Florida’s Female Pioneers

Presented By Peggy Macdonald

“Florida’s Female Pioneers” examines some of the women who have shaped the Sunshine State. Dr. Esther Hill Hawks, a female doctor during the Civil War, visited Florida during the war and ran the first racially integrated free school in Florida during Reconstruction. She wrote lyrical descriptions of the St. Johns River and documented the aftermath of the Civil War in Florida. One of Florida’s most famous snowbirds, Harriet Beecher Stowe, is credited with kick-starting Florida’s tourism industry with her 1873 book, “Palmetto Leaves.” Another Florida transplant, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, chronicled the Cracker lifestyle and gave it a national audience in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Yearling, and celebrated Cracking cuisine in Cross Creek Cookery. Florida First Lady May Mann Jennings, married to Florida Governor William Sherman Jennings, was a suffragist and conservationist who was known as the “Mother of Florida Forestry” and helped establish Royal Palm State Park, which later became the nucleus of Everglades National Park. Another suffragist, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, devoted much of her 108-year life to the protection of the Everglades, both through her writing and her activist career, which began at the age of 79. The last of Florida’s “Three Marjorie(y)s,” Marjorie Harris Carr, was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Florida State College for Women. However, she was fired from her position as the first female federal wildlife technician at the Welaka National Fish Hatchery because her supervisor was uncomfortable working with a female biologist. She later applied her scientific expertise to her leadership of the campaign to stop construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal, which would have bisected the state and damaged the Floridan Aquifer through saltwater intrusion. Mary McLeod Bethune, whose parents were enslaved before she was born, opened the Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls in 1904. The school later merged with the all-male Cookman Institute and became Bethune-Cookman College. Bethune was also one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights activists, serving as the vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a member of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Black Cabinet. Betty Mae Tiger Jumper spoke no English at age 14, but she became the first Seminole to graduate from high school. After becoming an alligator wrestler to support her family, she went on to become the first female chief of a federally recognized tribe. This talk focuses on these Florida pioneers and other, lesser-known female firsts, including the first female doctor in Alachua County and the female students at the University of Florida.

Required Equipment:

  • PowerPoint capability

Scholar/Presenter Information:

Peggy Macdonald

Peggy Macdonald is a native Floridian and the executive director of the Matheson History Museum in Gainesville. Dr. Macdonald has taught history at Stetson University, Florida Polytechnic University, Indian River State College and the University of Florida. Her recent book, Marjorie Harris Carr: Defender of Florida’s Environment, won Honorable Mention in Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award contest in Women’s Studies. She writes articles on local history for Gainesville Magazine, Our Town Magazine, Senior Times Magazine and Examiner.com. Macdonald is an alumna of the University of Florida (PhD in history, 2010) and Hollins University, a women’s college in Roanoke, Virginia.

Contact: