Trick-or-Treat for Disaster Relief

Are you thinking about how you can donate to the continued relief of the thousands of people affected by the recent scourge of hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires? This Halloween, you might consider doing what a group of Tallahassee third graders did in 1989 and transform the anticipated custom of trick-or-treating into a grassroots pledge drive. Florida’s news media was there to capture this sweet story and the State Library and Archives of Florida has since preserved newspaper and television coverage of the students’ activism.

View of collapsed and burned buildings at Beach and Divisadero in the Marina District in San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake, October 17, 1989. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia commons via U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey.

View of collapsed and burned buildings at Beach and Divisadero in the Marina District in San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake, October 17, 1989. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia commons via U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey.

In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo ripped through Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Georgia and South Carolina, leaving 27 dead and countless others displaced. A few weeks later, Hurricane Jerry slammed into the Gulf Coast of Texas, killing three, including Tallahassee native and Coast Guard Seaman Dan Lindley and his two-year-old daughter Selina. Then, on October 17, the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay to its core, claiming the lives of 200, injuring over 400 and causing millions in property damage. With natural disasters affecting people across the United States and the Caribbean, charitable organizations mobilized to raise money and donations for relief.

Clipping from the Tallahassee Democrat, October 26, 1989. The State Library of Florida holds microfilm copies of the Tallahassee Democrat, dating back to the early twentieth century. Posted with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Headline clipped from the Tallahassee Democrat, October 26, 1989. The State Library of Florida holds microfilm copies of the Tallahassee Democrat and its previous iterations dating from the early twentieth century to present. Posted with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Memory has digitized and made searchable online 50,000 photographs from the Tallahassee Democrat Collection, ranging in date from the 1950s to the 1970s.

At Sealey Elementary in Tallahassee, third-grader Kelly Collette had a creative idea for how they could turn Halloween into a fundraiser for natural disaster victims. Two weeks before the October 31st holiday, Collette stood up in front of her classmates in teacher Sharon Hartman’s language arts class and suggested that they trick-or-treat for money instead of candy and donate the proceeds to the American Red Cross. The proposal went to a vote on the classroom floor. While it was not unanimously affirmed, with one sweet-toothed youngster commenting that “A lot of people would rather have the candy,” the majority of students agreed to forego their candy for a cause. “We want to help those people instead of getting candies and cavities and toothaches,” said eight-year-old Meg Wood to Tallahassee Democrat reporter Kathleen Laufenberg.

The organizers of the Halloween donation drive, from left Kelly Collette, Hamilton Gilberg, Matthew Cooper and Rebecca Nelson. Photograph by Phil Cole, Tallahassee Democrat. Reproduced with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

The youthful organizers of the Halloween donation drive, from left Kelly Collette, Hamilton Gilberg, Matthew Cooper and Rebecca Nelson, October 26, 1989. Photograph by Phil Coale/Tallahassee Democrat. Reproduced with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Nineteen third-graders strong, the trick-or-treating for disaster relief campaign got underway. After registering with the Red Cross, the kids in Miss Hartman’s class made collections bags, drew posters and wrote letters to other students, asking them to join in on the Halloween fundraiser. Impressed by her students’ initiative, Hartman said that organizing the natural disaster relief drive was a “great learning experience,” exposing budding minds to the ins and outs of social action.

Although it is unclear just how much money the students raised for the Red Cross, they did not go hungry after all.

On Halloween morning, a gaggle of costume-clad kids arrived in their classroom to prepare for a big night of fundraising. The story had already attracted the attention of a few local media outlets and the now-defunct Florida News Service came by the school to interview the students about their initiative. After the Florida News Service folded in 1991, the State Archives of Florida acquired a collection of 222 master story tapes, including colorful coverage of this harrowing Halloween story. In the middle of the segment, surprise visitor Raleigh Mackoul, president of the state tobacco and candy association, walked through the door with several pounds of sweet treats.

Mackoul said that after hearing about the plan from a Tallahassee lobbyist, he “thought that it was pretty good that the kids would give up going around to collect their Halloween treats to go collect money for the disaster victims….I didn’t think they ought to go through Halloween without candy.”

Want to help with this year’s natural disaster relief efforts?

Visit Volunteer Florida’s website for a comprehensive list of agencies in need of donations. Volunteer Florida, in partnership with the Division of Emergency Management, is the state’s lead agency for volunteers and donations before, during and after disasters.

Designing Florida

Sunshine. Swampland. Mouse ears. What images come to mind when you think Florida?

In 1985, Governor Bob Graham, in a quest to redesign the state’s license plate, posed this exact question to Floridians. Earlier that year, the Legislature had enlisted professional graphic designers to create a a new tag, but Graham rejected the proposal. Instead, the governor initiated the Florida license plate drawing contest, calling on his constituency to share their ideas for how to best capture the Sunshine State aesthetic.

Florida license plate drawing competition entries ready for evaluation, September 25, 1985. Photograph by Deborah Thomas.

Florida license plate drawing competition entries ready for evaluation, September 25, 1985. Photograph by Deborah Thomas. Since 1905, Florida law has required all registered vehicles to display a license plate.

In an overwhelming display of public participation, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles received over 3,500 entries from people of every age, location and talent level. From the environment to tourism, the contest revealed the broad range of interests represented in the state, and especially highlighted the many factors that changed Florida after WWII. The competition also proved the auto tag’s dual purpose as both a vehicle identifier and a powerful marketing tool. As one contestant quipped, the plates acted as “a silent servant” used to “advertise Florida free of charge.”

The State Archives of Florida has since preserved this collection (S1046) of citizen artwork and Florida Memory has recently digitized a small selection. Over 30 years later, the license plate drawings are now a mosaic of how individual Floridians of 1985 visualized their state.

License plate contest entry by Pat Bridges of Pensacola. “My family and I have lived in many different places…and Florida is my favorite of all,” Bridges attested in an attached letter. Click to enlarge.

Contest participants tapped into a wide spectrum of Florida-related imagery, but one of the most popular themes was space exploration.

NASA’s opening of Kennedy Space Center on Brevard County’s Merritt Island in 1962 ignited economic and population growth in the surrounding Space Coast. By 1985, NASA officials had launched numerous successful missions from the central Florida cape, including the moon-landing Apollo 11 in 1969 and Columbia, the first shuttle to orbit in space, in 1981. The space program continued to expand into the 1980s. And many Floridians, like Bela Gajdoes of Winter Haven, a community about an hour and half west of the Kennedy Space Center, saw their home state as the epicenter of outer space innovation.

License plate contest entry by Bela Gajdos of Winter Haven. Click to enlarge.

Whereas some contestants looked to technology for inspiration, many others focused on illustrating Florida’s abundance of plant and animal species.

Perhaps no fruit better represents Florida than a bright waxy orange. Since the 19th century, the citrus industry has remained central to the state’s agricultural economy. The orange has become a common symbol used to market Florida and appeared on several of the plate designs.

License plate contest entry by 13-year-old Kim Frimowtiz of Pembroke Pines. Lawmakers did not officially designate the orange as Florida’s state fruit until 2005. Click to enlarge.

The sabal palm, Florida’s state tree, also made its way onto hundreds of the tag drawings. “[It is] what I think … best depicts our state to the world,” explained Palm Beach resident W. Stuart Gates, who placed a palm tree silhouette on the center of his tag mock-up.

License plate contest entry by W. Stuart Gates. Click to enlarge.

Though tourists might think only of beaches and palm trees when they imagine Florida’s landscape, natives know all about the dangers lurking just beneath the surface of Florida’s swampland. In a design perhaps too graphic for the interstate, Loman O. Parent of Auburndale, a town near the central Florida Everglades, illustrated this tragic scene of a friend’s encounter with a Florida alligator.

License plate contest entry submitted by Loman O. Parent. It is unclear if Fred made it out of the gator’s belly alive. Click to enlarge.

License plate contest entry by Loman O. Parent. It is unclear if Fred made it out of the gator’s belly alive. Click to enlarge.

The Everglades are critical to Florida’s ecology, and environmentalists of the 1980s were concerned about the negative impact of unchecked draining and pollution on the fragile natural resource. The Florida Audubon Society saw the license tag as an effective means of promoting land conservation. They enlisted a professional graphic artist to design this plate emblazoned with a call to “Save the Everglades.”

License plate contest entry submitted by Florida Audubon Society. Click to enlarge.

License plate contest entry by Florida Audubon Society. Click to enlarge.

