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.

 

Researching State and County Officers

Do you have an ancestor who served in public office at the county or state level? Are you trying to determine who was sheriff or tax collector or county judge at a certain point in your county’s history? Good news! The State Archives can help you get some answers!

One of the primary responsibilities of the secretary of state (or territory prior to 1845) is to keep track of who has been officially appointed or elected to each office, both for the state and its various counties. This information is documented in several kinds of records here at the State Archives, which can come in handy if you’re researching a local history topic or the life of an ancestor who was a public servant.

To explain the kinds of records we have available and how to use them to research a specific person, let’s start with an example. Let’s say you know you have an ancestor named J.W. Applegate who lived from around the 1830s to about 1919, and you’ve always heard he was either a member of the school board or the superintendent of public instruction in Clay County, but you don’t know exactly when.

 

Step 1: Consult the State and County Officer Directories (Series S259 and S1284).

The easiest way to begin is to look for the person in the State and County Officer Directories. These are a series of bound ledgers containing lists of county and state officials. Series S259 covers the Territorial Era and the early years of Florida’s statehood, while Series S1284 runs roughly from 1845 to about 1989, overlapping slightly with Series S259. Each entry lists the officer’s name, date of commission, election or appointment, and remarks explaining how their term of office ended. Usually their term simply expired according to law, but sometimes the person resigned, died, moved away from the state or was removed from office by the governor. After about 1870, the volumes also list the person’s post office address, which can be very handy if you’re tracking down an ancestor who gave the census takers the slip! Here’s an example of what the ledgers look like:

Volume 7 of the State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284).

Volume 7 of the State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284).

Returning to our example, let’s look for J.W. Applegate. The volumes in Series S259 and S1284 are arranged chronologically, so let’s look at volumes from when he was at about the right age for public service, maybe his 30s and 40s. Lo and behold! Here we find him listed in Series S1284, Volume 7, which covers the period from 1871 to 1889. It looks like he actually held more than one office during this period:

Page from Volume 7 of Series S1284 showing commission data from officers of Clay County in the 1870s. J.W. Applegate shows up with two different commissions, one as county treasurer and one as Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Page from Volume 7 of Series S1284 showing commission data from officers of Clay County in the 1870s. J.W. Applegate shows up with two different commissions, one as county treasurer and one as superintendent of public instruction (Click the image to enlarge).

Just from this one record, we can see that J.W. Applegate held two commissions in the 1870s, one as superintendent of public instruction and one as county treasurer. We also can see that he lived in Green Cove Springs at the time. For his commission as superintendent of public instruction, we get the date of his actual commission, as well as the day his written oath of office was filed with the Secretary of State. For his term as county treasurer, we get a little more. Since county treasurers had to be bonded, we can see the date his bond was received by the Secretary of State. In both cases, we get the length of time he was to serve, verification that he had paid his taxes, and some information about how his term ended. Applegate’s term as county treasurer expired according to law, meaning someone was elected to take his place. He resigned, however, from his position as superintendent of public instruction, and in this case we don’t get the date that occurred.

What else can we learn?

 

Step 2: Find the person’s commission.

In many cases, the State Archives has more than just an index entry documenting a person’s public service. We also usually have a copy of the person’s commission, their signed oath of office, and a copy of their bond if it was required by law for them to have one.

Let’s start with the commission. This is simply the governor’s official notice to a state or county officer that they are confirmed in office and can begin exercising their duties. Here’s the one J.W. Applegate received when he became superintendent of public instruction for Clay County in 1874:

J.W. Applegate's commission as Superintendent of Public Schools for Clay County, in Volume 4 of the Secretary of State's Record of Cmmissions (Series S1285), State Archives of Florida.

J.W. Applegate’s commission as superintendent of public instruction for Clay County, in Volume 4 of the Secretary of State’s Record of Commissions (Series S1285), State Archives of Florida.

Commissions for public officers were recorded in different ways over time, so tracking one down can take some digging. Here are the catalog records for the record series where most commissions may be found:

Series S1285: Commissions for State and County Officers, 1845-1900
Series S1286: Commissions for State Appointed Officers, 1898-1964, 1969-78
Series S1287: Commissions for County Appointed Officers, 1901-1951
Series S1288: Commissions for County Elected Officers, 1898-1963, 1969-78, 1989-2004
Series S1289: Commissions for Officers Elected to Ad Interim Positions, 1906-1935
Series S1290: Commissions for Senate-Confirmed Officers, 1913-1963
Series S623: Commissions for Judges, 1935-1942

If you’re looking for a commission that falls outside these categories, contact the State Archives Reference Desk for further assistance.

 

Step 3: Find the person’s oath and bond (if applicable).

All public officials typically had to sign an oath swearing to uphold the state constitution and discharge the duties of their office to the best of their ability in accordance with the law. The signed oaths were filed in the office of the secretary of state, and many are available in the State Archives’ collections. Here, for example, is the one J.W. Applegate signed after he was elected superintendent of public instruction for Clay County in 1874.

