The First Florida Women in Public Office

We’re getting close to some major anniversaries regarding women’s suffrage here in the United States. June 4, 2019 will mark 100 years since Congress approved the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote. August 18, 2020 will be the centennial anniversary of the date when enough states had ratified the proposed amendment to make it effective. We tend to focus on how these momentous events forever changed voting rights, but there’s another related victory that deserves some attention as well. Beginning in 1920, many more women began serving in public office at the state and county level, a trend that is well documented in records available from the State Archives of Florida. Today’s blog explains a bit about the history of women in public service and offers some tips on how to find the first women from your Florida community to run for election or serve in office.

Edna Giles Fuller of Orange County, the first woman elected to the Florida Legislature (1929).

Edna Giles Fuller of Orange County, the first woman elected to the Florida Legislature (1929).

First things first: 1920 wasn’t actually the start of women voting in Florida, nor was it the start of women serving in public office. By the time the 19th amendment was ratified, several Florida communities had already granted women the right to vote in municipal elections. Fellsmere (then in St. Lucie County) was the first to do so, having put the necessary language in an amendment to its town charter, which was approved by the Legislature and signed by Governor Park Trammell on June 8, 1915. Here is the relevant clause from Section 35 of the charter (Chapter 7154, Laws of Florida):

Every registered individual, male or female, elector shall be qualified to vote at any general or special election held under this Charter to elect or recall Commissioners, and at any other special election… 

Activists for women’s suffrage vowed to build on this victory, and soon other Florida towns adopted similar changes to their charters. By November 1919, a total of 16 towns in 10 counties allowed women to vote in municipal elections, including Fellsmere in what is now Indian River County; Tarpon Springs, Clearwater, Dunedin and St. Petersburg in Pinellas County; Aurantia and Cocoa in Brevard County; Orange City and DeLand in Volusia County; West Palm Beach and Delray in Palm Beach County; Florence Villa in Polk County; Miami in Dade County; Fort Lauderdale in Broward County; Moore Haven in DeSoto County; and Orlando in Orange County.

Cast from a play put on by members of the Koreshan Unity in Estero, Florida in favor of women's suffrage. The play was titled

Cast from a play put on by members of the Koreshan Unity in Estero, Florida in favor of women’s suffrage. The play was titled “Women, Women, Women, Suffragettes, Yes” (ca. 1910s).

Empowered to vote, a number of women began running for public office in these towns, and in some cases they were victorious. Marian Horwitz of Moore Haven was elected mayor on July 30, 1917, the first woman to serve in that role in Florida. It was an unusual case in that it was the town’s first mayoral election since incorporating in June, and Mrs. Horwitz was directly petitioned by every single registered voter in town to accept the position. Even the two men who had earlier been competing for the nomination bowed out when her name was put forward. Mrs. Horwitz initially refused the nomination, but eventually accepted and characterized it as a way for women to take on tasks that would free up men to support the United States’ efforts in World War I. “I once felt that a woman could not measure up physically to the work of handling public affairs,” she told the press after a few days in office. “In less than a week I have changed my mind.”

Marian Newhall Horwitz, later O'Brien (1917). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Marian Newhall Horwitz, later O’Brien (1917). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

But it wasn’t just municipal positions that women were filling in those days before the 19th amendment. Many women also served in county and state positions, especially boards and commissions pertaining to issues where at that time a woman’s perspective and instincts were thought to be uniquely useful. Several women, for example, served on the state’s public school textbook selection committee, the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners and commissions in charge of planning for historic buildings and memorials. Records of commissions for court reporters and county probation officers also show a number of women in the ranks.

Page from the Secretary of State's officer directory showing where Sarah E. Wheeler of Lakeland was commissioned as a member of the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners in 1913. Volume 12, State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284), State Archives of Florida.