But those same development techniques that environmentalists opposed, incidentally helped to shape Florida into a desirable place for out-of-staters to move after WWII. Moreover, a sizeable wave of Caribbean immigrants (majority Cuban) fleeing political instability arrived in Florida between 1960 and 1980, further diversifying the populace. In fact, as of 1980 a reported 69 percent of Floridians had been born outside the state, up from 49 percent in pre-WWII 1930.

These demographic shifts likely inspired contestant Harry Gates of Lake City to scrawl  “U-MEET-SOMEONE FROM SOMEWHERE,” on the bottom of his plate entry.

License plate contest entry by Harry Gates. Click to enlarge.


Retirees made up a large portion of Florida’s rapidly expanding transplant population in 1985. 75-year-old Richard Allen, who had relocated from New Jersey to Bradenton in the late 1970s, submitted a proposal to change Florida’s nickname to the “Senior State.”

License plate contest entry by Richard Allen. Click to enlarge.

Along with the big increase in new permanent residents after WWII, the opening of Walt Disney World near Orlando in 1971 amplified Florida’s longstanding identity as a major tourist destination. Several proposed license plate designs paid homage to the beloved Mickey Mouse.

License plate contest entry by Frank Ambrose of Cross City, Fl. Click to enlarge.

After reviewing thousands of entries, state officials narrowed it down to six possible picks and published pictures of them in the newspapers, soliciting public input on selecting the winner.

The Florida Cabinet initially named this stylized drawing of a blazing Florida sun but rescinded their decision after it sparked backlash for its resemblance to the Japanese flag,  still a contested symbol 40 years after WWII. “It has a white background with a rising sun in the middle of it. All we need now are Japanese characters on the tag and we can send it to Tokyo,” snarked one Orlando resident.

License plate contest entry finalist. Click to enlarge. Note: A note on the back of this plate credits Ocala art teacher Marion F. Lenon as the designer of this plate, but newspaper articles printed this design and credited Hollywood’s Chuck Ax as the artist. It is unclear what the relationship between Lenon and Ax was.

When it came down to choosing a winner of the license plate contest, the Cabinet ultimately chose not to accept any of the contest drawings. In an anticlimactic turn of events, they decided to simply invert the colors of the existing plate and add two orange blossoms. That same tag design is still used today.

However, the Florida Legislature remains aware of Floridians’ many interests and has approved over 100 specialty plates since 1999. 

Rep. Fran Carlton (D-Orlando) lobbying Rep. Dale Patchett (R-Vero Beach) to pass the Space Shuttle Challenger license plate bill. The bill did not pass until 1999, when it became the first of Florida's specialty plates.

Rep. Fran Carlton (D-Orlando) lobbying Rep. Dale Patchett (R-Vero Beach) to pass the Space Shuttle Challenger license plate bill, 1986. The bill did not pass until 1999, when it became the first of Florida’s specialty plates.

Did you participate in the 1985 Florida license plate drawing contest? Share your story in the comments section below.

Selected Sources:

(S1046) 1985 Florida license plate drawings collection. State Archives of Florida.

Baker, Tiffany M. “Discover our Sunshine State. Rediscover Yours.”: The Public’s Participation in Florida Mythmaking in the 20th Century. M.A. thesis: Florida State University, 2008.

Step Aboard for the Gospel of Good Health!

From livestock and citrus to passengers and freight, Florida’s intricate railroad network has served the commercial interests of the state since the mid-19th century.

But, between 1915 and 1917 the railroads also helped meet the public health needs of the state.

In those years, Florida State Board of Health officials kept the rail lines hot as they traveled aboard Florida’s Educational Health Exhibit Train, or exhibit cars equipped with the latest techniques for preventing disease and preserving good health. The health train stopped at nearly every juncture in the state, ready to share the “gospel of good health” with any Floridian who would listen.

The abbreviated history of the Florida health train illuminates how the private-public partnership between southern rail lines and the state health board worked to educate people on how to maintain good health.

View of Florida's health exhibit train, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, p. 416, State Library of Florida.

View of Florida’s health exhibit train, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 416, State Library of Florida.

Florida’s Expanding Railroads

Map of Florida's railroads, 1915. Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida.

Map of Florida’s railroads, 1915. Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida. (Click to enlarge and view full record.)

Beginning in the 1880s, Florida’s railroad infrastructure underwent rapid expansion. Powerful railroad investors like Henry Flagler, Sir Edward James Reed and Henry Plant oversaw the creation of expansive statewide rail systems with the hopes of attracting more tourists, permanent residents and industry to Florida. By 1900, over 3,000 miles of track weaved through the Sunshine State, and by 1912 Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway stretched from Jacksonville to Key West.  The spread of the rails succeeded in bringing more people to the once sparsely populated state, expanding Florida’s population from 269,000 people in 1880 to 752,000 in 1910.

Disease by Rail

However, the spread of infectious disease began to emerge as an unintended, and deadly, consequence of the increased human interaction brought on by the the expansion of Florida’s mighty railroad empires. Mobs of southerners affected by Florida’s deadly yellow fever outbreaks of the 1870s, 80s and 90s frequently directed their anger and sense of helplessness toward the railroad companies, who, they believed were responsible for the spread of the disease.

Cartoon from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, depicting how during the yellow fever epidemic in Florida,

Illustration from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, depicting how during the yellow fever epidemic in Florida, “refugees were not allowed to leave the trains for fear of spreading the disease,” 1888.

For instance, in the summer of 1888, armed residents living in the tiny, but critical railroad junction of Callahan, Florida, threatened to destroy the local tracks if the Savannah, Florida and Western Railroad Company did not cease operations. But, the company refused to halt travel through the afflicted town and the disease spread. Thousands continued to perish of yellow fever until 1900, when scientists recognized it as a mosquito borne illness.

In the next few decades, the state reacted by passing several pieces of legislation aimed at mitigating future public health crises. Mandatory screens on windows, improved sewage infrastructure and potable water requirements were among the solutions. However, healthcare professionals warned that without proper education on these new techniques, lasting public health improvements would not occur. Indeed, smallpox, typhoid fever, malaria, hookworm and bad hygiene practices continued to claim countless lives well into the 1900s.

Flier for the anti-mosquito conference in Daytona, 1910. Florida’s incessant mosquito problem was proven as the cause of many diseases and health concerns. Prior to the health trains, state health officials traveled the state lecturing on mosquito-borne illness prevention techniques. Florida Bureau of Health Printed Matter (.S 908), Box 1, Folder 7, State Archives of Florida.

Even though state health officials had a new understanding of how these deadly diseases spread by the early 20th century, a lack of access to education on proper health habits, especially in Florida’s many rural communities, stalled public health progress.

Florida’s Educational Health Exhibit Train

Determined to educate all Floridians on how to stay healthy, State Health Office Joseph Y. Porter first created a large traveling exhibit intended for display in hotels, conference centers and other public spaces. Though the program was well-received, there were so many panels and displays that it proved too difficult to transport it throughout Florida as originally intended.

Florida's health exhibit on display in an auditorium, January 1915. Florida Health Notes, January 1915, page 4. State Library of Florida.

Florida’s health exhibit on display in an auditorium, January 1915. Florida Health Notes, January 1915, page 4, State Library of Florida.

Porter thought about how he could condense his message and reach more people. The health director looked to the innovative health train programs already chugging through Louisiana, North Dakota and Michigan for his answer. Doctors, nurses and attendants staffed these health trains and disseminated important health information to the public in a variety of formats.

Porter and his team sought to bring the traveling health exhibits to Florida. They were met with full support from the Railroad Commission, but the program required legislative consent.

Cartoon depicting the Florida State Board of Health

Cartoon depicting the Florida State Board of Health “shutting out disease,” 1915. Note the allegorical brick with the label ‘exhibit train law’ on the top of the wall. Florida Health Notes, June 1915, page 204, State Library of Florida.

In 1915, the legislature approved the operation of the Educational Health Exhibit Train (Chapter 6894, Laws of Florida, 1915) among several other public health measures. The law “authoriz[ed] the purchase of cars for [use in the exhibits], and [permitted] the free transportation of them by any railroad compan[y].” The Pullman Company sold the board three wooden cars, equipped for exhibit features, for the reduced price of $500.00 each. The cars typically sold for no less than $15,000 apiece.

When the health train first pulled away from a Jacksonville depot in late 1915, officials expressed high hopes for its impact on public health:

“The entire state will be covered, stops being made at practically every railroad station thus bringing to every section of Florida, no matter how remote, the gospel of good health and disease prevention,” suggested a report published in the January 1916 volume of Florida Health Notes, the official bulletin of the State Board of Health.

