Collecting the People’s History: Women’s Contributions to Documenting Florida Folklife

Collecting the People’s History: Women’s Contributions to Documenting Florida Folklife

Download: MP3

(26:39, 24.4MB; S1576 T86-244, T86-245, T76-4, T76-9, C79-68, C83-58, C83-62)

Looking all the way back to the 1930s, we begin with Eatonville native Zora Neale Hurston, who documented turpentine workers in Cross City, Florida.

Transcript of the Introduction

Welcome back to the Florida Folklife Collection podcast series from the Florida Department of State’s State Library and Archives of Florida. March is Women’s History Month, and in this podcast we will recognize and give voice to some of the women who have been vital in documenting, preserving and celebrating Florida’s diverse heritage.

Looking all the way back to the 1930s, we begin with Eatonville native Zora Neale Hurston, who documented turpentine workers in Cross City, Florida as part of the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) 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. “Halimuhfack” and “Tilly, Lend Me Your Pigeon” were two of the many songs Hurston learned in the course of her fieldwork for the WPA, which she demonstrates to her colleagues Herbert Halpert, Stetson Kennedy and Dr. Carita Doggett Corse on the following recordings from 1939.

[T-86-244 “Halimuhfack”]
[T-86-245 “Tilly, Lend Me Your Pigeon”]

As Zora Neale Hurston was conducting fieldwork in Florida, Sarah Gertrude Knott founded both the National Folk Festival and 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. Here is an excerpt from a speech Knott gave during the 1954 Florida Folk Festival.

[T-76-4 Sarah Gertrude Knott Speech]

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 as a valuable institution for sharing and celebrating the state’s varied traditions. Let’s enjoy one of Cousin Thelma’s famous stories, followed by an excerpt from a 1978 interview with state folklorist Peggy Bulger.

[T-76-9 Creation Story]
[C-79-68 Thelma Boltin Interview]

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. In this 1982 interview, she discusses the origins of the Florida Folklife Program and what folklore means to her.

[C-83-58 Peggy Bulger Interview]

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.

The list of women who have been integral to the research, documentation, and teaching of Florida’s folk traditions continues with Merri Belland, Nancy Nusz, Riki Saltzman, Jan Rosenberg, Debbie Fant, Andrea Graham, Laurie Sommers, Mary Anne McDonald, Teresa Hollingsworth, Betsy Peterson, and Doris Dyen, interviewed here.

[C-83-62 Doris Dyen Interview]

While it is impossible to comprehensively recognize the individual efforts of everyone mentioned in a single podcast, we hope to have invoked a greater appreciation for the significant contributions women have made in documenting and preserving a history of and for the people of Florida. Thanks for listening.