Page from the Secretary of State’s officer directory showing where Sarah E. Wheeler of Lakeland was commissioned as a member of the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners in 1913. Volume 12, State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Women could also be appointed to major county offices. A common practice that lived on long after women gained the right to vote was for a woman to be appointed to complete her husband’s term in the event that he died while in office. That’s what happened in the case of Mary Jane Curry, for example, who became Monroe County’s treasurer in 1915 when her husband William died about six months into his term. Mrs. Curry was officially commissioned by the governor as her husband’s ad interim replacement, and she continued to serve until she was replaced by a newly elected successor in 1917. Other women were appointed to positions in their own right, such as Mamie Jarrell of Micanopy, who was appointed several times to the post of Marks and Brands Inspector for Alachua County.

Page from the Secretary of State's officer directory showing appointments for both William and Mary Jane Curry as county treasurer for Monroe County in 1915. Note that the record shows William died in office, and Mary Jane was appointed shortly thereafter to succeed him. Volume 12, State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284), State Archives of Florida.

Page from the Secretary of State’s officer directory showing appointments for both William and Mary Jane Curry as county treasurer for Monroe County in 1915. Note that the record shows William died in office, and Mary Jane was appointed shortly thereafter to succeed him. Volume 12, State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Now let’s look at how to determine who the first women were in your Florida county to serve in public office, or at least run for office. The State Archives holds records pertaining to women in both categories. First, if a woman from your county was appointed to a county or state office (like Mamie Jarrell) or elected in her own right from 1920 onward, she would have received an official commission from the governor, countersigned by the Secretary of State. The State Archives holds the record copies for many of these commissions (Series S1285, et al), as well as a set of handwritten state and county officer directories (Series S1284), which function like an index to the commissions. One way to look for early elected or appointed women from your county is to look through these directories for names of female citizens. Here’s an interesting example from the first slate of county officers appointed to serve Collier County when it was established in 1923. On the page, we see that two women were among the appointees, including Mrs. T.C. (Mamie) Barfield as Superintendent of Public Instruction and Nellie Storter as Supervisor of Registration.

Page from the Secretary of State's officer directory showing the first officers appointed for the newly created Collier County in 1923. Two women are among the appointees. Volume 14, State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Page from the Secretary of State’s officer directory showing the first officers appointed for the newly created Collier County in 1923. Two women are among the appointees. Volume 14, State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

The state and county officer directories (Series S1284) are open to the public for research here at the State Archives, and our Reference Desk staff can also do a limited amount of research in the books if you have a specific person or range of years in mind. Once you find an index listing for a commission that interests you, we can determine if the State Archives also has a copy of the officeholder’s actual commission, signed oath of office or bond. See our blog post titled Researching State and County Officers for details.

Commission of Eleanor H. Floyd as tax assessor of Franklin County. Floyd was elected to the position just months after women nationwide gained the right to vote in 1920. Volume 15, State and County Officer Commissions (Series S1288), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Commission of Eleanor H. Floyd as tax assessor of Franklin County. Floyd was elected to the position just months after women nationwide gained the right to vote in 1920. Volume 15, State and County Officer Commissions (Series S1288), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

The State Archives’ Florida Memory team has also recently embarked on a project to digitize the state and county officer directories from the 1820s up through 1989. Digital volunteers from across the state have been helping with this exciting and valuable project by transcribing the handwritten data to make it searchable. If you would like to learn more about how to help, even at a distance, contact Archives Historian Dr. Josh Goodman at Josh.Goodman@dos.myflorida.com.

But wait, there’s more! The state and county officer directories are helpful for finding women who were actually appointed or elected to public office, but there were many, many more who ran for election and did not win their races. Luckily, even their candidacy can be documented using records available here at the State Archives.

After each primary and general election, a canvassing board for each county writes up an official report showing the names of the candidates who were on the ballot for each office and how many votes they each received. This report is then forwarded to the Secretary of State, who retains the election results and lets the governor know who to commission for each office. The State Archives holds a virtually complete set of these reports dating back to 1865. You can look through these canvassing reports to see not only who was elected to each public office, but also all of the candidates who ran against the winner and lost. This would be a useful tactic if you wanted to find the first women in your county to run for local office, regardless of whether they won or lost. Here’s an excerpt, for example, from the canvassing report for Palm Beach County for the general election of 1920, the first in which all women in the state had the right to vote. Agnes Ballard, who incidentally was Florida’s first registered female architect, is shown winning the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Excerpt of a page from the 1920 general election canvassing report for Palm Beach County. Agnes Ballard is shown as having received the largest number of votes for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Volume 22, Canvassing Reports (Series S1258), State Archives of Florida.