Oath of Joseph W. Applegate, Superintendent of Public Instruction for Clay County (1874), in Box 3, folder 2, Oaths and Bonds of State and County Officers (Series S622), State Archives of Florida.

Oath of J.W. Applegate, superintendent of public instruction for Clay County (1874), in Box 3, Folder 2, Oaths and Bonds of State and County Officers (Series S622), State Archives of Florida.

Additionally, in some cases state law required a person to be bonded if he was going to be handling money or financial transactions on behalf of the county. Applegate was not required to be bonded for his position as superintendent of public instruction, but he did need a bond to be county treasurer, and here it is:

Bond of Joseph W. Applegate, County Treasurer - Clay County (1873) in Box 3, folder 2, Oaths and Bonds of State and County Officers (Series S622), State Archives of Florida.

Bond of J.W. Applegate, county treasurer – Clay County (1873) in Box 3, Folder 2, Oaths and Bonds of State and County Officers (Series S622), State Archives of Florida.

 

Most oaths and bonds for county and state officers between 1845 and the mid-20th century are found in Series S622, with a few exceptions. Oaths and bonds for notaries who held office between 1845 and 1897, for example, are in Series S16.

 

Step 4: Check for related documentation about the person’s service.

While the county courthouse is your best bet for finding records relating to the work a person did while serving in a county office, the State Archives sometimes has a few additional helpful documents. In J.W. Applegate’s case, for example, we see from his entry in the State and County Officer Directory that he resigned his post as superintendent of public instruction, although we’re not given a date. Sometimes we can get a few clues as to why a person may have resigned from their position by determining the date of the resignation and checking to see if their letter of resignation to the governor has survived.

There are two main ways to find out when a person resigned from a county or state office. One is to look at the State and County Officer Directory and see if the secretary of state’s office made a note in the “Remarks” column dating the event. In Applegate’s case, we only get the fact he resigned. The second method is to look for the governor’s acceptance of the resignation. Luckily, governors from 1868 to 1975 kept track of all the resignations they accepted in a single set of volumes contained in Series S260. The 10 handwritten volumes in the series are essentially in chronological order and many have indexes.

Those records can tell us when a person resigned, but what about why? For that information, the best source is the officer’s own explanation in a letter of resignation. Resignation letters can be found in one of several places depending on the time period. For mid-to-late 19th century cases like our friend J.W. Applegate, the best place to start is Series S1326which includes letters of resignation written to the governor and filed by the secretary of state, as well as notices from the governor that he had removed an official by executive authority. This series is far from exhaustive, but it contains some interesting insights into 19th century politics and the lives of public servants from that era, which we explored in a recent post titled ‘I Quit!!!’ In the case of Mr. Applegate, no letter of resignation was available to document his decision to quit the role of superintendent of public instruction, but there is a letter from the governor announcing his decision to remove Applegate from his other job as county treasurer:

Letter from Governor George Franklin Drew to Secretary of State William D. Bloxham announcing several removals from office for Clay County (January 11, 1877). Found in Box 1, folder 3 of Resignations and Removals (Series S1326), State Archives of Florida.

Letter from Governor George Franklin Drew to Secretary of State William D. Bloxham announcing several removals from office for Clay County (January 11, 1877). Found in Box 1, folder 3 of Resignations and Removals (Series S1326), State Archives of Florida.

Even though this document doesn’t give us a clear reason for Applegate’s departure from either the office of county treasurer or superintendent of public instruction, we can use a little historical context to make an educated guess. Notice the date of this removal notice from Governor Drew – January 11, 1877. Drew had just been voted into office as the first Democrat to serve as governor since the end of the Civil War. Applegate, as well as everyone else named in the letter, had been appointed by Drew’s Republican predecessors during Reconstruction.  The political divide between the two major parties was acrimonious during this period, and upon taking office Drew took every opportunity he could to remove his political opponents from power. This caused, as you can imagine, a considerable amount of paperwork in the form of removal notices and new commissions, oaths and bonds, which are well documented in the State Archives collections. Considering J.W. Applegate was removed at the same time as the entire Clay County Board of Commissioners right after Drew took office, he was almost certainly part of this purge. Additional research in the papers of Governor Drew or local sources in Clay County would help verify this hypothesis.

Researching in These Records

The records described in this blog are all open for public research here at the State Archives, or you can contact the State Archives Reference Desk to verify an officer’s dates of service or get copies of their commission, oath, or bond if it has survived. When you call or email, make sure you include the person’s full name, the county they served in, the office you think they served in, and as close as possible to the dates they would have served. If you aren’t sure about the dates, have the person’s birth and death dates ready – that will at least narrow down the search. Consult the State Archives’ fee schedule to find out the cost of receiving copies or scans.