FLORIDA’S TWENTIETH CENTURY
WOMEN
ENVIRONMENTALISTS

TWENTIETH CENTURY WOMEN ENVIRONMENTALISTS

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

The League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County Environmental Issues Group (EIG) helps the League meet its mission by informing ourselves about environmentally sensitive natural resources in order to guide and educate its members, the LWV, community leaders, government officials and the public on critical issues. It advocates for appropriate public policy to address these issues. The primary topics currently being addressed are: renewable energy; fracking; water conservation, quality and supply; sea-level rise; and climate change.

“It seems to me that the earth may be borrowed but not bought.
It may be used but not owned. We are tenants, not possessors, lovers and not masters.”

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings from Cross Creek, 1942.

As part of the 100th anniversary celebrations of the League of Women Voters and Women’s Suffrage, as well as the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we are pleased to bring you booklets acknowledging the contributions of women to Florida environmentalism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Some of the women are well known; some lesser known, but all are instrumental in addressing serious environmental issues either statewide or in specific parts of the state. The booklet on Florida’s twenty-first century women environmentalists will be completed later this year.

The number of women involved in environmentalism has increased greatly in current times. Not being included in these booklets does not diminish their importance. We endeavored to include in our selection a mix of regions, topics, accomplishments, and backgrounds.

For some of the women, participation in the League of Women Voters was integral to their activism. Various local LWVs spearheaded studies and environmental efforts, as they continue to do in the present.

This booklet is for your use. There is no charge. We encourage you to read it online or to download it. In particular cases, it may be printed off, but being environmentalists, we hope that is done rarely. Please do not make changes to the booklet. Information on how to give input or get more information is on the last page.

The COVID-19 crisis, equally as critical as the climate change emergency, has had an impact on our effort. Libraries are closed; institutions and agencies are slowed down. But, in the midst of these crises, we are delighted to find things to celebrate and to give us hope.

In solidarity: Nikki Descoteaux and Mary Mertz
Co-chairs of LWVPBC EIG

© 2020 League of Women Voters – Palm Beach County

20TH CENTURY WOMEN ENVIRONMENTALISTS IN FLORIDA

THE 3 MARJORIES: MATRIARCHS OF FLORIDA ENVIRONMENTALISM

MARJORIE HARRIS CARR
MARJORIE HARRIS CARR
PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA
BONITA SPRINGS
MICANOPY
1915-1997

WATERWAY PROTECTION

Carr was a biologist and zoologist who worked to stop the cross-Florida barge canal. She led the “Save the Ocklawaha” movement as well as Florida Defenders of the Environment. In 1990 the canal project was deauthorized and the land given to the state. Now, on some of that land, a greenway named after her has been created. Afterwards, she worked to restore the Ocklawaha River.

MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS
MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS
PHOTO: STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA
MIAMI
1890-1998

EVERGLADES & STATE NATURAL AREAS PROTECTION

In 1947, Douglas published The Everglades: River of Grass, therein coining the name now frequently used, River of Grass. Through her persistent effort, 1.5 million acres in the area became the Everglades National Park. She is the grande dame of Florida conservation, establishing links among hydrology, geology and biology. She founded Friends of the Everglades.

MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS
MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS
PHOTO: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
CROSS CREEK (SE OF GAINESVILLE)
1896-1953

WILDLIFE AND NATURE PROPONENT

Rawlings was a major American writer who incorporated descriptions of rural North Florida in her writing and awakened appreciation of flora and fauna. Many of her articles, for example, “Trees for Tomorrow,” acknowledged the battle between development interests and the natural landscape.

IN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THE ACTIVISM OF THESE THREE WOMEN, THE TERM “A MARJORIE” HAS COME TO DENOTE A FORWARD-THINKING PERSON.

RITA ALEXANDER AND SHIRLEY REYNOLDS

NO PHOTO AVAILABLE
NEW SMYRNA BEACH & VOLUSIA COUNTY

WILDLIFE (TURTLE) PROTECTION

Alexander and Reynolds used the Endangered Species Act to protect endangered turtles nesting on Volusia County beaches, filing lawsuits in the 1990’s against the county: no driving on the beaches, no lights at night. This program was replicated on many Florida beaches.

