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

Thelma Boltin, 1904-1992

"Florida is as rich in its cultural heritages as it is in sun, beaches and play."

— Thelma Boltin [1]

Thelma Boltin spent decades sharing folk songs and stories at the annual Florida Folk Festival in White Springs. In 1955, she became the special events director at the Stephen Foster Memorial park. Her responsibilities as director included organizing and running both the folk festival and the annual “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair” singing contest and ball.

The Florida Folk Festival began in 1953, and brought together performers sharing folk stories, demonstrating dances and teaching traditional crafts. “Cousin” Thelma, as she was affectionately known, was a performer at the first festival, telling ghost stories, the legend of Florida moss and the tale of the Devil’s Millhopper sinkhole near Gainesville. Once she became director of the festival, she spent the next 20 years expanding it by inviting performers from across the country to share their knowledge of folk traditions.

There were water witching demonstrations, gospel singers, Czechoslovakian dancers, dulcimer players and much more. No festival was complete without Boltin, who continued to captivate audiences with her Florida folk tales and songs, eventually adding the role of emcee to her festival responsibilities.

In addition to the festival, her expertise in folk culture led to her appointments as chairman of folk music for both the Florida Federation of Music Clubs and the National Federation of Music Clubs.

Florida Folk Festival Poem by Thelma Boltin, ca. 1958

A poem written by Thelma Boltin describing the sixth annual Florida Folk Festival.

Letter from Thelma Boltin to Armand Ball, 1956

A letter from Thelma Boltin to Armand Ball replying to his request that she create a script for a performance at the American Camping Association convention, November 19, 1956.

A 1962 interview with Thelma Boltin on WWJB in Brooksville.

More from Florida Memory
At the Archives
  • Audio recordings of Stephen Foster Memorial Events, ca. 1950-1970, Series S2043, State Archives of Florida.
  • Florida Folk Festival Planning and Publicity Records, 1954-1993, 1998, 2002, Series S1612, State Archives of Florida.
  • Florida Folklife Program Photographs and Slides of Folk Arts, Artisans, and Performers, 1910-2005, Series S1577, State Archives of Florida.
  • Thelma Ann Boltin Folklife Papers, 1955-1967, Series S1580, State Archives of Florida.
  • Thelma Ann Boltin Papers, ca. 1894-1978, Collection M85-5, State Archives of Florida.
  • Video and Audio Recordings of Florida Folklife Events, Programs, and Television Broadcasts, 1948-1995, Series S1615, State Archives of Florida.
  1. ^“The Florida Folk Festival at Stephen Foster Memorial on the Suwannee River, revives traditions--unwritten biographies of the people of Florida,” The Palm Beach Post, April 28, 1957.