Women have been and will continue to be crucial to the conservation movement. As caretakers of the earth and our communities, we uplift the stories of those strong women who have led the charge for change. Learn about these seven Florida trailblazers!
Betty Mae Tiger Jumper
Betty Mae Tiger Jumper was a nurse, storyteller, educator, and leader of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. She grew up at the Hollywood Reservation and, upon rejection from South Florida public schools, she attended Cherokee Indian school in North Carolina. Upon graduating, she was one of the first two Seminole to receive a high school diploma. Jumper used her education to help others, working as a travelling nurse and translator for Seminole patients and helped Seminole youth gain access to better educational opportunities and healthcare services. Her leadership led to her election as the first chairwoman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida
Thelma Boltin was dedicated to Florida’s folk history and culture. The Florida Folk Festival began in 1953 as a celebration that connected Florida’s folk stories, dances, crafts, and culture. Thelma was a performer and storyteller became the festival director shortly after its inception in 1955. Her love, passion, and expertise for Florida folk culture led to her appointments as chairwoman of folk music for both the Florida Federation of Music Clubs and the National Federation of Music Clubs. Today, the Florida Folk Festival continues the tradition of this yearly gathering of artists, musicians, and visitors, all on the banks of the beautiful Suwannee River at Stephen Foster Memorial State Park in White Springs.
Gwen Cherry was the first Black woman elected to the Florida Legislature. Born and raised in Miami, she was also the first Black woman in Miami-Dade County to pass the bar exam. She used her smart political mind and background in law to gain access and rights for women in the legislature. In 1972, she sponsored a bill that banned discrimination based on sex, and she worked hard to abolish the death penalty, create a statewide childcare program, and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Marjorie Harris Carr
Marjorie Harris Carr was a scientist and environmental activist in North Central Florida. In the 1940s, she became the first female wildlife technician employed by the federal government. She faced discrimination in the scientific community because of her gender, but she would go on to be one of Florida’s fiercest defenders. Carr was a tireless advocate for wildlife and she worked to prevent harmful development projects like the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Although small sections of that disastrous plan did proceed, it was her leadership that led President Nixon to halt the process. Her legacy continues today as a movement grows to dismantle the remaining pieces of the barge canal and free the Ocklawaha River. The land that was once set aside for the project she detested and defeated is now known as the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway and can be enjoyed by all Floridians.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas
The Everglades knows no advocate as fierce as Marjory Stoneman Douglas. In the 1940s, Douglas served in the United States Naval Reserve and American Red Cross in Europe. She brought that fight back home to Miami. Writing was in Douglas’ blood (her father was the editor of the Miami Herald) and she began writing a book about the Everglades, now a class, River of Grass. Through this project and years of research, she developed a deep love for this ecosystem and a passion in saving it. She formed the group Friends of the Everglades and dedicated her life to creating more public awareness of this vast system, protecting it from development, and restoring its flow and abundance. In 1993, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her efforts.
Patricia and Priscilla Stephen
Patricia and Priscilla Stephen were important leaders of Florida’s Civil Rights Movement. They led sit-ins at the segregated Woolworth lunch counter in downtown Tallahassee and were arrested for their activism. To weaponize news coverage and bring awareness to the discrimination they faced in Florida’s capitol, they chose ‘jail over bail’ and sparked a student movement. They used coordinated and strategic tactics, honing their non-violent demonstration skills at a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) workshop. They started a CORE chapter at Florida A & M University and catalyzed national support for Tallahassee efforts.