Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a writer, an environmentalist, an advocate, an activist… but above all else she was the Defender of the Everglades.
Her story starts on April 7, 1890, when she was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Frank Stoneman and Florence Lillian Trefethen.
She took her first trip to Florida at the age of 4, traveling to Tampa before embarking on a cruise to Havana, Cuba.
Her parents divorced when she was 6 and she moved to Taunton, Massachusetts to stay with her mother, aunt and grandparents. Douglas didn’t get along with those in Trefethen household and watched her mother be committed several times to a psychiatric hospital, causing her night terrors.
To combat her distressing upbringing, Douglas would always be reading and writing. By age 16 she had contributed her first work, “Double Beheadings and Double Curtailings,” to St. Nicholas Magazine. A year later, the Boston Herald award her a prize for another one of her works, “An Early Morning Paddle.”
In 1908, Douglas left for Wellesley College where she was an English major. While at school she joined the first suffrage club and was elected class orator. Sadly, just weeks after Douglas graduated a straight-A student, her mother died of breast cancer.
She married Kenneth Douglas, a man 30 years her senior, in 1914. However, he was not the man he said he was. She uncovered he was a con artist who was already married and tried to scheme Douglas’ father out of money.
At the advice of her uncle, she dissolved the marriage and moved to Miami to reconnect with her father, who was the editor of The Miami Herald.
Douglas joined The Miami Herald’s staff as a society columnist, but became bored with writing about tea parties and society events.
In 1917, during World War I, Douglas jumped at the opportunity to cover the first woman from Miami to enlist in the United States Naval Reserve. The woman never arrived and instead it was Douglas who became the first woman to enlist.
A year later she was discharged and joined the American Red Cross immediately after. She was stationed in Paris, where she stayed even after the war ended. She traveled around Europe until her father offered her a job as the assistant editor of The Miami Herald.
Her daily column, “The Galley,” made her a local celebrity and held weight in the development of Miami. However, the pressure of a daily column led her to leave the newspaper in 1923, opting to freelance instead.
It was during that time that Douglas crafted her legacy defining book: “The Everglades: River of Grass.”
“There are no other Everglades in the world… nothing anywhere else is like them,” the prized work starts.
The book came about when Douglas was approached by longtime friend Hervey Allen, editor of the Rivers of America series, to write a story about the Miami River. Instead, Douglas insisted on writing about the Everglades. She spent five years researching the delicate ecosystem before the book was published. It sold out within the first month of its printing. Her book landed her a spot next to President Harry Truman as he dedicated the Everglades as a National Park.
However, despite explaining the importance of the Everglades, developers and farmers started to drain the wetlands to make space for the booming population. Then, in 1968, a plan to build an airport in the Everglades spurred Douglas to action, forming Friends of the Everglades, a non-profit organization, to raise awareness about Everglades conservation.
She spent the rest of her life advocating for the protection of the Everglades, earning her a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993 at the age of 103.
“An extraordinary woman who has devoted her long life to protecting the fragile ecosystem of the Everglades, and to the cause of equal rights for all Americans, Marjory Stoneman Douglas personifies passionate commitment,” the medal’s citation read. “Her crusade to preserve and restore the Everglades has enhanced our Nation’s respect for our precious environment, reminding all of us of nature’s delicate balance. Grateful Americans honor the “Grandmother of the Glades” by following her splendid example in safeguarding America’s beauty and splendor for generations to come.”
Upon her death in 1998, President Bill Clinton, who had awarded her the medal, said, “Long before there was an Earth Day, Mrs. Douglas was a passionate steward of our nation’s natural resources, and particularly her Florida Everglades.”
Mike has more than 30 years of experience in marketing and public relations. He once owned his own agency and has worked with some of the largest brands in the world.