Excerpt of a page from the 1920 general election canvassing report for Palm Beach County. Agnes Ballard is shown as having received the largest number of votes for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Volume 22, Canvassing Reports (Series S1258), State Archives of Florida.

The canvassing reports (Series S1258) are grouped into volumes by election year and then by county. They are open to the public for research here at the State Archives. You can also contact the Reference Desk if you have questions about a specific race or if you are looking for a specific person.

With the anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment upon us, now is an excellent time to do some research on the women in your county who have run for and served in public office. Take advantage of the resources available to you here at the State Archives, and let us know how we can help.

 

Women’s Equality Day

Today Florida joins the rest of the United States in celebrating Women’s Equality Day, an officially designated day observing two anniversaries in the history of women’s rights. Today is the 94th anniversary of the enactment of the 19th amendment, which struck down the limitation of suffrage on the basis of sex. It is also the 44th anniversary of the 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality, organized by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and its president at that time, Betty Friedan.

The fight for gender equality in Florida has a long history, with many bumps in the road. Today we pay homage to the women and men who stood up for equality before the ballot box, even when they faced indifference, outright opposition, or ridicule.

Ivy Stranahan, an early advocate of women's suffrage in Florida (photo circa 1890s).

Ivy Stranahan, an early advocate of women’s suffrage in Florida (photo circa 1890s).

May Mann Jennings, Florida's First Lady during the administration of her husband, Governor William S. Jennings (1901-1905). Mrs. Jennings was a co-founder of the Florida League of Women Voters (photo circa 1900s).

May Mann Jennings, Florida’s First Lady during the administration of her husband, Governor William S. Jennings (1901-1905). Mrs. Jennings was a co-founder of the Florida League of Women Voters (photo circa 1900s).

The movement to secure the vote for women was relatively unorganized in Florida until just before the turn of the twentieth century. Ella C. Chamberlain, who hailed from Tampa, attended a suffrage convention in Des Moines, Iowa in 1892, and returned to the Sunshine State eager to get something going. She sought out space in a local newspaper, only to be directed to write a column on issues of interest to women and children. Legend had it she exclaimed that the world was “not suffering for another cake recipe and the children seemed to be getting along better than the women.” She resolved instead to write about women’s rights, and to deploy the knowledge she had picked up in Des Moines.

Chamberlain was considerably far ahead of public opinion in the Tampa area of the 1890s, but she carried on her work with enthusiasm. In 1893, she established the Florida Women’s Suffrage Association, which associated itself with the broader National American Women Suffrage Association and attempted to inject women’s rights issues into the local political landscape. Susan B. Anthony herself came to know Chamberlain and her efforts on behalf of the women of the Sunshine State. For a number of years, Chamberlain sent Anthony a big box of Florida oranges during the winter as a gesture of appreciation. It was also a ploy to expose the inequality of agricultural wages in Florida between the sexes. Women typically made less than their husbands in this industry, even if they did the same work.

Susan B. Anthony, co-founder of the National Woman Suffrage association, at Rochester, New York (1897).

Susan B. Anthony, co-founder of the National Woman Suffrage association, at Rochester, New York (1897).

When Ella Chamberlain left Florida in 1897, the Florida Women’s Suffrage Association lagged and faded out, but the fight for equality continued in smaller organizations around the state. In June of 1912, a group of thirty Jacksonville women founded the Florida Equal Franchise League. Their goals were to improve the legal, educational, and industrial rights of women, as well as to promote the study of civics and civic improvements. The Orlando Suffrage League emerged in 1913, aiming specifically to get women to attempt to vote in a sewerage bond election. When the women were refused, they walked away with a clear example of taxation without representation to use in future debates.

As similar groups began popping up and communicating with one another, the need for a statewide organization became clear. In 1913, the Florida Equal Suffrage Association (FESA) was born at an organizational meeting in Orlando, with the Rev. Mary A. Safford as president and women from across the state serving as officers.

