The formidable Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Photos by Tim ChapmanMarjory Stoneman Douglas

She Often Got Her Way In Championing Causes

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a major figure in the American environmental movement, was a relentless crusader in defense of the Florida Everglades and against efforts to reclaim the land for development.

There was only one  Everglades in all the world, she said in her book, The Everglades: River of Grass, and she devoted much of her life to protecting it.

Like so many others who encountered the formidable Marjory Stoneman Douglas  on one of her many  battlefronts, author John Rothchild  found it difficult to challenge her – even when she was 103 with failing vision and diminished hearing.

A few years after assisting Douglas with her 1987 autobiography, Marjory Stoneman Douglas: Voice of the River, Rothchild escorted her to a French restaurant in Coral Gables, where she ordered a Manhattan cocktail before dinner.

Although aware that doctors had eliminated alcohol from Douglas’ diet when she was 97, Rothchild did not want to tell Douglas she could not have her favorite drink.

River of Grass, Marjory Stoneman Douglas

“She’s someone you shouldn’t cross,” said Rothchild, recounting the story during a recent telephone interview.

Rothchild said he went to the back of the restaurant to have a virgin version of the drink prepared for her. Douglas, however, immediately sent the drink back and told the waiter to have it prepared correctly.

The second time Douglas accepted the Manhattan, not realizing that it too was without alcohol. It was likely one of the rare occasions in which the formidable Douglas did not get her way.

And Douglas usually got her way in championing scores of causes – from women’s suffrage and civil rights to animal rights and the environment, especially the preservation of the Everglades.

When most of the world saw the Everglades as  mere swampland impeding modern expansion, Douglas believed it to be a beautiful, vital ecosystem worthy of attention and protection.

The restoration of the Kissimmee River, the protection of the Florida panther and bobcats, and the preservation of the Biscayne Aquifer and Lake Okeechobee also were among her most ardent causes.

Born in Minneapolis in 1890, Douglas was raised in Taunton, Mass., by her mother after her parents divorced. In 1912, Douglas graduated from Wellesley College, where she studied English and earned a reputation as “the orator.”  Following a brief marriage to Kenneth Douglas, she left Massachusetts for Miami in 1915 to work for The Miami Herald, where her father, Frank B. Stoneman, was the editor. Her father, with a partner, had established  The Miami Herald’s forerunner, the Miami Evening Record, in 1903.    Then The Miami Herald’s  only female reporter, she covered society news.

In 1916, Douglas helped organize the Women’s Business League and became its first president. She lobbied for women’s suffrage before the Florida Legislature in Tallahassee in 1917.

During World War I, she enlisted in the Navy as a yeoman. Later, she went to Paris to work as a member of the Red Cross. When she returned to Miami in 1920, she assumed the position of assistant editor for The Miami Herald. In addition to her daily column, “The Galley,” which featured her own poetry, Douglas wrote editorials about environmental and social  issues, including women’s rights and women’s suffrage, racial equality, and conservationism.

Douglas left The Miami Herald in 1923 and shifted her focus to freelance writing. Her work was published on several occasions in The Saturday Evening Post, which also published the works of Fitzgerald and Hemingway. However, she returned to The Herald from 1942 to 1949 as the book review editor.

She was never demure about taking a stand for her positions.

In 1980 then-Gov. Bob Graham flew Douglas to the levee along the C-111 canal to show her plans for restoring a natural water flow to the northeastern portion of Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Douglas was not impressed.

“Not enough,” she told Graham and returned to their helicopter without waiting for his response.

Douglas became a member of the original committee that lobbied for the establishment of Everglades National Park, which, thanks to her efforts, was founded in 1947, the same year that her most famous book, The Everglades: River of Grass, was published.

The book was yet another result of Douglas getting her way, this time with a different editor.

HerveyAllen had asked her to write a book on the Miami River as part of a series on rivers. Douglas instead wrote about the Everglades, saying that it also was a river — a “river of grass.”

Douglas helped establish Biscayne National Park and founded Friends of the Everglades in 1969, a group that remains active today. Her work earned her a number of accolades, including the President’s Medal of Freedom in 1993.

Since her arrival in Miami, Douglas lived in a small cottage in Coconut Grove where she died in 1998 at the age of 108. Purchased by the state in 1992 and set up as a living trust, the cottage still stands but is not open to the public.

Schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, a stretch of Sunset Drive, the Key Biscayne Nature Center and Florida’s Department of Natural Resources building in the state capital all bear Douglas’ name. A sit-by-me statue in the 83-acre Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami depicts Douglas, with characteristic hat and glasses, sitting on a bench.

More like this: People

Back to Top

7 responses to “The formidable Marjory Stoneman Douglas”

  1. Sierra Eboni says:

    The cocktail story is really funny… I like how it’s included in this article.

  2. lmorcate says:

    Douglas has played a great role in establishing and maintaining environmental and awareness and promoting the beauty and significance of the Everglades. However, I really enjoyed this article because it not only offered the standard biographical information we have all learnt to associate with Douglas, it offered a bit of insight into her character. The cocktail story is great!

  3. Britishwannabe says:

    I love the cocktail story as well. Really sheds a light on her true personality and adds a good deal of humor to the story. She seems like an strong, interesting woman. I thought the length of her life was extraordinary as well.

  4. Anonymous says:

    This was a very interesting and informative article. Douglas seems like quite a character, who used her personality to fuel her passion for the Everglades. Her will to fight for what she wanted, to some might have been considered stubborn. But to other who share her love for the Everglades, she is a hero in her own right.

  5. Marchesa says:

    This was such an interesting article! The opener of the cocktail story was impassioned and I was eager to read more about such a strong-willed woman. As a woman in her day and age, she was able to incredibly accomplish many of the things that even the modern day woman strives for. Douglas was definitely a woman before her time. Her passion for the Everglades, is just as notable, as we have her to thank for all of the natural beauty we are able to cherish, in a city of industrialism. She is defiantly a woman that we should all know more about.

  6. Danilali says:

    What a great article! It makes me feel that I know her already. She seemed like quite a character, I would’ve enjoyed meeting her. Douglas was such a strong feminine figure, she was a woman who wanted her way and always did (except for the cocktail). She was driven to protect the Everglades and to let the world know that it wasn’t juts a swampy piece of land, but a treasure. Douglas strong-driven personality and passion for what she believes in, makes me look up to her as a role model.