In Her Own Words: Remarkable Women in 20th-Century Florida

Gwen Cherry, 1923-1979

"I think these are two groups that have been left out of the mainstream for a long time. You know, you can't just stand aside and criticize. I think this is where the answer is going to be. Women and blacks have to get more political power to make meaningful changes."

— Gwen Cherry [1]

Miami native Gwen Cherry spent nearly a decade in Florida’s House of Representatives fighting for African-American and women’s rights. She became the first Black woman elected to the Florida Legislature in 1970, and immediately went to work filing bills to abolish the death penalty and create a statewide childcare program.

Cherry, who was the first Black woman in Miami-Dade County to pass the bar, served as general counsel for the National Organization for Women (NOW), which fought tirelessly to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the United States. Cherry introduced ERA bills in the Legislature and marched in support of the amendment with fellow Florida feminist Roxcy Bolton. The Florida House of Representatives voted on four separate occasions to ratify the amendment, but in each instance the measure failed in the Florida Senate.

Cherry was a vocal advocate for equality for women and minorities. In 1972, she sponsored a bill that banned discrimination based on sex, and she served as chair of the state’s coordinating committee for the International Women’s Year in 1975. She also led the effort to pass a bill in 1978 recognizing Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday as a state holiday, five years before the national holiday was created, and she encouraged Black Floridians to run for political office.
ERA March from Governor's mansion to the capitol - Tallahassee, Florida.

Representative Gwen Cherry and others marching in support of the Equal Rights Amendment in Tallahassee, 1975.

Press Remarks from Gwen Cherry Regarding Florida Women's Conference, 1977

Press conference remarks from Gwen Cherry, chair of the Florida Women's Conference Coordinating Committee, announcing the state's women's conference and inviting Florida women to participate, May 25, 1977.

An interview with Representative Gwen Cherry at the 1977 Florida Women's Conference in Orlando.

More from Florida Memory
At the Archives
  • Black Archives Conference Proceedings, 1974, Series S538, State Archives of Florida.
  • Roxcy O’Neal Bolton Papers, 1936-2019, Collection M94-1, Box 96, Folder 35, State Archives of Florida.
  • WFSU-TV Florida Government Affairs Broadcast Audio and Video Recordings, 1976-2003, Series S2192, Box 78, Folder 7, State Archives of Florida.
  1. ^“A famous first for Dade: frontrunner Gwen Cherry,” Miami News, October 9, 1970..

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