Marian Newhall Horwitz O’Brien

By Peggy Macdonald

Politician, developer of Moore Haven (Moore Haven)

Years: 1882–1932

Remembered for: Florida’s first female mayor

Why you should know her:

Marian Newhall Horwitz, recently widowed with a young son, moved from Philadelphia to the remote town of Moore Haven on the southwest shore of Lake Okeechobee to grow crops in the rich muck of the Everglades before the Great War. At the time, Moore Haven had no railroad and limited infrastructure. The May 19, 1919 issue of the Lakeland Evening Telegram described Moore Haven as “a little excrescence upon the face of the wilderness.”

Horwitz served as president of the DeSoto Stock Farm Company, Moore Haven Lumber Company and Moore Haven Supply Company. She married her business partner, John J. O’Brien and chartered the Moore Haven Railway Company to establish railroad service.

In 1917, Moore Haven was incorporated and held its first election. Marian Newhall Horwitz O’Brien was elected mayor, making her Florida’s first female mayor and the first known female mayor in the South. Governor Sidney Johnston Catts gave Marian O’Brien the military rank and title of major during World War I for her work to develop Moore Haven.

Major-Mayor O’Brien reflected upon her experience in public office in May 1919, more than a year before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. “I have come to regard suffrage as a factor in the democratic evolution going on in America,” she wrote. “I am in public office and I find that I can do all that I really have to do, and this has awakened a different conception of the possibilities of my sex.”

In 1932, Marian Newhall Horwitz O’Brien died from pneumonia at age 51.

Featured image: Marian Newhall Horwitz O’Brien