The Exhibits

The traveling educational health exhibit consisted of three Pullman cars used to promote new sanitary living conditions and preventative health measures. One car was used exclusively for staff living quarters, while the other two housed educational film presentations, slideshows, public health demonstrations, models, electric devices, panel texts and numerous other instructional devices.

Interior view of car number one, which served as living quarters for Florida health train staff, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 415. State Library of Florida.

Interior view of car number one, which served as living quarters for Florida health train staff, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 415, State Library of Florida.

Interior view of the first exhibit car of the Florida health train, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 416, State Library of Florida.

Interior view of the first exhibit car of the Florida health train, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 416, State Library of Florida.

The March 1916 volume of Florida Health Notes described the two exhibit cars in further detail:

The larger part of the car is devoted to the installation of various models, as that illustrating the Imhoff sewage disposal system, another showing how water in driven or open wells is contaminated by drainage from stable, outhouse and polluted surface water. A miniature model shows a dipping vat for ridding cattle of the ticks, A model dairy is illustrated in the same manner; the proper feeding and clothing of babies and the open-air treatment of tuberculosis and many other practical questions of sanitation and disease prevention are similarly illustrated. … Car number three is divided through most of its length by a partition on which are displayed 36 panels. They carry… warnings and advice on sanitary subjects and disease prevention. Numerous electrically operated models and a large steremotograph (automated slide machine)… are also arranged[.]

State public health officials, including doctors and nurses, kept a tight schedule as they traveled all over Florida spreading the word about public health advancements. The program made regular stops in towns and cities along existing railroad routes, pulling in for a day or two at each location.

When the health train rolled into town, it typically attracted hundreds of visitors. School officials often planned a field trip around the train’s visit, sending their students to soak up the valuable hygiene lessons. Some teachers even awarded prizes to the student with the best essay describing what they had learned.

Interior view of the first exhibit car on the health train, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 147, State Library of Florida.

Interior view of the first exhibit car on the health train, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 147, State Library of Florida.

Gladys Brown, a seventh grade student from Green Cove Springs, a community near Jacksonville, published her observations in the April 1916 volume of Florida Health Notes.

Brown wrote about how when she first walked into the exhibit there was a model of an unsanitary kitchen. In it there were no screens and food had been left out on the dinner table, leaving it open to flies and possible contamination.

On the opposite side from this was shown a house… barn and other out houses. There was a large pile of fertilizer near by and the flies flew from this into the home, where of course, they [sit] on food, etc. There were chickens in the barnyard. One was dead, maybe of cholera. … Through the kitchen window I saw a kettle streaming on the stove. There were no screens to this window either–everything open to flies.

As Brown moved through the health train, she described informational panels about proper dental hygiene and slides with instructions on how to care for snake bites, dizziness and broken bones. Another display emphasized infant mortality, highlighting insufficient prenatal care, tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping cough and scarlet fever as causes of death.

Brown documented that the exhibit concluded with a model of a sanitary home, replete with screened-in windows to keep flies and other bugs out and proper sewage.

“The last was a little bell which I had been hearing ring. It tapped every minute to remind you that someone died from a preventable disease.”

Closeup view of one the health education displays likely seen by patrons of the health train, 1915. Florida Health Notes, January 1915, page 5, State Library of Florida.

Closeup view of one the health education displays likely seen by patrons of the health train, 1915. Florida Health Notes, January 1915, page 5, State Library of Florida.

Although the trains ceased operation during the stifling summer months, the traveling health exhibit reached about 25 to 30 locations per month. Some of the stops included Cocoanut Grove, West Palm Beach, Titusville, New Smyrna, Walton, Maytown, Daytona, Palatka, Lake City and Jacksonville.

No community was too big or too small to receive the so-called gospel of good health, and by the close of 1916 the health train had visited a total of 126 towns in Florida.

Dr. Porter took great pride in the innovation, writing in his 1916 Annual Report to the State Board of Health:

It can be said without any undue boast or immoderate brag, that the Educational Health Exhibit Train has been the crowning feature of the health administration of the past four years…The Train affords the means of bringing the subjects which the State Board of Health believes to be of prime importance to the welfare of the people in Florida in their health and happiness…along the lines of rail communication. (This) moving school of instruction… represents a striking effort toward the sole object of improving the human health…and the State…hopes through this means to impress the people…with useful lessons of not only how to live healthily and therefore happily, but also how to live long and monetarily profitably. The…fruitful benefit resulting from the visit of these cars equipped with an exhibit is purely educational in character of a sanitary and hygienic nature…is clearly shown by request from the people…for literature giving additional information on disease prevention and improved manner of keeping in the health.

In 1917, the program reached another 78 towns, but the successes of the Educational Health Exhibit Train were short-lived. When Dr. Porter resigned later that year, interest in the program faded. With that, the state sold the exhibit to a carnival and the health trains became history.

Selected Sources:

Huffard, Scott R., Jr. “Infected Rails: Yellow Fever and Southern Railroads.” Journal of Southern History. 79.1 (Feb. 2013): p. 80.

Turner, Gregg M. A Journey into Florida’s Railroad History. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008.

Florida Health Notes, 1915-1917. State Library of Florida.

Annual Report of the Florida State Board of Health, 1916. State Library of Florida.

(.S 900) Florida State Board of Health Subject Files. State Archives of Florida.

A Mermaid’s Tale

This is the first installment of our two-part blog series highlighting the Nancy Tribble Benda Collection (N2016-1) available at the State Archives of Florida. Benda was one of the first mermaids to perform at Weeki Wachee Springs when it opened in 1947. She later went on to star in WFSU-TV’s educational children’s television show “Miss Nancy’s Store”  from 1966-1967 before working for the Florida Department of Education.

Many young children play dress up and fantasize about becoming a mermaid, a movie star, or a queen. But what if you really could be a mermaid, act in a movie, and be treated like Hollywood royalty? In 1947, teenager Nancy Tribble would become one of the first “mermaids” to work at Weeki Wachee Springs, landing a role on the big screen in Universal Pictures’ Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid.

Nancy with her mermaid tail, photographed during promotion for Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, 1948.

Nancy Tribble was born in DeLand, Florida, in 1930 to Lewis and Hillis Tribble. The family moved to Tallahassee in 1940, where she would go on to attend Leon High School and Florida State University. As a young woman, her hobbies included swimming in the local rivers and springs, spending time with friends, and competing in local beauty pageants, such as the Miss Underwater contest.

Nancy as Miss Killearn Gardens with Miss Wakulla Springs during the Miss Underwater contest, 1946.

In 1947, Nancy would accept an unusual position as one of the first underwater performers at nascent tourist attraction Weeki Wachee Springs, situated along US 19 near the small and remote town of Brooksville. A year prior, park founder and former U.S. Navy swim coach, Newton Perry, had recognized Weeki Wachee as a good location for his new underwater theater business. In preparing the site for tourism, Perry first cleared the spring of the abandoned cars and rusted home appliances that had been sunk there by area residents. He then experimented with underwater breathing hoses, eventually creating a method of breathing underwater via a hose supplying oxygen from an air compressor. Taking occasional breaths from this hose, the “mermaids” could perform 20 feet underwater for extended periods of time, rather than being encumbered by wearing an oxygen tank.

Brochure advertising Weeki Wachee Springs, 1949 (Series N2016-1, Box 3, Folder 5).

Six feet below the water’s surface, Perry built an 18-seat theater so that visitors could view performances and experience the beauty of the blue spring. Perry recruited young women from all over Florida and trained them to perform synchronized ballet moves and host underwater picnics while breathing through air hoses hidden throughout the scenery.

Nancy posed with underwater sign at Weekiwachee Spring, 1947.

On October 13, 1947, the first underwater show at the Weeki Wachee Springs theater opened. In a few short years, Weeki Wachee would become one of America’s most popular tourist attractions. Movies began to be filmed at the spring–notably, Universal Pictures’ Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid in 1948. Nancy tried out for the role of the lead actress in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, but that part was given to Ann Blyth. Instead, Nancy was cast as Blyth’s underwater body double and performed the swimming parts for the film. Journal entries left in Nancy’s scrapbook detail her experience of flying to Hollywood to meet the cast and crew.

Upon arriving in Hollywood, Nancy was immediately fitted for her mermaid costume by having a plaster mold made from her body. The tail in question, originally budgeted at $500, ultimately cost $18,000 to fabricate. In her first journal entry documenting her trip, Nancy comically illustrates the plastering process as if describing a scene from a horror film:

Journal entry by Nancy written December 9, 1947, describing her first day in Hollywood (Series N2016-1, Box 4).

