May Mann Jennings was Florida's first lady from 1901 to 1905. May Jennings was active in supporting a variety of causes, including women's suffrage, child welfare, prohibition and environmental conservation. She became president of the Florida Federation of Women's Clubs in 1914. One of the Federation's greatest accomplishments under Jennings' leadership was to establish Royal Palm State Park to protect a segment of the Everglades. Florida did not have a system of state parks at this time, but Jennings believed the Legislature might help bring this park into existence if the Federation of Women's Clubs promised to help maintain it. As it turned out, thanks to Jennings' personal lobbying in Tallahassee, the Board of Trustees of Florida's Internal Improvement Fund agreed to grant the property to the Federation of Women's Clubs. Federation members worked to improve the site and prepare it to be absorbed into a national park encompassing much more of the Everglades.
The going was rough, however. As Florida's economy began to tumble in the late 1920s, resources for projects like Royal Palm State Park were increasingly stretched thin. In the following letter, May Mann Jennings addresses the presidents of the various women's clubs across the state, drawing their attention to the dire situation.
June 14, 1930
My dear Clubwomen:
The Bank of Bay Biscayne of Miami, and three affiliated banks failed to open Wednesday morning the 11th. All of the Funds belonging to the Federation, except the principal of the Endowment Fund, invested in Government Bonds, I am thankful to say, were caught in the failure.
Our investment in the Royal Palm State Park is too great to leave unguarded. The whole premises would be looted if we left even for a week.
You will recall we asked for $20,000 and that I succeeded in getting appropriated by the 1927 Legislature for $10,000 for rehabilitation work, following the first great storm and fire, which laid waste about 50 acres of the choice jungle on Paradise Key. About $5,000 of this was used to clear out the dead under brush but the large dead trees were left in the hope that vines would cover them, which did not happen. We had to stop the work of clearing and borrow from this fund, with the State Comptroller's permission, for maintenance, as the regular State appropriation of $2500 per annum could not be paid by the State Treasurer on account of the great financial depression, which caused a general failure to pay taxes. For the past three years we have managed the best we could with only $1250 of the maintenance from State appropriation out of $7500 due last September. In September another $2500 will be due. I have written several appeals to the Governor and the Board of State Institutions and $1250 was the response to the direct request of the Federation Board meeting last November, signed by many of the Federation officials and Chairmen.
I have personally interviewed several state officials and have written several letters to the Board since. One letter went to the Board for last Tuesday's meeting, and Thursday, the 12th, I called Governor Doyle E. Carlton, over long distance and explained the entire situation. The State is in grave financial straights you know, but he promised to confer with others and to do his best for us. Yesterday, Friday, he wired $1,000 of our State appropriation, but this will not last long and feeling that we will not be able to get much from the state, we must begin now to make the financing of the Park secure.
The Park committee directed me to place the whole matter before the Club women of the state months ago, and the November Board meeting authorized me to send you an appeal for assistance. Mrs. William L. Wilson our President, has approved. I have delayed hoping to get the State appropriation but I must turn to you at last. We had less than $1,000 in the bank any way when it closed, and your committee, under the circumstances, would have had to seek your aid sooner or later. The South Florida Garden Club of Miami, with Mrs. Henry M. Remy, President, and Mrs. David Fairchild, Vice President, had just donated $200 to clear the dead trees from the burned area, commencing at the entrance and to the Lodge. Only $30.00 of this has been paid on the contract, with $50.00 due now, but this is also caught in the bank failure and our contract must be met.
Fortunately $800 of tomato land was rented last season, but not much income from sale of palms, or from Lodge has been received, but it has all helped.
Our Park by resolution, drawn by me, and adopted at the Daytona convention, March, 1929 is to be given to the U.S. Government National Park Service, as a nucleus of the Tropic Everglades National Park, when creation is assured. However, this will take several years, and in the meantime we must carry on. Senator D.U. Fletcher's bill authorizing the appointment of a committee of Scientists by the Dept. of the Interior, passed Congress, and that committee headed by Director Horace M. Albright, of the National Park Service, visited Florida and inspected the area in February and the Park Committee entertained them at Luncheon at the Park. They were delighted and I am reliably informed that their report, to be submitted by Secretary of the Interior Wilbur, will be entirely favorable to the creation of the National Park, covering the Cape Sable area.
A bill has been introduced in Congress providing an appropriation sufficient to make a survey of area actually required for the Park. If the bill passes and when the result of the survey is announced, the Governor of Florida will then appoint a commission, authorized under a law passed by the 1929 Florida Legislature, which was sponsored by the Tropic Everglades National Park Association, with Mr. Ernest F. Coe, Chairman, in charge, and in which your chairman assisted. The duty of this commission will be to secure the land by gift, or purchase, for which money will have to be raised. The area will have to be turned over to the Government free of all encumbrance. There is much yet to do, you realize. Conservative estimate from unquestioned authorities, fix the annual income of a National Park to Florida at twenty-five millions per year, with 500,000 visitors to begin with, as it would be the only Tropical Park and the only one that could be visited the year around.
For some years the Clubs have not been asked to make special donations to Royal Palm State Park, although a few of the clubs continue to give small donations. I am appealing to your club members to come to the rescue at once. If you cannot send all you would like to now, send
what you can and give another donation in the fall. If you would take a collection of quarters from your members, you will be surprised at what a help it would be. Perhaps you could give an entertainment of some kind. It will not mean a hardship on any club if all will help. Have a special Park Day. If the smaller clubs could give at least $5.00, and the larger clubs as much more as possible, it would take the Park over a very difficult period. Perhaps you could interest your Garden Clubs to help, or individuals who are particularly interested in conservation.
The local members of your Park committee, travel more than 80 to 125 miles each month to a committee meeting at the Park, and often some of them make special trips to look after things, all at their own expense. Your chairman also has the expense of the long trips. This is a constant work.
Please remember however, that the Florida Federation of Women's Clubs has the promise of being the only women's organization in the United States to furnish a nucleus for a National Park, in the offer of Royal Palm State Park to the U.S. National Park Service. It certainly is a worth while distinction. I am calling your attention to the distinguished women who form your Park committee, and the world wide scientific authorities who are serving and have been for some time, in an advisory capacity, to the committee. The willingness of the scientists to stamp with approval Royal Palm State park, should be evidence sufficient of the value of what the club women are doing in this great conservation undertaking. The Scientists are exceedingly enthusiastic.
All checks or Money Orders should be sent to me as Chairman of Royal Palm State Park. All funds will be deposited here to be drawn out by the Federation Treasurer, on vouchers signed by the President and your Chairman.
Please read this letter to your club at the next meeting, and if you have adjourned for the summer, will you not call a special meeting, or take the matter up with your Board? Remember that we have only come to you in the direst of emergencies and we need your immediate assistance greatly, as you can see by the foregoing.
With every good wish,
[signed] May Mann Jennings, Chairman
Royal Palm State Park, F.F.W.C.