For more than 100 years, Marjory Stoneman Douglas spent her life as an activist for the women’s liberation movement and a crusading environmentalist.
Monday, historian and USF alumnus Jack E. Davis spoke to faculty, students and the general public in the Grace Allen Room about Douglas’ contributions to Florida’s environment. She passed away in 1998 at age 108.
Douglas was an editor for The Miami Herald when she was 25 years old, working on the paper’s Society page. She wrote stories on women’s suffrage, rather than the usual cooking recipes and announcements of social events. Soon after, she enlisted in the navy during WWI, and afterward began writing books — the most popular being The Everglades: River of Grass.
Interested in women’s rights as well as the environment, Davis found that Douglas linked the two movements. She noticed that women who wanted to vote also wanted environmental preservation. Davis said Douglas saw “the male mastery of nature…” as parallel to the struggle of women living in a patriarchal society.
“I would argue that progressive conservation was defined by tension between the male and female perspectives, on the one hand, and the community between social expectations and personal motivations on the other,” Davis said.
Douglas was the first to admire the Everglades as an important component in South Florida’s ecosystem, not just some wasteland to be ignored and “exploited.”
When Douglas was 100 years old, she retired as president of Friends of the Everglades, an organization she formed. At age 103, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a national civilian honor. She left a remarkable dent in Florida’s long struggle to preserve the wetlands. Her name is associated with such people as Rachael Carson and also became somewhat of a national celebrity, even in pop culture.
In an episode of The Simpsons, Lisa named Douglas one of her role models.
Davis’ lecture may not have brought Douglas back to life, but it did touch on the complexity of her life-long work as an activist.
“Environmental activism empowered women to shape the face of American civilization, to fuse social reform interests, including women’s suffrage, with environmental interests in the pursuit of a better quality of life,” Davis said.