In the center of the room was a white, pillow-covered operating table with fluorescent lights lowered over it. That was for me! Golly. I turned to run but the door was barred…one of the big fellows grabbed me, while the women, who [were] by no means tiny, greased me from head to foot. Then I was thrown face down on the torture table and “plastered.” The stuff was cold and damp but with no sympathy whatsoever, the tyrants covered me from my neck down to my toes with plaster.

Following this plaster incident, Nancy was fitted for her mermaid wig by two makeup artists, who she described as “beautiful witches with long fingernails”:

Journal entry written by Nancy on December 11, 1947, describing the process of being fitted for a wig (Series N2016-1, Box 4).

What pain, what agony, why, it was awful! Have you ever had anyone drive nails straight into your head? That’s what they did to me, or at least, it felt like it…jabbing in a hairpin here, driving home a bobbypin there…when at last their fiendish thirst was quenched, I was told to go swimming.

Hollywood wasn’t a complete terror, however. Nancy also wrote of the luxuries afforded to movie stars:

Journal entry written by Nancy on December 10, 1947, describing the luxuries afforded to actors and actresses in Hollywood (Series N2016-1, Box 4).

Have you ever felt like a queen or wanted to feel like one? Well, I have pinched myself until I am black and blue and my dream still doesn’t fade; I feel like a queen. I live in a hotel room with my mother and what a room it is. We have everything from a radio and Kleenex to clean sheets every night. When I wake up, a merry voice says, “Good morning and what would you like for breakfast this morning?”…After eating, free of charge…I go out the front door to a waiting Cadillac or Lincoln…everyplace I go there is always a happy, cheerful voice greeting me or asking if there is anything he can do to make me more comfortable.

Nancy returned to Weeki Wachee to film the swimming sequences of Mr. Peabody and Mermaid. To promote the film, she toured across Florida in full mermaid garb, ushered around inside of a large aquarium.

“Mermaid” Nancy Tribble receives a key to the city of Tampa in 1948.

As shooting for the film wrapped up, and Nancy’s stint as a mermaid winded down, her adventure was actually just beginning. She would soon enter Florida State University, beginning a long and significant career in education and communications. Stay tuned for next week’s blog in our two-part series profiling the life of Nancy Tribble Benda.

External Sources:

Nancy Tribble Benda’s Obituary on Tallahassee Democrat. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from

Weeki Wachee’s History. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2017, from

Marjorie Harris Carr: A Champion of Florida’s Natural Resources

Long renowned for its natural beauty, Florida remains a popular destination for tourists and nature lovers seeking pristine beaches, lush forests, winding rivers and an abundance of flora and fauna.  Brought up in this environment, young Marjorie Harris (later Carr), was to become a relentless defender of Florida’s natural resources through her groundbreaking scientific research and activism. Carr is best known for her initiative to preserve Paynes Prairie and for her opposition to the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal Project. Dr. Peggy Macdonald has written extensively about Carr’s life and career, and what follows draws heavily from her 2010 doctoral dissertation, “Our Lady of the Rivers”: Marjorie Harris Carr, Science, Gender, and Environmental Activism (later published as Marjorie Harris Carr: Defender of Florida’s Environment, University Press of Florida, 2014).

Portrait of Marjorie Harris Carr.

Marjorie Harris was born in 1915 to Clara Louise (Haynes) Harris and Charles Ellesworth Harris in Boston, Massachusetts. The family moved to Bonita Springs, Florida, in 1918, where they resided on a plot of land with an orange grove near the Imperial River. Raised by two naturalists, Harris gained an early appreciation and knowledge of Florida’s plant and animal life. In 1932, she entered the Florida State College for Women (FSCW; now Florida State University). During summer breaks, Harris worked for the National Youth Administration (a New Deal agency). She designed and implemented a naturalist education program for Lee County youth in exchange for financial assistance with tuition, room and board at FSCW.

View of the Welaka National Fish Hatchery, Welaka, Florida, 1960.

Though a passionate and excellent student, Harris would face many obstacles in the professional sphere due to gender bias against female scientists. Harris graduated from FSCW with a B.S. in zoology in 1936. Despite membership in various honor societies and the Florida Academy of Sciences, her applications to graduate programs in ornithology at both Cornell University and the University of South Carolina were rejected on the basis of her gender. Undeterred, Harris found work as a biologist at the Welaka Fish Hatchery, near the St. Johns River in North Central Florida, becoming the first female federal wildlife technician. It was in this position that she developed an intimate understanding of the ecosystems of the Ocklawaha River, a tributary of the St. Johns River that would become a main focus of her environmental activism decades later.

Scenic view of boat on the Ocklawaha River, Ocala, Florida, 1965.

Through her work at the hatchery, Harris met her future husband, herpetologist Archie Fairly Carr, Jr. During their courtship, the couple had some concern that marriage would destroy Harris’ professional career as a scientist. Section 213 of the Economy Act of 1932 enacted workforce reductions of married persons (typically wives)—undermining married women’s tenure in the workplace. After the pair married in 1937, she began a new position as a laboratory technician and field collector at the Bass Zoological Research Laboratory in Englewood, Florida—during which time she concealed her marriage in order to continue her work.

In the fall of 1937, Marjorie Harris Carr entered the graduate biology program at the then all-male University of Florida (UF). She graduated from UF in 1942 and published her master’s thesis, “The Breeding Habits, Embryology and Larval Development of the Large-Mouthed Black Bass of Florida,” in the Proceedings of the New England Zoology Club. In 1945, following the birth of their first two children, the Carr family moved to Honduras. While Archie Carr taught biology at the Escuela Agricola Panamericana, Marjorie took daily excursions into the rainforest to conduct research on local bird life.

During the years that the Carr family spent in Honduras, Marjorie Harris Carr  published several notable ornithological studies. Upon the Carr family’s return to Florida in 1949, Marjorie Carr entrenched herself in community involvement, volunteering as a girl scout leader in Gainesville, then joining the Board of Associates of the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF. While serving on the Board, Carr donated thousands of the specimen skins she had collected in Honduras, greatly enriching the museum’s tropical ornithology collection. Carr’s community involvement served as an entry point into conservation work—first as an officer and board member of the Gainesville Garden Club, and later as a co-founder of the Alachua County Chapter of the Florida Audubon Society in 1960. Within these civil societies, her scientific training and knowledge made her well-positioned to collaborate with University of Florida faculty and government officials on a variety of conservation projects.

View of water hyacinths at Paynes Prairie, Alachua County, Florida, 1970.

Sign for Paynes Prairie wildlife sanctuary, Alachua County, Florida, 1969.

In 1957, as her first major project with Gainesville Garden Club, Carr spearheaded the preservation of Paynes Prairie, a 20,000-acre prairie made famous through the writings of naturalist William Bartram in the late 1700s. As the land was being rented by private owners to cattle ranchers as grazing lands, and having been drained in the 1930s for development purposes, Carr perceived a need to protect the sensitive prairie ecosystem from further damage. Capitalizing on the Department of Transportation’s program to set aside roadsides as preserves, Carr and the Gainesville Garden Club set aside roadside of U.S. 441 through the prairie as a preserve. In 1970, the Florida Department of the Environment bought the rest of the Prairie, establishing it as Paynes Prairie State Preserve. Using Bartram’s writings as a guide, the State proceeded with restoration efforts to revive the prairie’s native species, including the reintroduction of bison to the area by 1975.

Buffalo gathered around a windmill at Paynes Prairie near Gainesville, Alachua County, Florida, 1976.

By far, the longest fought battle of Marjorie Harris Carr’s career was her campaign to stop the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. A project designed to connect the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean through mainland Florida for barge traffic, the idea of such a canal had been proposed and rejected repeatedly throughout the years—in the 1930s, as part of an economic recovery program and again in 1942, as a national defense project. The project was finally granted funding in 1963 as a project under John F. Kennedy and was to be completed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Construction of the barge was planned along a section of the Ocklawaha River—near where Carr had cut her teeth as a biologist at the Welaka Fish Hatchery. Concerned about the potential environment impacts of the canal, Carr penned “The Ocklawaha Wilderness,” an essay published in a 1965 issue of Florida Naturalist, articulating the damage that the Canal would cause to the Ocklawaha ecosystem.

Forest debris from the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal, 1969.