DIANE DUNMIRE BARILE
DIANE DUNMIRE BARILE
PHOTO: DIANE DUNMIRE BARILE
PALM BAY,
INDIAN RIVER

WATER ECOLOGY

With her scientific and academic background, Barile forced the General Development Corporation to modify building plans for the Indian River Lagoon area. In 1989, she worked to have the lagoon designated an estuary of national significance. She also helped protect the Pelican Island Refuge. She is the retired Director of the Marine Resources Council.

ANN BELCHER

NO PHOTO AVAILABLE
JACKSONVILLE

AIR POLLUTION

As a resident of a predominantly African-American area of the city, Belcher fought for the Talleyrand section of Jacksonville against air pollution created by local pulp mills and other industries. In the 1960’s she helped lead the effort for clean air laws.

MAVYANNE BETSCH
MAVYANNE BETSCH
PHOTO: THE HISTORY MAKERS
AMELIA ISLAND
b. 1935

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND BEACH PRESERVATION; GROWTH MANAGEMENT

The “Beach Lady” used her money and efforts to protect and preserve American Beach, a famous African-American resort on the island. Through her activism, an important 8.5 acre beach sand dune was added to the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, established in 1988. She worked to teach people about the importance of nature. There have been two documentaries made about her: Beach Lady and American Beach.

CLARA DOMMERICH
CLARA DOMMERICH
PHOTO: MAITLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY
MAITLAND
1857-1900

WILDLIFE & BIRD PROTECTION

In 1900 Dommerich co-founded the Florida Audubon Society with the goal of eliminating the killing of birds for feathers and parts. This effort led to the establishment of bird protection laws, preserves and educational programs for schools and the general public.

MARY GRIZZLE
MARY GRIZZLE
PHOTO: FLORIDA WOMEN’S HALL OF FAME
BELLEAIR SHORE, PINELLAS
1921-2006

WATER POLLUTION

Grizzle served as a Florida representative beginning in 1963 and then Florida senator in 1978. In 1972 she sponsored a bill for tougher sewage standards for Tampa Bay and seven nearby counties. Later, she led efforts on even stronger water laws. She was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.

PATRICIA HARDEN
PATRICIA HARDEN
PHOTO: SJRWMD
ORLANDO

WATER & WATERSHED PROTECTION; GROWTH MANAGEMENT

A biologist, Harden gathered data on water quality, applying it to her work as chair of the SJRWMD (St. Johns River Water Management District) from 1991-99, and as president of the Friends of Wekiva River. She was a leader in multiple environmental organizations including the local Audubon, The Nature Conservancy and Florida Defenders of the Environment.

MAY MANN JENNINGS

PHOTO: STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE  1872-1963

FOREST & WILDLIFE PROTECTION; WILDERNESS PRESERVATION

Jennings was known as the mother of Florida forestry because she promoted the legislative act establishing the Florida Board of Forestry. In 1916 Royal Palm State Park was created in great part through her efforts as Chair of the Preservation Committee of the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs. In 1921 she founded the LWVFL.

FRANCES “MA” LATHAM
FRANCES “MA” LATHAM
PHOTO: MELBOURNE AND INDIALANTIC
INDIAN RIVER
1836-1922

BIRD & TURTLE PROTECTION

At the end of the nineteenth century, Latham was instrumental in getting President Theodore Roosevelt to declare Pelican Island in the Indian River Lagoon, a national wildlife reserve.  It is the country’s first national wildlife refuge.

DORIS “DOC” LEEPER
DORIS “DOC” LEEPER
PHOTO: FLORIDA DIVISION OF CULTURAL AFFAIRS
ELDORA, VOLUSIA
1929-2000

BEACH PRESERVATION

Leeper helped found the Canaveral National Seashore (1975) and continued working on preservation in the area of Spruce Creek where the preserve, a part of Volusia County conservation lands, is named in her memory.