Caroline Mays Brevard, granddaughter of Florida territorial governor Richard Keith Call and a founding member of the Florida Equal Suffrage Association (photo circa 1900s).

Caroline Mays Brevard, granddaughter of Florida territorial governor Richard Keith Call, noted Florida historian, and a founding member of the Florida Equal Suffrage Association (photo circa 1900s).

FESA and its associates around the state met with mixed success. In Pensacola, for example, where the local newspaper and a number of elected officials were amenable to women’s suffrage, organizers were able to hold meetings and gain a great deal of traction. In Tampa, however, these conditions did not exist and suffrage activists found the road much tougher, at least at first.

As voting rights became a more hotly debated topic across the state and nation, demonstrations on both sides of the issue became more explicit, and admittedly quite creative. The Koreshan Unity, a religious group based in Estero, Florida, put their pro-suffrage stance in the form of a play entitled “Women, Women, Women, Suffragettes, Yes.” The Florida Photographic Collection includes images of both men and women dressing up as the opposite sex, at times to support the idea of equal voting rights and at other times to ridicule it. While humorous, the images are a reminder that for many the suffrage question was often at odds with the longstanding belief that men and women occupied distinct and separate places in society.

Students at the Andrew D. Gwynne Institute in Fort Myers stage an

Students at the Andrew D. Gwynne Institute in Fort Myers stage an “international meeting of suffragettes” (photo 1913).

Visitors at Orange Lake, possibly involved in the debate on voting rights for women (photo 1914).

Visitors at Orange Lake, possibly involved in the debate on voting rights for women (photo 1914).

Reception by

Reception by “DeLeonites” and “DeSoters” at De Leon Springs. Which side of the voting rights debate they are on is not entirely clear (photo 1917).

Photo poking fun at suffragettes by depicting women smoking and driving an automobile (1914).

Photo poking fun at suffragettes by depicting women smoking and driving an automobile (1914).

The 19th Amendment became law on August 26th, 1920, granting women the right to vote. Florida was not one of the states ratifying the amendment, and in fact it did not do so until 1969. Floridian women were undeterred by whatever ambivalence might have caused the delay, however, and women began running for the legislature the very next year. No uproar accompanied the change; the most divisive question was apparently whether women would be charged a poll tax for one or two years, given they had been unable to register the previous year. In time, women began occupying positions of responsibility in all areas of Florida government, although true gender equality was still (and yet remains) an ongoing project.

Women’s Equality Day is an opportunity both to reflect on the past, to celebrate the advances made thus far, and to renew our vigilance in the interest of equal rights regardless of gender. The State Library and Archives of Florida are particularly well-equipped to help you with the bit about reflecting on the past. Check out our recently updated Guide to Women’s History Collections to learn more about the materials we have for researching the history of women in Florida.

Voting in Florida, Then and Now

Updated for 2016

On March 3, 1845, the U.S. admitted Florida as the 27th state in the Union.  A proclamation was issued for a statewide election to be held on May 26, 1845, in which citizens would elect a Governor, a member of the United States Congress, seventeen state senators, and forty-one state representatives.

Florida's first state flag, unfurled at the inauguration of Governor William D. Moseley on June 25, 1845.

Florida’s first state flag, unfurled at the inauguration of Governor William D. Moseley on June 25, 1845.

Drawn portrait of William D. Moseley, Florida's first state governor (circa 1845-49).

Drawn portrait of William D. Moseley, Florida’s first state governor (circa 1845-49).

David Levy Yulee, one of Florida's first U.S. Senators, elected to office in 1845. The other Senator was James D. Westcott, Jr. Photo circa 1850s-60s.

David Levy Yulee, one of Florida’s first U.S. Senators, elected to office in 1845. The other Senator was James D. Westcott, Jr. Note that U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures at this time, not chosen directly by the people. Photo circa 1850s-60s.

Florida’s Legislative Council passed an act “to Facilitate the Organization of the State of Florida” on March 11, 1845, part of which laid out the criteria a citizen had to meet in order to participate in the election. Voting was restricted to free white males who were citizens of the U.S. at the time of the election and had lived in Florida for at least two years. A voter could only cast a ballot in the county where he had lived for at least six months and was enrolled as a member of the local militia.