In 1969, Carr and members of the Alachua Audobon Society formed Florida Defenders of the Environment (FDE). The organization, composed of hydrologists, geologists, economists, zoologists and activists wrote a scientific report entitled “The Environmental Impact of the Cross Florida Barge Canal With Special Emphasis on the Ocklawaha River System.” The environmental impact statement of the report was influential in the creation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970. The NEPA required all federal public works projects to evaluate potential environmental impacts before initiating such projects. Finding that the construction of the canal would threaten Florida’s water quality, FDE entered a suit with the Environmental Defense Fund against the Army Corps of Engineers, with the aim of ending construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. A federal judge issued an injunction halting construction on the project, and on January 19, 1971, President Richard Nixon issued a statement against the construction of the canal, citing potential serious environmental damage.

Governor Claude Kirk presenting award to Marjorie Carr for her environmental efforts as head of Florida Defenders of the Environment, 1970. Her husband, prominent herpetologist Archie Carr at right.

In 1976, Carr and her colleagues spoke before Governor Askew and his cabinet. Following two days of testimony, Askew and his cabinet voted to ask Congress to completely deauthorize the canal. The canal was not fully deauthorized until George H. W. Bush signed SB2740 into law, officiating the demise of the canal project and repurposing the lands comprising the canal’s route to conservation and recreation.

Governor Askew accepting jawbone during club meeting at the Silver Slipper restaurant in Tallahassee, 1971. The gift is for Lt. Governor Tom Adams as part of the S.T.A.B. movement (Send Tom A Bone) by a conservationist who reacted to Adams comment that stopping the Cross Florida Barge Canal was just “throwing a bone to the conservationists.”

Marjorie Harris Carr passed away in 1997 at the age of 82. A year after her death, the Cross Florida Greenway was renamed the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway. A 110-mile corridor encompassing lands formerly occupied by the Cross Florida Barge Canal project, the Greenway provides sanctuary for diverse plant and animal life, and offers a myriad of bicycle and hiking trails to Floridians. Carr’s 27-year battle against the Cross Florida Barge Canal project illustrates individuals’ power to safeguard natural beauty and maintain clean and balanced ecosystems. Through hard work and dedication, Paynes Prairies and the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway stand for future generations to enjoy not simply on Earth Day, but every day of the year.

For further information, interested persons can peruse The State Archives’ record groups on Cross Florida Barge Canal Project and contemporaneous efforts to preserve Florida’s public lands. Check out our research guide in the form of a three-part blog: If You Build It…; Where There’s a Will…; and Land, Land, Everywhere – But What to Do With It?

External Sources:

Bull, R. (January 19, 2001). Failed barge canal project leads to Cross Florida Greenway. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from

Florida Division of Recreation and Parks. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2017, from

Macdonald, Peggy. “Our Lady of the Rivers”: Marjorie Harris Carr, Science, Gender, and Environmental Activism. Doctoral dissertation, University of Florida, 2010. Accessed January 12, 2018.

Marjorie Harris Carr. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2017, from

Siblings in Florida

April 10 is National Siblings Day and we’re celebrating with stories about well-known brothers and sisters in Florida.

The Bryan Brothers Come to Florida

In 1913, William Jennings Bryan and his wife, Mary, built their winter home in Miami, Florida, and called it “Villa Serena.” Bryan was at the height of his political career during that year as he had recently been appointed Secretary of State by President Woodrow Wilson. Bryan had served as congressman of Nebraska from 1891-1895, and was the Democratic party’s presidential nominee in 1896, 1900, and 1908, losing each time.

Charles Wayland Bryan helped his older brother, William, with his presidential campaigns before beginning his own career in politics. William relied on Charles to organize his speaking engagements and other campaign activities. The stress of the campaign trail helped the brothers grow closer, and they remained close throughout their lives. Charles was elected as mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska, and governor of Nebraska, both for multiple non-consecutive terms. He served as mayor from 1915-1917 and 1935-1937, and as governor from 1923-1925 and 1931-1935. He was selected as the Democratic party’s nominee for vice president in 1924 but lost the election.

Charles Wayland and William Jennings Bryan at Villa Serena in Miami, Florida, 1925.

The two-story home of William and Mary was built along Brickell Avenue and was one of many mansions in the area known as “Millionaire’s Row.” But Villa Serena wasn’t the only connection the brothers had to Florida; their cousin William Sherman Jennings served as Florida’s 18th governor. After resigning as secretary of state in 1915 due to disagreements with President Wilson’s foreign policies that led to U.S. involvement in World War I, William and Mary made Villa Serena their permanent residence. As Charles began his political career, he would rely on William for advice. In the photo above, the brothers are seen smiling for the camera at Villa Serena shortly before William’s death. The home still stands and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

The Stephens Sisters Fight for Civil Rights

Priscilla Stephens (later Kruize) and Patricia Stephens (later Due) were civil rights activists who fought for equality, especially in Florida. Both sisters were born in Quincy, Florida, and began attending Florida A & M University (FAMU) at the same time in the late 1950s, even sharing a room in the freshman dorm. The sisters grew closer during the summer before their sophomore year when they were introduced to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) during a visit with their father in Miami. There they attended their first CORE workshop, learning the skills needed to organize a CORE chapter in Tallahassee. The Tallahassee chapter included students from both FAMU and Florida State University, as well as other people from the community.

Priscilla Stephens being arrested at the Tallahassee Regional Airport, June 16, 1961.

Tallahassee CORE began holding nonviolent sit-ins at lunch counters around the city in 1960, and the Stephens sisters became strong leaders in the fight for equality. A sit-in held on Saturday, February 20 at the Woolworth lunch counter included the Stephens sisters and 15 other Tallahassee residents. Priscilla was designated spokesperson for their cause. The activists garnered so much attention for their actions that the mayor came to the counter and asked them to leave. The Stephens sisters and nine other protesters were arrested when they refused. (Read about their experience in jail here.) This would be one of many times that the sisters would be arrested in their fight for civil rights. In the months and years that followed, additional demonstrations and picketing took place at downtown stores and theaters in Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida. The hard work of the Stephens sisters and others activists eventually led to the passage of landmark civil rights legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For decades after the sit-ins, both Priscilla and Patricia continued to speak out against racial inequality.

Patricia Stephens Due, foreground in black dress, picketing with others at the State Theatre in Tallahassee, May 29, 1963.

The Goodson Sisters Make Music

Raised in Pensacola, Florida, all six of the Goodson daughters pursued careers as blues and jazz pianists. The strict Goodson household encouraged the girls, Mabel, Della, Sadie, Edna, Wilhelmina and Ida, to learn music from an early age for the purpose of performing at church. As teenagers, the young women expanded their musical interests and began performing jazz and blues throughout the South with famous musicians.

Wilhelmina, known professionally as Billie Pierce, began playing piano professionally as a teenager. In the early 1920s, she accompanied famous blues singer Bessie Smith and performed in the bands of George Lewis and Alphonse Picou. During the 1930s in New Orleans, Pierce met trumpeter De De Pierce. They married in 1935 and continued to play together for the rest of their lives. It was at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter in 1961 that the Pierce’s gained international attention and solidified their place in music history.

Portrait of De De and Billie Pierce.

Ida Goodson performing at the Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival in Pensacola during the 1980s.

Ida Goodson was the youngest of the sisters and a 1987 Florida Folk Heritage Award recipient. In the late 1920s, Ida was the accompanist at the Belmont Theater in Pensacola, the city’s main black music hall, and followed in the footsteps of Wilhelmina as accompanist for Bessie Smith. In the early 1980s, the Florida Folklife Program began the Ida Goodson Recording Project, which includes a collection of recordings and photographs of Goodson in her senior years. The second interview of that project is digitized and available below:

Do you have any favorite memories of your siblings in Florida? Share them with us in the comments below.

Selected bibliography:

“Billie Pierce.” Music Rising at Tulane.

Due, Tananarive and Patricia Stephens Due. Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.

“Ida Goodson.” Florida Division of Historical Resources.

“National Register of Historic Places Program, Weekly Highlight: William Jennings Bryan House, Miami-Dade County, Florida.” National Park Service.

Osnes, Larry. “Charles W Bryan: ‘His Brother’s Keeper.’” Nebraska History 48 (1967): 45-67.

Remembering the Historic William S. Stevens School

In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 26, 2017, Florida lost a piece of its tangible history after the historic Stevens School in Quincy caught fire and burned. Join us as we delve into the Archives for a brief look back at the history of this community fixture which stood near Live Oak and Cooper streets for nearly 90 years.

Stevens High School building in Quincy, Florida, built 1929.

Stevens High School building in Quincy, Florida, built 1929.

