Douglas, Marjory Stoneman (1890 – 1998) American Environmentalist and Writer
Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890 – 1998)
American environmentalist and writer
A newspaper reporter, writer, and environmentalist renowned for her crusade to preserve Florida's everglades . Marjory Stoneman Douglas was part of the committee that first advocated formation of the Everglades National Park in 1927, and she has been an active advocate of the area's preservation ever since. Born In 1890 in Minneapolis and raised in Taunton, Massachusetts, Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduated from Wellesley College in 1912. After a brief marriage to Kenneth Douglas, a newspaper editor, she moved south to Florida in 1915 to join her father. She soon began to work as a reporter, columnist, and editor for the Miami Herald, founded by her father, Judge Frank Bryant Stoneman. During World War I, she left Miami to become the first female enlistee for the Naval Reserves, then joined the Red Cross, for which she worked and traveled in Europe during and after the war. Returning to Coconut Grove in 1920, Douglas remained there for over 75 years.
Douglas was involved very early in efforts to preserve the everglades from agricultural and residential development, as was her father before her. Her book, The Everglades: River of Grass was one of the most important statements publicizing the ecological importance and uniqueness of the area, as well as its plight in the face of drainage , filling, and water diversion. Her framing of the region as a "river of grass" effectively instilled in the general public an idea of the interconnectedness of the land, water, plants, and animals of the area, helping to raise public awareness of the urgency of preserving the entire ecosystem , not just isolated components of it.
Douglas did not start out as a full-time environmental advocate. She wrote The River of Grass because she loved the history and the natural history of the area, and she was a long-time supporter of preserving the ecosystem, but she did not become deeply involved in the movement to save the everglades until the l970s. Friends of Douglas' in the National Audubon Society , confronted in 1969 by proposals to build an airport in the everglades, enlisted her aid and she helped organize the Friends of the Everglades, an organization that continues to defend the Park and related south Florida ecosystems.
Douglas proved to be an eloquent and forceful speaker and writer in the cause to save the everglades from development, and since the 1970s the everglades has become her single cause for celebrity. However she had also written poetry, short stories, histories, natural histories and novels, nearly all based in Florida. Initially her writing was popular at least in part because Florida and its history were little known, and rarely written about, when she began her literary career. Among her other publications are Road to the Sun (1951), Hurricane (1958), Florida: the Long Frontier (1967), and Nine Florida Stories (1990). She also wrote an autobiography, co-authored by J. Rothchild, Marjory Stoneman Douglas: Voice of the River.
In 1990, Douglas was honored on her one hundredth birthday with book signings, interviews, and banquets, and in 1992, she was back in action. That year, Douglas spoke out against President George Bush's proposal to modify the definition of "wetlands," a move that critics pointed out could open the door to future development. President Bill Clinton in 1993 called to wish her a happy birthday as she turned 103, and a few months later, awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1994, Florida state lawmakers passed the Everglades Forever Act, and also in the 1990s the federal government committed hundreds of millions of dollars to restore and protect the area. In 1996, Florida voters passed an amendment to their state's constitution that makes Everglades polluters, particularly sugar farmers, pay for clean-up costs, and more plans to save the wetlands were expected. However, voters did not pass a law to tax sugar at a penny a pound to assist with the effort; sugar producers had successfully argued that the ruling would cost many jobs.
Douglas received a bevy of honors in her lifetime, including Floridian of the Year in 1983 and a number of buildings, schools, and parks named after her. The building in Florida's capitol of Tallahassee that is home to the state Department of Natural Resources also bears her name, as does a special conservation award. Douglas died in her sleep at home on May 14, 1998.
On October 7, 2000, Douglas was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.
[Mary Ann Cunningham Ph.D. ]
Douglas, M. S. The Everglades: River of Grass. New York: Reinhart, 1947.
Chusmir, J. "The Time and Possibilities of Marjory Stoneman Douglas." Miami Herald, April 6, 1975.
Soba, D. "Still Fighting the Good Fight." Audubon 93 (1991): 30–39.
Newsmakers 1998. Issue 4. Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group. 2002.