The Florida Everglades
Teacher's Guide for the Florida Everglades

The Everglades are an extensive subtropical marshland extending southward from Lake Okeechobee to the southern tip of the Florida peninsula.

Background Information

The alligator is the animal most commonly associated with the Everglades, but a variety of other animals live there, including deer, raccoons, bobcats and Florida panthers, which are endangered. The Everglades are also the home of thousands of birds, both native and migratory.

The first documented peoples in the Everglades were the Calusa. They were followed by the Florida Seminoles, who settled into South Florida during the Second and Third Seminole Wars. While most of the Seminoles were relocated to the West by the federal government in the mid-1800s, many stayed behind to make their home in the Everglades. Yeomen farmers, frequently referred to as "crackers," settled in and near the Everglades in the late 1800s, often taking advantage of the abundant grasses to raise cattle.

The question of whether and how to use the Everglades has been a hot topic in Florida for over a century. Prior to the late 1800s, the Everglades were considered a wasteland because of the mosquitoes, the lack of timber and the swampy flooded landscape. As technology and transportation improved, however, business and political leaders began considering the potential benefits of draining and developing this marshy terrain for agriculture and settlement. Government and private sector entities cooperated to build canals, dikes and roads to open up the land for settlement.

Concerns about the environmental impact of this activity date back to the beginning of the 20th century. Conservationists warned that developing the Everglades would disrupt South Florida ecosystems and destroy invaluable natural forest resources. Activists like May Mann Jennings and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas led efforts to reserve parts of the Everglades from development and enact sensible conservation policies. Over time, state and federal government authorities became more active protectors of the Everglades and their natural resources.

About the Documents

These documents reflect changing attitudes over time about the importance of the Everglades as a natural resource. In the relevant portion of his message to the Florida Legislature, Governor William Jennings emphasizes the Everglades’ economic value to Floridians. When Jennings wrote this message in 1903, environmental concerns were secondary to the desire to use Florida’s natural resources to support a growing local economy. Everglades developers believed draining the region would uncover thousands of acres of rich farmland, which could then be made to produce crops at a considerable profit. Local farmers’ prosperity would in turn energize the overall Florida economy.

May Mann Jennings’ letter to the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs demonstrates that even as early as the 1920s, many Floridians were eager to preserve at least some part of the Everglades in their natural state. Furthermore, her letter helps illustrate how women contributed to this effort by establishing park and preserve facilities, raising money and collaborating with politicians.

Governor Reubin Askew’s 1971 address to the Governor's Conference on Water Management in South Florida demonstrates how much the state government’s position on the Everglades had changed since the days of William Jennings. Askew draws clear connections between the development of the Everglades and environmental challenges like water pollution and water shortages.

These documents are excellent for starting a discussion about the impact of humans on the environment and how that has affected Florida’s history. The Jennings and Askew speeches in particular illustrate how policymakers have at various times had differing views on what constitutes responsible use of natural resources. The question of whether Governor Jennings’ views on the Everglades were irresponsible (given the time period and context) may make for a useful classroom debate.

 

Some Useful Questions to Ask

  • How does Governor Askew’s position in his 1971 speech differ from Governor Jennings’ position in his 1903 speech? Why might these differences exist?
  • Given the time period in which he lived, were Governor Jennings’ views on the Everglades irresponsible? Why or why not?
  • Based on May Mann Jennings’ letter, how were Floridian women contributing to the conservation of the Everglades in 1930? What broader implications might these activities have had for Floridian women?

Next Generation Sunshine State Standards

  • SS.4.A.1.1: Analyze primary and secondary resources to identify significant individuals and events throughout Florida history.
  • SS.8.A.1.7: View historic events through the eyes of those who were there as shown in their art, writings, music, and artifacts.
  • SS.912.A.6.15: Examine key events and peoples in Florida history as they relate to United States history.
    Examples are Mosquito Fleet, "Double V Campaign," construction of military bases and WWII training centers, 1959 Cuban coup and its impact on Florida, development of the space program and NASA.
  • SS.912.A.7.17: Examine key events and key people in Florida history as they relate to United States history.
    Examples are selection of Central Florida as a location for Disney, growth of the citrus and cigar industries, construction of Interstates, Harry T. Moore, Pork Chop Gang, Claude Pepper, changes in the space program, use of DEET, Hurricane Andrew, the Election of 2000, migration and immigration, Sunbelt state.

Florida Standards

  • LAFS.4.RI.1.1: Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • LAFS.4.RI.1.2: Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.
  • LAFS.4.RI.1.3: Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.
  • LAFS.4.RI.1.1: Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • LAFS.68.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • LAFS.68.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • LAFS.68.RH.2.6: Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
  • LAFS.68.RH.3.7: Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
  • LAFS.910.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
  • LAFS.910.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
  • LAFS.1112.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • LAFS.1112.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.