Originally known as the Dunbar School, the school first opened to grades 1-12 in the early twentieth century. With funding for black education scarce in the Jim Crow South, the African-American community in Quincy received a contribution from the Rosenwald Fund to build the school. Illinois-based philanthropist and part-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company, Julius Rosenwald, headed the organization. His concentrated largess helped build schools for African-Americans all over the segregated South, including dozens in Florida.

Dunbar High School class portrait, ca. 1928.

Dunbar High School class portrait, ca. 1928.

Dunbar High School football team, ca. 1910.

Dunbar High School football team, ca. 1910.

Dunbar soon caught the attention of the ambitious Dr. William Spencer Stevens, who saw potential in expanding the school. Born in Tallahassee in 1882, Stevens attended Florida State Normal and Industrial College before graduating from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. After medical school, Stevens moved to Quincy where he made history as the first African-American doctor to open his own medical practice in the area. Stevens also operated a community hospital for blacks as well as a drug store.

However, Stevens’ success did not make him immune to the rampant racism pulsing through Quincy. According to civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due, who grew up in Quincy in the 1940s, whites tied Stevens to a tree after he attempted to register black voters.

Portrait of Dr. William Spencer Stevens, ca. 1906.

Portrait of Dr. William Spencer Stevens, ca. 1906. Stevens served as city school supervisor from 1914 until his death in 1949.

Wedding portrait of Dr. and Mrs. W.S. Stevens. Order unknown, included in the photograph are Mrs. W.S. Stevens, Dr. William Spencer Stevens, Mrs. Maggie Stevens, and Mrs. Maggie Proctor.

Wedding portrait of Dr. and Mrs. W.S. Stevens on February 8, 1910. Order unknown, included in the photograph are Mrs. W.S. Stevens, Dr. William Spencer Stevens, Mrs. Maggie Stevens, and Mrs. Maggie Proctor.

In 1914, the doctor’s good standing in the community earned him the title of Supervisor of the Quincy City Schools. In this role, he sought to enlarge the reach of Dunbar High School and oversaw a four-year improvement project in the late 1920s.  Locals were so pleased with Stevens’ work to install new classrooms and an auditorium in the building, that they voted to change the school’s name in his honor. According to an article printed in the September 19, 1929 edition of the Gadsden County newspaper, the new William Stevens High School building opened with a reported enrollment of 450 students.

Stevens High School faculty, ca. 1940.

Stevens High School faculty, ca. 1940.

Stevens High School continued to serve Quincy’s black students until 1955, when the school board replaced it and moved the students and faculty into the new  Carter-Parramore High School building. In 1970, during a push to integrate segregated schools, the school board shut Carter-Parramore as a secondary school and repurposed it as a middle school.

The original Stevens High School plant most recently housed an African Artifact and Cultural Museum. It was operated by Quincy native and civil rights activist, Priscilla Stephens Kruize. WCTV’s Lanetra Bennett reported that over one million dollars worth of historic material was lost in the blaze. Recently, the Florida Division of Historical Resources had recommended that the historic building receive grant funding for restorations in 2017-2018.


Florida and the Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment

Florida’s diverse and heavily populated electorate has written its longstanding reputation as a political battleground state — in the 1970s, one of the biggest battle facing state lawmakers was the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The amendment proposed that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex,” and stirred ongoing controversy between leaders of the women’s liberation movement and anti-feminist activists. Though it ultimately never passed, Floridians’ response to the ERA mirrored the sharp national divide over the amendment’s message on gender equality.

ERA supporters rally outside the Florida Capitol Complex, 1981.

ERA supporters rally outside the Florida Capitol Complex to kick off ERA Awareness Week, November 1981. Their efforts were aimed at pressuring lawmakers to ratify the amendment during the 1982 Legislative Session.

In 1923, three years after American women won the right to vote, National Woman’s Party President Alice Paul wrote and introduced the ERA to U.S. Congress. Only three short sentences long, its intent to eliminate all sex-based legal distinctions was clear, but  it failed to gain unanimous political support from the outset. Some feminists viewed the ERA as the surest avenue for eliminating gender discrimination, but opponents countered that it would undermine hard-fought legal protections for women such as maternity leave and revised labor laws (Muller v. Oregon, 1908). As was the trend in many states in the years after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, the vigilant political activism that had won women the right to vote died down in Florida. Though there had been a suffrage movement in Florida in the 1910s, the state constitution did not officially adopt provisions for women’s voting rights until 1969.

League of Women Voters recreating scenes of suffrage activism on the steps of the old Florida Capitol, 1963.

League of Women Voters recreating scenes of suffrage activism on the steps of the old Florida Capitol, 1963.

For over four decades after Alice Paul drafted the ERA, it languished unaddressed in a congressional committee, until the 1960s when the women’s liberation movement strengthened renewed interest in the measure. Both the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 addressed gender discrimination. Both the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 addressed gender discrimination on the federal level. At the state level, population increases and legislative reapportionment in 1960s diversified legislative representation and sparked the passage of more progressive legislation–lawmakers barred sex-based discrimination in divorce, custody and child support cases in Florida. In 1966, Betty Friedan, Pauli Murray and many other feminists co-founded the National Organization of Women (NOW) to enforce these new laws and further advocate for women’s equality. Despite marked gains in addressing some of the specific issues, NOW stressed that the new laws contained insidious loopholes, and insisted that the ratification of the ERA was the best solution for achieving true gender equality. “Existing laws are not doing the job,” said Florida State Senator Betty Castor, echoing the sentiment of ERA proponents across the nation.

A brochure produced by the American Association of University Women encouraging women to support the Equal Rights Amendment, ca. 1974.

One of the most outspoken members of NOW was pioneering feminist Roxcy O’Neal Bolton from Miami. Bolton launched the Miami Chapter of NOW in 1966 and was elected national vice-president of NOW in 1969, in which capacity she became one of the ERA’s chief advocates. Her husband, Commander David Bolton U.S.N., later presided over the organization Men for ERA.

Roxcy and David Bolton in Miami, 1961.

Roxcy and David Bolton in Miami, 1961. 

With the ERA gaining traction, Roxcy Bolton personally, and successfully, lobbied Indiana Senator Birch Bayh for sponsorship while he was visiting Miami in January 1970. The next month, members of NOW picketed a congressional committee hearing, demanding action on the ERA. On August 10, 1970, U.S. Representative Martha Griffiths of Michigan submitted a petition to finally bring the ERA to the House floor for a debate and vote. It passed and headed to the Senate for approval. On March 22, 1972, the U.S. Senate voted in favor of the ERA.

But the real battle began when the ERA went to the states for ratification, where it would need a three-fourths majority approval to become law. “Our work has just begun,” squared Bolton. “We’ve got to get ratification. We must start in each state and see what we can do.”

Within one year, 30 state legislatures had ratified it. But Florida’s had not.  Nonetheless, in 1974, the ERA seemed unstoppable. But eight more states still needed to ratify it by the 1979 deadline and it soon met fierce obstruction.

Roxcy Bolton (center) and Representative Gwendolyn Cherry (to Bolton’s left) leading an ERA march, ca. 1972. Rep. Cherry was the first black woman to serve in the Florida Legislature and the first person to introduce the ERA to the House Judiciary Committee in 1972.

In Florida, the amendment was introduced or voted on in every legislative session from 1972 until 1982. Though it passed the Florida House of Representatives on several occasions, it never passed the Senate. Thirty women served in the Florida legislature between 1920 and 1978, but when the ERA was first introduced into the Florida Senate in 1974, the only woman in the legislative body was Senator Lori Wilson. She became the original sponsor and solitary female voice of the ERA in the senate, and she faced an uphill battle with convincing many of her reluctant colleagues to ratify it. In 1977, she took her stand on the senate floor:

… the good old boys in the southern legislatures traditionally do not consider people issues like ERA on their merit. They consider only what it might do to their manliness or their money-ness or their manpower…. [They]refused to give up their slaves … [or] approve the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote … fought the 1964 Civil Rights Act … until the rest of this nation fought them in the courtrooms, and on the streets, and at the polls … with legal power, and … PEOPLE POWER.

A brochure produced by the American Association of University Women encouraging women to support the Equal Rights Amendment, ca. 1974.

Since its initial submission to the legislature, every Florida governor had expressed support for the ERA.

Governor Reubin Askew addresses an ERA rally on the capitol steps, 1978.

Governor Reubin Askew addresses an ERA rally on the capitol steps, 1978. Beginning in 1972, Askew also oversaw the first functional Florida Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, charged with  identifying and increasing public awareness of the needs and concerns of Florida women. Among other things, the commission was active in ERA ratification efforts.

