Roxcy Bolton was born Roxcy O'Neal in 1926 to a Mississippi pioneer family. A long-time Coral Gables resident, she is known in Florida for gaining access for women to the previously all-male lunchrooms at Burdines and Jordan Marsh department stores; for helping to end the practice of naming hurricanes only for women; and for opening the influential Tiger Bay political club to women. Her many years of pioneering equal rights activism have earned her numerous awards, including her 1984 induction into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame.
Bolton began active involvement in community issues and in Democratic Party organizations in the 1950s. She was profoundly affected by Eleanor Roosevelt's address at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, and was motivated to action by the contrast between what women were obviously capable of accomplishing and the fact that "all the men were making the decisions."Shortly thereafter, Bolton began her women's rights activism when she spoke before a Democratic women's group in Fort Lauderdale to advocate equal pay for equal work.
In 1960, Roxcy O'Neal married Commander David Bolton, a U.S. Navy lawyer. They lived for a time in Japan and in Charleston, South Carolina. Upon David Bolton's retirement from the Navy in 1964, they moved to Coral Gables, where they raised their three children, David B., Bonnie D., and Buddy Bolton.
Roxcy O'Neal Bolton was one of the first Florida women to join the National Organization for Women after its founding in 1966, and she served as national vice president after being elected to the board of directors in 1968. She also founded and was the first president of the Miami-Dade Chapter of NOW in 1968. Bolton took NOW's message to county commissioners, town councils, and university presidents, arguing the case for equal rights for women and actively campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). She personally convinced U.S. Senator Birch Bayh to hold the first hearings on the ERA before Congress in 1970.
After years of personally assisting women in need of clothing, guidance through the legal system, or a sympathetic ear, Bolton founded an organization called Women in Distress in 1972. Now operated by the Salvation Army, Women in Distress offers temporary lodging, legal assistance, counseling, and caring support to battered women, those with substance abuse problems, and other women in personal crisis.
In another pioneering effort, Bolton initiated the Rehabilitation Program for Young Prostitutes in the Miami-Dade County area, offering educational opportunities to incarcerated prostitutes, and attempting to keep young women off the streets and away from drugs.
Bolton worked to end sexist advertising and helped organize efforts leading to maternity leave for flight attendants.
Bolton organized marches against rape and brought public attention to the special needs of rape victims. In 1974, her determination to help victims of rape led to the establishment of the Rape Treatment Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, which was later renamed the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center in 1993. It was the first of its kind in the country to be adjoined to a hospital and served as the prototype for many centers established in the following years. Bolton also worked to prevent crimes against women by holding community meetings in her Coral Gables home in 1974 to organize the nation's first neighborhood crime watch.
Bolton worked to establish Commissions on the Status of Women in state government and in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, fought for increased numbers of women in policy-making positions, pushed for creation of the Women's Institute at Florida Atlantic University, and led a sit-in at the University of Miami protesting the unequal treatment of female students and faculty.
She also led the effort to create yet another first for Florida and the nation; Women's Park was established in Miami-Dade County in 1992 as a tribute to past and present women leaders in South Florida.
Roxcy O'Neal Bolton has never wavered in her struggle for equal rights. She was the driving force behind the designation of August 26 as Women's Equality Day. The 1972 proclamation by President Richard Nixon establishing the day was later presented to Bolton in recognition of her diligent work for equal rights.