel Cody

Follow the Liter

Have you ever wondered why we buy gasoline by the gallon, but purchase soft drinks in liter bottles? Or why track runners often race for a number of meters, yet long jumpers measure their achievements by feet and inches?

The United States has been flirting with the idea of adopting the metric system of measurement since 1866, but even today we remain on the fence. We use the old English standard in some cases, and the metric system in others. When a push to “go metric” surfaced in the 1970s, Florida’s state leaders launched a major campaign to prepare the public for the big change. The movement to go metric fizzled after a while, but it produced some interesting documents at the time, and even today it affects how students are taught units of measurement in math and science classes.

Brochure from the Florida Department of Education designed to help students learn the metric system (circa 1980). Click to view the entire brochure (Box 3, Folder 35, Florida Metric Council Planning Files - Series 1811, State Archives of Florida).

Brochure from the Florida Department of Education designed to help students learn the metric system (circa 1980). Click to view the entire brochure (Box 3, Folder 35, Florida Metric Council Planning Files – Series 1811, State Archives of Florida).

It all started in 1975, when President Gerald Ford signed the Metric Conversion Act into law, establishing a national policy for the increased use of the metric system. Congress had authorized the change over a century before, but decades of custom and familiarity had kept most people using the old English standard system. Increasingly, however, other countries with which the U.S. was doing business were switching to metric. Even the United Kingdom, where the English system had originated, dropped the old measurements in favor of metric in 1965. Upon signing the Metric Conversion Act, President Ford noted that over 90 percent of the world’s people were using metric – this law would make it easier for Americans to stay competitive in science and global trade.

Page from the brochure shown in the previous image. Metric conversion advocates stressed the convenience of the system's reliance on units of 10.

Page from the brochure shown in the previous image. Metric conversion advocates stressed the convenience of the system’s reliance on units of 10.

In January 1976, Florida Commissioner of Education Ralph Turlington and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Doyle Connor presented a draft resolution to the Governor Reubin Askew and his Cabinet calling for a steering committee to study the problems and requirements of metric conversion. The Cabinet approved the resolution, and in October 1976 the Florida Metric Council held its first meeting. The Council was made up of representatives from Florida’s schools, farmers, consumers, engineers, manufacturers, and other groups that would be greatly affected by the change.

One of the most critical aspects of the Council’s work was to figure out how to educate both children and adults about the purpose of switching to the metric system and how to convert traditional measurements into metric units. Council members believed this was essential for obtaining public support for the move. With this aim in mind, the Florida Metric Council partnered with a variety of state agencies to develop guides for the public, which explained the rationale for metric conversion and provided tips for doing the necessary math in daily activities like shopping and cooking.

A brochure (circa 1980) developed by the Florida Cooperative Extension Service to help everyday Floridians understand how metric conversion would affect common activities like shopping and measuring materials around the house (Box 139, Folder 12, Koreshan Unity Papers - Collection N2009-3, State Archives of Florida).

A brochure (circa 1980) developed by the Florida Cooperative Extension Service to help everyday Floridians understand how metric conversion would affect common activities like shopping and measuring materials around the house (Box 139, Folder 12, Koreshan Unity Papers – Collection N2009-3, State Archives of Florida). Click to view the entire brochure.

Some folks believed metric conversion would solve a lot of problems. Since the metric system is based on units of 10, mathematical computations of distance, mass, and speed would be easier to compute. Manufacturers would also save time and money by using a single set of measurements to label packages and parts.

Others were more skeptical. Some people questioned the expense involved in a wholesale conversion to metric. Just replacing the speed limit signs, for example, was expected to cost somewhere around $200 million nationally. Others simply saw no reason for the United States to abandon a system that had been working so well for so long.

State Senator Dick Langley of Clermont argues against metric conversion, claiming that only drug dealers and communists would support the bill because drugs were sold in metric units and communist countries used the metric system. Senator George Kirkpatrick waves a small American flag over Langley's head (1984).

State Senator Dick Langley of Clermont argues against metric conversion, claiming that only drug dealers and communists would support the bill because drugs were sold in metric units and communist countries used the metric system. Senator George Kirkpatrick of Jacksonville waves a small American flag over Langley’s head (1984).

In Florida, as throughout the nation, mixed support for metric conversion led to mixed results. For example, Florida was the first state to require speed limits to be posted in both miles per hour and kilometers per hour on state highways. Those signs only lasted a year, however, before public disapproval led the Department of Transportation to scrap the program.

A more permanent legacy of the metric conversion debate is the way in which students are taught weights and measures in school. Even with the widespread preference for standard units of measurement like inches, pounds, and gallons, some aspects of life and work require knowledge of the metric system. This is especially true in the medical and scientific fields, where internationally-recognized standards are the norm. Florida teachers now prepare their students by teaching both systems of measurement, as well as the methods for converting from one to the other.

Which system of measurement do you use the most? Did you learn to use both systems when you were in school, or just one? Share your experiences by leaving us a comment on the blog below!

Rhea Chiles Dies at 84

Rhea Chiles, First Lady of Florida during the governorship of her late husband Lawton Chiles, has died at the age of 84. Before, during, and after her term as First Lady, Chiles demonstrated a profound commitment to bettering the lives of Floridians through her educational and cultural pursuits.

Rhea and Lawton Chiles walking during Chiles' campaign for the governorship of Florida (1990).

Rhea and Lawton Chiles walking during Chiles’ campaign for the governorship of Florida (1990).

One of Chiles’ most unique contributions was the idea for Florida House, a sort of showcase for the Sunshine State located in downtown Washington, DC. In the late 1960s, while the Chiles family was visiting Washington, one of Rhea and Lawton’s young children asked if the family could visit Florida’s embassy. The parents explained that only nations had embassies, not states, but Rhea became intrigued by the idea of having a state “embassy” in Washington.

Rhea Chiles at home in Lakeland (1971).

Rhea Chiles at home in Lakeland (1971).

Lawton Chiles was elected U.S. Senator for Florida in 1970, which offered Rhea the opportunity to turn her vision into a reality. During the Chiles’ first year in Washington, Rhea discovered a building at 200 East Capitol Street that was badly in need of repair, but was well positioned to become the “embassy” she had in mind for Florida. She set to work raising funds from friends back home, along with $5,000 of her own money, and soon the old building was given a new lease on life as Florida House. The building was dedicated in 1973, and continues to serve as a center for exhibiting Florida’s history, culture, and achievements.

Florida House in Washington, DC (circa 1970s).

Florida House in Washington, DC (circa 1970s).

As First Lady, Rhea Chiles turned her attention mainly to the welfare of Florida’s children. She and Governor Chiles were instrumental in establishing the Lawton and Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies, now a component of the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health. The Center focuses on maternal and child health research and education.

Mrs. Chiles also helped develop S.W.A.T. (Students Working Against Tobacco), a statewide network of youth-led anti-smoking organizations. The campaign is widely credited with reducing the number of teenage smokers in Florida, and has served as a model for similar programs around the United States.

Only months before Governor Lawton Chiles’ death in 1998, Rhea Chiles established a foundation in his memory, dedicating it to bettering the lives of Florida’s children by providing public awareness and support for children’s programs across the state. She also established a community cultural center called the Studio at Gulf and Pine, located on Anna Maria Island in Manatee County, where she resided at the time of her passing.