Fearless Women of Florida – Women’s History Month 2022

Fearless Women of Florida – Women’s History Month 2022

Every March, Student Life celebrates Women’s History Month with a calendar of events and activities. This year, we’re highlighting women from around the state who dedicated their lives to fighting for a brighter future for Floridians! Learn their stories and take our quiz to receive a limited-edition Women’s History Month mug. You must get answer all questions correctly and be a currently enrolled SF student to win a mug.

Take the quiz!

Check out Student Life’s Women’s History Month calendar to find out what is happening this month!

Alice Scott Abbott


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“Mrs. Abbott brought her magnetism and enthusiasm with her as she made Bunnell her home in November 1913. Once she arrived in what she described as ‘the garden spot of the state’; she never stopped.”

-Florida Women’s Hall of Fame

  • Delivered the “first lecture on Votes For Women” at an 1893 convention in St. Augustine
  • Was a national organizer for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union 
  • Fought to protect wages for women and girls, end the legal sale of liquor, enforce moral laws, and stop the trafficking of women and girls
  • After the 19th Amendment was ratified, her efforts resulted in voter registration and education for nearly 200 women, 52 of whom were African American
  • Her leadership inspired two women in Flagler County to seek elected office shortly thereafter

Mildred Wilborn Gildersleeve


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“Millie Gildersleeve’s legacy reflects the important contributions that nurse-midwives made to women’s reproductive health throughout the State of Florida.”

– Florida Women’s Hall of Fame

  • Was born enslaved in Georgia shortly before the U.S. Civil War
  • Served as a nurse and midwife in Florida during the Reconstruction Era 
  • Delivered “into the world and cared for many of Palm Beach County, Florida’s leading citizens” 
  • Was the only source of maternal health care for many pioneering families
  • May have been Palm Beach County’s first Black resident
  • Descendants of her granddaughter Pansy Harper reside in Palm Beach County

Clara Frye


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“This marker is dedicated to the memory of Clara C. Frye, who committed her life to providing medical care to Tampa’s Black citizens. We hope that this recognition will inspire others to give to their community.”

— Tampa Historical Society

  • Was trained in nursing care in Alabama and moved to Tampa in 1901
  • Cared for Black patients who were denied care at “white only” facilities
  • Opened a hospital for Black patients in 1908 and ran it for 28 years
  • Never refused services for patients because of their inability to pay
  • Clara Frye Memorial Hospital operated in West Tampa from 1938 to 1967
  • Tampa General Hospital named a pavilion after Frye
  • Memorialized with a bronze bust at Tampa’s Riverwalk

Mary McLeod Bethune


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“Next to God we are indebted to women, first for life itself, and then for making it worth living.”

— Mary McLeod Bethune

  • Opened the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1904
  • Served as first President of Bethune-Cookman University from 1923-1942
  • Led voter registration drives to increase Black voter turnout after the passage of the 19th Amendment
  • Founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935
  • Served as an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Appointed to leadership positions in both the National Youth Administration and the Women’s Army Corps during World War II
  • Was the sole African American woman in the US delegation that created the United Nations charter

Ambassador Ruth Bryan Owen


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“There is really no reason for a prejudice against women in politics, nor do I think it is particularly widespread. A congress composed of men and women would be the ideal arrangement, for on certain issues, the viewpoint of a woman is important.”

— Ambassador Ruth Bryan Owen

  • Was the daughter of famous orator William Jennings Bryan and suffragist Mary Baird Bryan
  • Worked as an army nurse during World War I
  • Taught public speaking at the University of Miami
  • Became the first Florida woman elected to serve in Congress in 1928
  • Focused on the health and welfare of children and families and environmental issues, including the creation of Everglades National Park
  • Appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the U.S. ambassador to Denmark in 1932, making her the nation’s first woman ambassador.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas


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“Perhaps even in this last hour, in a new relation of usefulness and beauty, the vast, magnificent, subtle and unique region of the Everglades may not be utterly lost.”

— Marjory Stoneman Douglas

  • Known as the mother of the Everglades
  • Worked as a writer for the Miami Herald
  • While on assignment for a story about the first woman in Florida to enlist during World War I, Douglas enrolled in her place after the woman did not show up.
  • Served in the United States Naval Reserve for one year before joining the American Red Cross in Europe
  • Published The Everglades: River of Grass in 1947
  • Formed the Friends of the Everglades in 1969
  • Was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993 for her efforts to protect the Everglades

Zora Neale Hurston


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“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

— Zora Neale Hurston

  • Was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance
  • Her fictional essays about the experiences of Black Americans attracted national attention
  • Studied under pioneer anthropologist Franz Boas at Barnard College
  • Joined the Florida division of the Federal Writers’ Project, collecting rare recordings of Black Floridians sharing traditional stories and songs
  • Published bestselling novel Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937
  • The Florida town of Eatonville is the site of the “Zora! Festival”, held each year in her honor

Carita Doggett Corse


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“As long as I feel sure that what we’re doing is worthwhile I am ready to work without stint.”

