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

Ruth Bryan Owen, 1885-1954

"There is really no reason for a prejudice against women in politics, nor do I think it is particularly widespread. A congress composed of men and women would be the ideal arrangement, for on certain issues, the viewpoint of a woman is important."

— Ruth Bryan Owen [1]

Ruth Bryan Owen was known throughout Florida for her public speaking abilities, a skill which she likely learned from her outspoken parents, politician William Jennings Bryan and suffragist Mary Baird Bryan. On the lecture circuit in the early 1920s, Owen told stories about her experiences as an Army nurse during World War I and became such a respected orator that she was hired by the University of Miami to teach public speaking.

In 1928, Owen used this talent while running for Congress by giving more than 500 speeches in four months. She won the seat and became the first Florida woman to serve in Congress. During her four years in office, Owen focused on supporting the health and welfare of children and families, and environmental issues, including the creation of Everglades National Park. In 1930, she established the “Patriotic Pilgrimage,” an annual program in which 36 students from her district traveled to Washington, D.C. to learn about American history and government. The students met with politicians, including the president, and visited historical sites. After losing her re-election bid in 1932, she was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the United States’ ambassador to Denmark, making her the nation’s first woman ambassador.

Letter from Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen to Governor Doyle Carlton, 1930

A letter from Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen to Florida Governor Doyle Carlton describing the successful first Patriotic Pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. in 1930.

Poster Announcing Ruth Bryan Owen's Third Patriotic Pilgrimage, 1932

The poster announcing Ruth Bryan Owen's 1932 Patriotic Pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. The poster includes statements of praise from President Herbert Hoover and Florida Governor Doyle Carlton.

Letter from Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen to Governor David Sholtz, 1933

A letter from Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen to Florida Governor David Sholtz updating the governor about the bill in Congress authorizing the creation of Everglades National Park, February 16, 1933.

Letter from May Mann Jennings to Governor Millard Caldwell, 1945

Ruth Bryan Owen and Florida students outside the Pan-American Union building in Washington, D.C. during the 1931 Patriotic Pilgrimage.

More from Florida Memory
At the Archives
  • James Rider Roy Correspondence with Ruth Bryan Owen, 1930-1934, Collection N2020-3, State Archives of Florida.
  • Governor Carlton Correspondence, 1929-1933, Series S204, Box 66, State Archives of Florida.
  • Governor Shultz Correspondence, 1933-1937, Series S278, Box 40, State Archives of Florida.
  • Ruth Bryan Owen Papers, 1901-2008, Collection N2004-1, State Archives of Florida.
  1. ^“Ruth Bryan Owen Has Many Orlando Friends,” Orlando Evening Star, February 12, 1928.

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