J.H. Colton's map of Florida, published in 1853. With the exception of a few counties, this map reflects the county boundaries in place at the time of the 1845 statehood election.

J.H. Colton’s map of Florida, published in 1853. With the exception of a few counties, this map reflects the county boundaries in place at the time of the 1845 statehood election.

Each of Florida’s twenty-five counties was divided into precincts. Clerks of the county courts appointed inspectors for each precinct to ensure an accurate and orderly voting process.  Each clerk and inspector kept poll books listing the voters.  Attached to these poll books were certificates of election on which the inspectors and clerk, after having counted the votes, wrote down the results for each candidate. Sometimes a voter’s qualifications were challenged by an inspector. In these cases, the inspector reviewed the available evidence and either had the voter swear an oath affirming his eligibility or rejected his claim outright.  Either outcome was then noted on the certificate.

An example of a record showing the results of a voter's attempt to cast a ballot. In this case, William Morrison's right to vote was challenged, and he opted to swear an oath certifying his eligibility. His oath was rejected, however, by local election officials.

An example of a record showing the results of a voter’s attempt to cast a ballot. In this case, William Morrison’s right to vote was challenged, and he opted to swear an oath certifying his eligibility. His oath was rejected, however, by local election officials.

In this example, John L. Call's credentials as a voter were called into question. After swearing him to an oath affirmning his eligibility, the inspector allowed Call to vote.

In this example, John L. Call’s credentials as a voter were called into question. After swearing him to an oath affirming his eligibility, the inspector allowed Call to vote.

Today, 171 years after the 1845 election that marked the beginning of Florida’s statehood, voting technology has changed a great deal, as have the requirements for becoming eligible to cast a ballot.

In 1845, a qualified voter could simply walk up to a precinct on Election Day and vote, barring any challenges from the inspector in charge. Today voters must register, and meet the following requirements:

  • Be a Citizen of the United States of America (a lawful permanent resident is not a U.S. citizen)
  • Be a Florida resident
  • Be 18 years old
  • Not have been judged mentally incapacitated by a court order
  • Not have been convicted of a felony without the citizen’s civil rights having been restored
  • Provide current and valid Florida driver’s license number or Florida identification card number. If a citizen does not have a Florida driver’s license number or a Florida identification card number then he or she must provide the last four digits of his or her Social Security number. If the citizen does not have any of these items, he or she must write “none” in the box or field where type of available ID is indicated.

 

Voter registration drive - Tallahassee, Florida (1984).

Voter registration drive – Tallahassee, Florida (1984).

In 1845, the only way to vote was in person. Today, Florida counties offer several methods for casting a legal ballot:

  • Go to designated poll site and vote in person
  • Early voting
  • Vote-by-Mail (formerly absentee voting)
Stetson University political science professor T. Wayne Bailey, one of Florida's 27 presidential electors, signing his Electoral College Certificate of Vote for Barack Obama in the Florida Senate chamber (2008).

Stetson University political science professor T. Wayne Bailey, one of Florida’s 27 presidential electors, signing his Electoral College Certificate of Vote for Barack Obama in the Florida Senate chamber (2008).

Florida's state flag, bearing the 1985 version of the Great Seal of the State of Florida (photo circa 1985).

Florida’s state flag, bearing the 1985 version of the Great Seal of the State of Florida (photo circa 1985).

Are you a qualified Florida voter? If so, election season is here, and you have the opportunity to help shape the future of your community and state. Make a note of the dates below, and exercise your right to cast a ballot on Election Day. For more information about voting in Florida, visit the Florida Department of State – Division of Elections website.

Primary Election

Deadline to Register: August 1, 2016
Election Day: August 30, 2016

General Election

Deadline to Register: October 11, 2016
Election Day: November 8, 2016

Polls are open on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.

To view the 1845 Election Returns, click here. While these documents are of considerable historical value, they are especially useful for genealogists, as they pinpoint where Florida’s voters were living at the time of the election.