HARRIET LIGHTFOOT

NO PHOTO AVAILABLE
LAKELAND
1862-1945

AIR POLLUTION; AIR QUALITY

In the 1960s Lightfoot fought the phosphate industry that caused serious air pollution in Polk County and elsewhere in Florida. She sought federal intervention, writing many newspaper articles and letters on the topic. Later she was appointed to the Florida Board of Health and the State Air Pollution Control.

MINNIE MOORE-WILSON
MINNIE MOORE-WILSON
PHOTO: EVERGLADES DIGITAL LIBRARY
KISSIMMEE AREA
1859-1937

EVERGLADES PRESERVATION & SEMINOLE PROTECTION

Wilson’s work to obtain land in the Everglades for the Seminoles culminated in the Florida Act of 1913, setting aside 100,000 acres in the southern Everglades for the Seminoles. Active in the Florida Audubon Society, she helped get Kissimmee designated as one of the first town bird sanctuaries.

RUTH BRYAN OWEN
RUTH BRYAN OWEN
PHOTO: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
MIAMI
1885-1954

EVERGLADES PROTECTION & FLOOD CONTROL

As a U.S. representative elected in 1928, Owen sponsored the Everglades National Park bill. Both May Mann Jennings and she were on the dais at the park’s national dedication in 1947. She also worked to control flooding on the Okeechobee River.

FRANCES SHARP PIGNONE
FRANCES SHARP PIGNONE
PHOTO: ST. JOHNS FLORIDA MAGAZINE
ORLANDO
1931-2019

WATER PROTECTION

Pignone was one of the few women on the SJRWMD Board. Over the years she served on various Orlando area boards, many water-related. In a relentless effort, she pushed the Water Management District to buy land in the Upper St. Johns River area, in order to protect it.

GLORIA CANN RAINS

NO PHOTO AVAILABLE
PALMETTO
1928-2000

WATER POLLUTION

For three decades beginning with its 1968 founding, Rains led Manasota-88, a nonprofit organization created to protect the public’s health and the environment. The main focal points of her efforts were poisonous emissions of radon and the like, phosphate pollution, and the protection of Sarasota-area bays and wetlands. An upper level college environmental scholarship was established in her memory.

POLLY REDFORD

NO PHOTO AVAILABLE
MIAMI;
COCONUT GROVE
d. 1972

AIR POLLUTION; TIDELANDS PROTECTION

As a respected writer, Redford undertook a letter campaign to create the Biscayne National Monument Protected Area (1968). She also helped stop Seadade Oil from developing a refinery and port expansion in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties in the 1960’s and 70’s.

DOROTHY EATON SAMPLE

NO PHOTO AVAILABLE
ST. PETERSBURG
1911-2002

WATER PROTECTION

Sample fought against the dredging and filling of Florida’s bays. She also worked against oil drilling. As a Florida representative from 1966-1978, she furthered environmental causes.

KATHERINE BELL TIPPETTS
“BIRD WOMAN”
KATHERINE BELL TIPPETTS “BIRD WOMAN”
PHOTO: STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA
ST. PETERSBURG
1865-1950

BIRD PROTECTION

Tippetts organized the St. Petersburg Audubon Society. In the Largo area, she helped save the pelicans. In 1920, she became the first female president of the Florida Audubon Society and then the first woman to run for the state legislature. Along with establishing new bird sanctuaries, she worked to make the mockingbird Florida’s state bird.

MURIEL WRIGHT WAGNER

NO PHOTO AVAILABLE
PENSACOLA;
ESCAMBIA COUNTY

COASTAL PROTECTION; GROWTH MANAGEMENT

Wagner is the past president of the LWVPBA (Pensacola Bay Area). In 1983, as the first female Escambia County Commissioner, she developed growth comprehensive plans. Often she was the lone environmental voice on the commission. She also worked to stop a barrier island project.