But as political scientist Joan S. Carver has observed, the legislature’s unpredictable mix of strong personalities and political interests proved far less agreeable. One of the ERA’s biggest foes was Senator Dempsey Barron of Panama City, who served as Senate President from 1975-76 and in the Senate until 1988. A powerful force in the Florida Senate, Barron emphasized a belief that voting for the ERA would accelerate moral decay and give undue power to the federal government. He asked his senate colleagues, “How many of you want to transfer those remaining powers we have under the present Constitution into the hands of the federal government and the federal courts?” His political sway effectively won several “no” votes during the ERA years.

Portrait of Senator Dempsey Barron, 1982.

Portrait of Senator Dempsey Barron, 1982.

Representative Gene Hodges with STOP ERA sign draped from his desk in the House chamber, ca. 1972. Photograph by Donn Dughi, State Archives of Florida.

Representative Gene Hodges with lace STOP ERA apron draped from his desk in the House Chamber, 1974. ERA opponents reportedly sported red aprons like this one as they made the rounds at the Capitol, offering baked goods, “from the bread makers to the breadwinners” to legislators. Proponents also began offering up homemade treats. Donn Dughi/State Archives of Florida.

By the mid-1970s, a vocal faction of anti-feminist activists led by lawyer and politician, Phyllis Schlafly, had begun organizing the Stop-ERA campaign. Their strategy was to thwart ratification in the states. “[The ERA] is a giant takeaway of the rights women now have,” Schlafly told a Miami Herald reporter in 1974. “It will not give any advantages to women in the employment area, the one area where women are discriminated against,” she concluded. In Florida, former beauty-queen and anti-gay activist Anita Bryant, along with anti-feminist Miami radio host Shirley Spellerberg, spearheaded Schlafly’s cause. In 1979, Spellerberg explained her belief that women were meant to be homemakers to the Boca-Raton News: “Little girls in the formative years should view women as mothers and homemakers, this is their ideal role in the traditional family structure.” Whereas Florida’s feminists found their political support in the state’s increasingly urban voting base, the Stop-ERA campaign wedged itself into the state’s many conservative, rural and elderly pockets.

STOP ERA pamphlet describing the positions of the movement, ca. 1972.

In the 1970s, sizable groups of feminist and anti-feminist activists made regular trips to Tallahassee to lobby the legislature for and against the ERA. Moreover, women from both sides organized rallies, marches, workshops and fundraisers all over the state.

Anti-ERA lobbyists speaking with lawmakers in the Florida Capitol rotunda, 1975

Anti-ERA lobbyists speaking with lawmakers in the Capitol Rotunda, 1975.

When the original ratification deadline came in 1979, 35 state legislatures had approved the amendment, Florida not included. The ERA was still three states shy of the three-fourths majority needed to amend gender equality to the U.S. Constitution.

ERA demonstration between the Florida Capitol and Supreme Court building, 1979.

ERA demonstration between the Florida Capitol and Supreme Court building, 1979.

Anti-ERA activists line the wall of the Florida Senate chamber, 1979.

Anti-ERA activists line the wall of the Florida Senate Chamber, 1979. State Archives of Florida/Dughi.

In 1978 NOW organized a 100,000 person march in Washington D.C. demanding an extension on the ratification deadline. President Jimmy Carter approved a three year extension. In 1982, four of the remaining 15 undecided states, including Florida, declared special legislative sessions to cast their final vote on the ERA. The state capitol saw tremendous turnout as both pro and anti-ERA activists threw their remaining energy into the last battle over the ERA. The media drew heightened awareness to Florida’s position as a “swing state,” suggesting that the Legislature’s decision on the ERA would be a toss-up.

ERA supporters in the capitol rotunda, 1982.

ERA supporters in the capitol rotunda, 1982.

Constituents from all over the state and nation wrote letters to Governor Bob Graham and their representatives about the matter.

Though it was once poised for quick ratification, the ERA met its final snag with the unpredictable mix of personalities in the Senate, failing in a final vote of 22-16.

Political cartoon showing the final results of the Florida Senate vote on the ERA, 1982. Dana Summers, Orlando Sentinel.

Political cartoon showing the final results of the Florida Senate vote on the ERA, 1982. Dana Summers, Orlando Sentinel.

None of the other three legislatures passed it either, and with that, ratification was off the table. Over thirty-five years later, representatives from both the Florida House and Senate have continued to introduce the ERA into committees to no avail. For now, the wildly controversial amendment effectively remains dormant in Florida.

Selected Sources:

Roxcy O’Neal Bolton Papers (M94-1). State Archives of Florida.

Florida Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women (.S 79). State Archives of Florida.

Governor Bob Graham Correspondence Files (.S 850). State Archives of Florida.

***The State Archives of Florida has digitized additional pamphlets and correspondence related to the ratification of the ERA in Florida.

Brock, Laura E. “Religion, Sex, and Politics: The Story of the ERA in Florida.” Florida State University: M.A. Thesis, 2013.

Carver, Joan S. “The Equal Rights Amendment and the Florida Legislature,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 60:4 (April 1982):455-481.

Wilmot Voss, Kimberly. “The Florida Fight for Equality: The Equal Rights Amendment, Senator Lori Wilson and Mediated Catfights in the 1970s,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 88:2(Fall, 2009):173-208.

Quincy Goes Better with a Coke

Today, Americans remain sharply divided on their soda pop preferences, but in the tiny town of Quincy, Florida, the refreshing bite of Coca-Cola reigns supreme. The so-called “Coca-Cola millionaires,” and their many descendants still living in the community of just around 8,000 people, would not have it any other way.  In the early 20th century, banker,  Mark “Pat” Munroe, secured his fate as a local legend when he bought several shares of Coca-Cola stock soon after the soft drink company went public in 1919. He encouraged others to invest in Coke as well. What might have seemed like a gamble then ultimately paid dividends for Quincy’s original 25 Coca-Cola millionaires. In fact, just before World War II, the town of Quincy boasted the highest per-capita income of any municipality in the country, owed in large part to America’s love affair with Coca-Cola.

The original Coca-Cola millionaire, Pat Munroe (right) with local shade tobacco producer and businessman, E.B. Shelfer, Sr. outside of the Quincy State Bank, ca. 1920.

The original Coca-Cola millionaire, Pat Munroe (right) standing next to local shade tobacco producer, businessman,  and fellow cola investor, E.B. Shelfer, Sr. (left)  outside of the Quincy State Bank, ca. 1920.

Named after John Quincy Adams, white settlers established Quincy as the county seat of Gadsden County, Florida in 1828. Located about twenty miles west of Tallahassee, atop some of Florida’s most fertile soil, Quincy’s economic history is rooted in agricultural production. Shade tobacco, used to wrap cigars, grew exceptionally well in the region’s humid climate and would eventually become the county’s most profitable industry. Prior to the Civil War, plantation owners in the area relied on enslaved labor to cultivate large quantities of not only tobacco, but also cotton, sugarcane, and corn. In the uncertain post-war economy, shade tobacco emerged as Quincy’s staple crop and the town soon became known as the “shade-grown leaf-tobacco capital.”

Tobacco growers stand with newly planted crop under slat-shade house in Quincy, ca. 1900

Tobacco growers stand with newly planted crop under slat-shade house in Quincy, ca. 1900

Tobacco farmers tying up shade tobacco crop in Quincy, Florida, ca. 1960.

Tobacco farmers tying up shade tobacco crop in Quincy, Florida, ca. 1960.

Though the shade tobacco crop certainly had potential to yield high returns, natural factors, like fluctuating soil fertility and capricious weather patterns, posed an investment risk. Enter the sweet stability of Coca-Cola, the best-selling saccharine treat whose production calls for little more than sugar and carbonated water. When Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton first introduced Coke in the 1880s, the brand suffered from lackluster advertising and public skepticism–many consumers thought the product held addictive properties. But fresh marketing techniques turned the company around, and by 1909 Coca-Cola owned an estimated 379 bottling plants in the United States, including one in Quincy.

The first load of bottled Coca-cola in Quincy, ca. 1909.

The first load of bottled Coca-Cola product being hauled away for sale in Quincy, ca. 1909.