— Carita Doggett Corse

  • Was employed as a historian with the Federal Writers Project during the Great Depression
  • More than 90 works by the Federal Writers’ Project were produced by Florida writers under the direction of Corse
  • Oversaw a program that collected information about the lives and experiences of Black Floridians
  • Deployed Zora Neale Hurston and Viola Muse to record interviews with turpentine workers, authors, community members and formerly-enslaved people
  • Became the director of the Florida Federation of Planned Parenthood

Dr. Dorothy Dodd


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“Our books are not here to gather dust on the shelves; library service is not denied to anyone in Florida if the service is within the limits of our budget.”

— Dr. Dorothy Dodd

  • Served as Florida State Archivist and Florida State Librarian
  • Made historical records more accessible to the public
  • Increased library services in rural communities
  • Started an outreach initiative to provide technical advice and assistance to public libraries,
  • Extended library services to prison inmates
  • Established the Library’s Florida Collection
  • When she retired in 1965, the Florida Collection contained more than 15,000 items
  • Dodd’s archival records are available on

Thelma Boltin


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“Florida is as rich in its cultural heritages as it is in sun, beaches and play.“

— Thelma Boltin

  • Became the special events director at the Stephen Foster Memorial Park in White Springs in 1955
  • Served as the director of the Florida Folk Festival from 1954 to 1965
  • Appointed chair of folk music for both the Florida Federation of Music Clubs and the National Federation of Music Clubs
  • The Thelma Boltin Center in Gainesville’s historic Duckpond neighborhood is named after her.

Marjorie Harris Carr


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“I also believe that Floridians care about their environment. If they are educated about its perils, if they are never lied to, they will become stewards of the wild places that are left.”

— Marjorie Harris Carr

  • Committed her life to promoting conservation of Florida’s environment
  • Was employed as the federal government’s first female wildlife technician
  • Graduated from UF with her master’s degree in zoology in 1942
  • Co-founded Florida Defenders of the Environment in 1969
  • Helped establish Paynes Prairie as the first official wildlife preserve in the state
  • Convinced President Nixon to halt the Cross Florida Barge Canal project in 1971
  • The land once set aside for the canal was renamed the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway

Rep. Gwen Cherry


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“I think these are two groups that have been left out of the mainstream for a long time. You know, you can’t just stand aside and criticize. I think this is where the answer is going to be. Women and Blacks have to get more political power to make meaningful changes.”

— Rep. Gwen Cherry

  • Was the first Black woman in Miami-Dade County to pass the bar
  • Became the first Black woman elected to the Florida Legislature in 1970
  • Spent nearly a decade in Florida’s House of Representatives
  • Served as general counsel for the National Organization for Women (NOW)
  • Led the effort to pass a bill in 1978 recognizing Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday as a state holiday, 5 years before the national holiday was created
  • Encouraged Black Floridians to run for political office

Elizabeth “Budd” Bell


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“Her unique gift, colleagues said, was her ability to unite advocates from diverse groups so that they did not appear to be warring over the same small financial pie.”

— Tampa Bay Times

  • Served as a lifelong advocate of children and women, elderly people, and people with disabilities
  • Helped pass Florida’s Child Care Bill to secure funding of early learning programs across the state
  • Worked to craft legislation known as the Baker Act to protect the rights of people with mental illness in Florida
  • Created transportation programs in Florida for people with disabilities 
  • Founded the Clearinghouse on Human Services, a coalition that includes over 100 organizations
  • Founding member of the National Association of Social Work
  • Taught and mentored over 500 social work students and inspired countless volunteers 

Suzie Zuzek


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“[My] fabulous success…would not have been possible without Suzie’s whimsical and magical creations. I simply could not have done it without [Zuzek].”

— Lilly Pulitzer

  • Served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II
  • Attended Pratt Institute on the G.I. Bill
  • Was a staff designer for Key West Hand Print Fabrics from 1962-1985
  • Zuzek created over 1,550 designs for Key West Hand Print Fabrics
  • Lilly Pulitzer sourced most of her fabrics and all her prints from Zuzek
  • Zuzek’s prolific imagination fueled Pulitzer’s runaway success
  • Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian’s Design Museum currently holds an exhibition of Zuzek’s work 

Betty Mae Tiger Jumper


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“I am deeply grateful for the education I have received, and I want sincerely to use it in the interest of my people.”