EARTHA M.M. WHITE
EARTHA M.M. WHITE
PHOTO: UNF THOMAS CARPENTER LIBRARY
JACKSONVILLE
1876-1974

TOXIC POLLUTION; ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

White helped develop playgrounds in African-American neighborhoods of Jacksonville. Over many years, she worked to fight air pollution caused by the pulp mill. In 2000 the Florida Department of State designated White a Great Floridian.

MARGARET WILLIAMS
MARGARET WILLIAMS
PHOTO: PENSACOLA NEWS JOURNAL
PENSACOLA
1923-2011

TOXIC CHEMICAL POLLUTION

As president of CATE, Citizens Against Toxic Exposure, Williams worked against toxic pollution in the Pensacola area. She helped modify the EPA Superfund toxic waste site cleanup because it was creating more toxic releases. She pressed the government to relocate affected residents. In 1996 the EPA agreed to CATE’s plan, the first relocation of an African-American community as part of the Superfund program.

ENVIRONMENTALISTS BY TOPIC

ANIMAL & BIRD PROTECTION:  RITA ALEXANDER/SHIRLEY REYNOLDS, CLARA DOMMERICH, FRANCES LATHAM, MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS, KATHERINE BELL TIPPETTS.

AIR QUALITY/POLLUTION: ANN BELCHER, HARRIET LIGHTFOOT, GLORIA CANN RAINS, POLLY REDFORD, EARTHA M.M. WHITE.

BEACH/COASTAL PROTECTION: MAVYANNE BETSCH, DORIS LEEPER, MURIEL WRIGHT WAGNER.

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE: ANN BELCHER, MAVYANNE BETSCH, EARTHA M.M. WHITE, MINNIE MOORE-WILSON.

EVERGLADES: MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS, RUTH BRYAN OWEN, MAY MANN JENNINGS, MINNIE MOORE-WILSON.

FOREST & WILDERNESS PRESERVATION:  MAY MANN JENNINGS, MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS.

GROWTH MANAGEMENT:  MAVYANNE BETSCH, PATRICIA HARDEN, FRANCES SHARP PIGNONE, MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS, MURIEL WRIGHT WAGNER.

NATURE, BIRD & WILDLIFE PRESERVES: DIANE DUNMIRE BARILE, CLARA DOMMERICH, FRANCES LATHAM, MINNIE MOORE-WILSON, POLLY REDFORD, KATHERINE BELL TIPPETTS.

TOXIC POLLUTION:  GLORIA CANN RAINS, EARTHA M.M. WHITE, MARGARET WILLIAMS.

WATER ISSUES:  DIANE DUNMIRE BARILE, MARJORIE HARRIS CARR, MARY GRIZZLE, PATRICIA HARDEN, RUTH BRYAN OWEN, FRANCES SHARP PIGNONE, GLORIA CANN RAINS, POLLY REDFORD, DOROTHY EATON SAMPLE.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Our original inspiration came from the efforts by the League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County to create meaningful events around the Centennial year for the League. We thank them for stimulating us to think about how we could combine the important 50th anniversary of Earth Day with the League’s Centennial. Without their support, especially that of President Ken Thomas and the Board, this booklet would not have become a reality.

At her very first meeting, a newcomer to our LWVPBC Environmental Issues Group expressed interest in the project. We thank Cheryl Jackson for her enthusiasm and her input.

Our EIG has always valued collaboration going beyond our committee and even our local League. Stephanie Pearson, Chair of LWV Broward County’s Environmental Issues Committee, has been instrumental in reviewing the materials at all stages of the draft and in making valuable suggestions.

If you find the information easy to read, it is due to the skill and huge effort of Connie Christians and our League’s Communications Director, Ken Horkavy. Without them, we would have produced an illegible document.

Credit for the Florida map on the cover goes to SunCatcherStudio.

We appreciate all the encouragement we have received from myriad colleagues and friends.

A list of the materials we used in preparing this booklet is available by emailing to: nikkidescoteaux@gmail.com . That is also where you may leave input. We would love to know how you have used this booklet.