On Thursday, October 7th, the Historic Hernando Preservation Society held another of its “Florida Talks” programs. A grant from the Florida Humanities with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities provides the money for these programs.
The subject of last week’s talk was Florida’s Female Pioneers. In an informative and entertaining presentation, Dr. Peggy MacDonald, a History professor and an author, discussed the lives of several women who shaped Florida in various ways. Their lives encompassed the 16th through 21st centuries and represented excellence in such fields as literature, environmental activism, education and alligator wrestling (alligator wrestling, you say??). Stay tuned for more on that.
One of the more interesting of these women was a Native American named Ulele who conceivably inspired Captain John Smith’s tale of Pocahontas. In the early 1600’s, many years before Pocahontas saved Smith’s life, Ulele saved the life of a Spanish conquistador by the name of Juan Ortiz.
Two of the women excelled in the field of medicine. Dr. Esther Hill Hawks received her medical degree in 1857 and became one of the first female physicians in the United States. When she and her husband, John, moved to Florida after the Civil War she became the first female doctor in the State of Florida. They brought with them soldiers and freed slaves and established a large colony of freed slaves in an area just south of what is now Daytona Beach. Dr. John Hawks named the settlement Port Orange. Dr. Sarah Lucretia Robb became the first female physician in Alachua County. She got her medical training in Germany when schools in the United States barred her from entering because of her gender. Sarah was a “horse and buggy” doctor, traveling around the area making house calls and delivering babies. She also set up a clinic with overnight beds in her office.
Marjorie Harris Carr earned a Master of Science degree from the University of Florida in 1942. She established and led several conservation efforts in the state, including co-founding the Alachua Audubon Society in 1960 and co-founding Florida Defenders of the Environment in 1969. Her most well-known cause was preserving the Ocklawaha River Valley and helping to stop construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. It became a conservation and recreation area and was named in her honor. In 1996, a year before her death at the age of 92, Carr was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.
Betty Mae Tiger, born in 1923 on a Seminole reservation, accomplished a lot in her eighty-seven years. She was the first Florida Seminole to learn to read and write English and the first to graduate from high school and a nursing program. She is also the only female (so far) to become chief of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. In the 1940’s when tourism was beginning to boom in Florida, young Seminole men could make $100 a day in tips wrestling alligators at roadside attractions. Betty Mae decided to become an alligator wrestler. In the 1970’s President Richard Nixon appointed her to the National Council on Indian Affairs. She also received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Florida State University.
Other women who had an impact on Florida and its citizens that Dr. MacDonald talked about are probably better known than these four women. These included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary Mcleod Bethune, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. A lesser-known woman that Dr. MacDonald discussed was May Mann Jennings, wife of Florida governor William Sherman Jennings. She was a powerful crusader for women’s rights. And then there was Carolyn Beatrice Parker, the first African-American woman in the United States to earn a degree in Physics. Parker was one of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb.
Each of these women, in her own way, broke barriers and went against the norm. They are role models for men, as well as women.
The Historic Hernando Preservation Society hosts many events throughout the year, erects historic markers, and explores the archeology and architecture of the area. Annual dues to become a member and support their projects are nominal; however, their events are free and open to the public. For more information log onto www.hernandopast.org.