— Betty Mae Tiger Jumper

  • Was a nurse, storyteller and the first chairwoman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida
  • Was not allowed to attend schools in South Florida because of racial segregation
  • At 14 she moved to North Carolina to attend Cherokee Indian Boarding School
  • Was one of the first two Seminole Indians to earn a high school diploma in 1945
  • Worked as a traveling nurse and translator for the Seminole community 
  • Was appointed to the National Council on Indian Opportunity in 1970 by President Nixon
  • Was editor of the Seminole Tribune newspaper and director of the Seminole Communications Department

Roxcy O’Neal Bolton


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“We have the vote, but we’re still only half free. Men make the policies and decide what candidates we must choose between. We must elect women to more major offices. We must have women in policy-making positions.”

— Roxcy O’Neal Bolton

  • Founded the Dade County chapter of the National Organization for Women
  • Founded Women in Distress in 1972, offering temporary housing, legal aid and other services to women in need
  • Helped establish the Miami Rape Treatment Center in 1974
  • Urged police to implement new ways to protect women from sexual assault
  • Lobbied the state government to hire more women
  • Convinced U.S. Senator Birch Bayh to hold the first hearings about the Equal Rights Amendment and lobbied for its passage

Attorney General Janet Reno


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“I made the decision long ago that to be afraid would be to diminish my life”

— A.G. Janet Reno

  • Was the first woman to serve as Attorney General
  • Was the first woman to serve as a state attorney in Florida
  • Served as the Attorney General of the United States from 1993 until 2001
  • Was the second-longest serving Attorney General in U.S. history
  • Ran for Governor of Florida in 2002
  • Tasked the Justice Department with compiling a report on DNA exoneration
  • Founding member of the board of directors for the Innocence Project, which assists prisoners who may be exonerated through DNA testing

Lizzie Jenkins


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“For 58 years, I have never missed an election. Every time I vote, I say to my great-grandmother, who was not able to vote, ‘Grandma Juliann, this is for you.’”

— Lizzie Jenkins

  • Founded the Real Rosewood Foundation, Inc. to preserve the legacy of the 1923 Rosewood massacre
  • Niece of Rosewood residents Mahulda Gussie Brown Carrier and Aaron Carrier
  • Votes in each election in honor of her great-grandmother Juliann Sams, who was sold as a slave in Mississippi at age 13 in 1839 – and forced to walk to Archer
  • Her father bought farmland and created a park with a playground where Lizzie and other Black children could play since they were not permitted on white playgrounds
  • The Foundation is dedicated to building the Rosewood Black History Preservation and Research Center on Lizzie’s family farm

Vivian Filer


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“There are so many wonderful women working for change. When I can be associated with them, I think, ‘I see people with my ideas. I talk to people who want to go my way. I know that we can make a difference.’”

— Vivian Filer

  • Was an active member of civil rights group Gainesville Women for Equal Rights (GWER)
  • Served on GWER’s healthcare committee and fought to integrate Alachua General Hospital and local dental offices
  • Attended SF and was among the first Black students to graduate from UF with a bachelor’s in nursing in 1972
  • Was SF Nursing Faculty for 27 years and worked at Shands as a Registered Nurse
  • Founder and Chair of the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center
  • Co-founder of the Springhill Neighborhood Association and the Greater Gainesville Black Nurses Association

Patricia Stephens Due


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“Stories live forever. Storytellers don’t.”

— Patricia Stephens Due

  • Was a civil rights activist based in Tallahassee
  • Founded a chapter of Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) as a Florida A&M student 
  • Her eyes were damaged by tear gas used by police on students marching to protest segregation; she wore dark glasses for the rest of her life
  • Was arrested along with her sister Priscilla and nine other students during a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth lunch counter 
  • The Stephens sisters and 6 other students chose “jail over bail” and spent 49 days at the Leon County Jail
  • The students went on a national speaking tour organized by CORE to tell others about their experiences

E. Thelma Waters


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“Mom started ringing the bells, making the noise and banging on the pots and pans until people started paying attention. What she has done has impacted countless people.”

