Joan Lee Perry Morris, longtime curator of the Florida Photographic Collection, died April 21, 2016 at the age of 81. For over half a century, Joan and her husband Allen dedicated their lives to the study of Florida history, writing books and accumulating a rich trove of historic images to share with the public.
Born March 11, 1935, Joan grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida. In 1966, she married Allen Covington Morris, who at that time was serving as Clerk of the Florida House of Representatives. The couple shared a mutual passion for Florida history, which inspired their collaboration on a variety of books and projects over the years, including biennial editions of the Florida Handbook, which Allen had begun compiling in 1947.
Joan was best known for her work with the Florida Photographic Collection, which Allen originally established in 1952 with images he had collected over the years for the Florida Handbook. Joan took over as curator and photographic archivist in 1971 to allow Allen to focus on his responsibilities at the Capitol. The collection flourished under Joan’s leadership, expanding to over a million historic images during her tenure.
Allen and Joan accumulated photographs from many sources. The majority were donated, although some of the most valuable images were saved from destruction by Joan herself. At one point, for example, an employee at the Tallahassee Democrat was in the process of discarding thousands of photographic negatives from the paper’s archives when Joan stepped in and offered to take them. These images are now available as the Tallahassee Democrat photo collection on Florida Memory.
But Joan did more than just collect and preserve photographs. She shared her knowledge with countless authors, journalists, and other individuals from all over the world who visited the State Archives to find images to illustrate their work. She took great pride in helping each patron find the very best photographs for their projects, a service warmly acknowledged in hundreds of publications.
Joan remained curator of the Florida Photographic Collection until her retirement in 2003, although she continued to work as a volunteer for several years afterward. The vast collection of photographs she and Allen assembled over a lifetime continues to be a source of knowledge and enjoyment for Floridians and countless others – a real public treasure. The State Archives is deeply indebted to Joan for her years of public service and her dedication to preserving Florida’s photographic past.