Atlanta-based company stakeholder W.C. Bradley sought to expand Coke’s operation, convincing his out-of-state colleague and President of the Quincy State Bank Pat Munroe to invest. In the 1920s, Munroe bought numerous shares of Coke stock for about $40 each and soon watched the values balloon.  He strongly encouraged his friends and customers at the bank to do the same. Munroe’s son-in-law and former State Representative Bob Woodward, Jr. often retold the story of how his father went into the bank for a $2,000 farm loan. Munroe insisted on writing Woodward a $4,000 loan, if he promised to invest half in Coke stock. It paid. “Coca-Cola helped my family survive the depression…. It was like gold to the Quincy State Bank.”  Quincy folklore recalls Munroe as a kind of coke evangelist. “Anyone who went in the door of the Quincy State Bank to borrow a quarter had his arm twisted to buy a nickel’s worth of Coca-Cola stock,” rumored one old-time resident. Those who ignored Munroe’s financial advice sorely regretted it later. After one patron refused the bank president’s suggestion to purchase $5,000 worth of the soda stock in the 1920s, his son lamented to a Florida Times Union  reporter fifty years later that the shares would have hovered around $500,000 in value by 1975.  By one estimate, a single share of Coca-Cola stock purchased  in 1920 would be worth $6.4 million today, all dividends reinvested. Pat Munroe died in 1940, but the impact of his original decision to invest in the soft drink company lived on for decades in Quincy.

View of the Quincy State Bank building on the corner of Washington and Tennessee Avenue in Quincy, ca. 1920. Munroe served as president of the bank until his death in 1940.

View of the Quincy State Bank building, nicknamed “the Coke bank” by locals, on the corner of Washington and Tennessee Avenue in Quincy, ca. 1920. Munroe served as president of the bank from 1892 until his death in 1940.

The philanthropy of some of the Coke millionaires helped to soften the harsh economic impact of the Great Depression and later episodes of economic downturn. In the 1970s, Quincy’s tobacco market dried up after Central and South American countries commandeered the market. As a result, the area suffered from high unemployment and low incomes. Although the Coke millionaires could not single-handedly reboot Quincy’s economy or eliminate systemic poverty, some of them have helped spruce up the city’s appearance over the years. Munroe’s daughter, Julia Woodward, along with other Coke millionaire heirs, Florence Brooks and Marcus and Betty Shelfer, donated a substantial portion of the $150,000 used to restore the Leaf Theater on Washington Street in 1983. Their largess also assisted in the renovations of the Centenary Methodist Church, the addition of the Robert F. Munroe school library, and the partial funding of the Girl Scout Camp on Lake Talquin. Though these cosmetic changes have certainly beautified Quincy, the town lost its claim as the richest small town in America long ago, after all of the original Coke investors passed on and many of their relatives moved away. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent calculations, Gadsden County’s level of per-capita income now ranks 59th out of Florida’s 67 counties. Moreover, Quincy’s poverty rate hovered around 27 percent in 2015, significantly higher than the state average of 15 percent. Despite these sobering economic trends, it is as safe a bet as any that Coca-Cola is still Quincy’s drink of choice.

Black Friday: The Life and Death of Florida’s Shopping Malls

For many Floridians, the day following Thanksgiving is something of an unofficial holiday–one marked by the custom of camping out in front of stores in search of the greatest deals on gifts for the holiday season. This Black Friday, we take a look at the history of a familiar, increasingly antiquated structure: the Florida shopping mall.

Interior view showing the atrium and escalators at Mayfair in the Grove Mall in Miami, ca. 1980.

Shopping centers are nothing new. The original “malls” were open-air markets, dating back to the Roman forum or the Greek agora. However, the American shopping mall as we know it today is a product of the rise of consumerism after WWII. The modern shopping mall was originally invented by Victor Gruen, an architect and refugee of Nazi-occupied Austria who came to the United States in 1938. Gruen conceived of the mall as a community center, in which people could socialize, walk, dine and shop just as they did in his home city of Vienna. Gruen is best-known for designing the Southdale Mall in Minnesota. Built in 1956, Southdale was the first fully air-conditioned, enclosed, two-story mall. The space centered around a square, complete with sculptures, greenery and water features. The unprecedented comfort and convenience at Southdale set the stage for the ensuing American shopping mall phenomenon.

Interior of the Winter Park Mall with a fountain, Winter Park, Florida, ca. 1959.

Gruen’s vision of building commercial utopias influenced other entrepreneurs of the era, such as the founder of Publix Supermarkets, Florida businessman George Jenkins. In 1947, Jenkins visited his first shopping center in St. Louis, and ultimately decided to pattern his stores based on this model. Jenkins opened his first shopping center in 1956 in Largo, and soon opened more locations in Sarasota and Winter Haven. The Southgate Center in Lakeland, built in 1957, boasted 16 stores, including a Woolworths, a hardware store, and a shoe store, all anchored by a Publix featuring Jenkins’ latest innovation, the in-store “Danish Bakery.” Equipped with ample parking, a plethora of stores and air conditioning, these shopping centers were the true predecessors to shopping malls in Florida.

Shopping center in St. Petersburg, 1958.

Shopping center in St. Petersburg, 1958.

The proliferation of shopping malls mirrored the rise of the automobile and the post-war white flight from urban centers to suburban neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Congress enacted the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, granting tax deductions to developers equal to one fortieth of the value of their development projects. This would account for the eventual depreciation of the value of the structure (that the developer, hypothetically, would have to re-build in an estimated forty years). These tax reforms were intended to stimulate manufacturing, but they also provided incentive for developers to build the largest, most opulent structures possible in order to deduct proportionally grand sums from their annual incomes. These tax reforms, coupled with the growing buying power of the white middle class, created a veritable gold rush for the construction of shopping malls.

Interior of the Colonial Plaza Mall, Orlando, Florida, 1966.

Malls hit the scene in Florida in the 1960s. The Winter Park Mall arrived in 1959, and featured a garden of tropical plants with a 25-foot champagne glass fountain at its center. Coral Ridge Plaza in Ft. Lauderdale and Colonial Plaza Mall in Orlando were soon to follow, both built in 1962. The Northwood Mall in Tallahassee, erected in September 1969, was the first mall built in the state capital, and offered a variety of clothing retailers, a luxury jeweler, a toy store, several restaurants, and a Publix.

Florida State Senator Mallory E. Horne, center left, with George Jenkins at opening ceremony of Publix at the Northwood Mall - Tallahassee, Florida

Florida State Senator Mallory E. Horne, center left, with George Jenkins at the opening ceremony of Publix at the Northwood Mall, Tallahassee, Florida, 1969.

Florida’s malls matched their national counterparts in size and grandeur, featuring indoor fountains, impressive sculptures, artificial gardens, gleaming chandeliers, and expansive parking lots.

Sculpture at storefront of Mendelson's at the Northwood Mall on opening day - Tallahassee, Florida

Sculpture in front of Mendelson’s at the Northwood Mall on opening day, Tallahassee, Florida, 1969.

Fountain at the Dadeland Mall in Miami.

Fountain at the Dadeland Mall in Miami, ca. 1970.

As malls became a fixture of American consumer culture, they gained a reputation as a place for young people to socialize. With limited spending power, and so often without an alternative place to congregate, teenagers flocked to the malls. There they could take a stroll, chat with friends, and engage in “people-watching”–unknowingly harkening back to Gruen’s original vision of the mall as a type of community center.


Youngsters “people-watching” at Governor’s Square Mall, Tallahassee, Florida, 1984.

Catering to this new wave of teenage patronage, youth-oriented businesses began to arise within the mallscape–including community college outreach centers, as well as national army recruitment centers.

Biscayne College outreach information center in the Palm Springs Mile mall - Hialeah, Florida

Biscayne College outreach information center in the Palm Springs Mile Mall, Hialeah, Florida, 1980.

People at the Miami Dade Community College outreach information center in the Palm Springs Mile mall, Hialeah, Florida.

People at the Miami Dade Community College outreach information center in the Palm Springs Mile Mall, Hialeah, Florida, 1980.

However, the place of the mall in Florida’s consumer society began to diminish by the 1990s. With the arrival of big box stores such as Walmart and Best Buy, as well as the rise of online shopping, malls saw a steep decrease in revenue, forcing many to close their doors forever. The Northwood Mall was later repurposed into an office building, while the Tallahassee, Governors Square, Aventura and many other malls across Florida have weathered the changing face of retail, remaining as palatial testaments to the post-war economic boom in America.

View of man posing with mannequins at Colony store in the Northwood Mall on opening day - Tallahassee, Florida

View of man posing with mannequins at Colony store in the Northwood Mall on opening day, Tallahassee, Florida, 1969.

Do you have a favorite mall in Florida? Were you a teenage “mall rat”? Share your memories with us in the comments section.