– Roslyn Waters-Jensen, Thelma’s Daughter

  • Tireless advocate for women, children, migrant laborers, and her hometown of Indiantown
  • Was the leading force in her community for civil rights, affordable housing, medical care, early childhood education and quality daycare, voting rights, and political representation
  • Started a daycare center for the children of farmworker families
  • Educated parents about health issues and advocated to open a health clinic in her community
  • Directed the East Coast Migrant Head Start Program 
  • Became one of the three signatories, founders, of the Articles of Incorporation for the Village of Indiantown
  • Known as the founder and unofficial “Mayor” of Indiantown

Louise Jones Gopher


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“I want students to be introduced to a real Seminole and learn a little more about the Tribe through me. We are not fiction; we are real and we’re out there. I hope by me talking to them, they can put a face to the Seminole name.””

— Lousie Jones Gopher

  • Was born in a chickee at a tribal camp in Fort Pierce and grew up speaking the Mikisukî language 
  • Was the first female Seminole to earn a bachelor’s degree when she graduated from FAU in 1970
  • Served as Director of Education for the Seminole Tribe of Florida
  • Put great effort into preserving Seminole culture and language 
  • Her daughter Carla Gopher was the first Seminole to graduate from FSU in 1996
  • Spearheaded the tribe’s first charter school, “Pemayetv Emahakv” or “Our Way”,  in 2007
  • Was granted an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from FSU in 2014

The Honorable Barbara Pariente


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“Every time I go out for an oral argument I realize, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t ask too many questions.’ And yet it is in my nature to be a questioner. I question a lot, even in my personal life. That’s just who I am.”

— The Honorable Barbara Pariente

  • Was chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court from 2004 until 2006
  • Served on the Florida Supreme Court from 1997 to 2019
  • Was the second woman ever appointed to the position
  • Championed drug courts, a program to rehabilitate people who commit minor crimes because of substance abuse
  • Was a driving force behind Florida’s Unified Family Courts to ensure that family’s legal problems are managed by a single judge
  • She turned a personal tragedy – breast cancer – into a public victory by sharing her treatment journey
  • She never missed a court hearing, even appearing wigless in cases that were widely broadcast

CFO Alex Sink


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“I worked harder and had to be smarter. I had to be tough and not take ‘no’ for an answer.”

— CFO Alex Sink

  • Served as Florida’s Chief Financial Officer from 2007-2011
  • Ran for Governor of Florida in 2010 and lost by a 1% margin
  • Her great-grandfather was Chang Bunker, of the famous conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker
  • Taught at girls’ schools in Sierra Leone and Liberia for three years
  • Former President of Florida Operations at NationsBank (now Bank of America)
  • Mentor to tech startups in the Tampa Bay area through the Florida Next Foundation
  • Founded Ruth’s List to support pro-choice female politicians in Florida

Dr. Ronni Sanlo


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“Everything I did at Michigan and then at UCLA was because there was a student at the center of my focus who needed help in some way. And if there was one student, there were many. And so that became my guiding philosophy..”

— Dr. Ronni Sanlo

  • Director Emeritus of the UCLA LGBT Center
  • Held the first “Lavender Graduation” for LGBTQ students at the University of Michigan in 1995
  • Created the initial LGBT program standards for the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS)
  • Authored several works on gender identity and sexual orientation in higher education
  • Born in Miami, she graduated from UF in 1969 and obtained her Ed.D. from UNF in 1999
  • At the age of 31, Sanlo came out as a lesbian and lost custody of her young children
  • The 2014 documentary Letter to Anita depicted Sanlo’s struggle with Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign Save Our Children

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lethinen


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“No matter where you are from, no matter what your background is, no matter what your socioeconomic status is, every person can achieve his or her dreams.”

— Rep. Ileana Ros-Lethinen

  • Was born in Havana, Cuba and immigrated to Florida as a child
  • Was the first Hispanic woman and the first Cuban American elected to U.S. Congress
  • Represented Florida’s 27th congressional district from 1989 to 2019
  • Chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee from 2011 to 2013
  • Gave the first Republican response to the State of the Union address in Spanish in 2011
  • Became the first Republican in the House to support same-sex marriage in 2012

Rev. Susan Stanton


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“I don’t find the topic of apology nearly as important as forgiveness, acceptance and joy. Life is what we make it. And Largo did not take anything away that I need back.”

— Rev. Susan Stanton

  • Was City Manager of Largo, Florida from 1993-2007
  • Previously served as assistant City Manager in Newburgh, New York, and Champaign, Illinois
  • Largo terminated her contract following public confirmation that she is transgender, despite good performance reviews
  • Lobbied and testified before Congress on behalf of laws to protect LGBTQ people from employment discrimination
  • Atlanta’s Gay Pride Parade asked Stanton to be grand marshal
  • Later served as City Manager of Lake Worth, Florida and Greenfield, California
  • Was ordained to the Priesthood in the Episcopal Church

Sources and Further Reading